For Ukrainian archbishop, history highlights importance of family

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The absolutely indispensable role of the Catholic family in protecting human dignity and passing on the faith is a concrete, lived experience for the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was outlawed by the Soviets for more than 40 years.

“Everything I learned about church, about Christ, the ambience where I learned to pray — before I met a priest for the first time — was my home, my family,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the major archbishop of Kiev-Halych.

He was a 19-year-old doing his obligatory service in the Soviet army in 1989 when the Soviet Union finally legalized the Eastern Catholic Church in Ukraine, allowing members to leave their catacomb existence and openly profess and celebrate their faith.

Meeting reporters Oct. 11 during the Synod of Bishops on the family, he said his people’s experience was that the family was “the last defense of human dignity; only inside the family did we feel ourselves protected because society outside your own home was very dangerous, not human, not Christian.”

As tensions and battles in the Eastern part of the country with pro-Russian militants continue, he said, the suffering of families and their essential role in society are clear once again.

Pain is a common experience, he said, especially for mothers “because they have to send their sons to a war and many of them will receive their sons (back) in a coffin. This is a tragedy.”

The destruction of the economy that comes with social unrest also is weighing particularly heavily upon families. “War brings poverty, economic crisis (and) unemployment, so mothers and fathers today are thinking, ‘How will we heat our house next winter?’ ‘Where will we find money to buy food for our family? How will we provide an education for our children?'”

In addition, he said, many young people are afraid to get married when the future is so uncertain, and as many as half a million people have been displaced.

To be uprooted “is something horrible,” he said. “When you have to leave your home, all your previous personal and family history, to leave your old mother or father who are not able to travel with you, to leave the graves of your ancestors, to leave your churches — this is a tragedy.”

Still, the archbishop said, the people of Ukraine live in hope. “The new Ukraine that is being born amid suffering is a new society” yearning for full freedom and full democracy, bringing together people from every religion and ethnic group. “This new Ukraine that is being born cannot be killed, not even with Russian tanks.”

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