Pope`s stand on Ukraine Patriarch draws fire

Courier-Express, Oct. 29 1977, Boffalo


A FIERY, 85-YEAR-OLD cardinal walked out of a Mass being celebrated by Pope Paul VI in Rome earlier this month, and the reverberations are being felt among a number of his ardent followers in Western York.

Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, major archbishop of the Catholic Church’s Ukrainian rite, was protesting seating arrangements at the fifth World Synod of Bishops.

«But his act was of much deeper significance than that,» said a parishioner of St. Nicholas Ukrainian RC Church of 308 Fillmore Ave., Buffalo, Mrs. Alexander Bereznyckyj, an equally fiery fighter for the Ukrainian church’s existence against Soviet Union pressure, was on the scene in Rome that memorable day.

«WE HAVE A STRONG GROUP of Americans of Ukrainian heritage,» said Mrs. Bereznycky «who have formed the Society for Promotion of the Patriarchal System in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

«It’s a layman’s group working toward acceptance of that system by the Vatican. This is a long, historic battle which has a lot of meaning for the eastern churches. It also affects Christians and Jews in this country, because of the current fight by Americans for greater religious and human freedom in the Soviet Union.

«You see, Catholics split way back in the year 1054 between Western and Eastern churches. The Ukrainian church became Orthodox. Then 350 years ago (1627), some of the Western churches reunited with Rome. A treaty was made in Brest-Litovsk which formed the United Church of the Ukraine. It included guarantees from the Pope that the Metropolitan of Kiev would remain primate of the Ukraine, with patriarchal rites.»

THE FIERCE, Independent spirit of the Ukrainian demands that this patriarchal system, with considerable autonomy from the Vatican, remain in force.

«We were reaffirmed in this at the Second Vatican Council in 1964,» said Mrs. B. «and Pope John approved the rights of Eastern Catholics to live under a patriarchy.

«But earlier, in 1948, after World War II, the Soviet Union had confiscated the Ukrainian Catholic church. Our priests were arrested and sent to work camps in Siberia. The only survivor of that purge of the church hierarchy is that beloved old fighter. Cardinal Slipyj (pronounced Slippy).

«After 18 years imprisonment in Siberia, this great head of our church was brought to Rome by Pope John XXIII, with the help of President John F; Kennedy, and made a cardinal.

«THE SECOND VATICAN Council recognized Cardinal Slipyj as the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church with patriarchal rights. But later, when the Vatican started a political dialogue with the Soviets, his positron and powers were diminished because the Soviets fear his leadership.»

Some three million Ukrainian Catholics in the free world have adopted return of the patriarch system as a freedom fighter’s just cause against oppression.

«That’s why many of us went to Rome in late September and early October, for the Synod of Bishops,» said Mrs. B. «Also, Sept. 30 was the 50th anniversary of Cardinal Slipyj’s ordination to the priesthood.

«IT WAS A CELEBRATION for us. Many of the people among an American group of 1,000 came from the five Ukrainian churches in the Buffalo area. Many of us feel that Pope Paul VI plays into the hands of the Kremlin by refusing to recognize our leader as a patriarch with power to our church.

«We want to preserve our loyalty to the Holy See, but we don’t want eventual destruction of our church. It is persecuted still, and we don’t want it to be sacrificed by the Vatican to gain any concessions from the Soviet Union.»

Cardinal Slipyj is recognized by the Vatican as «major archbishop of the Ukraine,» but that’s a rank lower than patriarch. The cardinal has had several bitter exchanges with the Pope over his status, and that’s why he and other Eastern Catholic leaders protested seating arrangements at a concelebrated Mass with synod bishops in the Sistine Chapel.

THEY SAID THEY HAD BEEN seated in the last row, while, according to the traditions of their church, they outranked cardinals and should have been in the first row. The Vatican later said it was an «oversight» and the leaders were invited back.

To outsiders, it sounds a bit comic opera, but to Western New York Ukrainians it’s a matter of faith, of survival, and of serious concern for the future of their motherland church.

«The Pope has frequently invited clergymen from Moscow to speak in Rome.» said Mrs. B. «and the Soviet leaders have been most glad to provide Communist supporters who were allowed to celebrate Masses there. We Ukrainians were the first victims of Communist oppression, and our Catholic church There is still in the catacombs. It’s a secret church, operating underground.

«THAT’S WHY WE FELL strongly on the matter of a patriarchy. Cardinal Slipyj was once offered a patriarchy of Moscow, as a puppet of the government. The Soviet leaders even brought him to Moscow from Siberia camp, honored him with red-carpet treatment. But he remained loyal to Rome and to his Ukrainian church. So he was sent back to Siberia, until his release much later.»

The Ukrainian rite’s oldest parish in Western New York is St. Nicholas Church. Its pastor, Msgr. Paul Iwachiw, said the group of laity which talks about breaks with the Vatican does not represent leadership of the rite.

«Our bishops are still waiting patiently,» he said. «However, we support the elevation of Cardinal Slipyj because it would recognize Ukrainian Catholics as a patriarchate. This decision would uplift the people’s spirits. They have been deprived of their faith and their church abolished. This would give them a form of government.»

THERE ARE ABOUT four million Ukrainian Catholics still living their underground religion with secret bishops. Some 3,000 Ukrainian Catholics live in Western New York, mainly around the Fillmore-Oneida St. church pastored by Msgr. Iwachiw. There are also many in the city’s Black Rock section, in Niagara Falls and in Lancaster.

The cornerstone of St. Nicholas Church built in 1919, reads in both Ukrainian and English. Faith in their church and its place in the heart of their motherland still burns hot in the descendants of the Ukrainian immigrants who first settled in Buffalo around 1900.

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