To be a member of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is to be acutely aware of the struggles and sacrifices made by others to ensure the church’s existence.
In the missions of the American South, far removed from Kiev and Ukraine and the church’s centers in the United States, we live, as do all Ukrainian Catholics, in the shadow of the faithful who survived the oppression of Stalin and the Soviet Union, and so much more.
We suffer in our missions from a lack of priests, deacons, service books, liturgical items, and even our own churches for worship, but our suffering is nothing like that experienced in Ukraine and by the many who ensured that our church would endure.
We can celebrate our heritage and traditions without interference. We can worship openly. We have the support of Roman Catholic bishops and priests.
In Ukraine Bishops, priests, monks, nuns, and lay persons were beaten, arrested, deported, sent into exile, and murdered at the hands of the Soviets. Metropolitan Josef Slipyj was sentenced to hard labor in the Siberian Gulag.
During the Soviet years, the Church in Ukraine was kept alive by secret liturgies, ordinations of priests, and consecrations of bishops. Only in 1989 was it once again free to worship.
Today the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the second largest particular church in the Catholic Church with more than four million members worldwide.
Those of us who are members of this church owe an unpayable debt to great Ukrainian Greek Catholics like Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who died May 31 at the age of 84.
“Now it’s our duty to gather, save and enrich this spiritual heritage as his testament,” Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the successor of Lubomyr as Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych and head of the UGCC, told the press in Ukraine the day after Lubomyr’s death.
In a letter to Sviatoslav, Pope Francis calls Lybomyr a “master of wisdom.”
In a tribute, George Weigel writes: “Lubomyr Husar became a kind of national patriarch: the voice of reason, moderation, and wise counsel amidst the cacophony of post-Communist politics….the remarkable life of Lubomyr Husar helped make it possible for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to thrive in an independent Ukraine.”
Lubomyr spent a number of years in the United States, and so should have a special place in the hearts of Ukrainian Catholics of this nation.
He was forced to leave Ukraine in 1944 and emigrated to the United States in 1949. He attended minor seminary in Stamford, Conn., and was a student at St. Basil’s College, graduating in 1954 with a bachelor’s.
He studied at the Catholic University of America as a seminarian at St. Josaphat’s Major Seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1958 by Bishop Ambrose Senshyn of the Eparchy of Stamford.
He was a teacher and pastor in New York and earned a master’s degree from Fordham University. He earned a doctorate in theology in Rome in 1972.
In a biography on the UGCC’s website, Borys Gudziak, Eparch for France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, recalls that Lubomyr was consecrated secretly as a bishop by Metropolitan Josef Slipyj in 1977 at the Studite Monastery of Castel Gandolfo.
The Vatican was not told of the consecration. Without a blessing from the pope, his consecration as bishop was considered valid but illicit. Lubomyr was secretly a bishop for nineteen years. Even his colleagues and the seminarians he taught, Gudziak writes, did not know he was a bishop.
Slipyj, he says, consecrated Lubomyr because he believed that Rome was going to let the hierarchy of the church die out in order to avoid conflict with the Soviet Union.
In 2001 Lubomyr was elected Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the first elected in an independent Ukraine. He stepped down in 2011 and was succeeded by Sviatoslav.
In a homily on Pentecost, Sviatoslav said: “It is hard to realize and overestimate the gift of Pentecost in the person of Lubomyr and his mission, and everything he is leaving for us.”
A large part of the gift Lubomyr Husar has left us is the example of a life lived courageously as an icon of Jesus Christ, and endured with faith and humility. We live in his shadow, but his life is a lamp that helps light the way forward for us.