Archbishop Thomas Gullickson: Thenuncio should do everything to promote peace in Ukraine
Apostolic nuncio to Ukraine Archbishop Thomas Gullickson has got a new appointment. He presents his credentials in Bern on Tuesday, 13 October and in Liechtenstein on 26 October. He has been a nuncio to our country in the most intense and crucial period of Ukrainian modern history (since May 2011) – the Revolution of dignity (2013-2014) and the war in the east of the country. With his honest and distinct position on the side of the Ukrainian people, Archbishop Gullickson has earn great love and respect from the Ukrainians - Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Orthodox and people of good will. RISU spoke to Archbishop Thomas in September, when he visited Lviv and took part in the Assembly of religious that gathered 600 monks and nuns from the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine.
These are your last days in Ukraine and you’ve spent here maybe the most crucial years in our modern history. What are your feelings when you leave this country?
I came in September 2011 so that is exactly four years. Maybe because it was such an intense time for Ukrainians and for the Church in Ukraine, both Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic, it was a very intense time for me as well. The nomination to Ukraine was of course a big surprise because in many ways I was not prepared for this assignment in terms of languages. A lot of times especially in the beginning I felt very helpless but right now I would say more than any assignment that I have had in my diplomatic carrier I will miss Ukraine the most. It’s the hardest for me to leave.
Whom would you wish to come to Ukraine as your successor – not a person but personality?
I really think that my superiors should try and find a person of Slavic background because the linguistic challenge is too great. When I first came I had some very serious things that I wanted to discuss with bishops personally or privately and unfortunately a nuncio cannot usually use an interpreter especially if it is a difficult thing and for two reasons: confidentiality and specificity of issues. Not anyone can be a nuncio’s interpreter. I had some very bad experience with news articles in the beginning not because of the journalists but because of the interpreters they brought who had no idea what I was talking about.
So, on my wish-list would be somebody of Slavic background and somebody who can maybe better than I fall in love with Ukraine and its people. The problem is that we do not have a big pool of people of Slavic background.
Ukraine is the country where two Catholic Churches live side by side. There are not many countries with such a configuration of Catholics. What is in your opinion the mission of the Eastern Catholic Churches in general and the UGCC in particular in the whole Catholic community and in ecumenical dialogue?
With the exception of Lebanon and Ethiopia there is probably no country in the world where the Oriental Catholic Church is larger and the Latin is also present. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the premier Oriental Church in the world by far and to be here for me was very exciting.
Pope Saint John Paul II wanted the Church, as did the Second Vatican Council, to breathe with both lungs. Within the Church itself we have a dynamism which we still are trying to discover. I don’t think that we (Roman and Greek Catholics) have yet really come to understand the opportunity which is ours together to show the face of Christ better throughout the world.
In terms of dealing with Orthodox one of the problems is that Orthodoxy in itself is divided. If you ask the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew about ecumenism you would get a very different answer than if you ask the Bulgarian patriarch. And I think as a result the task which falls to the Greek Catholic Church is a task of living its life to the fullest. The task of the Greek Catholics in Ukraine is to be the best Greek Catholics possible as laity, as parishes, as priests, as religious, and as bishops. To be the best possible Greek Catholic Church that you can be, because we observe that the people are searching – people who may or may not be baptized, people who may or may not say that they are Orthodox – but they are searching and we need to offer them the invitation of the best possible experience of Church that they can see. Ukrainians kind of “shop around” especially in Kyiv. And we need to offer and if they don’t take us up on it and say “No, we want to stay Orthodox” that’s fine. But I think that some people may come to us. We saw that this Easter - the number of people who came to the Greek Catholic churches to have their ‘paskas’ blessed. They are looking for something and this would be my wish for the Churches that ecumenically they would be there, being the best possible version of themselves.
During the ad limina visit pope Francis mentioned that Ukrainian bishops of the two rites can get along a little better…
When I was assigned to Ukraine, I went to see Pope Benedict for my audience and he gave me one task – try to make peace between the Greek and the Roman Catholic Churches. We are not there yet.
But many bishops’ conferences have their disagreements…
That’s usually a personality thing but the challenge in Ukraine is that the personalities take on the face of the Latin or the Greek Catholic Church. Maybe that’s not fair and we should be able to say – no, it is Thomas who is arguing with Gregory - but we don’t have that leisure because of who we are as Churches. So we end up by circumstance being categorized as Greeks and Latins that don’t get along. Of course there are Greeks who don’t get along with each other and same for Latins, but that’s not news (laughs).
So you’ve fulfilled your assignment?
No, I failed (laughs). But this meeting of the religious today (RISU spoke with Archbishop Gullickson during the Assembly of religious in Lviv jointly organized by the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Churches in Ukraine) is a window of opportunity and a very beautiful experience for the religious themselves and I think it could also be a creative way of brainstorming to bring these things out.
Sometimes one gets a feeling that the Commission for dialogue with the Orthodox Churches is too far from the matters itself. Serving as a nuncio in Ukraine you’ve seen the Orthodox face to face and what solution do you see?
Among the things that wereemphasized during the Second Vatican Council is subsidiarity and one of the first mistakes made after the Council was to centralize a lot of things including ecumenical initiatives. Who should be the protagonist of ecumenism? Why is it that the Roman Catholic Church cannot be a member of the World Council of Churches? They always say that this is asymmetrical.The Pope doesn’t have partners and he cannot belong to the WCC. But why should the Pope himself be involved?
What was your main challenge being a nuncio in explaining the situation in Ukraine to the broader world?
That’s a challenge that I share with a lot of ambassadors. One of the challenges that many ambassadors face is breaking through not only the propaganda ceiling but the whole series of preconceptions about this part of the world. Some of the ambassadors of course don’t get so far along but there are a lot of them who are very fine men and women who understand the problematic and try the best they can to inform their capital cities what’s happening here and what is at stake. And in a similar way but differently this of course has been my challenge as a diplomat with the Holy See in trying to get people in Rome (just like someone else tries to get people in Madrid or people in Paris, or in Berlin) to look again at this reality and say: “Your preconceptions, your ideas, your habits since independence of Ukraine, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, maybe need to be re-examined, you need to look again, and to find a different way of relating to this part of the world”.
The revolution of dignity was your challenge. What in your opinion will be the challenge for the next nuncio?
You want me to look into my crystal ball.
There are different things. My big concern is for peace and stability in this country. Because there is a big risk, and I’ve said this in different contexts, for the Roman Catholic Church here. Because the RCC here has the same age structure as the Roman Catholic Church everywhere in Europe. Most people are older; there are comparatively few young people and very few children. When these children finish their high school their parents often send them to Poland to study. And they never come back. This puts us in the very same risk as the Armenian Catholics under Communism. In two generations if we don’t have peace and a reasonable measure of prosperity (that people have a decent living) the Roman Catholic Church will disappear in Ukraine.
So the nuncio should do everything to promote peace.
The other thing, apart from the war, just in terms of the Church, in terms of the Greek Catholic Church I would like to see more progress in terms of the Church realizing its potential. When I talk with His Beatitude Sviatoslav and speak of things I want for the Church he smiles and says: “You Excellency, go slowly! We’ll get there”. And one of the things is that that UGCC should have the same legal status as a Patriarchate, not necessarily the title, but restrictions anchored in Church law which are put on the Major-Archbishop should be lifted and he should have the very same status in law as a patriarch. I hope that my successor will understand these things and move a little bit in that direction.
Thomas E. Gullickson was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, United States of America, on 14 August 1950 and ordained to the priesthood on 27 June 1976. He was ordained to the Episcopate in his hometown on November 11, 2004. He is titular Archbishop of Bomarzo.
He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See on 1st May 1985 and has been appointed successively to the Diplomatic Missions in Rwanda, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Jerusalem, Israel and Germany.
He has a degree in Canon Law and he speaks English, Italian, French and German.
His first posting as Apostolic Nuncio was to Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Republic of Suriname, twelve independent States in the region.
His first posting as Apostolic Delegate was to the Antilles Episcopal Conference region, comprising the English, French, with the exception of Haiti, and Dutch territories in the Caribbean, a total of twenty-two with their own governments. There are eighteen Dioceses and two Missio sui iuris, ecclesiastical entities, in the Antilles. Archbishop Gullickson is the fifth Apostolic Nuncio in this region.
On 21 May 2011, the Holy Father named him Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine.
On 5 September 2015, he was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Lviv, Mariana Karapinka and Anatoliy Babynskyy