In the days to come, we will present you with a series of 3 articles about the Church in Eastern Europe: Ukraine, Moldavia and Belarus.
Reinhard Backes, ACN International
In Ukraine the Catholic Church enjoys a very positive reception. This is true for both the members of the Roman Catholic and of the Greek Catholic Churches. While the latter is present mainly in western and central Ukraine, Catholics of the Latin rite are living throughout the country, as the Archbishop of Lviv, Mieczysław Mokrzycki, stressed during a visit to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Formerly, the Catholic Church in Ukraine was often referred to as the Polish Church, but today we are being seen more and more as an indigenous church. The Catholic Church in Ukraine has a new identity,” Archbishop Mokrzycki explained. He claimed that a clear majority of Roman Catholic Christians speak Ukrainian. Among the faithful other languages such as Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian and Russian are also common, about ten per cent speak Polish. Because of a lack of local priests, pastoral workers who are originally from Poland often work in the Archdiocese of Lviv. Currently, there are about 60 out of 180 priests who are Polish.
Until the year 1945, the Bishops of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches formed a Bishops’ Conference. In the subsequent period of the Soviet Union, to which Lviv belonged after the Second World War, Christians suffered reprisals. In this period of oppression, persecution and dispersion – the cohesion of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches dissipated due to cultural differences, nationalities, denominations and religions in Ukraine. The same divides were felt in Lviv. War, the German occupation, the destruction of the Jewish population and the soviet era left deep wounds in the country. All the way to present day Lviv, the past places a strain on the relations between the Christian denominations.
With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the revival of church life, the Roman Catholic and Greek-Catholic Bishops initially went their different ways; the relationship was not always untroubled. In particular many buildings confiscated in the communist era were not returned to the Roman Catholic Church. At the instigation of Archbishop Mokrzycki the Bishops of the Churches, which are in full communion with the Holy See, now meet annually, for the past five years in a joint conference and for the past three years also for the purpose of joint religious exercises; to date there has not been a joint Catholic Bishops’ Conference, however.
Archbishop Mokrzycki comes from the Polish town of Majdan Lukawiecki, located on the Ukrainian border. The distance to Lviv is barely 75 kilometres. Until 1991, the Polish section belonged to the Archdiocese of Lviv. Only since Ukraine’s independence have the boundaries of the diocese been limited to Ukrainian territory.
Archbishop Mokrzycki studied theology in Lublin. In 1987 he was ordained as a priest. In 1996 he obtained his doctorate in Rome and then until 2005 he was secretary to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. For just under five years Mieczysław Mokrzycki, now 52, has led the Diocese of Lviv in the west of Ukraine. He sees it as his task to strengthen pastoral work: “Ukraine is a young country, a new reality. And the Catholic Church in Ukraine is a living church. We are primarily missionaries here; we see that in our catecheses, which are received with great interest because people are opening themselves up to the Faith.”
Aid to the Church in Need has supported the pastoral work of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine for years. In 2012, 277 projects were funded, with the help of ACN benefactors.
Tomorrow: Moldavia, where ACN helps to buy a new car for a sum of $8,000 to help continue parish life.