PHILADELPHIA — In a historic gathering of the world’s Ukrainian Catholic bishops, the Patriarchal Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church met for 10 days in and around Philadelphia.
It was the first time a synod of any Eastern Christian Church was held in the Western Hemisphere.
The synod of bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church normally would meet in Ukraine. What brought it to the United States this year, however, was the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Eastern Catholic bishop in America.
To mark that occasion, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych and spiritual father of all Ukrainian Catholics, celebrated a Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Sept. 30. Ukrainians from as far away as Chicago, as well as scores of bishops, attended the liturgy.
Though fully in union with Rome, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a Byzantine or Eastern Catholic Church, has maintained the liturgical and spiritual heritage shared with the Orthodox Churches. The Ukrainian Church has its own distinctive liturgical and legal systems but is considered equal in dignity, rights and obligations to the Latin tradition within the Catholic Church.
The events came at a time when Catholicism is enjoying a resurgence in Ukraine, and a “fourth wave” of immigrants to America is promising to reinvigorate the 100-year-old Church in places like Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, said Father John Fields, press liaison for the centennial celebration.
The first wave occurred in the 1880s, and the resulting clusters of Catholics here led to the appointment of Bishop Soter Stephen Ortynsky, a Basilian monk in Ukraine, as bishop for their spiritual care. He arrived in Philadelphia in August 1907.
Bishop Ortynsky’s initial task was twofold, Cardinal Husar said in his homily Sept. 30, delivered in Ukrainian and English. He had to establish Church structures and organize ecclesial life for immigrants and he had to explain to the Latin rite bishops of the United States “who were these immigrants who had a different tradition, culture and liturgical rite.”
The Ukrainians’ customs were so different, he said, that it seemed impossible to integrate the immigrants into American life.
As in all Eastern Churches, the Ukrainians ordained married men. The Latin Catholic bishops of the Untied States were strongly opposed to the practice and forbade married priests to exercise their ministry.
The Latin rite bishops also were not accustomed to there being more than one bishop in an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and Bishop Ortynsky had to serve as an auxiliary bishop to them until he was granted full jurisdiction and independence from Latin dioceses in 1913.
Cardinal Husar, who spent many years as a priest in the United States, turned to the Latin rite bishops present, including Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, and said, “One hundred years later, we see you in this church, the higher representatives of the Latin rite in the United States.” Their presence, he said, was seen “not only as a gesture of friendliness and of fraternity,” but a “concrete expression” of unity.
“There were misunderstandings,” the cardinal said. “Today, we are confident of who we are and what our relationship is, and we form one Church that has different expressions. … Your presence is a confirmation of this mutual understanding that exists today.”
Bridge Between East and West
Also present was Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who conveyed greetings from Pope Benedict XVI, and Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishops of Philadelphia and Washington, respectively.
Archbishop Sambi read a message, written by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, which said that Pope Benedict joined “in giving thanks to God for the courageous witness of faith shown by so many Ukrainian Catholics during the persecutions they endured in their homeland, and he rejoices that so many of them, having been forced to flee their homes, were able to find a welcoming Christian community of their own tradition in their new home in the West.”
“At this time of thanksgiving for the blessings of the past hundred years, the Holy Father encourages the Ukrainian Catholic community in America to continue their efforts to promote the unity of all Christians, mindful of their special position as a bridge between the traditions of East and West,” the message said.
Several people in attendance spoke with pride about Ukrainian contributions to the United States as well as the resurgence of the Church in Ukraine.
Father Fields pointed out that just a few years ago, when Ukraine was under communist control, it would have been impossible for most of the 19 Ukrainian bishops present for the synod to attend. “Now they’re building a cathedral in Kiev,” he said. “The Church is flourishing.”
Christina Dochwat, who emigrated from a war-ravaged Ukraine in 1947, said she could not bring herself to return to her country for many years, but when she finally did, she said, she was “amazed at the rebirth of Christianity.”
“Young people are flocking to the churches,” said Dochwat, who has designed many of the mosaics in the Philadelphia cathedral and painted the icons. “It was emotionally uplifting to see after 60 years of persecution.”
The synod took place from Sept. 26 to Oct. 6 in nearby Doylestown, Pa., and considered questions such as evangelization and priestly formation. The bishops also chose new bishops for various eparchies.
Bishop Peter Stasiuk, a Redemptorist who oversees Ukrainian Catholics in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania and heads the synod’s catechetical commission, said that a new Ukrainian catechism was being presented to the bishops and that he hoped it would be published sometime next year. The work, he said, was in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for local Churches to develop catechisms based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Bishop Stasiuk also said the bishops were considering proposals presented by some 12,000 young people who had gathered at a youth forum recently in Ukraine. They expressed a desire, he said, for a “more active involvement.”
“They are realizing that they have something to contribute,” Bishop Stasiuk said. “They would like the chance to work with us in a more meaningful way.”