UCU Celebration Week – US Journalist Recounts (Part 1)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

‘Long Shots in Little Eyes’ — Ukrainian Catholic University of Age

By David A. Mittell, Jr.

I. (#1,505)
The occasion was the week-long celebration of the completion of a seven-year campaign to build a new campus at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv; and to bless of the Andrey Sheptytsky Library — which may prove the most spectacular of its new buildings. The writer calls himself a journalist and did take notes. But someone else will have to write the story of the hundreds of people who made this happen. These are only the happenstance impressions of awed but little eyes….

A collaboration extending to Canada, Germany, Poland, the United States and Ukraine was the essential begetter of the new campus. If one leader can be called first among many, no one will doubt that it is Bishop Borys Gudziak. In speaking publicly Bishop Borys, a native of Syracuse, New York, has the gift of alternating — always informally, always naturally — between Ukrainian and English.

He does not use the term long shot. (Little eyes invented that.) But he does note that the new campus — its collegium, its offices, its cafeteria, its church and now its library — have been built on the site of what was, and was to forever have been, the combined headquarters the Soviet Army and the Communist Party in western Ukraine.

“What was the probability,” Bishop Borys asks, “that a university recognizing the dignity of all people under Almighty God, people who fear only Almighty God, would be built here? He said this not for the first time at a celebratory banquet at the Palace of Arts in Lviv. I turned to my table mates and said, “Bishop Gudziak is the closest thing to a great man any of us will ever know!”

The banquet would be familiar to those who have supped on rubber chicken in North America. It began with a cocktail hour that featured a Kharkiv-based jazz trio — a reminder that Afro-American culture is world culture. Benefactors were acknowledged. Without them the new campus would remain the ruins of a nearly 100-meter-square Soviet Army facility. The chicken was actually duck, and was excellent.

The next morning a two-hour mass and Eucharist preceded the blessing of the Sheptytsky Center. The Greek Catholic Church does not use musical instruments, but Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect Ivan Bereznicki, who designed the church, got the acoustics right. (He modestly claims this was an accident.) The human voice sweet in song echoes, but not overly, throughout the church.

Another quirk (if you will) of Eastern-rite churches is that believers stand during the long service. In the Greek Catholic Church, which recognizes the supremacy of the Pope but retains most Eastern rites, this practice is modified. Parishioners are said to stand 70- to 100-percent of the time. On this morning most stood throughout.

I seem to have been mistakenly led to a section where older benefactors were offered chairs. Here the infirm rose as best they could, when they could. But both at the cocktail hour preceding the banquet, and at this service, a man looking to be about 90 leant on his cane and insisted on standing amongst the young. This must be the faith Bishop Gudziak describes.

This service was followed by a one-hour ceremony blessing the library. In the church Bishop Gudziak had been among several bishops dressed in gold vestments. Now he had changed into the simple black vestments of a priest. He is man of humility who may object to getting too much credit in these eyes.

Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944) was a giant of a man, said to be 6′ 10″ in English measure. More importantly, he was the towering leader of the Greek Catholic Church from 1901 until his death. He led the church through World War I; the Second Polish Republic that occupied much of western Ukraine; World War II; and the Holocaust. He is especially remembered or his ecumenism. He learned Hebrew before 1900 and sheltered hundreds of Jews half a century later. On threat of ex-communication, he forbade Greek Catholics from assisting Nazi atrocities.

Sheptytky’s ecumenism was universal and his good works manifold. Such a figure was reviled in the Russian Empire, the USSR and Nazi Germany. He is thus gloried in the library now blessed in his name. The building was designed by the German firm of Stefan Benisch of Stuttgart, Munich and Boston. Succinctly, it worships the sun. It opens onto Stryiksi Park — one of Europe’s largest urban parks. As one speaker put it, this library “brings the park into the church and the church into the park.” It cannot be described. It has to be seen.

One wonders why Eastern-rite Christians literally stand for as long as they do. In the Greek Catholic Church the obvious answer is that for hundreds of years the outside world did all it could to inculcate fear and humiliation. The time safely spent being reminded that God loved them was a gift of sweet relief.

Nonetheless, with the blessing and many speeches complete, people, especially young people, rushed into the library — quickly occupying every nook on every floor. This is, after all, about the future these fresh faces represent; and (I would add) what the fresh faces all over Lviv represent.

    David A. Mittell, Jr. is the author of Ukraine in Winter, Two Years after the Maidan.
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