New metropolitan archbishop of Ukrainian Catholic Church faces challenge of renewal among U.S. faithful

Kristin E. Holmes

The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 4, 2019

In 1992, following the reemergence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church from decades of Soviet oppression, the Rev. Borys Gudziak founded a fledgling academy to chronicle the dark era when practicing the religion was illegal and its leaders were jailed and killed.

The Institute of Church History in Lviv, Ukraine, preserved that past, and Gudziak went on to help revive the theological training that disappeared when the Ukrainian Catholic Church was forced underground in the mid-1940s.

On Tuesday, Gudziak, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., and the son of immigrant parents, was installed as the metropolitan archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy, or archdiocese, of Philadelphia, making him the titular head of the faith in the United States.

Gudziak, 58, who has helped fuel a resurgence in the church in Ukraine, will work to inspire a similar renewal in this country of a faith — with fewer than 100,000 adherents — that has faced many of the same struggles as other Christian denominations.

“The biggest challenge is to overcome distrust and fear,” Gudziak said before visiting City Hall on Monday. “Locks, security alarms, the collection of information — we fear the real vulnerability of real interpersonal relationships and substitute virtual reality.”

Gudziak was installed in an 11 a.m. ceremony, for which more than 2,500 attendees packed the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Northern Liberties. A 15-minute procession of nearly 200 clergy included Major Archbishop (patriarch) Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who leads the international Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church; Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; and Archbishop Emeritus Stefan Soroka, Gudziak’s predecessor.

In preparing to read a letter from Pope Francis, Papal Ambassador Christophe Pierre made a cartoon reference: “When Americans hear the name Boris, they are tempted to think of Boris Badenov from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. But you cannot be bad enough, you must be good enough. Good enough for your people and good enough for the Lord.”

About two hours into the ceremony, Gudziak addressed the faithful for the first time as Metropolitan Archbishop. Choking with emotion, he walked the center aisle in white vestments with gold embroidery.

“I come here freely with no plan, no agenda,” he said, “just to open my heart to the Holy Spirit and listen to you.”

A week of celebratory events will feature an exhibit of iconography written on ammunition boxes retrieved from the combat zone in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the government since 2014.

As metropolitan archbishop, Gudziak will serve as spiritual leader of the national Ukrainian Catholic Church’s four regional dioceses, based in Chicago; Stamford, Conn; Parma, Ohio; and Philadelphia. The local judicatory includes 13,000 parishioners in 62 parishes and two mission churches across Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

The Ukrainian church is the largest of 23 Eastern Rite churches that are part of the Catholic Church. Eastern Rite churches, which represent about 16 million parishioners, are under the jurisdiction of the Vatican but are largely autonomous and operate independently of Roman Catholic archdioceses. Their liturgies resemble Eastern Orthodox worship. Eastern Rite priests in North America were not permitted to marry until 2014, when the Holy See lifted the ban. Eastern Rite priests elsewhere, including in Ukraine, had been permitted to marry.

In this country, Gudziak, who is not married, takes over a national church facing the same challenges as many other U.S. Christian denominations. Parishioners are aging and their numbers are declining, and young people are less connected to the religious practices of their parents.

“[Gudziak’s] gift is to listen, to listen to various people, to make connections with various people and have them network among themselves,” said the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, a founding director and theology professor at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. Gudziak’s skill at team-building is how he was able to help fuel the church’s renaissance in Ukraine, Chirovsky said.

But in the U.S., membership in the region has declined from 72,500 in the late 1990s to about 50,000. Soroka closed seven churches and merged two parishes. (Four of the closings and the merger were in Philadelphia.) He recruited 17 immigrant priests to help ameliorate a shortage of clergy.

Gudziak said the key to confronting that challenge is not in a business-like plan or strategy.

“It’s one step at a time. One person at a time,” Gudziak said. “Jesus in Palestine and St. Paul in the Roman Empire didn’t have that many followers. It was one act of sacrifice and one act of service after another.”

The son of a dentist and a homemaker/community activist, Gudziak as a youngster dreamed of being an NBA star, but his mother prayed that he would become a priest, said Chirovsky, who was Gudziak’s Cub Scout leader when the new metropolitan archbishop was 11.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and biology from Syracuse University in 1980, Gudziak traveled to Rome, where he earned a theology degree from the Pontifical Urban University in 1982. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1998, but not before spearheading important initiatives that helped revive the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which had been suppressed by Joseph Stalin after the Soviet Union took western Ukraine from Poland in 1939.

In 1992, three years after Russian leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev reinstated the church as legal, Gudziak moved to Lviv, where he founded the Institute of Church History to record the unwritten past of the church’s underground period. That year he also completed a doctorate in Slavic and Byzantine cultural history from Harvard University.

In 1993, Gudziak led a commission to revive the Lviv Theological Academy, which was closed in 1944. The school reopened that year and eventually evolved into what is now Ukrainian Catholic University. He served as rector and president of the schools.

In 2012, he was appointed to lead the Ukrainian Catholic Church diocese that includes France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland..

Europe "wasn’t a place, or a job, or a title. It was really a family spanning across five countries. One doesn’t leave family easily,” Gudziak said. “But I am coming home.”


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