A Church That Was Supposed to Disappear

Interview With Cardinal Husar of Kiev, Ukraine

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KIEV, Ukraine, NOV. 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Ukraine was supposed to disappear. Communists tried to liquidate it in 1946, but believers took the faith underground, maintaining it as a catacomb Church for more than 40 years.

Lubomyr Husar, a future leader of the Church in Ukraine, was born in Kiev in 1933 but amid the communist uproar, his family fled the country, first finding refuge in Austria and then settling in the United States in 1949. They lived in the States for 20 years and young Lubomyr would pursue his priestly vocation there, becoming a priest of the Ukrainian eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut, in 1958.

He went on to live in Italy for more than two decades, and then, after a 46-year absence, returned to his native Ukraine.

Today, at age 77, and now a cardinal (since 2001), he is the major archbishop of Kiev.

In this interview given to the television program "Where God Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, the cardinal reflects on the hand of Divine Providence in his Church that was "supposed to disappear."

Q: Your parents must have been the example for you. Did you always have a desire or sense of a vocation?

Cardinal Husar: It came about very early as a matter of fact. I think it was before I was 10 years old that I somehow had this desire to become a priest. Now of course during the war it was very difficult -- one could only dream about it -- but when the war ended and then when we came to the United States in 1949, it was possible to realize that dream and I entered the seminary within three weeks after our arrival in the United States.   

Q: At a tender age of 10 years old, was there a person or an event that triggered this desire for the priesthood?

Cardinal Husar: I think it was the good example of the priest of the church to which my family usually went. The church was under the care of the Redemptorist Fathers and they worked very zealously, they preached very well, they took care of the faithful who came to their church. As a young boy I was a member of the community dedicated to the Blessed Mother into which the Redemptorist Fathers gathered and sort of guided us; I’m sure this somehow had something to do with my vocation.   

Q: You are now responsible for the Greek Catholics, not only in Ukraine, but also in the Diaspora and many of them are in the United States. Do you see that Providence brought you to the United States early so that you could learn the culture and the people there?  

Cardinal Husar: I’m personally convinced that the history of our Church for the last, let us say 130 years, from the time when the first wave of immigrants came to the U.S. -- this would be from the 1880s to the 1890s -- that this whole movement, which was then repeated after the First and the Second World War, was somehow Providential. That our Church could establish herself in North and South America and was able to survive the trying years when the Church in the Motherland was persecuted helped us very, very much. I think today there is another fourth wave coming into the U.S. and Canada and they are now finding a new home for themselves in the churches that have existed for a hundred years.

I somehow also feel that it is Providential that we can serve the community -- not only our own community helping to maintain the faith and tradition -- but that we can also witness to others about the true catholicity of the Church, the broadness of the Church, her capability of existing in various cultures and languages and I feel that somehow this is also an act of Divine Providence.   

Q: You first went back to Ukraine at the end of Communism. What was your first impression when you came back to Ukraine?   

Cardinal Husar: I visited Ukraine for the first time in 1990 and it was very short, only for 10 days. I met some priests and laypeople. The impression was, I would say, somewhat mixed, because on the one hand I was facing the reality of those people who had gone through a very, very hard period and on the other hand I realized that these people, because of what they had gone through, had been also greatly damaged. I have been in Ukraine for almost 15 years permanently now and I am amazed; not every day, but almost every day, I discover something new about that reality which was and what effect, what consequences it left in the hearts of the people.

The communist party, supported by the communist state, tried very assiduously and in a very refined way to change people, to make them forget that they are creatures of God and to really convince them that they are creatures of the state -- that they are completely dependent on the state. In other words, trying to make them assume a different nature and morality. This is still with us today although people have, thanks be to God, in good numbers, maintained their faith and go to church in great numbers. But living a Christian life daily doesn’t come easy for them because they have been educated in a different way, contrary to the principles of Christian morality.  

Q: What would be the deepest, lingering scar that communism left on the hearts or spirituality of the people?   

Cardinal Husar: I do not know if I would be able to identify any one particular -- the worst scar so to say -- but generally it is the lack of trust in people, in neighbors and even members of one’s own family, because the whole system was set up on a system of fear and that fear consisted of not trusting anyone.   

Q: You once said: "The problem is the East -- that is the Byzantine tradition -- does not know the West, the Latin Church, and the West does not know the East." What did you mean by this?   

Cardinal Husar: I meant this almost literally. In this sense that Western Europe, which is of Latin culture, and Eastern Europe, which basically is of Byzantine culture, do not know one another simply by the fact of historical circumstances; there has not been a sufficient exchange.

There may be two reasons for it. One may be an external reason, the political situation, the political division between Western and Eastern Europe, which was very obvious during the Cold War, the Iron Curtain. Such mentalities of an “Iron Curtain” have been there for many decades maybe even centuries. The second aspect is that Western Europe, mainly a Latin culture, has also been a Catholic culture while in Eastern Europe, due to circumstances that have developed over the years and centuries, the Byzantine culture has been primarily identified with what is generally called the Orthodox traditions. I speak here of the Orthodox in a confessional way, which has prevented an easy exchange between these two cultures, which we consequently know today as East and West.   

Q: Pope John Paul II spoke of Europe with two lungs: The Byzantine or Orthodox and the Catholic. What gifts can the Latin Church bring to the Byzantine and what can the Byzantine, or Orthodox tradition, bring to the Catholic Church?   

Cardinal Husar: A little clarification is necessary here because the Eastern and Western aspect -- or both lungs as you say -- should not be so totally identified between Catholics and Orthodox. The majority of those in the East are Orthodox and the majority of those in the West are Catholics, however, there are Catholics in the Eastern traditions so we shouldn’t exclusively identify it this way.

But what the Holy Father spoke of was an exchange of gifts -- spiritually speaking. I think there are certain aspects in the West and in the East, which if both sides know them, would enrich the East with the West and the West with the East. I will not be able to identify them precisely at the moment but in general one of them is faith. And I think that we should be very conscious of the fact that although we have two lungs there is always one heart behind it, and that one heart is Jesus Christ who is recognized by the different cultures in somewhat different ways, but is fundamentally the same Jesus Christ in the West and in the East. However, there are certain accents and I think these accents should be studied and should be made to be the expression of this exchange of gifts.   

Q: You knew Father Werenfried, the Founder of Aid to the Church in Need. Can you tell me: What was the importance of Aid to the Church in Need in the story of the Greek Catholic Church and what is its continuing importance today?  

Cardinal Husar: In the 60s, 70s and 80s, the work of Father Werenfried and Aid to the Church in Need, the organization that he founded -- I would say very frankly, that he loved our Church and helped our Church when it was not popular to do so. We were supposed to disappear. We had been liquidated. Officially we should not have been mentioned and yet at that time, Father Werenfried was willing to help as much as could be done in those days of persecution. So I think in this sense -- apart from the material help that was offered -- the moral help that was given, this faith in our Church, in its existence and its eventual revival, I think this has been of capital importance for us.

Today, of course the situation is different. Today Aid to the Church in Need, for example helps us still very much with certain projects. One of the bigger projects is the Ukrainian Catholic University, the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union. When the Holy Father John Paul II came to Ukraine in 2001, he passed along the side where the seminary and the faculty of theology were and where the representatives of the university were present. Among them was Father Werenfried and the Holy Father thanked him specifically for what he has done for us. So I think in this sense, in the new conditions when our Church is free and can develop, the work of Father Werenfried still carries on.   

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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On the Net:

For more information: www.WhereGodWeeps.org

The entire interview from which this text was adapted: www.wheregodweeps.org/the-mediator-the-greek-catholic-church-in-ukraine/