on the world of CNEWA

by John E. Kozar

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There are many places in the world in which people suffer religious persecution and even martyrdom. We must always reach out in the solidarity of our prayers and our good works to remember them and to assist them. And this suffering, this living out the reality of the cross of Jesus, has always been at the center of our lives as Christians. But rather than wallow in it, we celebrate it and grow in faith because of it.

Several weeks ago, I returned from a pastoral visit to one region that has known just this kind of persecution: Ukraine. Joined by Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, we had the honor of visiting many programs and institutions that we, as members of the CNEWA family, are privileged to support.

We came at the invitation of Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to participate in the consecration of the new Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Our Lord, located in Kiev, Ukraine, and to commemorate a historic religious event heralding the beginning of the church in Ukraine. Gathered with us for the formal celebrations were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, CNEWA’s chair and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Richard Smith, his counterpart in Canada; and a number of Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops from Canada and the United States.

But our primary reason for visiting Ukraine was pastoral — to demonstrate CNEWA’s abiding support for this church that is, in fact, relatively young. Let me explain.

I say “young” because even though the church has been present there for over 1,000 years, it was suppressed for generations — forbidden and driven underground until only 22 years ago. With the fall of communism and the end of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has risen from the underground. Today, it is a dynamic and vibrant church. It never lost the faith — in fact, despite thousands of bishops, priests, sisters and lay faithful being executed or sent off to labor camps in the countryside and into Siberia, the faith was heroically passed on to successive generations.

What amazed and moved me was that these brave and courageous people do not complain about their great sufferings. Nor do they not look for pity. Rather, they celebrate their joy of rising with Christ and proclaiming him to all. The consecration of the new cathedral was a dramatic sign to the faithful in Ukraine and beyond that the faith shared in baptism can flourish — even in the worst of times.

CNEWA has been blessed to accompany this heroic church since it came back above ground. We have been able to help support the Catholic University of Ukraine in Lviv from the day of its founding just over 20 years ago, especially through the generosity of Canadian Catholics. The mission of the university includes the celebration of the martyrdom and suffering of those who gave so much to preserve and maintain the faith in the darkest of times. The lesson for us is simple: Never forget that the cross is part of the vocation of the Christian.

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