Last Sunday, on March 27, the ceremony of enthroning Most Blessed Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the new head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), took place at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. This is a historical event: for the first time in 400 years, Greek Catholics enthroned a new primate in Kyiv. We would like to remind our readers that in the 18th century Catherine II of Russia ousted Eastern Catholics to the western Ukrainian lands, which at that time were part of the Habsburg Monarchy. This is where the Galician (Greek Catholic) Metropolis was renewed. Only in 2005 was the seat of the Head of the UGCC transferred back to the Ukrainian capital.
The newly elected Most Blessed Sviatoslav Shevchuk is a heir to the great metropolitans Andrei Sheptytsky, Yosyf Slipy, Myroslav Ivan Liubachivsky, and Liubomyr Huzar. Born in 1970, he was educated at the Don Bosco Center for Philosophy and Theological Studies in Buenos Aires,
Argentina, and the Lviv Theological Seminary. He obtained his Ph.D. in moral theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
Shevchuk served as vice dean of the Theology Department of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Rector of the Lviv Theological Seminary, and personal secretary to his predecessor. Until recently, he served as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of the Protection of the Blessed Mary in Buenos Aires. He knows 10 languages, although he emphasizes that he is only fluent in six.
In theological circles Shevchuk is known as an intellectual as well as an optimist.
He is said to be a man of prayer. “There is enough prayer at the seminary: in the morning, before and after each meal, and in the evening. After all, this is what all classes begin and finish with,” reminisced a former colleague at the Lviv Seminary and current press secretary for Shevchuk, Rev. Ihor Yatsiv. “Yet he found additional time to pray to God in private.” The reminiscences of the Most Blessed Sviatoslav also prove this: “Before departing for South America Mechyslav Mokrytsky, Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lviv, presented me with a rosary which used to belong to Pope John Paul II. It has been with me to the forests of Argentina and Brazil, the deserts of Patagonia, and the Andes.”
The Most Blessed Sviatoslav is the youngest bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and one of the youngest in the Catholic world. But this does not seem to scare the clerics. “When Sheptyts-ky was elected, he had barely turned 35,” they say. Besides, there is Cardinal Emeritus Huzar [Emeritus is a title for retired clerics. – Ed.]
And by all appearances, the two men share a very cordial relationship. “For me the Most Blessed Liubomyr has been a kind father, who now confided in me the most private thoughts, dreams, and wishes of his heart, and now let me go to the ends of the earth, so I might learn to manage on my own, as he would say,” said the new primate. “Today he reminds me of the Biblical, yet so Ukrainian, Isaac, who passes on his primogeniture. To be his heir is a great honor. Moreover, so is to live with him, and share his wisdom. After all, his very presence brings peace and inspires confidence.”
His predecessor’s benevolence can be seen in the very fact that during the enthronization he would not give comments, or escaped with a few brief phrases: he wanted all the attention to be focused on his successor. People close to Cardinal Emeritus related that he had been very worried for the Most Blessed Sviatoslav when the latter had to go to a funeral of one of the bishops in Lviv oblast just on the eve of the big event, since he might get too tired for the next day…
The event was attended by over 2,000 people, including the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and the leader of the political party Front of Changes Arsenii Yatseniuk with their spouses, the former head of the Ukrainian Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration Hanna Herman, the US ambassador John F. Tefft, the French ambassador Jacques Fort, the Israeli ambassador Zina Kalay-Kleitman and the Argentinian ambassador Lila Roldan Vazquez de Moine… There were also some 60 bishops from Ukraine and all over the world, including Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Ivan Yurkovych, the delegate of the Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches Cardinal Leonardo Sandi, the Lviv Metropolitan of the Latins Mechyslav Mokrytsky, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Alexandria and Jerusalem Gregory III, Archbishop of Presov for Catholics of Byzantine Rite his Eminence Archbishop Ivan Babiak, the delegate of the Po-lish Episcopal Conference Marian Rojek, the bishops of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church Virgil Berchea and Vasil Bizau, Apostolic Exarch for Catholics of Byzantine Rite in Serbia and Montenegro Yuri Dzhudzharu, Archimandrite and Apostolic Visitor for the Greek Catholics of Belarus Sergei Hayek... The representatives of the three orthodox churches also came: the bishop Yevstratii (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate) was later joined by the patriarchs Mefodii (the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church) and Volodymyr (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate). The priests of the Moscow patriarchate attended this event, held by the Greek Catholics, for the first time. Previously, the priests showed examples of local ecumenism, which means that the priests of the both confessions jointly worked on several social projects. His Beatitude Sviatoslav supported this initiative: “I was glad to hug the three orthodox bishops on the first day of my service, openheartedly saying them: ‘Christ is among us!’ All of them replied: ‘Is and will be!’ It’s a good sign. I’m grateful for their openness. I hope that our relations will develop for the benefit of the Ukrainian people and our state.” Obviously, the Moscow patriarchate gathered a lot of intelligent and religious people who believe in God (keeping in mind His second commandment: let us love your neighbor…), and not in the “Russian world.” Evidence of this is the greeting to the new head of the UGCC by Metropolitan Volodymyr (Sabodan), provided to The Day by the UGCC press office.
“I hope that during the time of your go-verning the UOC and the UGCC will develop good and constructive relations, the difficult period of our relationship will stay in the past and we will jointly fight the aggressive manifestations of secularism in our country,” it reads. According to His Beatitude Volodymyr, “our common goal is to educate the future generations of our compatriots on the basis of gospel values, as it will guarantee a harmonious development of Ukrainian society.” “I believe that by our joint efforts, accordingly to Kobzar ‘we’ll restore our peaceful paradise with the name of Christ.’”
It’s known, that His Beatitude Liubomyr has been declaring his readiness for a dialogue for a long time. The bishops say that His Beatitude Sviatoslav will pursue the policy of his predecessor. One could have felt it in his speech: “Today, we the inheritors of Saint Volodymyr’s baptism, are aware of the unity and continuity of our history and tradition; we take over the precious heritage of our prominent predecessors, servants of God Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Patriarchs Yosyp, Myroslav, and Liubomyr. Today these men, with the warm hand of
Liubomyr, are blessing us, making this treasure alive, significant, and enlightening for the current Ukrainian [in the street]. The sacred unity of the servants of God continues to be the strategy of the development of our Church.”
Says Yevhen Sverstiuk, a noted public figure and journalist: “This civilized transfer of religious authority by Patriarch Liubomyr to his successor is evidence of a high cultural level where stereotypes are broken. The Greek Catholic adherents are lucky to have such a sage religious leader, a man who has come all the way from the lowest to the highest social level, and who has never sought his Episcopal position, even though he has long been ordained, even if in the underground. I first met this cardinal in Poland, in the late 1980s; then I visited him in Rome when he was archimandrite and had monks under his command. Anyway, the man seemed to have no ambitions whatsoever. It is extremely important for a church to be headed by a truly spiritual personality, someone who doesn’t care about his administrative status. That was why he surrendered his post so easily, upon having concluded his mission. And this mission was important, in that he helped introduce a new church culture in a post-totalitarian society; a culture that doesn’t seem to have room for pressure, friction, competition. Instead, it has something that brings the adherents closer to Christian love. Look at the friendly smiling faces of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic clergy. We are accustomed to an angry church which is supported by angry people. Being an Eastern Orthodox adherent, I like the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church because it hasn’t been spoiled by cooperation with the powers that be. A major problem has been solved by working on a new kind of Christian culture. Without it, the Church is worthless.