Up Front and Personal

Ukraine Trip Revealed Role of Catholics

By Bishop John O. Barres, Rockville Centre

From Feb. 5-12 I had the opportunity to join Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and head of the Department of External Church Relations for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Sister Donna Markham, OP, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, for a visit of solidarity to Ukraine.

A short summary of each day of our visit with photographs is available on our diocesan website: drvc.orgI’d like to share with you a few highlights of the trip in the context of a tribute to Archbishop Gudziak. 

In November 2022 at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore, Archbishop Gudziak gave an inspiring address on Ukraine in which he thanked the American bishops and the people they serve for their solidarity with those who are suffering terrible injustices and atrocities in Ukraine. 

At the end of his address, he invited American bishops to join him in his February 2023 trip to Ukraine. I was deeply moved and inspired by his address and began a conversation with him. 

I came to the conclusion after prayer and discernment that the Holy Spirit wanted me on that trip despite the difficulties it involved. One of the highlights was the opportunity to develop a deeper friendship with an inspirational brother bishop. 

Archbishop Gudziak is a very impressive man, with real contemplative, theological, literary, liturgical, and global affairs depth. 

His liturgical design of the three levels of the Ukrainian Catholic University Church in Lviv, which reflect Constantinople, Rome, and Jerusalem, is a masterpiece of contemplative reflection on the sacred Scriptures — what Pope St. John Paul II called the complimentary “two lungs” of Eastern and Western approaches to Catholic systematic and liturgical theology. 

It also reflects a pastoral heart for the university’s students, helping their growth in the Catholic faith and capacity to be public-square Catholics, who bring the liberating salt and light of Catholic truth directly into society and the tragic experience of war and horrible injustice.

Ukraine is primarily an Orthodox country, but Lviv in western Ukraine is the heartland of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (so called because while it uses the same Greek rites that the Orthodox do, it is a Catholic church in full communion with the Holy Father in Rome). 

Western or Latin-rite Catholics, mainly of Polish descent, are a small minority in Ukraine, but the Ukrainian Catholic University is a center for them too.—-

It is fair to say that even though Ukraine is under full assault by the Russian government, and that missiles are landing in Lviv, Kyiv, and the rest of the country daily, the Catholic churches of Ukraine (and apparently their Ukrainian Orthodox sister churches as well) are vibrant and growing.

Archbishop Gudziak has great intellectual and pastoral depth. He completed a Ph.D. in Slavic languages at Harvard University in addition to his prior studies at Syracuse University and in Rome. He is both a theologian and a catechist. Throughout the trip, he was a humble and sharing teacher emphasizing theological and biblical realities as they relate to the historical and current realities of the Ukraine war and the brutal realities of the massacres of innocent civilians in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and other places.

The archbishop’s “intellectual charity” is expressed in the communal meals at his residence with scholars, university professors, art historians, literary critics, global affairs and human rights experts, and many others. These “culture of encounter” meals reminded me of a passage from Pope St. John Paul II’s reflection on the missionary life of the diocesan bishop in his Rise, Let Us Be on our Way: “It is well known that not all bishops are particularly interested in a dialogue with scholars. 

Many of them give greater priority to their pastoral responsibilities, understood in the broadest sense, than to their rapport with men of learning. In my view, however, members of the clergy, priests, and bishops, do well to take the trouble to establish personal contacts with the academic world and its leading figures.

“A bishop, in particular, should be concerned not only with his own Catholic academic institutions, but should also maintain close links with the whole university world: reading, meeting others, discussing, and informing himself about their activities.”

Archbishop Gudziak is the founding president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He implemented a Catholic vision and theology embodied in university architecture (in stark contrast to some of the remaining dehumanized Soviet architecture close to the university), collegium or dormitory life, liturgical life, and the ongoing formation of administrators, professors, staff, alumni, and students to have a fruitful influence in society and the public square.

In all the visits we made in Lviv and Kyiv, we kept meeting young UCU alumni with significant responsibilities — a communications professional in the mayor of Lviv’s office, a journalist and documentary filmmaker whose documentary film on the massacres at Bucha brought the atrocities to the world’s attention.

It is clear UCU and Ukrainian Catholics generally are playing, and are going to continue to play important roles in Ukraine in the future. But when peace finally comes — and let us pray that it comes soon and is a peace with justice for Ukraine and all people — the  young men and women of Ukraine will lead the reconstruction of the country, push for its inclusion as a constituent part of Europe and will help to lead the re-Christianization of Europe.

I want to thank Archbishop Gudziak and the Ukrainian people for their global and courageous witness to the injustices and atrocities that are currently appalling the entire world. Here we should remember Pope Francis’ words in Fratelli Tutti: 

“Truth, in fact, is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy. All three together are essential to building peace; each, moreover, prevents the other from being altered.”

As we begin together the Lenten season of 2023, please join me in offering dimensions of our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for the people of Ukraine, for a rapid end to this senseless and unjust war of aggression, and the conversion of hearts and minds to make such wars unthinkable in the future.

Bishop John O. Barres is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.