‘Selfless Commitment’:
The Priests Serving the Church in Ukraine

Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz offers a revealing glimpse at the struggling but growing church in Ukraine in the December 2017 edition of ONE.

Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz offers a revealing glimpse at the struggling but growing church in Ukraine in the December 2017 edition of ONE. Here, he explains some of the burdens placed on the local priests.

The only way to describe what I saw on three reporting trips within the central Ukrainian Kiev Eparchy is selfless commitment.

Priests at these nascent, under-served parishes live under the same conditions as the parishioners. The parishes often have to go without a proper prayer space, such as a chapel; also usually lacking is recreational space for activities such as catechism classes or tea and coffee after the liturgies.

Priests usually are based in impoverished communities that often cannot afford to donate enough money to cover basic needs for the liturgies: candles, charcoal, bread, and wine.

As a result, clergymen often draw on their own resourcefulness and creativity to service these communities. It is often trial and error. They must exercise wisdom and patience to explain the church, it customs, holidays and prayers. Again, it is often done on a rudimentary level; 70 years of oppressive Communist rule drained much of the spirituality and religious knowledge from the people.

To a certain extent these communities resemble those of the early Christians in the first few centuries of the Church. They pray wherever they can find space and draw on their own strength to build communities.

Parish priests get some administrative support from the curia. They attend networking events where experience and ideas are exchanged among priests to see what works in different communities.

Charity groups such as Caritas and CNEWA help out as well.

For example, CNEWA donated a $15,000 portable wooden chapel to a parish community in Tarashcha, a district town 80 miles south of the nation’s capital of Kiev.

In December, the Catholic charity Caritas provides gifts to needy children on St. Nicholas Day. Priests look for benevolent sponsors to send parishioners to retreats in the Carpathian Mountains in the western part of the country.

And the curia tries to buy at least four properties a year for its clergyman so that they don’t have to rent living or prayer space.

Still, despite a seminary school having opened in 2010, the Kiev Eparchy can’t keep up with demand. As I write this, 10 communities were awaiting a parish priest.

The Eparchy witnessed a surge of parishioner interest in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church during the so-called Revolution of Dignity in 2014 that ousted a corrupt, Moscow-friendly president. The church was one of the first institutions to provide shelter, food and pastoral care to the freezing protesters that winter.

These tumultuous events spurred people to find answers to deep questions about their faith, their future and the country’s survival. They often turn to the church for guidance and solace.

The result is truly an inspiration.

I saw parish priests meet these challenges with an amazing sense of dignity — albeit under adverse conditions. And the people are eager to be a part of it all.

As one priest told me: “Parishes want to help. The church for Greek Catholic believers has a wider meaning than just to come, pray and leave. They want to build a community around a church.”

For an intimates look at the church in Ukraine, watch the short video below. And read more about Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in the current edition of our magazine.

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