His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar was the spiritual father of today’s Ukraine, but also of many of us.
I knew Father Lubomyr, Bishop Husar and His Beatitude over 50 years in different countries on two continents. As a boy I saw him in the United States in the mid-1960s during summer vacations in the borscht belt of the Catskills in New York state, where he was a parish pastor. Already at that time, he captivated young and old, intellectuals and simple people, by his authenticity and humor.
In the late 1970s and 1980s in Rome, Father Lubomyr was our spiritual director at the seminary and my personal confessor. Then, in Ukraine, for nearly 20 years, I was honored to be a close collaborator.
He was born in 1933 in the city of Lviv, then within the borders of interwar Poland. As a child, Lubomyr endured the horrors of Soviet and Nazi occupations of western Ukraine before the Husar family fled to Austria in 1944. There he went to high school and mastered German and Latin. With his parents he moved to the United States in 1949. In Stamford, Connecticut, Washington and New York, he completed undergraduate and graduate seminary studies and a specialization in philosophy.
After serving as a parish priest and teaching foreign languages and philosophy at St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Stamford, he went to Rome and there completed a doctorate in ecclesiology and ecumenism. Longing for a more contemplative life, he became a monk of the Studite order in 1972. In 1977, he was secretly consecrated a bishop by Cardinal Josyf Slipyi.
By the mid-1970s the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1946, had been clandestine for 30 years. Lubomyr’s episcopal consecration and his status as a bishop remained a secret — he was a reserve bishop for the Church of the catacombs in case the Soviets succeeded in eliminating hierarchical apostolic succession in the UGCC. Thus, he continued his monastic life and his teaching at the Urbaniana University and the Lviv seminary for 19 years in Rome and, after 1993, in newly independent Ukraine.
In 1996, seeing the great spiritual gifts of the secret bishop, Pope St. John Paul II publicly acknowledged his episcopal consecration. It was with the Pope’s support that, in 2001, the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine chose Lubomyr Husar as its leader. A week after the election, the Holy Father named him cardinal.
The past 15 years of deep social upheaval have been heartrending for a traumatized post-communist Ukrainian society. At the time of the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity, as well as during the last three years of war, Cardinal Husar was a voice of wisdom, reassurance and hope. He became the most recognized moral authority of the country, despite being the leader of a minority church (10% of the population).
Lubomyr Husar was endowed with many talents — spirituality, intelligence, sensitivity, great imagination and a remarkable ability to communicate. He preached and sang with a beautiful, resonant baritone. He was considered the best preacher of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church of the past 50 years.
But above all, he was a man of prayer, a monk thirsting for communion with God. As a priest, archimandrite and hierarch, he prayed ceaselessly to be in union with the Lord and lead others toward this communion. His prayer gave him the fortitude and peace necessary to endure many physical ailments. He was functionally blind for the last 12 years of his life. Most people were not fully aware of his handicap. He never complained.
For Lubomyr Husar, the unity of Christian churches was of utmost importance. He wrote his doctorate on a pioneer of ecumenism, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky and his theology and spirituality of reconciliation among Christians. His Beatitude patiently wrought unity among the bishops of the synod of UGCC, who were deeply divided at the time of his election. He brought together Ukrainians of different confessions, or without confession, becoming for them a spiritual father and moral beacon.
Taxi drivers, hipsters, the young and old, business persons and artists, practicing parishioners and those who were not members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church listened to Husar’s audio and video broadcasts. The cardinal contributed to rapprochement between Ukrainians, Poles and Jews. He dreamed of the end of the war and peace with Russia.
Lubomyr Husar left a legacy of two particular virtues that are most relevant for Ukraine’s political and economic elite. Maybe not only for Ukraine and maybe not only for the elite.
In the world there is a thirst for power and the desire to preserve it, often at all costs. Husar gave up power and surprised all of Ukraine by his retirement in 2011, unprecedented for the head of any of the Eastern Christian Churches of Ukraine.
The cardinal lived humbly, possessed little and disliked luxury. For the liturgy and for glory to God, he followed the rich Byzantine tradition, with the beauty of its celebrations. Otherwise he was a minimalist and disdained doodads.
Cardinal Husar had simple tastes in just about everything. His favorite meal was pork and beans. This modesty and simplicity also prevailed in the manner in which he related with others. He communicated with ease with the everyman, in many different languages, in different countries and continents. His conversation was embellished with pearls of self-effacing humor. Lubomyr knew how to laugh and laugh at himself. This humor reflected his intimacy with God, for humor and mystery are cousins of the sacred and the sacramental. His humor often carried a strong social moral message. Asked how the oligarchs of Ukraine can be reformed, Husar replied: “They should attend more funerals.”
At the time of his passage to God, we accompany Lubomyr with prayer for the peace and repose of his soul.
Let us pray for His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Cardinal Husar’s 46-year-old successor, who must bear the burdens of his flock in a time of war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
Let us pray that the Lord make Lubomyr Husar’s virtues our own.
Vichnaia pamiat! Everlasting memory!
Bishop Borys Gudziak is the
bishop of the Eparchy of St.Volodymyr in Paris for
Ukrainian Catholics in France, Benelux and Switzerland.