About Ukrainian Catholics
by Eva Piddubcheshen
photos: Ukrainian Information Bureau
Today there are about 600 million Catholics in the world, 10 million of whom belong to the Eastern rites. The largest Eastern Catholic Church is the Ukrainian which has more faithful than all the others combined.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church is the Church of Kievan Rus whose people accepted Christianity in 988 under the reign of Volodymyr the Great. Its home territory lies in the southern part of eastern Europe, bounded by Rumania and Czechoslovakia on the southwest, Poland and Byelorus on the west, and Russia on the north and east.
Political vicissitudes scattered the descendants of Kievan Rus throughout the world, making the Ukrainian Catholic Church a worldwide one. Today it is a Church of two branches the Mother Church on its original territory which has become the Church of the Modern Catacombs and the Daughter Church beyond it.
Before World War II, the Mother Church had 5 million faithful in four dioceses. With the second Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine, the Church suffered intense persecution. Its entire hierarchy eleven bishops in all was imprisoned, monks and nuns were dispersed and their property confiscated, seminarians were drafted into the service of the Red Army, and all church schools and institutions were liquidated.
In 1946, at a government-arranged pseudo synod, not attended by a single Ukrainian Catholic bishop, a voluntary union of the Ukrainian Catholic Church with the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow was proclaimed.
When the bishops imprisoned one year earlier refused to join this apostasy, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was declared illegal and its persecution was intensified. Its clergy was forbidden to conduct religious services, arrests of priests were accelerated, and the bishops were given long-term sentences in Soviet labor camps.
In addition to the bishops, two Apostolic Visitators, 2951 priests and hundreds of monks and nuns were incarcerated, some parishes were liquidated and the remaining ones were turned over to the Russian Orthodox Church. Today not a single Ukrainian Church, Catholic or Orthodox, legally exists in Ukraine.
The primate of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, spent a total of eighteen years in the slave labor camps of the Soviet Union and his Church went into the underground. Some years after his 1963 release (obtained through the intercession of Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy) he said that rivers of blood and mountains of bodies was the price Ukrainian Catholics paid for their loyalty to the Holy See.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church beyond its native territory is one of great vitality. It has fifteen dioceses and two million faithful. In the United States it has one archeparchy in Philadelphia and two eparchies, one in Chicago and the other in Stamford with 300,000 faithful, 206 secular and 41 religious priests, and 177 nuns. All of this has been established since 1884 when the first Ukrainian Catholic priest arrived in Shenandoah, Pa.
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