Ukrainian Catholic Church continues to grow: Shevchuk
By Ramon Gonzalez
EDMONTON (CCN) — In spite of persecution under the Soviet Union,
the Ukrainian Catholic Church has grown exponentially in the past two
decades and now has more than six million adherents worldwide.
“Now our faithful are located in the whole territory of Ukraine,” said
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who was recently enthroned as head
of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. “We can now provide pastoral
care to the faithful in different parts of Ukraine.”
In the past, most Ukrainian faithful were located in Western Ukraine
and so the head of the church was in Lviv. In 2005 the headquarters of
the church were moved to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, to reflect the
national character of the church.
The growth outside Ukraine is due to what Shevchuk termed “the
very huge phenomenon of new immigration,” with Ukrainians leaving
not just for Canada and other places where the church has solid structures
but also to countries like Greece, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Spain and
Portugal, where the church was not present before.
“So we are trying to reach our people all over the world where
they are present to give them the pastoral care (they need) and to develop
our structures in order to provide the normal function and existence
of our communities,” Shevchuk said at a June 6 news conference.
“Canada is the third largest Ukrainian community after Ukraine
and Russia,” he said. “But in Russia we do not have such
a development of our structures. Everywhere we have our faithful we will
provide for them pastoral assistance.”
Shevchuk was elected head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in March of
2011. He replaced Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, 77, who retired for health
reasons in February.
Shevchuk’s youth and his position as bishop of an eparchy in Argentina from 2009 until 2011 made him an unusual choice to succeed Husar.
previous appointments included positions at Lviv’s Holy Spirit
Theological Seminary as well as the Ukrainian Catholic University. He
also served as Husar’s personal secretary from 2002 to 2005.
When the synod announced his election as leader he could not believe
“I’m the youngest bishop in the Ukrainian Catholic Church,” he
said. “Why me? I don’t know. I feel God is calling younger
people to lead the church.”
Shevchuk is a bright, well-read and jovial prelate with a gift for languages.
He speaks Ukrainian, English, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish.
He made a pastoral visit of Alberta June 6-10. His visit
is part of the Edmonton Ukrainian eparchy’s celebration of the
100th anniversary of the installation of the first Ukrainian Catholic
bishop of Canada, the Blessed Nykyta Budka, who came to Canada in 1912.
Pope John Paul II beatified Budka as a martyr in 2001.
Shevchuk presided at a Divine Liturgy at St. Basil’s
Church with 600 students and staff of all Catholic schools that offer
the Ukrainian bilingual program (see related story).
In the news conference Shevchuk said he had discussed the possible restoration of his church’s historic status as a patriarchate with Pope Benedict during a recent visit to the Vatican.
“And for us this is a matter of development, progress or regress.
If we one day we say ‘OK, we’ll not aspire to the patriarchal
dignity (anymore),’ it means that we will stop in our development
and we’ll start to die.
“And the Holy Father responded me, ‘OK, you have all those
good reasons for aspiring to the patriarchal dignity but you have to
be patient. We have to pray and one day this very title will come.’ ”
Ukrainian Catholics, whose church reunited with the Roman
Catholic Church in 1596, have generally regarded their leader as a legitimate
patriarch — particularly
since the fall of the Soviet Union, when the church came out of illegal
In fact, the church’s faithful regarded Husar as
the patriarch of Kiev, and applied the title to him in liturgical settings.
Although the Vatican did not officially recognize him under this title,
the announcement of his retirement significantly made reference to the
portion of canon law that describes the retirement of Eastern patriarchs.
For Ukrainian Catholics, the patriarchate is not a matter
of recognition but a matter of existence, Shevchuk said. “And we
do exist step by step as a patriarchal church.”
In his meeting at the Vatican following his election, Shevchuk
also told the pope, “For the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the communion
with the Holy See is a part of its own identity.”
Bishop David Motiuk said he, like the majority of the Ukrainian
bishops, selected Shevchuk as the head of the church “because he is a man
of vision” who can look at the needs of the church of today and
“I was looking for someone who for many years can
develop a pastoral response to the needs of the church and have the time
to put that plan forward. In other words, I was looking for someone younger
who can do that.”
Motiuk also said that in choosing a new leader he was looking for someone
who can represent the universality of the Ukrainian Catholic Church which
has adherents both inside and outside Ukraine.
“(Shevchuk) has impressed me beyond all expectations,” Motiuk said.
“He has been able to capture the hearts of the young people
in these past few days.”
Shevchuk will be back in Canada in late August to visit the Ukrainian
Catholic faithful in British Columbia before going to Winnipeg in September
to lead the International Synod of Bishops. After the synod he will visit
the faithful in Saskatchewan. He will complete his pastoral visit next
year with a visit to Ontario and other areas.