Bishop Nowakowski: “Benedict XVI understood travails of Ukrainian Catholics”

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Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the Eparchial Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in Great Britain, speaks to Vatican News about his encounters with Benedict XVI and the late Pope Emeritus’ concern for the plight of Ukrainian Catholics.

“He suffered fascism, lived through the Nazi era, and understood the destruction of our Church under the Communists.”

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop of Holy Family of London offered that perspective on the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was laid to rest in the Vatican on Thursday.

In an interview with Vatican News’ Svitlana Dukhovych, Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski said Benedict’s experiences helped him understand the travails of Ukrainian Catholics throughout the decades.

Unique perspective on Ukraine

For a time in the seminary, the late Joseph Ratzinger shared a room with a future Ukrainian Catholic priest.

Bishop Nowakowski said this experience gave him a unique perspective on the Church in Ukraine, which he was then able to bring to his work in the Vatican in later years.

“He was able to continue that legacy of understanding those countries which suffered under Communism and Fascism. And I think that helped him understand who we were as a Ukrainian people, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

On 9 November 2022, less than two months before his death on 31 December, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI met with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

During that meeting, the Pope Emeritus reportedly told Major Archbishop Shevchuk that he was following the situation in Ukraine closely and continued to pray for peace in the war-torn nation.

Kind and gentle

Turning to his personal encounters with the late Pope Emeritus, Bishop Nowakowski said he once attended a lecture delivered by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger while he was a theology student at the Pontifical Angelicum University.

Despite failing to recall the subject matter of the lecture, he certainly recalled his excitement as a young student to listen to such an eminent theologian.

Bishop Nowakowski met Benedict XVI several other times in his life, once when he attended the initiation course for newly-ordained Bishops.

“He welcomed us warmly to Rome,” he said, “and his kindness and gentleness really showed at that moment when he met with us.”

Attentive to others

During later encounters, the late Pope Emeritus always remembered to ask Bishop Nowakowski about his mission as the Bishop for Ukrainian Catholics in Vancouver, in British Colombia, Canada.

“I think his personality showed through in the fact that he was interested in you. He asked you questions about how you are doing, how are you feeling, and was clearly attentive when you were speaking with him.”

As Benedict XVI was laid to rest on Thursday, Bishop Nowakowski recalled the effect the late Pope Emeritus’ caring presence had on those who met with him.

“It made me feel that I was not just another person,” he concluded. “And I think that is how his pontificate was. I think he cared about people. He was a caring, gentle, intelligent, peaceful man.”

Source: Vatican News