The head of the estimated 4.5 million Greek-Catholics in Ukraine, he was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II on Feb. 21. He spoke with Register correspondent Marguerite A. Peeters.

Peeters: After the death of Cardinal Lubachivsky, you became the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. The Pope then made you a cardinal of the universal Catholic Church. What do these developments mean to you?

To tell the truth, my nomination as Cardinal was not very expected. But it came, so now we have to deal with that problem!

It is not a special office in the sense of responsibility: It is an honor more for the Church than for the person. It seems that the Holy Father now has the heads of all the Eastern Churches as Cardinals. So it more or less falls into order.

You have spent a great part of your life in the West — in America and Rome. Has that experience provided you with any insights that are useful now in your apostolic work in Ukraine?

This is a mixed blessing in a sense.

Certainly it does give me a certain distance from the local view, which permits me to evaluate the situation maybe with greater objectivity. On the other hand, it of course makes it more difficult for me to understand how the local world operates. The one who has not been a part of it naturally has difficulties understanding it.

What would you hope Western Catholics to do to show solidarity to the Ukrainian people?

First, Western Catholics have to finally understand that we are also a part of the Church and equally Catholic as they are. For many years the idea has been that the only real and true Catholics were the Latin Catholics. The East and the West have to realize that the world is not so limited. We as Ukrainian-Greek Catholics do have a tradition, a valid tradition within the universal Church. We are useful in the universal Church. We are not simply “Johnny-come-lately,” an accident of history: There may be an important ecumenical aspect to our existence and our being as we are. That is the primary thing.

The second thing is that Western know-how is very useful. Lay movements, their social engagement, are very good examples for us. I think that anything the West can do to help us organize our civil society, our ecclesiastical society, is naturally very welcome.

Your great Metropolitan Sheptitsky, whose beatification process is under way, said at the beginning of last century that you, Ukrainian Greek-Catholics, were fully Orthodox and fully Catholic. Do you share that vision?

That is true. Even the present Holy Father has emphasized this. At the Millennium celebrations in Rome, he told us that we were orthodox in faith and catholic in love.

We are maintaining our traditional faith and at the same time we are a living part of the universal Church. This has more or less been our position until today, and I think Sheptitsky had the right intuition.

But the Russian Orthodox precisely do not want Ukrainian Greek-Catholics to be a model of unity, right?

Yes, but there are different reasons for that. We do not wish to put off anyone. We simply would like to defend that one can be of the authentic Byzantine tradition and yet Catholic — that the one does not contradict the other. On the contrary: The two rather complement one another.

In this sense, to fulfill your ecumenical mission, you have to be fully Orthodox in your liturgy.

Not only our liturgy. I think we also have to be Orthodox in mentality. This is maybe our weakest point.

We have permitted ourselves to be Latinized to a great extent, not so much externally as internally. And this is what we have to correct. I believe it has been our major mistake.

As for the future, our mission would be to interpret the West to the East and the East to the West, because I believe both know very little of each other. And the great misunderstandings between East and West may simply come from lack of mutual knowledge.

As much as we participate both in the West and in the East, we have to work very hard at becoming authentic interpreters.

How have you allowed yourselves to be Latinized “internally”?

I'll give a clear example. Much of our clergy has been educated in Western-style schools and theology. In that sense, if I may express myself this way, we are somewhat schizophrenic. Our external behavior is our liturgy — that is one thing — but our understanding of it is influenced by a Latin-style schooling. It has been considered that to be truly Catholic, one had to be somehow Latin. The temptation of our grandparents and parents was to fold our religious life with some Latin aspects to prove to everybody that we were really Catholic.

This was a mistaken attitude that we are trying to get out of today. It is not an easy process for us. But still, we have to do it if we wish to do something for the Church.

Do you now have theologians able to teach Catholic theology in an Eastern way?

We do not have them in any real number, but we are trying to develop them now, because we feel that it is a necessity.

And would you say that there is a consensus or agreement within the Greek-Catholic Church that this is the right direction to go?

Not yet. There are still those who feel that we ought to be pretty Latin.

Soon the Holy Father is going to come to your country. What do you expect from his trip?

My main hope is that he will address himself also to the non-Catholic world, that he will not present a “narrow,” if I may use the word in quotation marks, “Catholic” view, but as he usually does, a very wide human approach to religion.

We do have a great many people in Ukraine who are not part of any Church. It does not mean that they are hostile to God. But they are confused or do not find themselves. We have great hope that his way, as he has manifested so many times in different countries, speaking to the human element in these people, will awaken them to a deeply religious attitude.

And I also hope he will emphasize, as he has done very frequently, that there is hope, that the world is not at its end, that we have a foundation to truly hope. We feel that this would be the most important aspect of his mission here.

Here in the West, people see this trip as a historic event — the Pope going to the former Soviet Union in a country that was so linked to Russia's history. Christians in the West expect a great deal from this trip, hoping that it may break ground on the ecumenical level. Is that also your hope?

We share the same hope. Our hope is not so much for formal or official ecumenical contact. Our great hope is for the informal and human contact, that people will meet a person. He certainly has a charisma and can speak to people directly, touch their heart, both the elder and the younger.

I think this sort of ecumenism on the popular level is extremely important, because if people start to think that after all, we ought to be all one somehow, or at least not as distanced from one another as now, then the ecumenical battle is won. Ecumenism has to come from the basis: People must want it.

It is wonderful how things are moving forward to allow your Church to fulfill its specific mission within the universal Church.

Somehow these changes are against all human hope and against all human calculations. There seems to be a certain logical history which is not very logical in the sense of human rationality.

Marguerite A. Peeters Writes from Brussels, Belgium.