America’s Eastern Rite Catholics: Living Witnesses to Faith
by Regina J. Clarkin
At the turn of the century they boarded ships for America, clutching their children, possessing only the clothes on their backs and their faith. Today their children and grandchildren are living proof that the faith of Eastern rite Catholics withstood the tests of time.
During a four week trip last Fall, Cardinal Wladyslaw Rubin, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, visited hundreds of Eastern rite Catholics living in the United States and Canada. The Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches has jurisdiction over Eastern rite Catholics throughout the world.
Thus it was that Cardinal Rubin told the members of the Eastern rite churches that they are called upon to manifest a twofold fidelity: fidelity to their own tradition and fidelity in meeting the challenges facing the Church today, joyously collaborating with their brethren in the faith to the edification of the Mystical Body of Christ when he addressed the Maronite community in Brooklyn, New York.
In the centuries following Christ, churches established by the apostles were under the jurisdiction of patriarchs in Antioch (located in Syria), Alexandria (in Egypt) and Jerusalem. The Byzantine (Constantinople) church grew indirectly from the Antioch community.
Other liturgies developed from these early communities. For instance, the Armenian liturgy derives from the old Byzantine rite with Syrian influences. The Maronites can trace their roots back to Antioch and western Syria. Originating in Antioch, but with Eastern Syrian influences, are the Chaldeans.
Today, there are more than half a million Byzantine Ukrainian and Ruthenian Catholics in America. The ancestors of the Ruthenians emigrated from the Hungarian section of the Austro-Hungarian empire; Ukrainian immigrants came from the Austrian section as well as the Ukraine.
The Slavic immigrants who entered the United States between 1850 and 1950 settled in midwestern and New England states. Poor economic conditions in their homelands, along with religious and political persecution, forced them to leave for factory and steel mill jobs here.
Naturally, the immigrants wanted to worship in their own rite. They wrote to the archbishop of Lviv in the Ukraine, promising to build a church if a priest would be sent. Archbishop Sylvester Sembratovitch sent the Rev. Ivan Volanski and a year later, in 1886, St. Michael the Archangel Church was opened by the Byzantine community in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
By 1907 there were 350,000 Slavic Byzantine Catholics living throughout 21 states. Nine years later Pope Pius X divided the growing Byzantine Church in America into the Ruthenian and Ukrainian dioceses.
In the ensuing 65 years, the Ruthenian rite has expanded to an archdiocese (archeparchy) in Pittsburgh and dioceses (eparchies) in Passaic, New Jersey; Parma, Illinois and Van Nuys, California, with about 300,000 parishoners throughout.
There are approximately a total of 528,000 members of the Ukrainian archdiocese (archeparchy) in Philadelphia and dioceses (eparchies) in Chicago and Stamford, Connecticut.
The freedom and opportunities in America beckoned not only to Slavic Byzantine Catholics but also to Melkite Catholics who were fleeing Turkish persecution. Melkites, arriving in 1860 from Egypt and Greater Syria, settled in the industrial cities of Michigan, New York and Massachusetts where they worked in factories.
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Tags: Eastern Christianity Church history United States Immigration Maronite Church