Ukrainian or English liturgy? It depends on the congregation

Archbishop Lawrence Huculak

Archbishop Lawrence Huculak

September 24, 2012

WINNIPEG – Many Ukrainian Catholic leaders serving the faithful outside the homeland face a dilemma: Do they serve the needs of the new immigrants and elderly by using Ukrainian in liturgies, or do they minister in English to keep younger people coming to church?

Ukrainian "has revived a little with the new immigrants," who want their native language used in church so their children will know how to speak it, said Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadephia.

Some places, Soroka added, place an "inordinate emphasis" on Ukrainian-language liturgies.

Yet, especially among teens and younger Americans, "even those who speak Ukrainian don't want to go to a Ukrainian service," he said. Parents tell priests they are tired of arguing with their children about going to a service they do not understand.

"You don't hear them protesting – they just walk away," he said in an interview.

In large Ukrainian Catholic parishes, liturgies are offered in Ukrainian and English. Of his 67 parishes, he said, only two would not offer bilingual homilies.

But the Philadelphia Archdiocese's situation is even a bit more complicated: Many immigrants are from Eastern Ukraine, and their language is Russian, so priests minister to them in their native language.

This upsets Ukrainian nationalists, Soroka said, "but we can't hold back evangelization because of Ukrainian nationalists. If we don't reach out to them," Russian-speaking Ukrainians will go to Orthodox or evangelical churches.

In the diocese that includes Great Britain and Ireland, not all churches celebrate the Divine Liturgy in English, said Bishop Hlib Lonchyna.


"It's a problem and it's a blessing," he said. "It's a blessing" because – especially in London – new immigrants feel at home in the church.

But some parish priests cannot speak English well enough to celebrate English-language liturgies, and some elderly Ukrainian Catholics "get very tense when things get celebrated in English," he said. "Because of this mentality, we have lost a lot of people," he added.

Bishop Peter Stasiuk of Melbourne, Australia, said language is not an issue in his diocese, which includes Australia and New Zealand. Most immigrants from Ukraine arrived after the Second World War, and "we have integrated into the Australian community very well," he said.

"The concept of what gives the Ukrainian Catholic Church its identity is "a work in progress," said Winnipeg Archbishop Lawrence Huculak.

Liturgy, music, icons, traditional vestments all "work to attract people to the faith," he said. But Church leaders must balance those items' importance against the faith itself.

The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, spent years working in Argentina.

"Our most vibrant parishes in Argentina are Spanish-speaking," he said.

When Shevchuk met with young people at a Winnipeg parish Sept. 7, he told them not to worry about not being able to speak Ukrainian.

"This is not a Church of Ukrainians, it's a Church of Christ," Shevchuk said. "We are a global Church. We are a Church of the Ukrainian tradition."