The Ecumenical Laboratory of Ukraine

A conversation with His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar about the Maidan movement and relationships between Catholics and Orthodox

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 faithful.

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 people—to “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 simply—welcoming 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 needs.

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 Church—Moscow 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.

Nevertheless, 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 “ecumenical laboratory”.

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-unification—well, this is something for the long-term future.

CWR: In the Vatican’s ecumenical outreach to the Russian Orthodox Church—Moscow Patriarchate, has your Church been incorporated in any way?

His Beatitude Lubomyr: Well, no. Since the time of Cardinal Casaroli, the Vatican has been in contact with the Russian Orthodox Church—Moscow 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 problem—as being an enemy—as 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”.

As 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 anybody—that 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 brother—if we want to, we can speak for ourselves.” I don’t think that that some in the Vatican were terribly happy about that—or 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 Church—Catholic, 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.

CWR: Has Rome made any effort to reach out to the other Orthodox Churches of Ukraine—the Kyiv Patriarchate or Autocephalous Church?

His Beatitude Lubomyr: Somehow, they never wanted to … There was Cardinal Cassidy, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Koch—they 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 open—equally 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.

CWR: With 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 Catholics—Eastern Catholics—be 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 exists—even though there is no current Exarch, it’s nevertheless in the books.

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)

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About Brett R. McCaw 0 Articles
Brett R. McCaw writes from Washington, DC. He has a MA in International Politics (Marquette University). From 2007-2009, he taught at the Ukrainian Catholic University in L’viv, Ukraine.