The Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, has arrived in Perth for his first visit to Australia.

Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav will spend two weeks visiting most major cities starting with Perth, where today parishioners from the Ukrainian Catholic Parish of St John the Baptist came out in force to the airport on Wednesday evening to greet their Patriarch on his arrival with the traditional offering of bread and salt.

To see photos from Perth click here.

The head of the largest Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with Rome (with 7 million faithful worldwide) was also honoured with a welcome ceremony at the airport conducted by aboriginal elders of the Noongar people, of the Perth indigenous community.

Ms Maru Jarocky, the head of the Eparchial Pastoral Council of Australia, remarked that the arrival of the head of the UGCC in Australia is an historical moment.  “Today Australia rejoices in this meeting with their Patriarch” she emphasised.

“His Grace, Bishop Peter [eparch for Australia and New Zealand’s Ukrainian Catholics] told me that my predecessors usually visited Perth last.  We wanted the last to be first, to show that we are a united Ukrainian church.  Everyone is important.  Every has his or her own unique place.  And today, more than ever, we need to be together,” said the Major-Archbishop of Ukrainian Catholics.

It must be said that the faithful of the UGCC in Australia have waited a long time for this moment.  It has been almost 30 years since the head of their church has visited, when Metropolitan Ivan (Lubachivsky) visited in 1986.  “This is an extraordinarily spiritually uplifting event for us.  We have been waiting for this for a long time” said Mrs Myroslava Stasiv, who migrated here in 1950 along with 40,000 other post WWII refugee Ukrainians.  Most of them belonged to the UGCC, which was banned under the Soviets from 1944 but continued its existence in the underground – a true Church of the Catacombs.  Through this period it came to be regarded as the largest underground church  that had ever existed, numbering several million members, and with the Soviet thaw in 1989 it sprang readily back to life in its Ukrainian homeland and continues to flourish there.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav was born into a family that was part of that underground church.  He was ordained a priest in 1994, three years after Ukraine had declared its independence 1994, and in 2011 was elected by the Synod of UGCC bishops from around the world to be their leader.

The Major-Archbishop will celebrate liturgies in Ukrainian and English around Australia and will meet with representatives of Ukrainian communities, students and academics, clergy of the UGCC, Roman Catholic clergy and clergy from other Catholic churches as well as representatives of other Christian denominations.  He will also meet  with politicians and media in all major cities including the nation’s capital.

He will travel around Australia until 30 September 2014 when he returns to Ukraine, ahead of the Ukrainian Parliamentary elections due to take place in October.

UGCC information Department