“Today, not only the historic embassy of Ukrainian spirituality in Italy has been revived, but also our homeland became closer to thousands of Ukrainians who live far away from their native country,” 45-year-old Tetiana tells The Day with excitement about the consecration of one of the greatest Christian sanctuaries – Santa Sofia a Via Boccea in Rome. This weekend nearly 10,000 of such faithful pilgrims that are immigrants from Ukraine just like Tetiana came to Rome. They came from more than 20 countries: Italy, the US, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Austria, the Middle East, Asia, and CIS in order to witness the consecration of the reconstructed famous Santa Sofia a Via Boccea which took place as a part of Ukrainian national pilgrimage and to listen to the preaching of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) in the main temple of the Catholic Church – Saint Peter’s Cathedral.
The Day has recently carried a publication that the founder of the church was Josyf Slipyj. He did not deny his beliefs even after 18 years of exile in Siberia, at the age of 71. “Initially Josyf Slipyj began building a university and later it turned into a church,” Borys Gudziak, former seminarian, now bishop and rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) said to The Day. However, after the university became independent it was moved to Lviv, while the Saint Clement Institute remained at Santa Sofia a Via Boccea. Ukrainian students come here every year to study at Pope’s universities. Thus, the creation of Slipyj has been serving a great spiritual and cultural role for decades.
However, Santa Sofia a Via Boccea is not only a spiritual Ukrainian embassy in Europe. “We know that Santa Sofia a Via Boccea and the Institute of Saint Clement I, Pope, which is located near the Church, were both built when the Church in Ukraine was persecuted and could not freely conduct their activities. At that time this sanctuary became a center that united Ukrainian Diaspora from around the world. On the other hand, the Church served not only as a cultural center in the usual sense of the word, but it also became a family home, a part of Ukraine and continues to be one for many Ukrainians, especially those, who live in Rome,” said to The Day Bishop Vasyl Tsyril, secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. According to him, the Ukrainian sanctuary in Italy became also a place of social and cultural consolidation of people. “Santa Sofia a Via Boccea is also an opportunity for the Romans to discover another culture, art, and spirituality of the Ukrainian people. This is, so to speak, an opportunity to discover another part of Europe,” explained Bishop Tsyril to The Day.
This sanctuary is of great importance for eliminating many gaps in Ukrainian history. Santa Sofia a Via Boccea was the place where a part of the priceless archives of Western Ukrainian People’s Republic was stored. For a while these documents were preserved in Vienna, but later they were transferred to Patriarch Josyf Slipyj. “This is a large collection, especially the parts in German and French. For the most part it includes diplomatic documents that represent Ukraine in the West,” Father Bohdan Prakh, vice president of the Ukrainian Catholic University told about the priceless historical finds.
He said that one of the jewels of the archive (original passport of Mykhailo Hrushevsky) was transferred to Ukraine. Yet many interesting things are still waiting for the right time to finally get to our homeland. But at first, says the Father, the entire archive has to be digitized.
According to Bishop Borys Gudziak, the importance of the Ukrainian Church in Italy, given all the globalization processes in the world, is increasing. In particular, the topic of new evangelization, which was the center of the discussion at the Pope’s Ecumenical Council that was held in Rome in parallel with the consecration of the Ukrainian sanctuary, deserves special attention. “We, Ukrainians, who have gone through many difficult tests of persecution in the 20th century, have something to say on this topic and have a great responsibility before the Europeans who forget their Christian culture. We need to remind them that the origins and foundations of Europe are Christian. Christianity and the Gospel today have to speak out again. How will it happen? We don’t know for sure because it is a culture building process. But this Church and the spiritual center around it must represent Ukrainian position and be a tool for implementation of this large and modern task,” Gudziak outlined one of the important tasks for the Ukrainian sanctuary in Rome.
Restoration of the Church was made possible thanks to the donations of 72 donors of Ukrainian origin. Their names are listed on the memorial tablet in the Church. “This Church would not be standing the way it does now without the assistance of the donors, including those from Ukraine. The Church was restored in a year – it is truly a small miracle,” said His Beatitude Sviatoslav, head of the UGCC. “The Church was built on the donations from thousands of people from around the world. Today, the donor who donated the most funds is the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash. He also agreed to support the development of the Ukrainian spiritual center in Rome. Its construction might begin in a year or so,” said Gudziak, director of the UCU. This will assist and support Ukrainians abroad.
With the financial support of 72 aware Ukrainians, historical and cultural memory got a chance to be continued and have a future. With the collected funds the Church got a new face: renovated roof, new heating and ventilation systems, partially restored unique golden mosaics, windows decorated with 31 colorful patterns of Emblems of metropolitans and patriarchs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (beginning from the 16th century since the Union of Brest).
We would like to express our gratitude to the Consular Section of the Italian Embassy in Ukraine for the assistance in organization of the visit to Rome by issuing a visa to Italy on a tight schedule.