The terrible years of Soviet dictatorship

Yes, dear Ukrainians! It is Christianity that has inspired the greatest figures of your culture and art, and richly nourished the moral, spiritual and social roots of your country. I gladly recall here the words of your fellow countryman, the philosopher Hrigorij Skovoroda: “Everything passes away, but love remains after all else is gone. Everything passes away, save God and love”. Only someone profoundly imbued with the Christian spirit was capable of such an insight. In his words we hear an echo of the First Letter of John: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (4:16).

Throughout Europe the word of the Gospel took deep root and in the course of the centuries brought forth wonderful fruits of civilization, learning and holiness. Tragically, the choices made by the peoples of the Continent have not always been consistent with the values of their respective Christian traditions, and history has thus been marked by painful episodes of oppression, destruction and sorrow.

The older among you remember the terrible years of the Soviet dictatorship and the dreadful famine of the beginning of the 1930s, when Ukraine, “the granary of Europe”, was no longer able to feed its own children, who died by the millions. And how can we forget the host of your fellow citizens who perished during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 against the Nazi invasion? Unfortunately, liberation from Nazism marked the return of a regime which continued to trample on the most elementary human rights, deporting defenceless citizens, imprisoning dissidents, persecuting believers, and even attempting to erase the very idea of freedom and independence from the consciousness of the Ukrainian people. Happily, the great turning-point of 1989 finally permitted Ukraine to regain her freedom and full sovereignty.

Your people attained that greatly-desired goal peacefully and without bloodshed, and they are now firmly committed to a courageous programme of social and spiritual reconstruction. The international community cannot fail to admire the success which you have had in consolidating peace and in resolving regional tensions with due consideration for local differences.

I too encourage you to persevere in your efforts to overcome whatever difficulties remain and to guarantee full respect for the rights of national and religious minorities. A policy of wise tolerance will surely win respect and goodwill for the Ukrainian people and ensure you a particular place in the family of European peoples. — from the pope’s address to representative of politics, culture, science, and business in Kyiv, Ukraine (June 23, 2001)