Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need,
describes the pressures on Eastern Rite Catholics in Ukraine
there, guys!" said t h e young female surveyor in her hard hat, as we approached the entrance to the building site of the huge new Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters in a village near Lviv in Ukraine.
Much to her consternation the three of us walked past the entrance, crossed the rough track and into the Latin Rite seminary. The Jehovah's Witnesses arc building their "Vatican for Eastern Europe" in this village of Bryukhovychi. Over 100 foreigners and local Jehovah's Witnesses are working on site and containers are being brought in from the US.
The tall buildings look like an enormous university campus and the grounds are being landscaped with a huge pond for ceremonial use. The Jehovah's Witnesses paid over $1million for the site, and in addition to the cost of the buildings are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on wads, mains drainage and secure highwire fencing.
Most of the money comes from the tithing of Jehovah's Witnesses abroad, but a good sum comes from a monopoly on running all mini-buses in Lviv. Now they are looking for thc Roman Catholic seminary to pay some money for the new road as well!
As Bishop Stanislaw Padewski, at the seminary of St Joseph across the road, said: "think that there is an argument between the angels going on in Heaven over this village. But if we do not do our work there is a danger that this whole country will become Protestant and go over to the sects."
The contrast to the Jehovah's Witnesses buildings is here across thc road in the seminary. Formerly the Elektron Summer Recreation Camp for Workers, built in the 1960's for the Soviet Group, the seminary moved on to the site in 1995 with the financial help of Aid to the Church in Need. I climbed down into the swimming pool of this old workers' recreational camp: it is now the library for the seminary and holds over 19,000 books for 100 seminarians. Fortunately it is well drained and suffices for the moment. In the grounds the seminary's animals wander around — cows and horses, with pigs housed at the back. The students sleep three or four to a room and live a basic life, even growing their own vegetables. Yet the staff at the seminary are just delighted to be completing the restoration of old buildings and developing a pastoral and diocesan centre. The Capuchin Bishop Padewski laughed and said: The KGB called me 'a soldier of the Vatican' when I returned to my homeland in 1988. The authorities simply could not understand why anyone would want to go to the East rather than the West. They thought that I was either mad or a spy. I used to play the organ and hear confessions at the same time, as spies would like to eavesdrop. Perhaps there arc about one and a half to two million Roman Catholics in the whole of the Ukraine, many from families moved by Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s. Now all these young men who come to the seminary are authentic seekers, as no one had any real religious background in this atheistic state: there is a zeal of converts about them. The support that Aid to the Church in Need gives is also a psychological boost which helps us to exist and move on.
UP THE ROAD, in the shadows of the pine forest, a large three-storey
house stands near completion, but it will remain empty and unfinished. The owner was in the mafia and was shot dead two weeks ago. "Your life expectancy is less than five years, if you get caught up with the mafia,' one Catholic layman told me. That empty house eerily echoed the society in Ukraine: one haunted by the past, corruption and appalling conflict. The people and the Church know the shadowy government and enforced protection taxes too well. Even the young mother begging with her baby, or the legless man wheeling his wheelchair between the cars at the only working set of traffic lights in Lviv, are taxed 15 per cent on their beggings by the mafia. The vice rector at one seminary was beaten up and his car stolen before he agreed to pay an unofficial 15 per cent tax on goods he had brought in for the students. Just a few months ago a Greek Catholic priest, Fr Ivan Buradnyk, was stabbed to death, and his wife badly beaten up, by five masked gunmen who broke into their village house near Drohobych and sprayed gunfire as they escaped: Fr Ivan had dared to speak out against the mafia.
Why should we be so interested in Ukraine? Well, it is the fault line between East and West. That road in the village sets the scene of the whole land, which is fertile and should be the granary of Europe. Over half the male population and a quarter of the female population died in the first half of last century. With enforced famines occupations, persecutions and wars, it is hard to think of a land more "on the edge" (as Ukraine actually means) of existence. The untold sufferings of the people are simply not understood in the West or in the East. Even now the average wage is perhaps $20 per month, but pensioners in villages receive nothing. There are over one million abortions per annum. Perhaps it is not surprising that over 400,000 Ukrainians left the country last year in search of a better life many illegal workers becoming tricked into the sex trade, or doing menial jobs on appalling pay. The families back home are left in disarray and alcoholism is a way of life for many men. Sister Antonina of the Sisters of St Joseph in Lviv told me that her Order has recently been forced out of a government old people's home after three years of working there. When they arrived at the hospital they found that people had not been washed for three years and worms were eating some of the old people to death.
Even the sheets they took in to cover the bare mattresses were stolen. Yet, the sisters continue to bring vital help despite all that life and death hold. And the roads hold more danger than almost anywhere in the world, with reports of many school children having been run over at the beginning of the new school year: there are simply no crossings on the old dual carriageways in the suburbs of towns.
0 NE OF THE Sisters of St Joseph was killed in an accident on 17 March this year: Sister Graciana was crushed to death when a truck hit her car after a house Mass she had organised for the sick and elderly in a house in Lviv. Sister Graciana used to visit the sick, and she used to say, "if you cannot come to Mass, then God will come to you". She died on her birthday, aged 33. At the beginning of the day she said, "I wonder what the Good Lord has prepared for me". May she rest in peace.
Yet it is not just society but the Church and the different denominations which have been torn apart by the history of suffering. Somehow the schism between East and West has been made even worse in a country that is on the faultline of ecumenism. The Greek Catholic Church, which was formed in 1596 at the Union of Brest, was declared illegal at the pseudo-Synod of Lviv in 1946. The Soviets then persecuted the Greek Catholic Church and banned it, with thousands of priests, religious and all bishops being arrested and countless Ukranian faithful suffering deportation or death. Even now after the restoration of many churches in Western Ukraine, the splintering effect of disunity is hard to halt. Many Greek Catholics find it hard to work with the Latin Rite, and vice versa, because of historical conflicts: this is so even in charity where Caritas has two separate branches. There are three Orthodox jurisdictions made up of different communities: 8,400 belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate, 2,491 to the Kiev Patriarchate and 989 to the Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The Greek Catholics then have 3,240 communities and the Latin Rite Catholics have 732. In addition, the various Protestant communities total 3,742 in Ukraine and there are also 126 Jewish and 337 Muslim communities.
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said earlier this year: "The Uniate Churches are an artificial phenomenon, created for the purposes of proselytism. Their rebirth following the fall of communism has poisoned Catholic-Orthodox Churches." And Patriarch Alexei of Moscow continues to accuse the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is loyal to Rome, of activities which prevent any progress in unity. One major reason for the Russian Orthodox Church's hostility to Greek Catholics is that the ROC has over 8,000 parishes in Ukraine which is more than the 7,000 in Russia itself: therefore there is a fear that the social and teaching activities of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics will further undermine the Russians' claims to lead the Orthodox world. The Orthodox cannot afford to lose any more church buildings. In Rome also there is uncertainty over how to deal with the territorial and historical problems of OrthodoxCatholic relations: the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church "decided not to have a common statement" at its meeting in Emmitsburg, Maryland, last July and "the Commission sees the need for further study of the theological, pastoral, historical and canonical questions...".
As ROME tries to find a way forward and the Pope urges the Greek Catholics to have "a creative fidelity",
so the hurt and misunderstandings are still
felt. Bishop Mykhay I Sabryha of Ternopil told me how he and another Greek Catholic bishop were moved three times in order not to cause ecumenical embarrassment at the Pope's commemoration of the martyrs in Rome in May earlier this year. He said: "The witness of the Greek Catholic Church was not even mentioned. We were seen by Russia as a hindrance to unity, and the Vatican authorities were persuaded by this. The whole Church here gave witness to Christ, and suffered and showed loyalty to the Pope. Did Jesus want us to be ignored there? When I returned from the Colosseum to my room I cried like a little child."
Bishop Padewski: I think that there is an argument between the angels going on in Heaven over this country. But somehow despite everything there is hope. There are over 1,000 Greek Catholic seminarians. There are nearly 200 young people, religious and lay students including Orthodox, studying at the Lviv Theological Academy. From the Academy buildings a Catechetical Institute led by the remarkable Sister I .ui za is
developing programmes reaching over 700,000 children — even in Eastern Ukraine. The religious life is attracting vocations. One young Catholic, Halyna Vykhnevych, who is studying in Lviv said: 'There used to be a saying: children are our future and we will build communism. Now we have to say: children are our future and we will build with faith.' Ecumenism is seen as "a problem upstairs — in the hierarchy" and in most local parishes the disputes over churches have been settled. Life is such a challenge that many of the young are leading the search for faith and reason in a society yet to be born.
The hope of people like
Bishop Padewski is contagious: "Work here is more interesting ... we are creating something new!" And as the Holy Father said: "The Catholic Church in Ukraine has begun again to breathe with freedom and to regain fully its own active role in the Church and history.
Western communities will make it their duty above all to share where possible service projects with their brothers and sisters in the Eastern churches."
Politically and ecumenically there is no more important challenge.