OTTAWA (CCN) — The Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada has received a $226,630 grant from the federal Office for Religious Freedom to combat religious persecution in parts of Ukraine.
Over the past year, Russia annexed Crimea and violence has broken out in eastern Ukraine where there is a large Russian population. Religious persecution has increased, with Greek Catholics being targeted, but also Ukrainian Orthodox who are not under the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as Roman Catholics, Jews, Crimean Tatar Muslims and others who do not support Russian separatists.
The grant will help fund short-term student exchanges among the regions, summer schools, panel discussions and lectures for students at the four public universities in Ukraine’s west, south, centre and east.
“Those projects are to animate a sense of unity with everybody, including the Moscow patriarchate,” said CNEWA Canada national director Carl Hétu.
“The Greek Catholic Church has been attacked, particularly by the Moscow (Orthodox) Patriarchate, as a group supporting fascists and terrorists, which is not true,” said Hétu. “They are spreading lies, antagonism and division.”
“Our project is to show the Greek Catholic Church is the opposite of what they say.”
Ukraine has “gone through a tremendous transformation” over the past year, said Hétu. “It is refreshing that our government, beyond words, wants to do concrete action in Ukraine.”
“It is essential that all Ukrainians, regardless of their church or faith, be allowed to contribute to Ukraine’s democratic development without fear of violence or consequence,” said Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett in a news release.
“Canada is proud of its long-standing support to the Ukrainian people in advancing freedom and democracy,” said Bennett. “These projects aim to foster the development of a political culture in Ukraine that facilitates democratization, religious freedom and pluralism, which are ideals we share and will courageously defend and protect as the cornerstone of our enduring friendship.”
CNEWA will work through Ukrainian partners, the Ukrainian Catholic University and the Sheptytsky Foundation, both run by the Greek Catholic Church, Hétu said. They designed the projects that will promote dialogue and exchanges among all the religious groups in Ukraine in its various regions based on tolerance, dignity and respect.
The projects do not involve the leadership level of the churches, he said. “This is at the village, parish, citizenship and student level, so everyone will be welcome to the dialogue sessions and exchange.”
The initiatives are coming from the Greek Catholic Church and “the intent is to reach out to all the other churches in the context of unity, dialogue,” he said.
The program that will launch Nov. 1 and run until the end of Oct. next year, he said.
“One of the goals is to help establish a truly democratic and inclusive society in this Eastern European country that, right now, has to deal with so many enormous challenges,” he said.