New Head of Ukrainian Catholics: We want our Church to be alive

31 March 2011, 13:10 | Interview | 3 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

article_0.jpgNewly elected and enthroned Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) gave his first press-conference to Ukrainian journalists in Kyiv before his trip to Holy See and audience of Pope Benedict XVI.

His Beatitude Lubomyr

What awaits us, where are we going, where are we headed? First, I want to say that I feel that I am perhaps the spiritual son and successor of His Beatitude Lubomyr. On Sunday, in my concluding remarks at the liturgy, I said that he, like a good father, carefully educated me, that is, embraced me, revealed to me all his plans and dreams. I had been his secretary and thus helped develop the Patriarchal Curia in Lviv. Then he sent me to the other side of the world, to Argentina, so that I, he said, could learn to persevere. And so, on the one hand, I was involved in building all the structures, processes we have today in our church, and, on the other hand, had the chance — you know, like the artist who wants to see the entirety of what he has painted — to step away.

And today I can say that I have the honor to continue all that His Beatitude started, began to build, or laid the foundations for. An example of this is the Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv; it may be almost complete, but it still needs its finishing touches. On the other hand, as you may recall, back in 2006 our synod adopted a strategy for our church, which is formulated in a very laconic, but very profound phrase: “The holiness of people united by God.” Holiness is the main objective of the church for the church is a spiritual institution that leads people to God’s Holiness, to God.

Unity of Ukrainian Churches

Indeed, as our church is spread across the world, the people are united by God.  Today we are present not only in all regions of Ukraine, in varying degrees, but also in the United States and Canada where we have metropolitans, in Brazil where we have three bishops, in Argentina where there are three bishops, two of whom are already emeriti; I was third, and now the position is vacant and we will look for a missionary to take the place. The same goes for Western Europe, Australia...

So, it is very important that this unity, the internal unity of the church, is consolidated because in doing so we can also enrich our Ukraine. This unity is also open to other churches of the Kyiv tradition. In particular, I want to mention that for me and for all of us it was a great gift, a sign from God, that at our Sunday liturgy were present representatives of all Christian Churches of the Kyivan tradition: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church. And the representatives were bishops. During the singing of the Creed, I approached each of the bishops with open arms and said: “Christ is among us!” and each of them responded: “He is and will be!” For me this was a great sign that our openness resonates very well with our brothers and is found in their hearts. And the same went for the greeting I received from each of the bishops after the liturgy, which was an appeal and hope that together we will build our state on a solid foundation of Christian faith — this cooperation will ensure that all traditional Christian values are present in contemporary culture. Therefore, I am not talking only about internal unity of the church but about the unity that we want with others. It is very important that our people, the people of Ukraine, felt like a Christian nation, because the people of God is one of the synonyms of the church. The church is God’s people who are led by the Holy Spirit and its pastors toward one goal, the Heavenly homeland.

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Strategy

197606_152109574851242_100001566001530_320755_6132012_n.jpgAlso, I would like to say that a very good, very profound slogan is specified in some very clear positions. At the last synod, held, if I am not mistaken, in September of last year, our bishops formed a team with several bishops, many of them young bishops, including me, so that we could clearly define how we want to see our church in ten years. We wanted to draft a ten-year plan for the development of our church. And we did. And later, literally on the eve of our synod, we formed another group whose task it was to work out the specific mechanisms to ensure that our pious wishes and aspirations are realized.

What is our strategy? How do we want to see our church in those ten years? Our aspirations and our desires we grouped into three points. The first point is our pastoral or evangelistic activity. Why do we want to place emphasis here? Well, first of all, this is a question of God’s sermons. In church language this is called evangelization, that is, we want to be ourselves, to be a truly living Church of Christ, which aims to bring the Good News to every person that is sent to us by the Lord God. The second important component is the question of youth policy or the care for our youth, because they are our future. On my part, from my experience in Argentina, I want to tell you that our diaspora is very concerned about the future of their youth, who are at risk of being assimilated. But I was able to gather a lot of young people at various congresses. And the youth is looking to the church for answers to specific issues that concern them today, for guidance, for foundations for their lives. And, of course, now that the church has a young head, whom will he first address? The youth of course! His peers. So that I may share how I live. The next component is the question of the education of the future clergy. This is extremely important. The development of theological education, development and, I would say, a certain way to educate young clerics to be effective pastors not only today but also in the future.

And the next question, which I really pushed as we developed this strategy, is the question inculturation. Maybe this is so important to me because I ended up in South America and asked myself what it meant to be an Eastern rite Christian in Latin American culture. What we here consider east, for that side of the world is north; that is, these geographical orientations are completely different. That’s when I saw the extraordinary interest in our church, and that entire time I preached in Spanish, translating into Spanish the traditional Greek, Old Slavonic spiritual concepts, expressions, and phrases. That culture was in great need of the treasure of faith and spiritual traditions that we have in our Byzantine Eastern spirituality. We as a church descended from the mission of the Slavic Apostles Cyril and Methodius — great translators of the Scripture and liturgy — have an extraordinary mission to continue this translation so we may pray properly and profoundly in English, in Spanish, in Portuguese, in Ukrainian. That is why the question of inculturation is very important. In Ukraine as well, because I think that the modern Ukrainian person often does not understand the old, outworn words, and they have to be presented in a new way. One boy from the province of Misiones told me this: “You know, Bishop, if the church is a museum that preserves very well the cultural artifacts of the past, then one can visit it once a year, like every other museum; but to live in a museum...  no thanks.” So we want our church to be alive and able to give this.

The second part of our strategy concerns the question of administration. The church, which is scattered throughout the world, requires a single center. When I was working with His Beatitude, I was assigned to build the executive vertical structure of the church — what we call the curia. Because if we, the bishops at the synod, make great resolutions and there is no effective executive power to implement them, they will remain declarations, far from the real life of our faithful, our parishes, and our communities around the world. Now the curia is in Kyiv; it is being developed, and this administration center should prove to be very effective. We are now studying the experience of modern management, how to accomplish the most work at the least expense. Then we can really convince everyone that our administration is effective. The administration, of course, should serve the pastoral mission.

And the third component, the third position, is the question of geography—the geographical presence of our church. Our church has been dispersed throughout the world, not only across regions of Ukraine; our faithful, because of immigration and deportation, have settled everywhere. Today we focus on reaching all of our faithful to give them adequate pastoral care. In certain regions of the world we have structures that allow us to take care of our faithful. But, for instance, we know that our faithful is not only in Australia but also in South Africa. Then we think: “Lord, where will our faithful be in ten years ... where will we need to go, where should we direct our resources?”  Human resources, intellectual resources, even financial resources. How can we prepare for what we call globalization? We must know how to respond appropriately to all these changes.

It is this strategy, which I have outlined, that I, as the new head of the church, will try to continue. Everyone asked me: “Bishop, are you not scared?” You know, on the one hand, I will say this — somehow I get by... like an ant in front of a big hill. But, on the other hand, I want to say that I have great confidence because His Beatitude Lubomyr is with me. You know, they say that each of us is born a human – true, but then throughout life we must become more human. Well, I was just born as a new father, the patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, but my whole life I must become him. And I am very pleased; it is a gift from the Lord God that while I become a father to all, I will be, I would say, under good care, under the gentle guidance of my father, my teacher, my elder His Beatitude Lubomyr.     

Issue of the Patriarchal Status

Today I, together with my bishops, with all the metropolitans of our church, and with our permanent synod, head to Rome. One the one hand, it is our duty to make a courtesy visit to the Holy Father, and, on the other hand, we must confirm our communion with him, our unity. And, of course, we have prepared many points for the synod to present to the Holy Father. We will show him that our church is developing. And each developing Eastern Church comes closer to the patriarchate. The patriarchate is the natural completion of this church.

On the one hand, the idea prevails that the patriarchate should be given to someone. But in truth it is not like this because one must mature to patriarchal dignity. And we all thought that at some point during the 20 years since the liberation of our church we underwent the process of maturation. I will present to the Holy Father some elements of our church’s maturity. For me, to be the patriarch means to be a father to all. If, for example, my faithful who are perhaps a bit lost in Argentina, Brazil, in Australia, feel that I, in Ukraine, can really give them something, can provide them with some care, a service, then we will have a patriarchate. All the different titles, mechanisms, different political situations – all this is minor. And all this has one purpose: children have the right to a father!

Relations with the Orthodox world

Our policy, that is, our way of communicating with them, will help shape a constructive dialogue and cooperation. I would like to share with you my most recent ideas and impressions. Right before our synod, I attended an international conference of the very important charitable organization Church in Need in Germany. I was invited to serve a celebratory liturgy according to our rite. Right after the liturgy, a roundtable was held with the participation of the prefect of the Papal Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Koch, as well as with the head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Ilarion Alfeiev. It was a very interesting roundtable where the necessity of a strategic alliance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church was voiced. Obviously, we feel a part of such a strategic alliance. But in what sense? Metropolitan Ilarion explained that it is not about merging or subordinating to someone. “Strategic alliance” is rather a military term. What does it mean? That we today should jointly defend traditional Christian values. Let me quote the Metropolitan Аlfeiev: “We do not have to struggle against Islam in Europe. But we must struggle for the strength of Christianity. We do not intend to speak against abortions, but we intend to struggle for human life. We do not so much want to struggle against a distorted view on Christianity as for the traditional Christian Evangelical values, which have been brought by the Church of Christ to the modern human since the times of the Apostles.” You know, I personally and our whole Church feel very comfortable in such a “strategic alliance.” Moreover, in his greeting address to me, Patriarch Volodymyr calls me to do just that, to build the Ukrainian society together on the basis of Christian values that are held sacred by our churches in their traditions.

Catholic education

I think it is very interesting, very important that education is a vital strategic component of our church. I briefly mentioned this before. Unfortunately, Ukraine is affected by the fallout of the Soviet education system. I was able to compare it to the educational system of such a country as Argentina. In the Soviet system, the government had absolute control over education and training, allowing it to inculcate a materialistic worldview in the Soviet people. And the remnants of this education remain. So we see how difficult it was and still is to develop a private or church system of education, how difficult it is to have an alternative to public education. We have several Catholic schools, but they have no clear legal status. Therefore, it is a rather difficult issue. The state does not know or is not ready to accept Catholic education. In his time His Beatitude understood how important it is for parents to be able to educate their children to preserve Christian values: from kindergarten through university. Parents must have the right to educate their children in accordance with the principles and values they hold. The policy of the Soviet education system was that the state educates children. But one of the components of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church is that parents and family bring up their children. And no one — neither the church nor the state — can take away the right of parents to educate their children. We must help them. A big challenge for our future is not just to overcome the existing schemes but to share our centuries-old experience of Catholic schooling with the authorities if they were willing to work together with us.

Missions in the eastern Ukraine

When commenting on the transfer of his See to Kyiv, His Beatitude Lubomyr said: “We are not here to be against someone but to be with someone.” Similarly, our presence in various region of Ukraine is to be with someone. First of all, it is to be together with our faithful who have ended up in those regions. It is no secret that many of our people who were deported from the western regions were not allowed to return. And many of them are in eastern and southern regions of our country, and they founded parishes there. These people sought spiritual guidance. And of course our first objective is to be with them. I think the next objective is to be together with our fellow Orthodox — not against them but with them. It is a great opportunity to meet them, to learn the about the region, even to understand why it is difficult for them to accept us. This is the root of our fear. I think that our presence can diminish that fear. On the other hand, I’ll tell you that my years of service in Luhansk showed me that there are a lot of people, entire generations, who have grown up without the presence of the church. Therefore, this is a chance to give them the opportunity. I will give you an example from when I served in the army during Ukraine’s turbulent 90s. When I returned from the soldier’s glorious “leave,” I brought back the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was printed in Lithuania. The edition was a bit primitive, but clear — a reprint of an old Catechism. My second year I served in the medical service, and I worked with ordinary people, nurses, orderlies, and doctors. One day a nurse asked to borrow this book, which she had seen on my table. And let me tell you — this Catechism was returned to me eight months later in a hardcover. Then I was told that it was shared with the entire medical staff and their families. People read it with such respect that they returned it me in a hardcover. Moreover, our boss, the lieutenant of the medical service, an ethnic Jew, when I was transferred to the reserve, gave me the Gospel and Renan’s “The Life of Jesus.”  He called me to his office and said: “You know, Slavychek, I think that you can not write on the holy books. But this is our memory of you.” This is an example of living communication, which is also required in those regions. That is why I think that our presence should be with them, not against them. And then a lot of things will go away by themselves.

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  • Graham | 18 August 2013, 22:40
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    One hopes that His Beatitude Sviatoslav will press for more and more education. It is the answer to bring more and more to the faith of Catholicism - to change the hearts and minds of a vastly secular world. Faith - HOPE - love.

  • Olena Jatsyshyn, Toronto | 11 April 2011, 06:48
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    I pray that the day will come when women can be ordained in the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church. This would truly open doors to a balanced representation of God's children at the altar to serve With love and dedication. A woman should be able to choose to not only become a "bride" of Christ - but a sister who is able to share His Body and Blood with her brethren. For this I will continue to pray to the end of my last breath.

    • Patricia | 20 August 2013, 14:52
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      Olena, Neither men or women 'choose' to serve at the holy altar of the Lord, it is God alone who calls them. Holy Orders is not a right, it is a privilege & a great responsibility. The Church has spoken definitively that, according to Sacred Tradition, only men are to be ordained to the priesthood. No one values, protects, & exalts the dignity & role of women more than the Catholic Church. In her faithfulness to Our Lord, the Theotokos should be a model & guide for all Christians, & for all women in particular. God bless --

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