In Ukraine, a Catholic university offers a way forward for a tired Western Church
You probably haven’t heard of the Ukrainian Catholic University – but I suspect that is going to change. For this wonderful institution offers a philosophy of teaching in radical contrast to the moribund model of Catholic further education found in this country and much of the West.
“You must look into this place,” my (Anglican) friend Edward Lucas, author and Eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist, told me. “It’s quite amazing.” And it is. This university, run on a shoestring, teaches not only the liberal arts and trains Eastern-rite Catholic priests, but also places a community of mentally and physically handicapped people at the centre of its spiritual and social life.
Now that is what I call a Catholic ethos. The Centre for Spiritual Support of the Handicapped, run in conjunction with L’Arche, works on the premise that working with the disabled is part of a theological education. As Fr Boris Gudziak, Rector of UCU, told me when I interviewed him recently: “We recognise that the handicapped have gifts to bring us. Our university is a place where we drop facades, the images of ourselves that the world wants us to construct, and strive towards a powerful sacrificial love.”
Fr Gudziak adds: “We are a very young Church.” Meaning that the Ukrainian Catholic is young in the sense that it has only recently become free? No – that is not what he means.
“The Catholic Church is young,” he says. ”There’s an assumption in some western quarters that today’s Church is old. But it won’t look that way to a historian in 35,000 years, looking back and saying – ah, the Church was still only at the end of its first 2,000 years.”
The website of UCU will tell you what Fr Gudziak means when he talks about a “holistic” education – and it couldn’t be further from the wet nonsense dressed up as Catholicism in English colleges where the chapel is given over to a celebration of Mohammed’s birthday. That outrage happened at Newman University College, Birmingham; but if you want a glimpse of how Cardinal Newman’s “idea of a university” might have translated into 21st-century terms, then you should look to Lviv, not Birmingham.
Actually, you should do more than look to UCU: you should support it financially, because you can be confident that every penny will be spent wisely, not on livesimply propaganda or other exercises in social engineering embraced by the Catholic Education Service.
You might say: why can’t you sing the praises of the UCU without your ritual abuse of England’s Catholic trendies? The situations of the Church in this country and Ukraine are very different.
True. But the UCU’s ethos is Catholic, not Ukrainian, whereas the ethos of the UK’s Catholic institutions is heavily influenced by public-sector dogma and can only really be described as Catholic-lite.
Incidentally, why don’t we have a Catholic university? Perhaps we should ask Fr Gudziak how to start one.
6 June 2011 The Telegraph