There are many places in the world in which people suffer religious persecution and even martyrdom. We must always reach out in the solidarity of our prayers and our good works to remember them and to assist them. And this suffering, this living out the reality of the cross of Jesus, has always been at the center of our lives as Christians. But rather than wallow in it, we celebrate it and grow in faith because of it.
Several weeks ago, I returned from a pastoral visit to one region that has known just this kind of persecution: Ukraine. Joined by Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, we had the honor of visiting many programs and institutions that we, as members of the CNEWA family, are privileged to support.
We came at the invitation of Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to participate in the consecration of the new Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Our Lord, located in Kiev, Ukraine, and to commemorate a historic religious event heralding the beginning of the church in Ukraine. Gathered with us for the formal celebrations were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, CNEWA’s chair and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Richard Smith, his counterpart in Canada; and a number of Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops from Canada and the United States.
But our primary reason for visiting Ukraine was pastoral — to demonstrate CNEWA’s abiding support for this church that is, in fact, relatively young. Let me explain.
I say “young” because even though the church has been present there for over 1,000 years, it was suppressed for generations — forbidden and driven underground until only 22 years ago. With the fall of communism and the end of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has risen from the underground. Today, it is a dynamic and vibrant church. It never lost the faith — in fact, despite thousands of bishops, priests, sisters and lay faithful being executed or sent off to labor camps in the countryside and into Siberia, the faith was heroically passed on to successive generations.
What amazed and moved me was that these brave and courageous people do not complain about their great sufferings. Nor do they not look for pity. Rather, they celebrate their joy of rising with Christ and proclaiming him to all. The consecration of the new cathedral was a dramatic sign to the faithful in Ukraine and beyond that the faith shared in baptism can flourish — even in the worst of times.
CNEWA has been blessed to accompany this heroic church since it came back above ground. We have been able to help support the Catholic University of Ukraine in Lviv from the day of its founding just over 20 years ago, especially through the generosity of Canadian Catholics. The mission of the university includes the celebration of the martyrdom and suffering of those who gave so much to preserve and maintain the faith in the darkest of times. The lesson for us is simple: Never forget that the cross is part of the vocation of the Christian.
During our visit, we were also privileged to visit seminaries CNEWA supports. One in Lviv is a large and thriving facility that has recently expanded to accommodate the surge in vocations. Another is only three years old, presently situated in a rural hamlet outside of Kiev in a large country house. But the Holy Spirit is working overtime at this seminary, as more young men answer the call to priesthood — so many, in fact, that this humble facility needs to be enlarged. Many of these candidates for the priesthood have already received advanced degrees and are now answering a call from God to serve as priests in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
We also enjoyed some lovely visits with people with special needs, those challenged physically and intellectually. The church in Ukraine is offering noble service to those people and to their families. It is also giving witness of the dignity of every human being. And CNEWA proudly walks with the church in this important ministry.
There are other exciting dimensions of ministry that, for a young church, are progressing quite well, such as prison ministry, university and military chaplaincy, evangelization programs, ecumenical outreach and social service and health care programs. CNEWA offers its support in all of these areas, even if to a modest degree.
The beautiful, towering domes adorning the newly consecrated cathedral in Kiev are a visible reminder to all that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is alive and well, thanks to the grace of God.
Our CNEWA family gives thanks to God that we are witnesses to this great resurrection. We join our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who have come above ground to share their heroic testimonies of faith with us. They do not want our sympathy; they invite us simply to celebrate our faith with them.
God bless Ukraine and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church!
God bless the children and God bless you!