By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– A Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest was kidnapped Saturday, March 15, by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, adding to concerns the tensions may turn into a religious and ethnic conflict, church sources said.
Priest Mykola Kvych, a church leader and Ukrainian military chaplain, was abducted after celebrating the liturgy in the port city of Sevastopol, the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, according to church officials familiar with the case.
“Every abduction is a terrible event for everybody involved,” added Bishop Borys Gudziak, the Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy in published remarks. “It’s a gross violation of human rights and God-given human dignity,” he told Vatican Radio.
Parishioners who were at the service, and his wife, reportedly confirmed the kidnapping but did not immediately provide more details.
The kidnapping came shortly after priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) received oral and written threats ordering them to leave the Crimea or face consequences.
NOT LEAVING FLOCK
However the church leaders decided “not to leave their flock”, especially at a time when Russian forces have taken control over Crimea, the bishop said.
“Our priests and bishops have been very close to the people,” Bishop Borys said. “We’ve been inspired by the example of Our Lord [Who] went a long distance from fellowship with the Father to incarnate Himself and be in our reality.”
He said they have also been inspired by the words of Pope Francis “who said a pastor needs to have the smell of his sheep.” The priest added that “our pastors have been with the people, and they’re today with the people enduring this occupation in the Crimea.”
With the whereabouts of Priest Mykola unknown, Bishop Borys appealed “to the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church” who he claimed have “direct or indirect supported…occupation of Crimea” to do “everything in their power to have Father Kvych released and to stop the persecution of Catholic priests and Catholic faithful on this peninsula.”
Authorities linked to, then president, Viktor Yanukovich also threatened to close the UGCC as its priests had been seen praying with anti-Yanukovich protesters. The rallies eventually led to bloodshed and the the ouster of the president.
It was not immediately clear later Saturday, March 15, where the abducted priest was held, church sources said. “His cell is not responding , even though the phone is not turned off,” said the Religious Information Service of Ukraine.
The abduction comes ahead of Sunday’s controversial referendum on whether Crimea should join Russia.
The United States and European Union have threatened with sanctions against Russia if Moscow recognizes the vote and absorbs the territory. In Washington, the White House said United States Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Poland and Lithuania to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and to show support for allies of the NATO military alliance.
Late Friday’s announcement came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov failed to agree on how to end tensions in Ukraine, where Russian forces control the Crimean Peninsula.
Tensions over Crimea have fueled deadly clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv supporters in Ukraine’s Russian speaking east. Police said Saturday, March 15, one pro-Russia protester and a passerby were killed overnight in the city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian nationalists opened fire on a group of men trying to storm their headquarters.
It was the second such deadly incident in as many days.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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