Ukrainian Catholics say they fear 'new oppression'

Protesters holding a cross

A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Crimea said Church members are alarmed and frightened by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities might be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent, reports the Catholic News Service.

Fr Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a pastor in Kerch, Ukraine, described the atmosphere as tense because many residents of the town located in the eastern part of Crimea were unsure of their future.

'No one knows what will happen. Many people are trying to sell their homes and move to other parts of Ukraine,' Fr Milchakovskyi told CNS on March 12.

'Our Church has no legal status in the Russian Federation, so it's uncertain which laws will be applied if Crimea is annexed. We fear our churches will be confiscated and our clergy arrested,' the priest said amid tensions over the March 16 referendum on whether the autonomous territory should join Russia or remain in Ukraine.

Fr Milchakovskyi said the Ukrainian Catholic Church's leader, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, had pledged 'prayers and support' if fellow-Catholics 'found themselves in danger.'

However, he added that his Church feared Russian rule would inflict a 'new oppression' on Ukrainian Catholics, whose five communities traditionally make up about 10 percent of the Crimean peninsula's two million inhabitants.

'Many have already stopped coming to church, after being branded nationalists and fascists by local provocateurs,' Fr Milchakovskyi said.

FULL STORY Ukrainian Catholics fear 'new oppression' after Russian takeover (CNS)

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