A Ukrainian-Canadian Rector Views Russian Orthodoxy

They "Still Feel Very Weak" in Wake of Communism

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OTTAWA, MARCH 14, 2002 (Zenit.org).- As relations between the Vatican and Russian Orthodoxy proceed uneasily, ZENIT turned to a Western expert on Ukraine to gauge that nation´s experience with the Eastern Church and the post-Communism era.



Father Ken Nowakowski has been rector of the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Ottawa since November. A fourth generation Ukrainian Canadian (born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, 1958), he was press officer of the Catholic Churches in Ukraine for the papal visit there.

Q: Could you describe briefly why you were chosen to help in Ukraine during the Pope´s trip last year?

Father Nowakowski: His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and major archbishop of Lviv, asked me to be part of the team to assist with the Holy Father´s visit to Ukraine in June 2001, as press officer of the Catholic Churches in Ukraine.

Prior to seminary studies, I studied advertising and public relations in Canada, and worked in this area for a short time. I had a good understanding of the situation in Ukraine, having lived in Ukraine since 1991 and was chief of staff for his Beatitude Myroslav Ivan Cardinal Lubachivsky.

I also had good contacts with both Ukrainian journalists and foreign journalists. I had worked on several special trips for journalists from abroad to visit Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Q: In the wake of Communism, what are the wounds that must still heal in Ukraine?

Father Nowakowski: Under the Communist Soviet system, trust in one´s neighbor, personal responsibility, and faith in God, were targeted as something to be destroyed. Ukrainians have now celebrated their 10th anniversary of an independent nation of almost 50 million people.

The last 10 years have been marked by peace and growth toward democratic government, respect for human rights as well as a struggle to leave a failed communist social economic past behind. The Soviet period has left Ukraine wounded, but we also see healing.

Q: How does the average Ukrainian view the Orthodox Church? Did it "sell out" to the Soviets?

Father Nowakowski: There are three Orthodox Churches in Ukraine. The only canonical and the one with the majority of registered parishes is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate [MP]. During the Soviet period in Ukraine, this Church was called the Russian Orthodox Church and had legal status in the Soviet Union.

Attitudes toward the Ukrainian Orthodox Church MP vary quite a bit according to the region of the country. The average Ukrainian, especially in eastern Ukraine, would most likely not be aware of any collaboration of some of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Soviet regime.

In western Ukraine most people tend to perceive the Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union as a structure that was used by the Soviet authorities to have an additional influence on society and as an instrument of Russification of Ukraine.

Q: Why are the Orthodox in Russia so intransigent in spite of John Paul II´s ecumenical overtures?

Father Nowakowski: This is a difficult question to answer because it is so clear that the Holy Father wants to have better relations with the Orthodox, and has shown great respect for them.

I think it is important to remember that the Orthodox still feel very weak after the decades of persecution by Communism, and fear that the Catholic Church and others will take advantage of that weakness for their own advantage. In spite of repeated assurances of our good will, the fear about our true intentions is still very strong.

Q: What is the future of the Catholic Church in Ukraine and Russia?

Father Nowakowski: This is difficult to predict because for the first time after decades of clandestine existence the Catholic Churches in these countries are able to function relatively freely.

Both Catholic Churches -- Latin and Byzantine -- are establishing normal structures and institutions parallel to those of churches in other parts of the world. With some difficulty they will eventually find a place in those societies that will enable them to offer a forceful witness to the Gospel in society while developing good relations with the local Orthodox.