Catholics in Ukraine: "Today we are seen as an indigenous church"
By Reinhard Backes
In Ukraine the Catholic Church enjoys a highly positive reception. This is true for the members of the adherents of the Roman Catholic and of the Greek Catholic Churches. While the latter is present mainly in western and central Ukraine, Catholics of the Latin rite are encountered throughout the country, as the Archbishop of Lviv, Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, stressed during a visit to the Catholic charity "Aid to the Church in Need". "Formerly the Catholic Church in Ukraine was often referred to as the Polish church, but today we are being seen more and more as an indigenous church. The Catholic Church in Ukraine has a new identity," Archbishop Mokrzycki explained. He claimed that a clear majority of the Roman Catholic Christians speak Ukrainian. Among the faithful other languages are also common, including Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian and Russian; about ten per cent speak Polish. In view of the lack of priests locally there are still pastoral workers who come originally from Poland; in the Archdiocese of Lviv there are at present 60 out of 180 priests.
(Archbishop of Lviv, Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki © Aid to the Church in Need)
Up to 1945 the Bishops of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches formed a Bishops' Conference. In the subsequent period of the Soviet Union, to which Lviv belonged after the Second World War, Christians suffered reprisals. In this period of oppression, persecution and dispersion the cohesion of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches dissipated because of the different cultures, nationalities, denominations and religions in Ukraine. This also affected Lviv. War, German occupation, the destruction of the Jewish population and the soviet epoch have left deep wounds. To the present day the past places a strain on the relations between the Christian denominations.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the revival of church life the Roman Catholic and Greek-Catholic Bishops initially went their different ways; their relationship was not always untroubled. In particular many buildings confiscated in the communist era were not returned to the Roman Catholic Church. At the instigation of Archbishop Mokrzycki the Bishops of the Churches, which are in full communion with the Holy See, now meet annually, for the past five years in a joint conference and for the past three years also for the purpose of joint religious exercises. To date there has not been a joint Catholic Bishops' Conference, however.
Archbishop Mokrzycki comes from the Polish town of Majdan Lukawiecki, which is located on the Ukrainian border. The distance from here to Lviv is barely 75 kilometres. Until 1991 the Polish part belonged to the Archdiocese of Lviv. Only since the independence of Ukraine have the boundaries of the Diocese been limited to Ukrainian territory. Archbishop Mokrzycki studied theology in Lublin. In 1987 he was ordained as a priest. In 1996 he obtained his doctorate in Rome and then up to 2005 he was secretary to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. For just under five years Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, now 52, has led the Diocese of Lviv in the west of Ukraine. He sees it as his task to strengthen pastoral work: "Ukraine is a young country, a new reality. And the Catholic Church in Ukraine is a living church. We are primarily missionaries here; we see that in our catecheses, which are received with great interest because people are opening themselves up to the faith." "Aid to the Church in Need" has supported the pastoral work of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine for many years. In 2012, 277 projects were funded to the tune of $4.9 million.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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