by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This is a tale of two bishops, interesting for their contrasting narratives and presenting a classic choice for us all.
The first is His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. His patriarchate is large and powerful. It has a membership of more than 90 million congregants, counts 314 dioceses, 972 monasteries, 40,500 full-time clerics, 4,000 plus deacons and 382 bishops. It has jurisdiction over the Ukranian Orthodox Church and is in full communion with other Eastern Orthodox patriarchates.
In recent weeks Partriarch Kirill has scandalized not only his own church but the entire world with his deafening silence and more than implicit support of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. This despicable sin of omission is a result of his personal relationship and shared vision with Putin – one that links a spiritual unity and territorial expansion of Russia against a decadent West.
The invasion began on February 24th after months of assembling an overwhelming Russian military force around the perimeter of Ukraine. In two public sermons, one on February 27th and the other on March 6th, the patriarch made no direct mention of what from the beginning was a brutal attack on Ukraine. Instead, on both occasions, Kirill not only spiritualized the situation, “we should pray for peace, for the restoration of good fraternal relations between our peoples”, but he also hid behind the pious words, “God forbid that the present political [!] situation in fraternal Ukraine so close to us should be aimed at making the evil that have always striven against the unity of Russia and the Russian Church.”
There is little need to belabor the incredible blindness these words signify just as Russian military lined up 47 miles of tanks, began to advance on Kyiv and the resulting unbelievable destruction of buildings, murder of thousands, and millions of Ukranian people fleeing their country.
The second prelate is Saint Oscar Romero, martyred Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America. The anniversary of his assassination by death squads falls on Wednesday, March 24th while Kirill’s cravenness continues. Romero was a pastor who witnessed the deadly oppression of his people and spoke out forcefully and continually against it. And he spoke in Gospel terms.
“A Church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a Gospel that does not unsettle… proclaim a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?”
“The Church is pointing out sin and society must listen to that accusation and be converted and so become what God wants.”
These are just two of the countless prophetic denunciations proclaimed by Archbishop Romero week after week in his Sunday homilies from the San Salvadoran cathedral. They were directed to all who were fomenting the fratricidal war in that country, most importantly the government and its military.
His final homily was the culminating statement of Archbishop Romero’s prophetic cries. It addressed specifically the army, the National Guard, the police and the military: “Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God, which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’… In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I IMPLORE YOU, I BEG YOU, I ORDER YOU IN THE NAME OF GOD: STOP THE OPPRESSON.”
There is no need to elaborate on the vast difference between the actions of these two shepherds. However, aside from this fascinating comparison, an age-old and ever-new definitive choice is again posed: to be or not to be. Kirill at least up to now and Romero without doubt have answered but in diametrically opposite ways. We pray for the one and pray to the other.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.