“If there had not been a church for them for 260 years, when the migration of older Rusyns happened, then there would now be nothing among Ukrainians.”
Interview with the apostolic exarch for Greek Catholics in Serbia and Montenegro, Bishop Djura Dzudzar
— Please tell us where you are from.
— I was born on the territory of modern Serbia, in Vojvodina.
— That is, you have returned back where you came from?
— Yes, I returned to my native land to serve God and church after a long separation from it. At the age of 14 I was sent to study at the minor seminary in Rome. There I finished the “matura” studies, then I studied philosophy and theology. In Rome I earned a specialization in canon law and after that I worked for 16 years at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, until 2001. And so part of my life, from my years as a youth, I spent in the Eternal City.
—You know the Ukrainian language so well after studying at the minor seminary. (note: This minor seminary is a Ukrainian educational institution in Rome for youth)
—Yes, from the minor seminary, and then thanks to the Salesian Fathers, who gave us a good education in every respect. These monks also tried to pass on to us love for the native language and rite.
— Bishop Djura, please talk about important changes that occurred in your pastoral ministry on the territory of the former republic of Yugoslavia. Why was an exarchate [mission diocese] created for the Greek Catholics of Serbia and Montenegro?
—I was ordained a bishop on 19 March 2001, and a few weeks later I was sent to the Mukachevo Eparchy [in southwestern Ukraine’s Transcarpathia Region] to serve as auxiliary bishop. I worked in this eparchy until summer 2003. On 28 September 2003 the Vatican announced a new apostolic exarchate for Greek Catholics in Serbia and Montenegro, which was separated from the Krizevci Eparchy.
There was considerable need for this, because after the creation of new countries on the territory of the former Yugoslavia new jurisdictions had to be created in the ecclesiastical field. The bishop of Krizevci has his center in Croatia, but he travels to Serbia and Montenegro. To tell the truth, in recent years this has been relatively easier. But 10 years ago it was very difficult to travel, because tension was felt in the country. So, logically, that part of the Greek Catholic clergy and faithful who lived in Serbia and Montenegro needed a new apostolic exarchate with a separate jurisdiction. It was officially announced on 2 November 2003. Since then we have been trying to create foundational structures under a new ecclesiastical organization.
First of all, the bishop didn’t have a residence and a separate place of lodging. The first two years I lived in an apartment together with a pastor in Ruski Krstur. Since that time, with the help of advisors, we were able to buy an almost new building in Novi Sad, from which the administration of the exarchate has gone on for more than half a year. In this city it’s much easier to contact priests. This city is a cultural and administrative center and it is also geographically closer to all the parishes, of which we have almost 20. They are all concentrated in the north of modern Serbia in the Vojvodina Region. The biggest city in the north is Subotica, but in my term of ministry they have already founded a parish here. We have been able to revive liturgical services in the capital of the country, Belgrade. Our parishes are scattered all the way to the Serbian-Croatian border.
The cathedral remains in Ruski Krstur, because it’s the biggest parish of our exarchate. But in the geographical dimension this location is a village and located on the sidelines. There are a few reasons why Ruski Krstur is not an appropriate place from which the bishop should administrate. I often travel there for liturgical services, in particular on big holy days. I also often travel to Belgrade for various conferences and meetings, but this is not so difficult now thanks to [good] transport.
— What are the biggest hardships in your work in the exarchate?
—The difficulties have, in general, an ecclesiastical character. First of all, now we are experiencing a lack of priests, and also the very difficult material conditions in the country affect us. This situation is still not gone. Our church is separate from the state and has no material support. The faithful contribute to our church and thanks to them we are trying somehow to leave these circumstances.
Though we have seminarians, thank God, and vocations, they are still not ready for pastoral work in the exarchate. You know, there is a psychology of the faithful: they become very used to one priest and they are not happy to receive news about the appointment of a father from another parish, even though it is not far away. The presence of a priest, even though it is small, at the parish, among the people, has very much significance. His presence in his place is considerable, there is a moral certainty for the parishioners that their spiritual father is here. He is the base of the community; one can turn to him in all needs. He tries, he thinks about the people, prays for them, and this is very deeply rooted in the people. And it is very difficult to unite two or even sometimes three parishes. The number of parishes increases when people re-locate from one place to another, in particular young families because of a change in work. And if 15 to 20 families live somewhere, a priest cannot be there for them, because they cannot support him. But these families want to have the Divine Liturgy, so some priests have two or even three sites of spiritual service in addition to the parish to which they have been appointed. They travel to these places once or twice a month.
— Are most of your priests celibate? Or are married priests in the majority in your exarchate?
—If you look at the concrete life of a priest, then it is easier for an unmarried priest to live in a smaller parish. First of all, personally, second of all, he can devote himself to pastoral ministry for the people. For a priest, if he has a family, naturally he takes care of it, raises the children. But parallel with this he works for the parish. From this point difficulties arise in that, if he needs to move to another parish, it needs to be taken into account whether the children go to school, if they’re of that age, or whether they won’t be studying. For each priest as a parent this stands in first place.
— Are priests’ wives active in the parish life of the exarchate?
—In the majority of cases they help the priests in the parish very much. There are even those that have good voices and substitute for the cantors if a need is felt. The need for cantors is felt not only in our exarchate but in other exarchates and eparchies.
—What role does the church play in the Serbian state, as far as it is active in civic life? In the time of the Austrian Empire it united not only the religious and the national, but it was the center of life.
— The church now plays a big role, the role it played in the past. Those people who are in our church in these lands are united with each other. This is one defense against assimilation. [The church] is tied to the people, it supports the activities of national societies, it takes part in festivals. I often give greetings on television for major holy days. Episcopal letters are printed in the newspaper “The Weekly,” and, in addition, the monthly periodical “Bells” publishes them.
I recall how, after we moved into the new residence, the first delegates we had were the intelligentsia of the city, and radio and television workers. We are closely tied to the publishing branch that prints newspapers, books, and this is good.
I always emphasize that if there had not been a church for them for 260 years, when the migration of older Rusyns happened, then there would now be nothing among Ukrainians. Even in the difficult times for the church after the Second World War, [the church] tried to carry out its role as the uniting factor.
—You mentioned television. In what way do you cooperate with the media?
— On state television, in particular on the regional level, we have 15 minutes every day for a program. And a few times a week there are broadcasts of national minorities for a few hours. On the part of the church we make arrangements with our program hosts, and this is good, that they often demonstrate initiative.
For example, separate programs are dedicated to Christmas. Journalists come to my residence; here they film about customs and carols. Sometimes, if there are some important events, the dedication of a church, they come and there is a live broadcast.
On Thursdays and Sundays from 8 to 10 in the evening is a very good time, for I know that the majority at this time are watching television. These are programs and information about cultural life and formation. Television plays the good role of maintaining and spreading teaching in the national language, in particular in big cities where there are mixed marriages, where it can be very easy to forget one’s own language.
— How are your relations with the local authorities?
— I can say that relations with the authorities are on a good level. I am very satisfied, in particular a number of times I had an audience with the president of the republic. The first time it was at his initiative; this was very praiseworthy, that they were interested in us. We also have contacts with the local and regional authorities. The president of parliament traveled to see us, the minister on religions. I think that relations are very proper, more open than between us and the Orthodox church.
—How are relations with the Orthodox church? In Serbia Orthodoxy plays the dominant role.
— The Orthodox church here predominates and makes a great contribution to nation-building life, as in the past, so now.
We are treated on a level with the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. I am a member of the episcopal conference. Our relations are such that we conduct a dialogue on the level of the episcopal conference and synod of bishops.
— That is, everything happens on the official level?
— Yes, one could say that.
— Are there some activities for reconciliation, for example, ecumenical conferences?
—There are no activities for reconciliation, for there is no need for reconciliation. We try to conduct ecumenical dialogue on the general level of the Catholic and Orthodox church. So we don’t have a great need for that, for this is an entirely different people and they preach in another language. There is no, let’s say, even danger that they are disposed with fear to the term “proselytism,” not even knowing how many meanings it has.
— That is, there are no concrete accusations against your side?
— And how are your relations with Ukraine? Is there some help from Ukraine for its children of the diaspora?
—Relations are good, as far as I know. The Union of the Sons of Ukrainians is active, which works well together with the Ukrainian Embassy. Even in the past the government of Ukraine helped in some concrete cases in the publishing of books or papers. Even in those difficult times, in 1992 and 1993, there were more numbers there. A whole group of our students have the opportunity to study in Ukraine, in particular we have many journalists that study there. To tell the truth, many Ukrainian students from the former Yugoslavia have remained there. Still, we have some 70 to 80 young people who returned from respective education in Ukraine, they learned the Ukrainian language well, and on their side we feel help and have expectations in the future for them.
— Thank you for the conversation and I wish you fruitful pastoral ministry.
Interview conducted by Taras ANTOSHEVSKYY, Uzhhorod, 26 June 2006.