Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, 41, was elected in March to lead the Ukrainian Catholic Church, an Eastern-rite church with more than 7 million members worldwide. The young archbishop and primate visited Chicago last month to celebrate the golden jubilee of the St. Nicholas Eparchy, which includes the United States from Indiana west, including Alaska and Hawaii. He has emphasized developing good ecumenical relationships with other churches and evangelization of post-communist Ukraine since taking his position.
He spoke with Our Sunday Visitor in the offices of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Chicago.
Our Sunday Visitor: How many of your members are in Ukraine and how many are in other countries?
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: In Ukraine, we have 5.5 million. In other countries we have around 2 million, more or less. It’s not so easy to count.
OSV: What makes it difficult?
Archbishop Shevchuk: As a global church, we exist in different cultures and in different countries. Very often our people will be disseminated in very huge territories. For example, for two years I was bishop for the Ukrainians in Argentina. In Argentina we have almost 300,000 Ukrainians, but I was in touch only with 10,000. It’s a huge territory, six times bigger than the territory of Ukraine. I can imagine there is the same situation in other countries.
After the fall of communism, 5 million Ukrainians emigrated, mostly from western Ukraine, which is the Catholic part. We are trying to reach those people in the countries where they are settled, especially Italy, Spain and Portugal. A lot of Ukrainians are in Africa, and in eastern countries, like Singapore, Oceania, in Australia we have an eparchy. This immigration process is making it difficult not only to count those people but to provide for them adequate pastoral care.
OSV: Do you see that challenge here as well?
Archbishop Shevchuk: The most interesting phenomenon in terms of the internal immigration of Ukrainians in the United States is that now people will move to where they can find a job. In the past, they would go mostly to those places where a Ukrainian community exists. That’s why it’s not so easy to follow those people.
OSV: What happens when you have a few dozen Ukrainians who go to, say, somewhere in west Texas because there are jobs there? Do they go to a Latin-rite church if there is no Ukrainian church? Do you lose contact with them?
Archbishop Shevchuk: There are two different kinds of reactions when perhaps two dozen Ukrainians find themselves in a place where there is no Ukrainian church. Some of them would go to the Roman Catholic Church, and we are very grateful for the Roman Catholic priests that provide pastoral care for our people.
But very often, they would not go to any church. Again, in Argentina, a lot of people were moving from the more rural territory to the cities, and in the big cities, we do have our parishes, but they would not come. Some of them explained to me that they were very strongly attached to their church in the village, and when they came to the city, it was not so easy for them to integrate themselves in a new parish. That’s why we are supposed to be more welcoming to newcomers, and not only those people who are originally from Ukraine or who are Ukrainian descendants.
OSV: Is your church trying to play catch-upafter being underground under communism, when so many bishops and priests were exiled to Siberia?
Archbishop Shevchuk: The Ukrainian church in Ukraine is a little different than the Ukrainian Church in the diaspora. In Ukraine, church structures were destroyed during communism, but the church communities? No. They were small, but they were very active, vibrant. After the fall of communism, those small communities really exploded. They became big parishes, very active. Many people from those parishes emigrated, especially to the United States. In some cases, those people would join the old parishes (in their new homes), but in some cases, those people would perceive that those parishes were very old, not so vibrant structures, so they would go away.
That’s why we are considering the pastoral care of our parishes, not only in Ukraine, but also outside, how to be open to newcomers, They can revitalize, make more living parishes.
OSV: What’s your relationship with the Orthodox churches like? It seems to be more friendly than it might be in Russia or other countries.
Archbishop Shevchuk: It’s a very different situation in Russia. Russia is a mostly Orthodox country. Ukraine is a more pluralistic country. There is no one Orthodox church in Ukraine; among the Orthodox, we have three churches. Also in Ukraine we have a big number of Protestant churches of the different denominations and Muslims and Jews.
OSV: What’s the biggest challenge facing your church?
Archbishop Shevchuk: Well, Ukraine is a post-communist country and maybe half of the population does not believe in God. This is a country that needs new evangelization. But also Ukraine is receiving all those influences from the West, which we’d call with one word: secularism. In Ukraine, those ideas find very good soil. That’s why for us, it’s so important to fulfill our most important mission: to preach the Gospel of Christ. Those people are looking for the church. They are asking for some spiritual care. Maybe after those decades, we have the right time in order to give the bread of life to those people who are hungry or thirsty for this spiritual dimension of human life. It’s why I proclaimed evangelization is our most important task.
OSV: How do you go about doing that?
Archbishop Shevchuk: We are trying first of all to conserve our treasure: liturgy, spirituality, theology. Thanks be to God, we have a lot of vocations. Right now in Ukraine we have almost 600 seminarians, but it’s not enough. In our church in Ukraine, for one priest we have 2,050 faithful. It’s very difficult to give them efficient pastoral care. I think the most important thing right now for us is the formation of clergy and people of consecrated life. Then, also formation of laity. A lot of Ukrainian young people did not have a good catechetical preparation; it’s why catechization is one way to evangelize.
OSV: What would you want a Roman Catholic here in the United States to know about the Ukrainian Catholic Church?
Archbishop Shevchuk: Three points. First, that the Catholic Church does not mean Latin-rite Church. The Catholic Church is a community of different churches. In the Catholic Church, there are 22 different Eastern churches of the different traditions. Second, it’s very important to have mutual respect and the interchange of our treasures. Maybe we can ask Roman Catholics how to help our faithful be present in a territory where there are no Ukrainian Catholic parishes, to help them to preserve their identity. Third, I will promise that we will be more and more open to helping Roman Catholics learn more about us who are present in this country.
Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.