Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
LVIV, UKRAINE — The Ukrainian Catholic Church elected its youngest bishop to succeed Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kyiv-Halych, who retired Feb. 10.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, 40, apostolic administrator of the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of the Protection of the Mother of God in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church during a five-day synod of bishops in Lviv.
His election was confirmed by Pope Benedict March 25.
Enthroned March 27 at the Cathedral of the Holy Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv, Shevchuk, a moral theologian, pledged to honour the legacy of the thousands of Ukrainian Catholics who died for their faith under communism.
"In the 20th century, our Church stayed by Our Saviour to the very end," Shevchuk said during his installation liturgy.
For more than 40 years, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was illegal in Soviet Union; officially it did not exist at all.
"The death of hundreds of thousands of our laity, priests, monks and nuns — led by our bishops — was a death on the cross and, therefore, a giver of life," said the new archbishop.
The Ukrainian martyrs and the millions who kept their faith despite the risk and passed it on to their children and grandchildren demonstrated the strength and power of the cross, he said.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church is the largest of the Eastern churches in full communion with Rome.
Born at Stryi, near Lviv, May 5, 1970, the new archbishop was ordained to the priesthood in June 1994 by Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, then the Ukrainian Catholic Church's leader. He later obtained a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas of Aquinas in Rome.
Shevchuk served as prefect and vice rector of Holy Spirit Seminary — now the Ukrainian Catholic University — in Lviv between 1999 and 2002. He served as personal secretary to Husar from 2002 to 2005. He returned to the university as rector in 2007.
Subsequently, he was appointed auxiliary bishop for the Buenos Aires-based diocese in January 2009 and became apostolic administrator in April 2010.
In an interview with the Livyi Bereh daily newspaper March 23, Husar said his successor's tasks would include "moralizing public life and bringing God into people's lives" as well as encouraging steps to combat corruption through education.
Catholics make up a tenth of the Ukrainian population, which totals about 50 million. About a third of Ukrainians belong to the country's three Orthodox denominations.
In Canada, there are more than 125,000 Ukrainian Catholics, including about 29,000 in the Edmonton Eparchy, led by Bishop David Motiuk, which serves all of Alberta.
When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was forcibly united with the Russian Orthodox Church and became illegal.
During 45 years under communist rule, the push for Ukrainian independence and the demand for religious freedom for Ukrainian Catholics often went hand in hand.
The growth of Ukrainian democracy after independence in 1991 occurred at the same time that the Church was being rebuilt.
However, the return of religious freedom meant that many Christians who were worshipping as Orthodox decided to return to their Ukrainian Catholic roots.