Church leader visits Ukrainian flock

The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, April 22, 1986

By ALAN GILL

«We are a church in the catacombs. Just by praying we are officially criminals,» the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Cardinal Ivan Lubachivsky, said in Sydney yesterday.

Thirteen years ago, when Australia hosted the 1973 Eucharistic Congress, about 500 people attended an airport welcome for the papal legate, Cardinal Sheehan. Later the same day five times that number were present to welcome Cardinal Lubachivsky’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Slipyj, martyr hero of Ukrainians in the diaspora.

Nationalism, dogged devotion to the faith and a certain cussedness are features of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Cardinal Lubachivsky, who is lasted in Rome, is on a pastoral visit to Ukrainian communities in Australia, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The Church has about 25,000 members in Australia, served by 12 expatriate priests.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church has the unhappy distinction of being the only Christian body to be illegal in its native country.

According to Cardinal Lubachivsky, the Russian Orthodox Church supports this position, the result of an edict by Stalin in 1946. Priests and laity were forced to become Orthodox — a reverse of the’ situation in fascist Croatia — or to abandon religious practices entirely. A few years later the Russian Orthodox Church itself suffered, albeit less severely, Stalin’s wrath.

In view of the persecution, Cardinal Lubachivsky notes with irony that the Russian Orthodox Church, with modest involvement by the Soviet State, has declared 1988 a year of celebration to mark the millennium of Christianity in Russia. According to the Ukrainians, this refers to the arrival of Christianity in Rus, the old name for the Ukraine. Moscovia, or modern Russia, did not receive the faith until 500 years later.

Ukrainian Catholicism has not merely survived but is growing. Cardinal Lubachivsky states with satisfaction: «The Soviets have found it hard to eradicate religion. Our people are simple villagers, farmers, close to nature. Their religion is part of their life.»

The claim is often made that Ukrainians were anti-Semitic and collaborated with the Nazis in World War II. The existence of a Ukrainian division of the SS, some of whose members later emigrated to Australia, is cited as proof.

According to Cardinal Lubachivsky, those who joined the SS division had one desire only — «to get the Russians out».

«To be truthful many of us were glad the Germans came. We hoped they would help us gain our freedom. We were not collaborators,» he said.

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