His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar at his residence in Ukraine (Photo: Brett R. McCaw)
On June 7th,
Petro Poroshenko was inaugurated as Ukraine’s first elected president
since the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych in late February. As Poroshenko’s
presidency will take on the challenges of a country whose interests
straddle both East and West, the pivotal role of churches within the
Ukraine’s contemporary political developments cannot be overlooked.
While culturally Orthodox, contemporary Ukraine is one of Europe’s most
ecclesiastically pluralistic countries with the historical presence of
Eastern-rite Catholic, Latin-Rite Catholic, Protestant, and smaller
Jewish and Muslim communities along with its Orthodox majority, which is
represented by three churches: Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan
Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate),
and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
What St. John
Paul II would once refer to as the “Ecumenical Laboratory of Ukraine”
during his 2001 Papal visit to the country was very much manifest within
the Maidan movement over the past seven months. The ecumenical presence
of clergy along with public liturgies and prayers were quintessential
to the “Maidan” gatherings on Kyiv’s Independence Square that began in
late November of 2013.
Among the most notable religious figures
within post-Soviet Ukraine is His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, who
led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest Eastern-rite Church
in communion with Rome, from 2001 until his retirement in 2011. During
his decade of leadership, Cardinal Husar became a unanimously respected
moral and ecumenical voice in the country. Nevertheless, his leadership
faced significant challenges posed by the legacies of Soviet Communism
and the historical enmities between Ukraine’s Catholic and Orthodox
In this interview with the Catholic World Report,
Cardinal Husar offers his characteristically candid, yet wise, insight
into the role of the Church in Ukraine’s Maidan movement, the question
of ecumenism in Ukraine, and the oftentimes complex relationship between
the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.
CWR: Do you
feel that the experience of the Maidan movement has created an
opportunity for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to show its
solidarity for the whole of Ukraine?
His Beatitude Lubomyr:
The Church was not an agent, but served. And we made a point of it. We
were there to serve the people who had come on their own. We had done
nothing consciously to advise peopleto “convince” them to go. I
addressed the Maidan a couple of times in order to emphasize that the
Church supported the Maidan and for what it stood.
At last, the
people of Ukraine would live in a truly democratic society. We have
always spoken simplywelcoming what has happened simply in the sense of
serving and not in the intention of taking lead to become a leader in
this entire movement, but to serve people and serve their religious
CWR:During your leadership, you
made strong efforts to strengthen ecumenism between your Church
(Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) and Orthodox churches of Ukraine. In
particular, how would you assess the relationship of your church with
the Russian Orthodox ChurchMoscow Patriarchate?
His Beatitude Lubomyr:
Well, I did try to maintain contacts. But, I did not think we made
great achievements. At least we did not fight one another. So I think we
have been very peaceful, albeit very divided society. Concerning the
Ukrainian Orthodox under the Moscow Patriarchate, as long as the former,
pro-Russian government (under Viktor Yanukovych) was in office, it was
very difficult to speak with many of them. Now, since the truth, so to
say, is well known to everybody regarding the attitude of Russia toward
Ukraine, I think that speaking with our confreres within the Ukrainian
Orthodox Church under the Moscow patriarchate has become much easier.
the situation is still settling and we will have to wait. There are
still many positive signs. For example, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, is in
close contact with the Ukrainian Orthodox metropolitans Volodymyr (of
the Moscow Patriarchate), Patriarch Filaret (of Kyiv Patriarchate), and
others. Moreover, between our churches as of late, there have been
numerous common documents and declarations. Hence, there seems to be
much more mutual understanding between us. Over the last few months,
there have hardly been any attacks from anyone against anyone else. So, I
think this is a very interesting, but a very difficult period. We hope
that the Orthodox in Ukraine will find and re-establish unity. At that
point, we will see ecumenism in Ukraine as a very promising thing.
During his 2001 visit, Pope St. John Paul II spoke of Ukraine as an
Yet, I do not think that we should fall
into some spirit of unjustified euphoria, thinking that tomorrow
everything will be set. It will take much, much, time. I have no doubts
about that. With the help of God, the situation is neither tragic nor
hopeless. However, concerning formal, ultimate, real
re-unificationwell, this is something for the long-term future.
In the Vatican’s ecumenical outreach to the Russian Orthodox
ChurchMoscow Patriarchate, has your Church been incorporated in any
His Beatitude Lubomyr: Well, no.
Since the time of Cardinal Casaroli, the Vatican has been in contact
with the Russian Orthodox ChurchMoscow Patriarchate on a
speaking-basis, which is not bad. Pope St. John XXIII once wisely said
that “no matter what, its good to speak to one another.” Now, as you
know, politics has played a major role here. The Moscow Patriarchate
insists that it cannot meet the Pope until the Vatican has “put in
place” the “[Ukrainian] Greek Catholics”. Even President Putin, several
years ago, has spoken of our Church as being a problemas being an
enemyas being unjustly nationalist and so on. Moreover, he claimed that
we were persecuting the Orthodox faithful in western Ukraine, but
nobody can prove anything, because there is no such “persecution”.
a matter of fact, the Vatican realized this, because at the beginning,
the Vatican believed that, but we made it clear that this was not the
case. The Vatican knows now that we are not persecuting anybodythat the
Orthodox, be it the Moscow Patriarchate or the Kyivan Patriarchate, are
perfectly free in western Ukraine.
CWR: So, the response of the Vatican with regard to your role with the Moscow Patriarchate has been supportive, generally?
His Beatitude Lubomyr:
Well, you see, when I was still in office, there was a project that
would allow us to discuss with the Orthodox. The Vatican does not
recognize the other Orthodox churches in Ukraine, just the Moscow
Patriarchate. So, the Vatican and Moscow would be like elder “brothers”
who would sit in on the discussion. I said, "No, we do not need the
elder brotherif we want to, we can speak for ourselves.” I don’t think
that that some in the Vatican were terribly happy about thator so I
heard, I don't know. But we did not wish to enter into this. The Holy
Father, Benedict XVI, on at least two occasions, has encouraged us to
maintain contacts, but also strongly urged us to take our own tradition
very seriously concerning the fact that we are an Eastern
ChurchCatholic, yet Eastern.
The present Pope as well as Pope
Benedict have been supportive of us. The Vatican Curia has always tried
to maintain contacts with Moscow as many high officials of the Curia
visit the Moscow Patriarchate. In itself, this is not something bad.
Has Rome made any effort to reach out to the other Orthodox Churches of
Ukrainethe Kyiv Patriarchate or Autocephalous Church?
His Beatitude Lubomyr:
Somehow, they never wanted to … There was Cardinal Cassidy, Cardinal
Kasper, Cardinal Kochthey always avoided, very consciously, contacts
with the “non-canonical” Orthodox. The idea was to not offend Moscow. I
think something more could have been done. The Holy Father [St. John
Paul II], in this sense, when he was here in 2001, spoke with all,
without making any distinction. The Pope did a great thing because he
showed that he was openequally open to everybody and I think this left a
good impression. But somehow, the politics are the way they are. I am
not happy with it, but there are many other things that I do not know,
so I don't presume to make judgment on anybody.
regard to Russia, could you tell me a little bit about the situation of
Ukrainian Greek Catholics in the Russian Federation and the obstacles to
providing adequate pastoral ministry for them?
His Beatitude Lubomyr:
Neither the Russian Catholic (Eastern-rite) nor the Ukrainian Greek
Catholics are able to officially register. The attitude of the
government is that Russia is supposed to be Orthodox and if you are not
Orthodox, you are a traitor. And here are CatholicsEastern Catholicsbe
it Russian or Ukrainian, who are good Christians as well as good
citizens and thus contradict what the government officially says on this
matter. Technically, the Russian Catholic (Eastern-rite) Exarchate
existseven though there is no current Exarch, it’s nevertheless in the
Our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church exists in Russia, but
our priests operate as part of the Latin Church. The Bishop of
Novosibirsk was appointed by the Holy See as a sort of “protector” and
is trying to help, but they have many difficulties. It’s not impossible,
but it’s certainly not easy. In Russia, those who are further from
Moscow and who are not under the eye of the 'elder brother' seem to
manage better. Such priests working there should certainly be admired.
Related from Catholic World Report:
A “Preacher of Peace” Amid Conflict: An interview with His Beatitude, Sviatoslav Shevchuk | Brett R. McCaw (May 12, 2014)
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Clergy Guidelines forbid political activity | Michael J. Miller (April 11, 2014)
His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk: “Educate Christians for honest politics” | Michael J. Miller (April 01, 2014)
The Fragile Promise of the Pan-Orthodox Council | Fr. Cyril Hovorun (March 14, 2014)
His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk speaks truth to secular powers | Michael J. Miller (March 06, 2014)
Christians in Ukraine: Ecumenism in the Trenches | Fr. Cyril Hovorun (March 04, 2014)