The drama of Ukraine

My fascination with Ukraine began in 1984, during a sabbatical year at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. There, one of the first friends I made among my fellow Fellows was Dr. Bohdan Bociurkiw, a Ukrainian-Canadian professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. We first connected through a mutual interest in religious freedom behind the iron curtain; within a few weeks, Bohdan was giving me private tutorials in the history and culture of his native land, including an in-depth

In 1984, the UGCC was not only the largest of the eastern Catholic churches; it was the largest underground religious body in the world. Outlawed in the Soviet Union by the infamous “Lviv Sobor” of 1946 (a farce orchestrated by the Soviet secret police), the UGCC had continued its ecclesial life under draconian circumstances. Most of its bishops and clergy were deported to GULAG camps; the Church’s seminaries and liturgical life were conducted clandestinely, often in forests. Yet the leader of the UGCC, Cardinal Josyf Slipyj (the model for Morris West’s “pope from the steppes” in “The Shoes of the Fisherman”), never abandoned hope for a different future, and during his Roman exile he laid the groundwork for an institution Bohdan Bociurkiw never lived to see but would have loved: the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv, the only Catholic institution of higher learning in the former USSR.

For the past 15 years or so I have taught UCU students and graduates in the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society in Cracow. Over that period I have seen their self-confidence, their intellectual maturity, and their commitment to building a decent future for their country grow. Then, this past July, I had the honor of delivering the commencement address at UCU, where I spoke of Ukraine’s 20th-century martyrs as the foundation on which a free and virtuous Ukraine could be built in the 21st century.

Less than five months later, some of the graduates I had addressed, and some of the students with whom I had discussed the moral-cultural foundations of democracy at a philosophy seminar the day before commencement, were on the front lines of a wave of mass public protests in Ukraine, launched when the corrupt government of President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly halted negotiations with the European Union for Ukraine’s eventual entry into the EU.

Ukrainian civil society was virtually obliterated by communism. The Ukrainian protests of the past two months have seen the spontaneous rebirth of civil society, led in large part by young people with no memory of communism who know that the present moral and cultural conditions of their country are intolerable—and that’s before we get to the dreadful economics and the wretched politics. Among the leaders of these young democrats and human rights activists are graduates and students of UCU, who have learned their dignity as men, women and citizens from a university faculty that takes character formation as seriously as it takes intellectual formation.

Ukraine’s future is an issue of great strategic consequence, which Vladimir Putin understands, if many Americans (including an administration that was seriously behind-the-curve on events in Ukraine) do not. A Ukraine integrated into Europe guarantees that there will be limits to Russian revanchism, an easing of Russian pressure on Poland and the Baltic states, and no de facto reconstitution of the Soviet Union. A future Russian leadership, realizing that Putin’s revanchist game was up, just might stop throwing elbows internationally and attend to Russia’s vast internal problems. Much is at stake in Ukraine, geopolitically.

A lot is also at stake morally. The Ukrainian popular uprising of late 2013 was not motivated by an unquenchable thirst for MTV and other expressions of western decadence. It was motivated by a deep yearning for truth, justice, and elementary decency in public life. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, a Church that long embodied Pope Francis’s “peripheries,” is now fully engaged in the contest for the moral future of Ukraine. That brave Church deserves the solidarity of Catholics throughout the world.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash