Blog: Sviatoslav Shevchuk, young wise man from the east

The Catholic faith is a religion of inspiring ways of life. Jesus and His apostles lived the Gospel to the full. Today we see the bishops as successors of the apostles. One of those bishops is His Beatitude Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. He is primate - kind of the 'Patriarch' - of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. With approximately 8 million members inside and outside Ukraine it is the largest church of the Eastern tradition in full communion with the Holy See of Rome. International head of a church, it's quite a high position for a man aged just 42 years old. But, His Beatitude explained: "I feel that I can receive the support from the rock of St. Peter and this immovable rock is the source of my strength, my peace, my openness even, my readiness to complete my mission as a young but also new head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church".

As young as an apostle
Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk is the youngest bishop taking part at the Synod of Bishops for the new evangelization, currently taking place in Rome. Considering that of all bishops present he comes the most close to the age the apostles had during Jesus' public life we can see how the Major-Archbishop is an interesting example of apostolic life. Msgr. Shevchuk is fully aware of his call to be a role model. In his own words: "People have to experience what we proclaim." His Beatitude is, just like Pope Benedict XVI, a modest man, but with a joy as if he was one of the apostles witnessing the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. As if it just happened yesterday. Just by his smile and clear words Msgr. Sviatoslav Shevchuk brings the Gospel to today's world.

Opposition against communist regime
The happiness of the Major-Archbishop does not come from his church's history though. The church Msgr. Shevchuk leads has been oppressed by the strongly secularized soviet empire for decades. Cardinal Dolan (New York) called the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church a church of martyrs and heroes. Msgr. Shevchuk's predecessor Cardinal Josyf Slipyj had spent 18 years in soviet prison and labour camp. Over 800 priests were arrested during the communist regime. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church was a clandestine community, the largest social group in opposition to the communists. The church had secret parishes, seminaries and monasteries, until in 1987 they reclaimed their rightful place in the religious life of their country. While the church had lost many of their members during the communist regime, today the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church is a place of rebirth and resurrection. They are blessed with many vocations. For each available place a seminary receives three candidates, says His Beatitude. The average age of a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest today is 45 years old. Having learned from soviet secularism, the young priests are ready to challenge the secularized lifestyle from the west. Being in communion with Rome Msgr. Sviatoslav Shevchuk said that his young and vibrant church is eager to share with the whole universal church all their experiences on evangelization.

"When we are steadfast in our faith, the Church lives!"
An enthusiastic voice at the synod
Being the youngest at the Synod of Bishops does not make the Major-Archbishop a background figure. In fact, he said some interesting things.about the spirit we need in sharing the Gospel to the world. "The parish is like a sleeping giant slowly waking up," words that characterize the energy Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk entered the synod with. "The church has the fire of the Holy Spirit!" "We share our talents en experiences," His Beatitude explained his colleagues.

Revival of faith
Major-Archbishop Shevchuk spoke about the energy his church is reviving with: "It gives hope to the modern churches and the people of today." The Major-Archbishop called the synod 'very interesting' because it deals with the "context of new evangelization in all countries". The lessons on martyrdom the church in Ukraine had learned can be applied in other countries like Syria, Msgr. Shevchuk said. Dealing with a totalitarian secularized society is not new to the Church. We can just look to the history of Ukraine.

Evangelisation an ecumenical project
The Synod is not only a Catholic feast. Heads of the Orthodox and Anglican churches are also there to share their ideas. It makes His Beatitude hopeful about the ecumenical openness of the Church: "The new evangelization is the common work of all churches." Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk hopes that the ecumenical elan "helps to heal the wounds of the past."

Proclaiming faith with power
Ever felt bored about the sermon your priest gave at Mass? Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk must have had the same experience, at least sometimes. To his fellow Bishops he spoke: "The proclamation of the Gospel through the Homily in the liturgical context is worth special attention and decisive renewal. The sermons in our churches often lose the kerygmatic characteristic, and therefore, no longer have the Force of the Gospel (Rm 1:16) and the effectiveness of the Word of God. "

So what is it, this "kerygma"? How does it sound? What is it like, that force of the Gospel? My first encounter with this Major-Archbishop was when I heard him talking at the Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), November 2011 (see video below). His fresh, modest and relaxed presence immediately reminded me of the apostles. Were they not young men, some more clever than others, some more devoted than others, but all willing to serve the Lord with enthusiasm and joy? And after Jesus' resurrection, were they not willing to lead the Church? This is Sviatoslav Shevchuk, successor of great Ukrainian martyrs, surrounded by young colleagues, willing to lead into today's society, his church, the Eastern lung of the Catholic faith. I would like to encourage you to listen to the inspiring words His Beatitude spoke to the Bishops of the US.

Written by Aryo Breton van Groll, former coordinator of Ariëns Katholieke Studenten.
Enschede, 25 October 2012

His Beatitude Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, primate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, was born on the 5th of May 1970 in Stryi. In 2006 he obtained a Doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas and he was rector of the seminary of Lviv. On January 14, 2009, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Eparchy of Santa María del Patrocinio in Buenos Aires and consecrated bishop on 7 April 2009, by Archbishop Ihor Vozniak. On 10 April 2010, he was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the same diocese. In addition to Ukrainian and Spanish, he knows Polish, Russian, English, Italian, Greek, Latin and Old Slavonic. On 23 March 2011, he was elected Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to replace the retired Lubomyr Husar. This decision was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI on 25 March 2011. He was enthroned on 27 March 2011. The patriarchs of two of Ukraine's three main Orthodox communities and a leading hierarch of the other were present for the enthronement in his new Seat, the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, opened on March 27, 2011.

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