Ukrainian leader has strong ties with Pope Francis

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

April 1, 2013

For the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, "authenticity and simplicity" characterize the man who mentored him as a young bishop and who was elected Pope Francis last month.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said Pope Francis' simplicity and commitment to a new form of evangelization were exemplified when he came out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica for the first time March 13 and bowed as he asked people to pray for him and ask God to bless him.

"He spontaneously rejected the kingship of the papacy," the archbishop said.

"This is the way of the very ancient Church," Shevchuk said. The gesture was also vintage Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Some people were surprised when the pope said he wanted a Church that was poor and was with the poor.

"I can assure you, that was not simply PR (public relations). That is how he is – as a person, as a pastor, as a celebrant, as a bishop, as the pope," Shevchuk said.

The archbishop was present at many Masses in Argentina where Bergoglio was the chief celebrant. His homilies "were always very short, but very sweet," he said.

In fact, he said, at the solemn Mass celebrating Argentina's 200th anniversary of independence in 2010, "he said just six sentences, but there was a silence in the cathedral for almost 10 minutes" when he finished as people thought about what he had said.

"As a celebrant, he tried to be really simple in his relationships with the people and with God. That is why, sometimes, he will break some protocols," Shevchuk said, such as by sharing the sign of peace with as many people as he can reach.

"That way of creating simple, but authentic and profound relationships between God and people is a special gift of Cardinal Bergoglio and today Pope Francis."


Shevchuk, who was sent to Buenos Aires as an auxiliary bishop at age 38 and was named head of the Ukrainian diocese there before he was 40, said he expects his former mentor to be a father and pastor guiding Catholics on moral issues and a priest who focuses on Christ when celebrating the liturgy.

"It wasn't so easy for me, so I was looking for someone who could be my guide, someone I could ask for help," someone to go to when there were problems, said Shevchuk, 42.

"I was so lucky to find that person in the person of the archbishop of Buenos Aires," now Pope Francis.

The new pope knows the Byzantine liturgy and the Ukrainian Catholic Church from his youth, he said. As a student at a Salesian school in Buenos Aires, he would wake up early each morning and go to Divine Liturgy.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio also served as the ordinary for Eastern Catholics who did not have their own bishops in Argentina. As ordinary, he was responsible for ensuring Eastern Catholics had their own priests and for guaranteeing their pastoral care.

Shevchuk said Pope Francis was present several times when he presided over a Byzantine Divine Liturgy during meetings of the Argentine bishops' conference, to which they both belonged.

The new pope, whether at a Divine Liturgy or a Mass, "seeks full union with Christ, especially with the eucharistic Christ who is present," he said.


As a bishop in Argentina until his 2011 election as the major archbishop of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Shevchuk watched Bergoglio in action in the public arena when issues of public policy and morality were discussed.

"He was very tolerant to persons," he said. But "he wasn't tolerant to wrong ideas or aggressive ideas" presented in legislation.

Shevchuk said he is certain that the new pope's authenticity and simplicity will offer the world an alternative to secularism and a boost for the New Evangelization.

People are looking for Christian leaders with an authentic Gospel lifestyle, "not in the external forms" – the art, music or vestments – "but for the substance," he said "And if somebody behaves according to the Gospel he is preaching, the credibility of that preaching is very profound."