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“Yosyp Slipy was as farsighted as Andrei Sheptytsky”

Private Secretary of the Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on the Patriarch and the current religious situation
22 December, 00:00
FATHER IVAN DATSKO (on the right) WITH 90-YEAR-OLD PATRIARCH YOSYP SLIPY. ROME, FEBRUARY 1982 / Photo courtesy of the Institute of History of the Church at the Ukrainian Catholic University

The whole world spoke about the cardinal Yosyp Slipy, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church (1944-84) even before the Soviet Union heard about Gorbachov’s perestroika. The American president John F. Kennedy asked to release him and owing to the efforts put by Pope John XXIII he was allowed to go to Rome. In Octo­ber 1963 he spoke at the Second Vatican Council and was applauded despite the tradition. After 18 years spent in the GULAG he headed the Church for a quarter of a century. Pope John Paul II came to give him the last honors and, despite the tradition, he kissed his hand. According to his will, on September 7, 1992 the body of the Patriarch Yosyp Slipy was buried in the crypt of the Lviv St. George’s Cathedral.

Father doctor Ivan DATSKO is one of the Patriarch’s closest colleagues. After the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church came out of hiding he was the general vicar of the Lviv Archiepiscopacy and the chancellor of the Patriarch’s curia. Later he was responsible for foreign affairs and relations of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church. He has been heading the Institute of Ecumenical Stu­dies since 2005 and the St. Sophia Religious Society in Rome since 2008. The Day asked father Ivan to share his memories about the Patriarch Yosyp Slipy and spoke with him about the Christian image of Ukraine today.

Why did Patriarch Yosyp Slipy choose you to be one of his closest colleagues?

“When I was young I was an idealist and a very active person! At the age of 19, in the fifth semester of the theological studies, something pushed me to ask Patriarch to take me under his jurisdiction. Then I knew English, German, and Italian well. Besides, there were not many people willing to work with him. I was the youngest. Patriarch took me, listened to me and sent me to Innsbruck (Austria) to study. I can tell you that our relations reminded those of a grandfather and a grandson. It should be noted that the grandfather was strict, of that Austrian style, but he loved me. I was his private secretary since January 12, 1976 when I was 28 till his death in September 1984.”

Did Patriarch trust the people?

“He was very careful: a long time after he was released he turned on the radio loudly during important conversations and asked to check his cabinet that could have been tapped. I did not have his full confidence at once either. I first executed some minor commissions: writing Christmas greetings or bringing parcels; however, since I knew English, German, and Italian Patriarch Yosyp charged me with writing important documents: letters to the Pope and cardinals, various memorandums, etc. I think that he did not trust anybody completely! Though he was very strict, he sometimes forgot all his titles and duties and was just a kind grandfather for everyone. As for me, Andrei Sheptytsky showed his farsightedness when he made Yosyp Slipy his successor since Sheptytsky knew that Yosyp Slipy would hold out against the Soviet secret services and preserve the Church and Yosyp Slipy survived 18 years of GULAG. It was the age of the great confessors: Stefan Wyszynsky in Poland, Cardinal Beran in the Czech Republic… It seems that now there are no such strong and firm people. These people did not have the diplomatic type of thinking: they said what they felt and what they believed in.”

Could you tell us about the Patriarch Yosyp Slipy as the national leader? What gathered the people around him?

“I do not know if you can imagine the effect his release had. He made us believe that our Church is alive and would be able to go through all the persecutions. Moreover, he made us, immigrants, be proud of our land. Everybody remembers him saying that ‘one mustn’t repudiate one’s bone and blood!’ He was an extremely ener­getic preacher: as soon as he was released he turned the small seminary into the papal one, started the patriarchate, founded the catholic university and resumed the monasticism. Interestingly, the argument Pope John XXIII used to persuade Khrushchev was that the Metropolitan Yosyp Slipy was too old and he had to be released and calmly live out his day in a monastery. However, he lived not 25 years and managed to stir up all the immigrants and for only them. Patriarch Slipy declared for everybody to hear the right of the Ukrainians to have the independent united state. He was received by the kings of Spain and Belgium, the presidents of Italy and of the Fe­deral Republic of Germany and other respectable people. He was the voice of free Ukraine.”

Which moment of Patriarch’s life do you remember the most? What was characte­ristic for him?

“At the end of Pope Paul’s VI pontificate we though that nobody understood us anymore. I complained to Patriarch Yosyp: ‘Your Beatitude, what is going on: we cannot convene the Synod, the patriarchate is not acknowledged and the clergy is limited in their rights... Why is it so?’ He replied: ‘Brother, what naive you are. Everything could have been much worse: you could have been beaten and humiliated. Remember, the evil cannot last for a long time!’ He deeply believed that a better time would come. He published various books, theological and historical ones. A thousand copies was too much for our needs but Patriarch Yosyp always ordered a thousand and a half copies saying that the rest will go to Ukraine. Then we lacked room to store those books and some of them got spoiled but Patriarch was sure that one day the people in Ukraine would feel the need for those books. It happened in 1990 when the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church came back to Lviv, people snatched those books out of our hands.

“The Patriarch Yosyp was not sentimental: I have never seen him crying. Only once, at the funeral of His Eminence Stepan Chmil, the Salesian he loved a lot and who, probably, confessed him, his voice slightly changed. Patriarch Yosyp was very demanding towards himself.”

And what about the others?

“Oh, he was yet more demanding. They say that the sign of one’s sanctity is demanding as much as possible from oneself and as little as possible from others. He demanded a lot from his close people. He did not like sitting idle… He could not forgive the Soviets that he had spent the best 18 years of his life in Siberia. He said that he could have done much good during this time. Patriarch Yosyp was a person of prayer. After the service he often stayed in the chapel for a log time. I liked watching him since he was real when he prayed. I know that the Patriarch Yosyp thanked God for everything but sometimes I had an impression that he argued with Him. He could bang on the table as if he was saying, why is it so, God?! It was not eccentricity but a deep conversation with God.”

Pope John Paul II came to give the last honors to the late Patriarch. It is known that he kissed Patriarch Yosyp’s ring though he did not have to do it according to the Vatican protocol. Could you please tell about this visit? Is it just politeness or does this gesture mean something in the history of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church?

“I could see the ring on Slipy’s hand only twice: when he was consecrated cardinal and when Archbishop Vasyl Velychkovsky came to Rome in February 1972. Pope John Paul II appreciated Patriarch Yosyp a lot. Pope emphasized that other cardinals could not speak to him the way Slipy could. Pope John Paul II kissed the hands of only two cardinals: his teacher Stefan Wyszynsky and Yosyp Slipy. Patriarch died on September 7, 1984 and John Paul II was supposed to go to Canada. He postponed his visit to commemorate Patriarch Slipy. He flew to the se­mi­nary, now St. Intercession college, came to St. Sophia Cathedral, prayed on the bended knees, asperged the body and kissed Yosyp Slipy’s hand. This gesture is the evidence of the great respect. In 1990 John Paul recalled Patriarch Yosyp saying him that he would be the greatest pope if he acknowledged our patriarchate. John Paul did not do it but contributed a lot.”

As for the historical responsibility… Twenty years passed but the communists do not feel guilty of crimes against the church or even of ruining the lives of so many people. Does the Christian principle of forgiveness work this way or is it the justice?

“I remember that Patriarch Yosyp often asked: ‘What will the history tell about you? Will your deeds be good or bad when you are with God?’ It was important for him to leave good he­ritage for future generations. He belonged to the priests who took the so-called conscience test. He analyzed not only his own deeds but thought over what his nation needed and what he could do for it. If Patriarch Yosyp had lived today he would have clearly told some people in power that we cannot live like this any longer. In Ukraine prophets are killed and liked after their death. The prophets say the truth and it especially hurts those whose uneasy conscience betrays itself. Now the politicians and some priests lack this responsibility. Patriarch Yosyp criticized Ukraine though he loved it a lot saying that in our country every second is genius but spineless and dishonest.”

Patriarch Yosyp Slipy managed to found the Ukrainian Pope Clement Catholic University in Rome within a year after he had been released and six years after St. Sophia Cathedral was solemnly consecrated. What do you think about the theological education over the 20 years of our so-called independence?

“The church has a lot of unresolved questions. However, we can be proud of having achieved a lot. We restored the structure of the church. We have been having good heads of the church. I hope that we are a good moral autho­rity for the parishioners. We try to contribute to the high-quality and non-corrupt education. Supporting the science is the law left by Patriarch Yosyp and his predecessor Andrei Sheptytsky. Certainly, the modern deve­lopment of the Ukrainian Catholic University is our generation’s merit, especially, the one of the father-chancellor Borys Gudziak. However, we only reap what has been sawn by our predecessors! The church has little invested into the laymen but today we are not afraid of doing it. Over 200 of our students study at the papal universities, a lot of them are laics. They study not only theology but art and other sciences as well. I am the president of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies where there are a lot of secular journalists!”

You have mentioned that you head the Institute of Ecumenical Studies. Could you please assess the interconfessional dialog in Ukraine?

“The ecumenism is aiming at uniting the churches, or, rather at restoring this unity since the confessions were not created by Christ but by the people. Christ founded one Church but we separated for our own weaknesses, pride, envy, and lack of patience. Some of the Orthodox Christians erroneously take the word ‘ecumenism’ as proselytizing. It should not be so. We should never compromise on the truth of the faith. However, if we want to be united we have to admit the mistakes we have made and apologize. Under John Paul’s II rule the Catholic Church acknowledged its guilt for the inquisition, crusades and other. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic church has also apologized to our orthodox brothers. Patriarch Ivan-Myroslav Liubachevsky repeated it several times when Pope visited Ukraine and Patriarch Liu­bomyr repeated it. His Beatitude Sviatoslav repeated it, too. For some reason, the Rus­sian Orthodox Church is not strong and courageous enough to apologize. We are waiting for somebody to take the responsibility for the pseudo-council in Lviv of 1946. It is sad but I have an impression that a lot of Christians are used to the separated church and feel comfortable.”

Finally, where do you derive your strength from?

“From the words my heavenly patron John the Baptist said when he met Christ: ‘I have to diminish and He has to grow.”

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