Weigel: Ukraine’s future depends on Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church

A girl receives communion from an Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest during the annual gathering and pilgrimage to the miraculous icon of 'Halytska' (the Mother of God) in the village of Krylos

A girl receives communion from an Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest during the annual gathering and pilgrimage to the miraculous icon of Author, philosopher, and historian George Weigel has been in Ukraine, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Ukrainian Catholic University, delivered an address on Bl. John Paul II at an International Symposium at UCU (“The Church in the Twentieth Century: The Challenges of Ministry in a Globalized World”), and also gave a commencement address at the university’s recent graduation ceremony. UCU was founded in L’viv in 2002, and is headed by Bishop Borys Gudziak, Ph.D, who was born in Syracuse, New York, and was educated at Syracuse University, Harvard, and in Rome (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana and Pontifical Oriental Institute).

In a detailed essay, “Letter From Ukraine”, posted today on the National Review Online site, Weigel discusses the often bloody and dark history of Ukraine over the past century (he notes that historian Robert Conquest estimates that 5 million Ukrainians were murdered by Stalin and the Soviets in 1932-33) and considers the serious challenges facing the country today, including political corruption and fleeing population. He writes:

Government denials and official statistics notwithstanding, one knowledgeable Ukrainian told me that the country’s population may have declined in the past 20 years by as much as 10 million because of an emigration that is not a matter of finding work elsewhere and then returning home but of leaving-for-good because there is no hope for “home.” Others, convinced that The Way Things Are is the only way things can be for the foreseeable future, make the petty and not-so-petty compromises that permit them, if not to flourish, then at least to get along. Everyone complains about patterns of bureaucratic idiocy that make the IRS and the TSA looks like paragons of rationality and efficiency; few have any confidence that there is real hope for change.

Ukraine is thus a textbook case of the impossibility of securing a democratic transition — by which I mean a transition to a law-governed society with a free economy, open politics, and a vibrant civil society — absent a sufficiently thick and robust civic culture. The roots from which such a civil culture might spring are not easy to identify in, say, Belarus or Egypt. But their first eruption from beneath the hard soil of post-Soviet public life is now visible in Ukraine. And that brings this tale — whose resolution is absolutely crucial for the future political architecture of Europe — back to Andrey Sheptytsky and Josyf Slipyj.

Weigel then notes this remarkable fact: “From 1946 until 1990, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — Byzantine in liturgy and church polity but in full communion with the Bishop of Rome — was the largest illegal, underground religious body in the world.” Those Catholics “lived a modern catacomb existence in which everything from worship to seminary instruction, priestly ordinations, and the consecration of bishops was conducted clandestinely, often deep in Ukraine’s forests. In 2001, John Paul II formally beatified more than two dozen martyrs of that draconian persecution; Ukrainian Greek Catholics today know that that martyrology could be extended into the hundreds and thousands.”

Today, Weigel writes, UCU and the Ukrainian Catholic Church have key roles in Ukraine’s future:

Handsome new university buildings are being erected on the edge of Stryisky Park in central L’viv; they will include, within three years, a magnificent university church that honors both Holy Wisdom and Pope St. Clement I, the pope who died in Crimean exile. The university’s press wins awards for its Ukrainian-language publications and translations; its business programs are recognized by the honest entrepreneurs of the country as the best available; its theology and philosophy departments are staffed by scholars with degrees from major universities throughout the world; its new journalism school is a direct response to the corruption of the Ukrainian media by the Yanukovych regime and the oligarchy.  …

If Ukraine is to shed the self-destructive moral and mental habits of its colonial and totalitarian past, its civic culture must be re-formed and reconnected to the cultural sources of its national identity. Those sources are eastern Christian, and the most lively and forward-looking embodiment of the eastern Christian tradition in contemporary Ukraine is the Greek Catholic Church — a point conceded, if roughly, even by some Ukrainian Orthodox observers. The Greek Catholic Church of martyrs is now a Church in mission

Read the entire essay on the NRO site.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.