It was a very rainy, dark and dreary Saturday. The weather, however, did not stop the throngs of people who were awaiting the arrival of a plane from Canada. It was not the plane so much, but the man who was on board that the crowd so patiently waited for. Finally, in the horizon, a plane appeared; and as its majestic wheels touched the runway, the rain came pouring down. Still, the people waited. The doors of the plane were opened and out stepped the person for whom thousands of people had been drenched for in the rain. As his foot touched the first step, the rain ceased to fall. It was if a miracle had taken place. The clouds disappeared and the sun shone so brightly – as if to welcome this distinguished visitor. As he got into the limousine which was to take him to the podium for ceremonies, the rain started once more. It continued to rain heavily until his car stopped at the podium. Then, the weather changed again. As the grey-haired and bearded face was seen, the sun appeared once more and remained until his departure.
Who was this man thousands of people waited for in the worst weather imaginable? For whom the sun dismissed the clouds and majestically took their place in the blue sky? This was all done for one man – a man who lives among us. A man who is a martyr for the life and freedom which every living being holds so dear. This man is the Primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church – His Beatitude Josyf Cardinal Slipyj.
I have met His Beatitude only twice in my life Between the two meetings many events took place of which I was a part. It is my “living through” these events and meetings that I would like to share with you.
I first heard about the Archbishop Major eleven years ago when he was freed from seventeen years of hard labor in Soviet prison camps in Siberia. He came to Rome, due to the intervention of The Holy Father, the late Pope John XXIII, and the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The man who actually met the Archbishop Major and accompanied him to freedom and who was the intermediary between the Holy Father and the Soviet Union was Mr. Norman Cousins of the Saturday Review, to whom all Ukrainians are grateful.
He arrived in poor physical health but mentally as strong as ever. His arms and legs were black and blue from frostbite, but his spirit and will to live and do good for others had not perished throughout the long years of enslavement. Ukrainians throughout the world were overjoyed that God’s grace was upon the Archbishop.
Time elapsed and a Society for the Promotion of the Patriarchal System in the Ukrainian Catholic Church was formed. This society strived to raise the Church to the level of an autonomous Church headed by a Patriarch.
During the 1960’s many important events took place. However, about 1965 dark and stormy clouds began hovering over the Ukrainian Catholic Church,
Her faithful and Her Archbishop Major. It became a known fact that Rome was constantly restricting the judicial powers of the Archbishop Major. Slowly the people began to see that century-old privileges, rites and traditions were cast aside and found the Ukrainian Church slowly engulfed by the Roman Catholic Church. People began to feel their identity as Ukrainian Catholics disappearing. They became alarmed. Then, in 1968, joyous news was spread rapidly throughout the United States. His Beatitude Josyf Cardinal Slipyj was coming to visit his flock in the United States. Most important to me was the fact that His Beatitude was coming to the Washington, D. C. parish; the parish to which I belong.
I remember my family learned of the event the night before. There was to be a Divine Liturgy at our chapel at 9 a.m. The day being Friday, a working day, would many people show up? Our phone began to ring at 9 a.m. Thursday night and did not stop until the early morning hours of Friday. It was like a beautiful chain reaction. Neighbors called neighbors, and Friday the chapel was full.
We arrived at 7 a.m. to prepare for the Divine Liturgy and the breakfast which was to be given in honor of the Archbishop Major. I was oblivious to all of the people around me. I waited for only one man. Finally the car drove up bringing His Beatitude to the chapel. My heart beat a little faster as the doors opened, and out stepped the gray-haired, bearded, grandfatherly-looking Primate. I remember the saintly look on his face. His lips were always formed in a smile; and, when he spoke, his words to me were like the pearls of wisdom of all the ages. And his hand – ah, the hand – the hand which carried his staff; the hand that encircled the staff, and held it so tightly; the hand that was rough and calloused from torture; the hand which during the next few hours would bless me during the Divine Liturgy. I remember trying to get as close to him as I could just to kiss the hand. And I did. I remember, that as I grabbed his hand and kissed it, he blessed me and looked at me with his eyes. In those eyes I saw all the years of imprisonment, torture, love and faith. Yes, I saw that it was because of this great love for country and Church that he was able to survive.
And faith – faith in the grace and goodness of God. Faith that God would not forsake him. And indeed God did not. In those eyes I saw something else.
I saw a hope for the future. I saw an eagerness to help and achieve. An eagerness which would never perish. Yes, from those few seconds, looking into his eyes, I saw what will remain with me until the day I die.
In April of 1973, another joyous release came from Rome. The Archbishop Major was flying to America. He was coming to Philadelphia. He was coming to where the people were awaiting him on a rainy, dreary, Saturday …
So ended the Saturday of his arrival. On Sunday there was an Archiepiscopal Divine Liturgy held outdoors. Thousands and thousands of faithful from all over the world came. He spoke again, and I felt again that his words were spoken to me alone.
Once the Divine Liturgy ended, he stepped down and made his way through the vast crowds. I thought I would not get a chance to see him and kiss the hand again. But I was wrong. As he came by me, I grabbed the hand which held the staff and kissed it thrice. And again he looked at me with his loving, compassionate and saintly eyes. He smiled and my eyes filled with tears.
As he walked off, with his hand grasping the staff, I knew that he was Mosses. The Moses God had saved and delivered to freedom – the Moses which would deliver the Ukrainian Catholic Church from her bondage.