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U.S. Ukrainian Catholics find hope in pope's trip to homeland
QUEENS, N.Y. (CNS) -- U.S. Ukrainian Catholics say they hope Pope John Paul II's long-awaited visit to Ukraine in June will spark more interest in the church among younger generations of Catholics. ``I'm hoping this will spur a younger generation of Ukrainians to become more active in the parish,'' said Myron Kulynych, a native of Ukraine, who is a parish leader at Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Astoria section of Queens.
26.07.2001 (00:33) // Religious Information Service of Ukraine
Source: Roger Payne, Catholic News Service, Jul 10, 2001
``We've been getting new people moving in from the Ukraine. Unfortunately, because of the inability to attend church in Ukraine for so long, they tend not to be as regular in their churchgoing,'' said Father Philip Sandrick, pastor of Holy Cross.
Kulynych believes the main effect in Ukraine will be at the grass-roots level.
``The people will feel that they are considered full Catholics, not some small branch of the church that nobody is paying any attention to,'' he told The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
``The pope will succeed, because he came and he didn't ask for anything,'' he said. ``He preached in Ukrainian, he spoke words of encouragement and promise, and he didn't ask for anything. That's very important.''
Holy Cross Parish, whose congregation consists of about 350 households in Queens and Bayside, is part of the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford, Conn. The diocese, based in Stamford, has several parishes in New York state and throughout the New England states.
``Our church does have problems in this country,'' Kulynych said. ``New parishioners who move away often begin attending (Latin-rite) Catholic services if there is no conveniently located Ukrainian church. It happens with all immigrant groups and all ethnic groups; they tend to blend into this great melting pot of the United States.''
From World War II until the early 1990s, the Ukrainian Church in America resisted such integration, thriving partially because the Soviet government banned the Ukrainian Catholic religion.
``The Ukrainian communities in the United States needed to have a strong identity to keep the Ukrainian identity and culture alive, since the Soviets were trying to destroy it to make a homogenized Soviet Union based on the Russian culture,'' Father Sandrick explained.
The Soviets, who took over Western Ukraine at the end of World War II, outlawed the Eastern Catholic Church in 1996 and persecuted it until 1991. In August of that year, Ukraine gained its independence and instituted religious freedom for all.
Many who fled to the United States after World War II ``saw themselves as bearing the torch of Ukrainian culture, and they passed it on to their children,'' Father Sandrick said.
Kulynych himself experienced the horrible treatment of Ukrainian Catholics by the Soviets and the Germans before them. Born in Ukraine, he was conscripted to Germany in 1943 and was put in forced labor, though he was paid a minimal amount.
``After the war, I didn't consider going back to the Ukraine for even one second,'' Kulynych said. ``We had experience with the Soviet regime, and they had left a very unfavorable impression.''
With the fall of the Soviet Union came the lifting of the ban on Ukrainian Catholicism, and a new set of political problems. Catholic communities emerged and began reclaiming churches which the Orthodox had viewed as their own for 50 years.
``Under the Soviets, whole parishes, often including priests, ostensibly converted to Orthodox,'' Father Sandrick explained. ``Many converted back when ban was lifted. Generally, 90 to 95 percent of the congregation were Catholic, but the 5 to 10 percent Orthodox felt their (Orthodox) church was being taken away.''
But now that the pope has visited Ukraine, the hope of many is that the time he spent there and the emotional chord he struck with youths will remind everyone that their worship of the same God is more important than political and property disputes.
Kulynych, however, is not entirely optimistic.
``The pope's openness will help quite a few individual members of the Orthodox faith,'' he said, but he felt the Orthodox leaders would not be changed by the trip.
Father Sandrick worries about one effect of Ukraine's independence -- the patriotic thrust has diminished. He said Ukrainians who now move to the United States worry more about finding work than keeping their national identity alive.
In some ways it would be easier for Father Sandrick if he were a Latin-rite priest, he said, but ``the Holy Father spoke of the church having to breathe with both lungs, the East and the West. Being part of that Eastern lung brings balance and catholicity to the church.''
He added, ``The faith in Jesus Christ has penetrated the Ukrainian culture so deeply that you can't separate the two. So with all the problems, and the increasing assimilation of the young people into the mainstream, this is my calling from God.''
Kulynych, who lives two short blocks from St. Joan of Arc, a Latin-rite parish, yet drives for miles to attend services at Holy Cross, agrees.
``I was born to this branch of the Catholic Church,'' he said. ``I grew up with it, and stuck with it through thick and thin. I believe that I am going to die with this faith and be buried from this church.''