It is with deep appreciation and respect for you, your calling and your desire to do God's will that we, the bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States of America, wish to share with you our thoughts concerning our Church’s future and your ministry. We need your help. You are a precious gift. We are grateful for your willingness to serve our faithful in America. With this letter of appeal, we would like to present our Church in the US to you, identify some areas in need of help, and outline the spiritual and pastoral expectations of candidates for the priesthood.
The Metropolia of Philadelphia — which includes the archeparchy of the same name and three eparchies: Stamford, St. Nicholas in Chicago, and St. Josaphat in Parma, the ministry of which the Church has entrusted to us — will need a substantial replenishment of its clergy over the coming years. Thus, the Philadelphia Archeparchy will require about 15 new priests over the next five years to serve its faithful adequately and respond to their needs. Each eparchy, of course, has its own pastoral needs, which are enormous. We are called to reach out not only to the descendants of the first Ukrainian settlers in the United States and children of different historical migration waves, or hundreds of thousands of new migrants from Ukraine, but also to millions of Americans who do not know God. Therefore, the metropolia and its leaders are searching for dedicated and zealous seminarians to serve as deacons and priests, especially those who are young and vigorous.
Our search, in the first instance, is not about quantity, but quality. We are not looking for workers to simply accomplish a task or fulfill a plan, but for true missionaries and pastors who will care for the faithful with a willingness even to sacrifice their lives for them, from love of God and neighbor.
Of course, our top priority is to foster vocations to the priesthood and other ministries among candidates from the territory of the metropolia, but we also hope for help and support from other countries, including Ukraine. It will be important to engage the laity — men and women, in particular youth — in our ministry. This is our future. But the issue of lay leadership is so important that we want to address it in a separate pastoral letter.
Pastoral ministry in the West, particularly in the United States of America, is complex and demanding. It is not for everyone. In different ways, of course, this is true of Ukraine and all other countries as well.
Let us, however, focus here on the immediate challenges in America. We have many parishes, a great and long history, and a distinct identity. Parishes are centers of faith, and have also traditionally fostered education, cultural activities, and social service. We need the help of faith-filled, zealous, kind, tireless priests who are willing to preserve and develop these past achievements. But we also need to transcend our traditional settings, especially purely ethnic ones. This is not easy, but at the same time it is an opportunity to reveal God's gifts: spiritual talents, missionary passion, and organizational abilities.
The challenges for today’s Catholic pastor are many: progressive secularization; wholesale commercialization that reduces everything to the material and monetary, and makes it ever more difficult to understand symbols and anything transcendental; extreme sensuality and dependence on constant hyperstimulation, in particular regarding communication and information; radical individualism that often leads to alienation or loneliness; subjectivism and deconstruction that undermine for many the very existence of truth; absence of a shared anthropology (who is a person, man, woman, spouse? who has authority over human life and death? what is marriage? etc.); prejudice against the Church and clergy, exacerbated by the undeniable abuse crisis; doubt regarding the basic tenets of the Christian faith; the departure of the faithful, especially the youth, from the Church; a drastic reduction in finances. In the future, one cannot rule out the possibility of direct persecution of the Church, as has been seen repeatedly in modern history—in France during the Revolution, in Mexico and Spain, in Germany and much of Europe under the Nazis, in Ukraine under Soviet rule and, indeed, in all communist countries between Albania and Estonia, China and Vietnam, as well as in Muslim countries and elsewhere.
The dispersion and great distances separating our faithful, the specific and diverse needs of different waves of migration, require selfless labor, mobility, and ingenuity. As bishops looking for dedicated, self-sacrificing, talented and charismatic ministers, we can with frankness promise our future associates sweat, tears and maybe blood. We mean this seriously…
At the same time, on behalf of ourselves and your brother priests, we want to confirm that we are ready to give our candidates full support and assistance in bearing the crosses they will surely encounter in priestly service. We do not have ready, programmed answers about our ministry. We will seek them in the Lord together, in Christian friendship, brotherhood, common prayer, and inspired work. We will serve where there is the greatest need. Together we will share joys and sorrows, the bread and the cup. May the experience, endurance, faithfulness, and spiritual victory of our Fathers and Mothers in the Faith, our Church in the catacombs, inspire us.
We do not want to begin our relationship with you with empty promises. Assurances require modesty and an appreciation of human limitations, but carry with them responsibility and accountability, toward which we will most certainly strive.
The situation we face is complex, and sometimes appears gloomy. But even if through tears, we will laugh. To be able to laugh — and in particular, to laugh at oneself — is a condition for joining the American team of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The contemporary person hopes for a pastor who radiates peace and joy, who is not afraid of the modern world, but goes forth to meet it with God in his heart and a smile on his face. This requires (self-) discipline and tenderness, firmness coupled with empathy. Above all, we should listen to one another, particularly to the faithful.
Our Church needs apostles — unwavering in faith like Peter, tireless in missionary zeal like Paul, loving and otherworldly like John. There is much work, and the workers are few (Matt 9:37; Lk 10:2). The focus and format of ministry will be found for everyone who is committed and gives himself fully.
For us, the model of the pastor is the blessed priest-martyr Omelian Kovch, the patron of priests of our Ukrainian Church. Anyone who is considering ministry in our metropolia — and even those who are not —should read his book, Why Our Own Flee from Us? and learn to apply in a creative way his pastoral insights and proposals.
We need holy priests! “For it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy” (1 Pt. 1:16)
The Philadelphia Metropolia of the Ukrainian Catholic Church is socially complex: fluctuating waves of emigration, attachment to divergent calendars, differences in language use, and — in the not so distant past — political factionalism. Our faithful still manifest scars of the historical divisions and traumas of the Ukrainian people, who have endured more than one wave of persecution and genocide. The wounds still need to be healed.
Community divisions have disaffected many of our youth. In each of the last two generations we have lost approximately 80% of the faithful. While there were 250,000 or more regular parishioners in the 1960s, today there may be 25,000. Our currently adult generations matured during times of tumultuous cultural and ideological upheavals. Having endured repeated, often contrived, conflicts, we must help rebuild trust in the Church, one person at a time. We need pastors who are ready to heal, inspire, and rejuvenate, who, through their sermons and example, will give clear guidance to the conflicted postmodern person and will proclaim “the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19). Candidates should be understanding of different social and cultural circumstances and groups, and be able to unite them under the omophorion of the Mother Church, without excluding anyone, but reaching out to all people of good will.
The Metropolia of Philadelphia develops its ministry in accordance with the pastoral plan of the entire Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The priorities are the Word of God, evangelization, and catechization. This ministry should be founded on deep personal prayer and a rich, aesthetically satisfying liturgical life that leads people to an encounter with God. Uplifting chant, inspiring iconography, a prayerful pilgrimage through the wilds of life. Attention to the marginalized, the sick, the poor, the disabled. Internal harmony, unity, responsible stewardship over material goods. We are called to manage wisely all natural resources, and to respect all God’s creation. “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt 4:10)
Our metropolia strives for theological and intellectual development, true missionary zeal, authentic ecumenical openness, and, in particular, the engagement of young people of Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian origin. The youth today expect professionalism and creativity from the pastor, and the ability to address — persuasively but serenely — deep and difficult questions of the present day. It is of utmost importance that we work ceaselessly to find a common language, a clear, mutually intelligible vocabulary. We need practical thinkers, creative strategists, aesthetic communicators who can share the poetry of the spiritual life and its drama, and do so with humor.
The Lord calls us not to be indifferent to the pain of a migrant separated from his family; the uncertain quests of adolescents who feel unheard by their parents; the unhappiness of spouses beset by marital discord; the tribulations of the childless, the homeless, the addicted, the depressed, those without hope. At the same time, we want to help those among us who are successful, enterprising, affluent — Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike — to discover through our Church the depths of happiness in Christ. Following the example of Jesus, we should be all things to all people.
Answering the appeal of Pope Francis, we should and will go outside the gates of our church buildings. A shepherd should follow the scent of his sheep, even those who are now outside the fold. Millions of people on the territory of our metropolia are unchurched, do not know God, do not enjoy the support of a community. Should we consider them “not ours”? All people are God’s children!
Like sport, service must be team-based “for we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus” (2 Cor 4:5) Therefore, the desire and ability to communicate, and openness to others, are essential qualifications for candidates. It is important that there be solidarity and friendship in the presbyterate. We must constantly work at this.
Comprehensive cooperation with laypeople is a prerequisite for church life in the twenty-first century. Our metropolia will foster synodality, a theology of encounter, consensus building, subsidiarity. It will apply the basic tenets of Catholic social doctrine.
We look forward to the candidates’ initiatives, their willingness to respond to spiritual, psychological, and practical challenges in a mature, fulfilling, and completely transparent way.
Candidates should work in harmony with the bishops, foster cooperation and brotherly relationships with other priests, and engage with the faithful, avoiding clericalism.
It is difficult to exaggerate the need for multilingualism in our future. Candidates from Ukraine must already have proficiency in English, or at least be ready to master and perfect the language quickly. Candidates from the USA and other countries should be ready and open to study the Ukrainian language and history of the founders of the parishes where they are to serve. Ministry in the metropolia must be at least bilingual, so good oral and written skills in Ukrainian and English are a requirement. It is also useful to know other languages — Spanish, Russian, Polish, Italian, Portuguese.
Candidates from other eparchies will be considered only upon recommendation of their bishop. If you are reading this and currently not a member of the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic Church, please note: applying for service in our metropolia is not and cannot be an escape from problems encountered in other Churches — whether Roman Catholic or Orthodox, or one of the other Eastern Catholic Churches. The metropolia is equally open to the service of both celibate clergy and married priests with families. Each case will be treated individually.
In view of everything said above, those wishing acceptance in order to improve their material status, need not apply. We also ask that those with personal or family motivations — rather than the priority of evangelization — refrain from applying for service in our Church in the USA. A commitment to serve in our Church must be a commitment for the long haul. It is not for those who are quickly discouraged or disillusioned. True service to the flock entrusted to a pastor requires dedication and endurance — and understanding the realities of the community you serve, in all their unvarnished truth.
A healthy lifestyle and physical fitness are also useful qualities …
It will be difficult!
However, if pastors are fully committed to the ministry, are ready to pray earnestly, work intensely and creatively, and willing to go beyond their comfort zone, we can achieve many things together, with God's blessing.
A future good priest is for us worth his weight in gold, a special spiritual treasure. This is first and foremost a person, a Christian, whom the Lord has called for special ministry in His vineyard. It is our privilege to appeal to you. We are already praying for you, dear candidates. Pray for us as well.
May the blessing of the Lord be upon you!