Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
OTTAWA – Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky was a model of sacrificial love that every generation needs to discover, says his current successor as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church,
"The courage that Sheptytsky displayed during a very dark night of Ukraine's history has universal significance," said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
"At the risk of his own life, as well as the lives of his clergy and nuns, Sheptytsky sheltered hundreds of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust."
Shevchuk visited Canada April 24-26 as part of a delegation of religious leaders representing all the major religious faiths in Ukraine. He spoke at a symposium April 25 at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies honouring Sheptytsky's legacy during the Second World War.
Sheptytsky sheltered Jews "knowing full well that from the perspective of human calculation this was sheer folly," Shevcshuk said. "But he also knew that without such 'folly' life is absurd."
"That kind of 'folly' is as important today as then. For the true good of humanity, every generation must be willing to go beyond human calculation and embrace sacrificial love - a love that respects all life – from conception to natural death," he said.
Shevchuk quoted Sheptytsky who wrote: "A lack of love is the source of every hardship and misery.
"Every person has a right to be loved, has a right to experience love from all people. And an injustice is inflicted on a person when they experience too little of it."
Those words might seem pietistic from someone else, Shevchuk said. But Jewish scholar Eric Goldhagen said of Sheptytsky "No other ecclesial figure of equal rank in the whole of Europe displayed such sorrow for the fate of the Jews and acted so boldly on their behalf."
Sheptytksty's insistence on the rights to love and compassion would be a "real rights revolution," Shevchuk said. "It is truly revolutionary because it requires us to overturn everything we normally associate with 'rights.'"
"One cannot legislate compassion," he said. "One cannot enforce 'entitlements' to love."
Shevchuk noted that Sheptytsky always remained God-centred and it is only through inner communion with the living God that one can find the compassion for others. A spiritual diary revealed Sheptytsky spent eight hours a day in prayer, rising at 3 a.m., he said.
He rejected the common notion that religion and "talk of God leads to division and strife."
"Certainly, it is only the living God, not an idol, who heals and brings peace," he said.
As a former professor of moral theology and a former student at the Sheptytsky Institute's summer program, the Ukrainian Catholic major archbishop warned against "moral escapism" by focusing on the wrongs of the past.
Indignation about past wrongs "does not always translate into ethical behaviour today," he said.