On Saturday, March 5, I had the privilege of interviewing the ranking Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop in the United States, the Metropolitan Archbishop, Borys Gudziak.
The archbishop, a son of immigrants, grew up in Syracuse, New York. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, he moved to Ukraine where he founded and directed the Institute of Church History. Archbishop Gudziak also served as Vice Rector and Rector of the Lviv Theological Academy, which became the Ukrainian Catholic University, and later he served as its President. In 2012, he was appointed Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. And in 2019, he returned to the United States and serves today as the Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Church in our nation.
Here are excerpts from this timely and insightful interview with his Excellency, Archbishop Gudziak.
We know the situation is changing hour by hour, but can you give us some overview of what you're hearing, particularly if churches have been destroyed, Orthodox or Catholic churches?
Well, one thing that is important to kind of register [is] that every time there's a Russian occupation of any part of Ukraine where, for example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is ministering, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is strangled and eventually rendered illegal and maybe extinguished. This has happened over almost 250 years. It's happened at least four times. This happens also to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. ... And if there is greater occupation, the churches will really get hit. Today they are being hit.
Certain Church buildings have been damaged by rocket fire. The Roman Catholic diocesan headquarters was hit in Kharkiv. An Orthodox priest has been killed and it is pretty clear that the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, [Patriarch] Sviatoslav Shevchuk is on the hit list. He has been in a safe house. He's moving around from bomb shelter to bomb shelter in the capital of the country. I think many bishops and priests are in an analogous situation.
Technology being what it is today, do you think the Russians can get away with repressing the Church again?
No persecutor ever gets away. There's about 6 million Catholics in Ukraine. But even if there were only 60 [Catholics], the Church prevails. Jesus gave a promise the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church. And we saw the incredible power of a tyranny of a totalitarian state armed to his teeth with nuclear weapons, with limitless resources for repression, [yet] that Soviet Union was not able to snuff out the Church.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church was reduced from 3,000 priests to 300. Those 300 priests in the end were serving only 1% of the pre-World War II population because in the underground you can't have big gatherings and today [the Church] has 3,000 priests. Again, we see that authoritarian powers can do great damage to Christians, to Catholics —China is an example today — but the Church will prevail.
Have you had any conversations with the Vatican?
Well, I had a brief encounter in the audience with many people, with Pope Francis, two weeks ago. ... The Catholic Church in its many arms, including the Vatican, is promoting humanitarian assistance and prayers for peace. But the problem is we're dealing with a ruler who as a young man made a step in a diabolical direction. He became a KGB operative. And in the Soviet Union, working for the KGB was something that was considered unconscionable. I mean, you sold your soul to the Communist system of repression. And he's been in that mindset for 50 years.
He's explicit about recovering that legacy. And he's thinking, as Stalin did, well, how many divisions does the Pope have? The Pope and Christians have spiritual warfare. We have prayer, we have grace, and we can see that morally, Ukraine has won this war. The whole world is united today around Ukraine. [The war] has united a fractured Europe. It brought together the North Atlantic partners. And this moral foundation is what the Church works with, what Jesus preaches, what is God's will for us, and it prevails, but it often entails great suffering.
The Russian Orthodox Church has endorsed this war. Why would they do that?
The Russian Orthodox Church is still in a colonial mindset. In fact, it's increasingly so in the last 15 years. And [Russian] Patriarch Kirill has developed this ideological construct called the 'Russian world,' which basically says, wherever we had our empire, that's our canonical territory, and we are the predominant Church that is supposed to kind of guide society and have its footprint there. This phrase, 'Russian World,' was then taken from the Church by Putin and is now being used by him. This is really scandalous. ...
What message do you want to send to the American people?
Three things. Pray, be informed, and help. This is not a war that Russia is waging because NATO was threatening Ukraine. Ukraine, of course, is not threatening Russia. Ukraine gave up its nukes. It's the first country to do so. In 1994, it had more nuclear weapons than France, England and China combined. And it gave them up for guarantees of territorial integrity made by Russia, England and the United States.
Ukraine had an army of 900,000 in 1991. It was down to 6,000 in 2014. Ukraine was not a threat. The real threat is the democracy, the spirit, the freedom of the press, the civic society that developed in Ukraine. That virus, if it passed to Russia, would create great danger to an autocracy, a kleptocratic oligarchy, which Putin runs and is fostering. ...
Archbishop Gudziak concluded the interview by offering a prayer: "We pray for the defenders of Ukraine. We pray for the [Ukrainian] people. We pray for the refugees." And he added: "We pray for the conversion of Vladimir Putin."
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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