Ukrainian Catholics Crowd Swedish Cathedral on Easter
“Despite an extremely challenging situation, and difficult times for our country, Ukrainians in Sweden do not feel alone."
The Cathedral of Stockholm, Sweden, was filled past capacity last Sunday as Ukrainian Catholics in the Scandinavian country celebrated the Easter liturgy.
“What happened was that some people were standing outside the church as it was too full and impossible to enter,” Father Andriy Melnychuk told CNA via email on Wednesday.
Father Melnychuk is the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic Mission in Stockholm, Sweden’s only Catholic diocese. He said before the launch of full-scale war in Ukraine, around 400-600 Ukrainian immigrants attended the parish. But he estimated that 700-800 Ukrainian Greek Catholics were present for the Divine Liturgy in St. Erik’s Cathedral on Sunday, April 17.
According to figures from the Swedish Migration Agency, since Feb. 24, over 33,100 Ukrainian citizens have applied for entrance into the country as refugees.
Stockholm’s Cardinal Anders Arborelius attended the Easter liturgy, and told Melnychuk that he had never seen the cathedral so full.
“I have to admit that there were mixed feelings before and after the Easter liturgy,” Father Melnychuk said. “During the liturgy, though, all the feelings were put on hold, as we enter an ‘other,’ divine reality, when we pray.”
“On this day we celebrated God’s victory over evil, over death. We trust that we are heirs of God’s victory. We also understand the price of this victory, so celebrating Easter this year, we as always put our trust in God,” the priest said.
“Despite an extremely challenging situation, and difficult times for our country, Ukrainians in Sweden do not feel alone,” Father Melnychuk said, explaining that they have received a lot of support from the local Catholic Church, Protestant churches, and charitable organizations.
“All these offers to support us during difficult times are very important and appreciated,” he said. “The most needed and most important support for us is prayer. Human possibilities are limited. To get all the answers to the questions of the current time, or to get solutions to all the problems we have now, is impossible with human strength only. That is why prayer together with us and for us is extremely important.”
The majority of Ukrainians, almost 80%, are Eastern Orthodox Christians. Around 9% of Ukrainians are Greek Catholic, meaning they are Catholics who belong to Churches of the Byzantine rite.
The vast majority of these belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), which is led by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halych.
The Byzantine rite celebrates the liturgy in the form used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches, regularly using the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It also follows the Julian calendar, meaning some feast days are cele/Cbrated on a different day from Roman rite Catholics, who follow the Gregorian calendar.
Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Ukraine, for example, are in Holy Week this week, in preparation for Easter Sunday, which they will celebrate on April 24.
But many Ukrainian Greek Catholic communities outside Ukraine have chosen to follow the Gregorian calendar, in union with the majority of Christians in their adopted country.
Father Melnychuk said his parish in Stockholm decided to adopt the Gregorian calendar in December, and it was the last to do so among the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes in the Scandinavian countries.
“This matter was discussed for a long time, so the moment of change was no surprise but a thorough decision of the parish,” he said. “The huge number of Ukrainians joining the Easter Liturgy according to the Gregorian calendar was a good proof of that.”
He explained that members of his parish have come from all over Ukraine, but the majority are from the western part, where most Catholics are concentrated.
The priest said the situation is changing constantly, as large numbers of Ukrainian refugees arrive in Sweden. “Now it is almost impossible to speak about any specific numbers, as it is changing as we speak: Many people are arriving here but also many are already returning home.”
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