The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is facing new challenges in the coming years and the Church’s Synod of Bishops (the Sobor) has decided to meet the challenge head-on: the Synod elected and the Pope confirmed communion with, a 40 year bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a man who’s been bishop for less than 2 years and a moral theologian.
Words that are on everyone’s lips are words like “historic,” “cataclysmic,” “revolutionary,” “high-minded,” “a sign of hope,” and “daring.” The are others no doubt, but what the Synod of Ukrainian bishops did and Pope Benedict XVI confirmed is a paradigm shift in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Church’s risk with the newly elected Beatitude is singularly bold. He’s got little pastoral experience as a bishop, limited global experience as a man and a slim portfolio as a professor of moral theology and yet with these seemingly significant deficits according to human standards, the new head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is now the instrument of God’s grace on earth. Shevchuk is the key principle of Communion among millions around the world and he’s responsible for the faithful reaching their destiny in Jesus Christ. What are seen as limitations are really brand new horizons for a church that is quickly losing steam in proclaiming Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Ongoing conversion to Christ is everyone’s job. But let’s be fair to the new leader: he is not exclusively responsible for the burdens of the Church– but he does have to stand before God and account for his leadership for everyone has to step up to the cross to carry it. Shevchuk’s election can’t be the easy of passing the buck to someone younger because the older generation has run out of ideas and energy.
The witness of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church –along with the other Eastern Churches– is pretty dire in North America. In the Americas the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is perceived as dying, as are some of the of Eastern Churches. No pastoral outreach to the young of any age, a tired and entrenched clergy in the old ways of doing things, an episcopate who is almost inept, a senior clergy, a high amount of nationalism (which is a sin), a poor liturgical life and a lack of liturgical preaching, divisions created by an insistence on the calendar, divisions on which language to use in the Liturgy, and the list goes on…. So the burden to lead the Church out of the morass is going to be heavy. Of course, in order to be a leader you have to have followers. The trouble these days there are fewer and fewer followers.
Who are the ones to help this Eastern Church arrive in the 21st century? Some of the institutions and people to keep in mind….
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church together with the Latin Archdiocese of Lviv, are led by relatively young men. The archbishop for Latin Archdiocese is the 49 year old Mieczysław Mokrzycki who took the reigns of his archdiocese in 2008 at the age of 47 having no episcopal service (he worked in the Apostolic Household caring for the temporal needs of John Paul II) and now Shevchuk will turn 41 in 6 weeks.
As the archbishop of the Kievan Church, Shevchuk not only leads God’s people of that archeparchy but he heads the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and leads a Church of nearly 7.5 million members.