Ukrainian or English: Pastors balance needs of Catholic communities
By Barb Fraze
Catholic News Service
WINNIPEG (CNS) — Many Ukrainian Catholic leaders serving the faithful outside the homeland face a dilemma: Do they serve the needs of the new immigrants and elderly by using Ukrainian in liturgies, or do they minister in English to keep younger people coming to church?
Ukrainian “has revived a little with the new immigrants,” who want their native language used in church so their children will know how to speak it, said Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadephia. Some places, he added, place an “inordinate emphasis” on Ukrainian-language liturgies.
Yet, especially among teens and younger Americans, “even those who speak Ukrainian don’t want to go to a Ukrainian service,” he said. Parents tell priests they are tired of arguing with their children about going to a service they do not understand.
“You don’t hear them protesting — they just walk away,” he told Catholic News Service.
In large Ukrainian Catholic parishes, liturgies are offered in Ukrainian and English. Of his 67 parishes, he said, only two would not offer bilingual homilies.
But the Philadelphia archdiocese’s situation is even a bit more complicated: Many immigrants are from Eastern Ukraine, and their language is Russian, so priests minister to them in their native language. This upsets Ukrainian nationalists, Soroka said, “but we can’t hold back evangelization because of Ukrainian nationalists.”
“If we don’t reach out to them,” Russian-speaking Ukrainians will go to Orthodox or evangelical churches, he said.
In Chicago, which has a large ethnic Ukrainian population, some fourth-generation Ukrainians still speak their homeland’s language, and many young people are forced to learn it, said Bishop Richard Seminack.
Yet after about age 15, “you become adapted to the American culture” and lose the language, he said. If liturgies are offered only in Ukrainian, young people “leave the church or go to the Roman Catholic Church or no church at all.”
Seminack, whose diocese includes the whole Western United States and extends into Hawaii, said in other Midwestern communities and along the West Coast, parishes have adapted English into the liturgy. But in Chicago, three of the Sunday liturgies at the cathedral use only Ukrainian, and only one is celebrated in English.
In the diocese that includes Great Britain and Ireland, “We still don’t have liturgies in English ... in all our churches,” said Bishop Hlib Lonchyna.
“It’s a problem and it’s a blessing,” he said. “It’s a blessing” because — especially in London — new immigrants feel at home in the church.
But some parish priests cannot speak English well enough to celebrate English-language liturgies, and some elderly Ukrainian Catholics “get very tense when things get celebrated in English,” he told Catholic News Service.
“Because of this mentality, we have lost a lot of people,” he added.
Bishop Peter Stasiuk of Melbourne, Australia, said language is not an issue in his diocese, which includes Australia and New Zealand. Most immigrants from Ukraine arrived after the Second World War, and “we have integrated into the Australian community very well,” he told Catholic News Service.
The church has been using primarily English “for quite a while” and uses Ukrainian only “where people request it and where it is necessary.”
“The church’s role is to evangelize the people, not to teach language,” he said, adding, “Our biggest problem isn’t language, it’s secularization.”
The concept of what gives the Ukrainian Catholic Church its identity is “a work in progress,” said Winnipeg Archbishop Lawrence Huculak. Liturgy, music, icons, traditions vestments all “work to attract people to the faith,” he said. But church leaders must balance those items’ importance against the faith itself, he said.
When Ukrainian Catholics prepare traditional Easter food and bring it for a blessing Holy Saturday or early Easter morning, it is “a unique combination of food, culture, tradition and prayer life,” he said. Some items from Good Friday might still be set up in the church and “it just all works together.”
“The culture has stayed alive and found new creativity,” he said. “Unfortunately, perhaps language is the most difficult (cultural aspect) to maintain.”
Huculak noted that French-Canadian Catholics face similar language problems.
The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, spent years working in Argentina.
“Our most vibrant parishes in Argentina are Spanish-speaking,” he said.
When Shevchuk met with young people at a Winnipeg parish Sept. 7, he told them not to worry about not being able to speak Ukrainian.
“This is not a church of Ukrainians, it’s a church of Christ,” Shevchuk said. “We are a global church. We are a church of the Ukrainian tradition.”
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops