I have been attending the synods of the Ukrainian Catholic Church since 1993 and have just returned from the 2015 Synod which was held in Ivano- Frankivsk. It is very noticeable that Ukraine has transformed herself.
About a year ago His Beatitude Lybomyr Husar said that the events at the maidan in Kyiv, Ukraine would change Ukraine forever. He was right. One marvels that it happened so fast.
This is the first time in 22 years that I did not hear the Russian language on the streets of Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk. While the Russian language is still used, it is not as it was last year. Today people are making an effort to speak only in Ukrainian.
There is a noticeable increase in economic activity. Both cities I visited have many sections which resemble cities in Western Europe. Tourism has a great future in Ukraine.
Ukrainian pride is witnessed by the wearing of Ukrainian traditional cross-stitched clothing. Ukrainian flags are found in most part of Ukraine both on cars, on buildings and elsewhere .
Generally the roads are still horrible, but there are signs that even this area of the country is slowly improving.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church has grown with its people and country. Today there are more than twice as many bishops in our Synod as there were 22 years ago. Most of our bishops are young. Seven were ordained in the past year. We now have 51.
The seminaries are full. There are many ordinations each year. Our Church is present in every part of Ukraine. The church has especially expanded in Eastern Ukraine where there were a handful of priests a few years ago, today there are hundreds. Over 90 priests serve as chaplains in Ukrainian army. There is a new and strong chaplaincy at the sea ports of Ukraine. There are plans for the Ukrainian navy as well. The chaplaincy apostolate has expanded into various forms of Ukrainian life. ie. hospitals and schools.
Church attendance is up generally throughout the country, this especially after the events in Kyiv, a year ago.
Catechism has been an interest of mine over the past 20 years. At the beginning it was a real struggle to convince bishops, priests and parishes about the need to have a specific Ukrainian Catholic Catechism and to teach it in all our parishes and Eparchies. A huge effort has been made in this area. Today we have a full program with our own Catechism “Christ our Pashka” plus many supplementary books. The catechism has now been translated into several languages. The English version will come out in a few months.
The bishops and priests no longer need to be persuaded of its importance. They now demand a further expansion of the material for proper teaching of our faith. They have asked the youth catechism be written in time for next year’s synod.
The catechism “Christ our Paskha” has now become the basis for acceptance of a whole Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Eparchy into our Church in Ukraine. A committee has been set up to make this possible.
In 2011 our church established a special program called Vision 2020. “A Vibrant Parish, a place to find the living Christ.” This program has been enthusiastically accepted around the world, but especially in Ukraine.
Just last month over 300 delegates from across the world gathered to access the last 4 and to look at the next 5 years in the life of each of our parishes in all Eparchies. This program is making a huge difference already. Our parishes are taking the program seriously. Our church has become a “Vibrant Church.”
Yes, Ukraine has changed, and our Church has grown. We are praying, singing, studying and generally living a more active parish life. Let us pray that Jesus will continue to bless us as we work to make Him known to the world. That is the key to the growth of our faith.
Bishop Peter Stasiuk
SOME PERSONAL IMPRESSIONS OF TODAY’S UKRAINE BY METROPOLITAN STEFAN SOROKA
Traffic congestion on narrow streets filled with recent model vehicles. Rampant use of cell phones by people of all ages walking on the streets, with cell phones heard ringing even within churches. Large modern television screens in restaurants and in public places showing up to date news. Popular western world songs sung in Ukrainian sung in plazas by bands. Colorful modern dress including men wearing summer shorts, something not seen just a couple of years ago. A tremendous amount of construction of apartments is evident. This is Ukraine today. Societal life in Ukraine is undergoing significant change in recent years. Streets of cities and villages are filled with younger generations of people. Their experience of life reflects the influence of mass media and from exposure to societal life in neighboring countries where many have sought employment. Considerable pride and interest in their historical roots is evident among the people. Today’s Ukrainians impress as yearning for growth in their faith relationship with Almighty God. Worship services are attended by faithful of all ages, commonly standing in the crowded but limited number of churches. There is special reverence given to the Mother of God in churches, at holy shrines and in public places. People express hope in an improved future, dampened by the fears and uncertainty from the war in eastern Ukraine. All of Ukrainian society is focused on praying for the military, showing gratitude to them and materially helping the developing Ukrainian army defending the borders and integrity of Ukraine against its invaders. Villages gather produce of potatoes and cabbage from gardens and fields and send it to the army in the east. Even thousands of perohy have been shipped, along with needed day-to-day items, delivering them with great gratitude to the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine. People who themselves have so little for sustenance offer so generously to their defenders! The Ukrainian army is in its infancy in developing its chaplaincy program. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has shown extraordinary initiative by developing a volunteer chaplaincy program for the soldiers in eastern Ukraine. Many priests have heard the special call to minister to the spiritual needs of the soldiers, and have responded with much personal sacrifice and dedication. Interestingly, the head of this chaplaincy ministry of our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has shared that the generous outpouring of support of people in Ukraine and beyond has provided for the subsistence needs of these volunteer chaplains. The need for chaplains is great as is the need to minister to the spiritual needs of the soldiers. This includes ministering to those who have been injured, suffering post war stress, and families struggling with grief from the loss of family members as a result of the war. We in America are challenged to update our vision of today’s Ukraine. It is not the same society which may have existed at a time when many Ukrainians immigrated to the USA. We are also challenged to grow in our identity and pride as Ukrainians; particularly to ensure that our children and all future generation are exposed to the richness and beauty of our Ukrainian roots and traditions. Finally, we are challenged to advocate wherever possible, on behalf of our beloved Ukraine, for the integrity of Ukraine’s borders and national identity, and to provide moral and material support as needed. God bless Ukraine!