Interview with Bishop Stanislaw Shyrokoradiuk
"The Roman Pontiff's visit has left its mark for those who seek their path in life"
An interview with Auxiliary Bishop Stanislaw Shyrokoradiuk of the Kyiv-Zhytomyr diocese of the Roman Catholic Church
– The Holy Father's visit to Ukraine took place in June of last year. How is the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine faring today? Have there been any major changes following the visit?
– The life of the Church did not change in any extraordinary way. It continues independent of the visit. However, there is evidence, so to speak, of rejuvenation. We are aware that the authorities' stance towards the Church has changed somewhat. The mentality of those who became more familiar with the Catholic Church per se has changed, insofar as His Holiness himself represented it in Ukraine. His persona truly made a strong impression on people of good will, on those who seek God. I think the Church, to a certain degree, renewed itself as a result of this visit.
Secondly, what merits considerable attention is the fact that, following the papal visit, those who once had Catholic roots expressed the desire to return to their Church, regardless of the fact that for a long time already they were non-Catholics and even baptized their children in the Orthodox Church. They experienced the rebirth of belonging to the Catholic faith. And, most importantly, we are witnessing today the spirit of renewal among priests, seminarians, and monastic orders, who contemplate the Holy Father's words.
In general, the Church continues to live very much in the same way today as it lived prior to the papal visit, because we should always prepare people to live a Christian life. And all the problems that we encountered have not changed. They've remained. We have, however, felt more strength in our hands, shall we say, in our capabilities.
As you are well aware, the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine is a minority, approximately 2% of the population. This, according to our statistics, includes over 1,100,000 Roman Catholics. We have in Ukraine today three seminaries, which also experienced an increase in enrollment following the papal visit. We have also witnessed a rise in the number of vocations by 25%. This includes not only priestly vocations, but also those for monastic life. This also bears witness to the fact that the Roman Pontiff's visit has left its mark for those who seek their path in life.
Therefore, the Church has definitely received a positive impulse for much needed work. Undoubtedly, you realize what a considerable task it is today to raise a family, how much effort is required in rearing our youth. The Church today is entering a new phase of its activity, of active involvement, in order to assist in solving various social problems. The Church today is expanding its capabilities in order to help the poor, whether through "Caritas" or other church charitable organizations. The Church has already initiated and accomplished very much. We have established charitable recreation centers for children, orphanages, and nursing homes for the elderly. These are just some of the specific examples of the Church's work. I think what instills new hope more than anything today is our youth, who expresses the wish to study in our religious institutions, not only in seminaries, but also in theological institutes and universities. In Kyiv we have a Catholic institute, where more and more wish to enroll and study. Many others wish to study at the university level, for example in Lublin, Poland, or even further abroad. The youth of today wish to expand and deepen their knowledge of theology and philosophy. If young people are interested in church life, church teachings, then there is hope that Ukraine will have a bright future.
– We are now confronted with the problem of the government recognition and accreditation of theology as a field of study. How acute is this issue for you? In other words, how does it affect you, and have any steps on your part been taken in resolving this problem? Or, perhaps, some achievements already exist in this regard?
– I don't think particularly significant achievements have been reached in this regard yet, since we are only in the discussion stage. I am not certain what they are saying about all of this in western Ukraine, but here we are faced with this issue more and more every day. Do we really need for the state to have its own theology? There is an underwater rock here, which we fear. Let's say for example, if the state has its theology, then it can train its own theologians. Thus, we are wary of having theologians who are atheists. So, when all is said and done, we would like the Church to administer theological training. However, state recognition and accreditation of our academic theological institutions is a different matter. This would be very important for us.
The training and proper formation of seminarians is of the utmost importance. Whether the state will recognize and accredit the seminary or not, we must have highly qualified priests, because the future of our Church depends on this. Even if we will have a seminary with state accreditation, but the level of education is inferior, then the Church will not benefit from this. We pay attention to and foster the type of training that would provide a certain perspective and higher level for our Church, particularly for those who choose to serve in the priesthood.
– Are most of your religious trained here, in Ukrainian seminaries, or do they arrive here from the West, having completed their studies?
– The majority study in Ukraine. One can, however, acquire a graduate degree in specific theological disciplines, for example, a doctorate, in Rome, Poland or Germany. We are faced with the dilemma of a lack of qualified teachers. Half of our faculty members who teach in the seminary are originally from Ukraine. We also invite lecturers from Italy, Poland and Slovakia.
– Are there any pressing issues and concerns in relations between the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine and the government?
– Undoubtedly, following the Pope's visit, relations improved. Naturally, everyone speaks very enthusiastically about the visit. Nevertheless, problems continue to linger on. Unfortunately, the mentality of certain government officials has not changed. For example, just as prior to the papal visit, the sensitive issue of the transferring of church property remains stalled. And we continue to receive the same unreceptive correspondence and replies, for example, regarding the church of St. Nicholas in Kyiv.
It should have been transferred to us, but we cannot liquidate the only public organ music hall in Kyiv. We continue to maintain the position that this house of prayer belongs to the Church, while at the same time suggesting that the concerts of organ music can be organized similarly to the manner, which the church of St. Alexander has adapted.
The question of ownership also remains unresolved. Property is not transferred to the Church for permanent usage, but rather only for rent and leasing. Such arrangements must be renewed every two years. In essence, this suggests that we are permanent tenants of the state. I do not foresee any changes to rectify this problem. There are countless such examples throughout all of Ukraine. These problems existed prior to the Pope's visit, they've remained, and nobody is rushing to solve them. In fact, quite the opposite. For example, a temple of worship was to have been transferred to us in Sevastopol. Following the Pope's visit, we were informed that the legislation had been amended and now we are unable to acquire the building. Thus, the situation regarding church property is distressing.
– Legislation on various religious affairs is currently a topic of considerable debate: how the Church and state are to normalize their relations, how the state views and treats the Church through its policies, the juridical status of the Church, and so on. What is the position of the Roman Catholic Church on these issues?
– Our position is one and the same, just like throughout the rest of the world. Relations between the Church and state should be worked out and resolved appropriately. I'm not even talking about concordats, which are the norm in every civilized country, for example, in Poland and Germany. Legislation should be drafted and made into law, which would regulate our relations. However, up to this day our officials and lawmakers seem to think that the state should control and maintain all the facets of power that existed during the Soviet period. Unfortunately, our legislation does not move in the right direction to foster significant change.
We maintain the position that there must be certain rights and regulations, and relations between the Church and state, and these should be legally documented and made into law. But I always emphasize the fact that the law does not decide everything, and even those laws that we already have are not always carried out accordingly. We've had so many presidential decrees about the fact that church property must be transferred to the Church, about the unlawful usage of church property for unrelated church affairs. But the reality is that nobody is paying attention to nor carrying out these laws. And I think the main reason for such negligence is the fact that legislation does not decide everything. We need to train people who would be capable of executing these laws and would understand equity and fairness, instead of seeking personal gain.
– The Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine has its own press service. In general, what is your opinion of the media, and what is your view on the coverage of religious stories in today's mass media?
– During the Pope's visit, some progress was achieved in this regard. Today, however, the mass media are not in any particular rush to cover religious topics. An exception to this is usually stories involving a major sensational development or some kind of conflict. The Roman Catholic Church has its own mass media, its own newspaper, with regular circulation, its own quarterly, a press office-media center, where we foster continuous contact with the press and media in general for more a cooperative and focused approach towards coverage. There is considerable progress in this regard, because journalists are rather open and flexible people, they are constantly looking for new contacts and cooperation. This is not the problem. The problem is the lack of specialists. Nevertheless, cooperation between the state and church mass media is constantly evolving.
– And what is the Church doing in this regard? Is there perhaps a course in training those journalists, who would be able to cover certain topics and work not only for your publications, but other publications, and write on religious themes? Does St. Thomas College offer anything to this effect?
– Unfortunately, the Church does not offer such a course, while St. Thomas Institute has its own agenda. We do have the opportunity to send and sponsor eager individuals for further study. Currently, we sponsor students to acquire training at the Cinema Arts Institute in Kyiv. We would also like to send others abroad, for example, to Poland, where they could obtain degrees in journalism.
For the most part, today's literature published by the Churches, particularly the Catholic churches, is in translation. Please elaborate on the Roman Catholic Church's publishing activities in Ukraine.
First of all, we would like to have and make available that literature that is first and foremost essential in our seminaries. As is well known, as a result of the Communist system, virtually nothing has survived. We are constantly compelled to borrow such necessary books from Poland or Italy. Sociology and philosophy books, which are essential to us, are written in foreign languages. Initially we were faced with the question of translating everything essential into Ukrainian. Therefore, most of our efforts have been geared towards continuing such translations. Even publications used for the Mass until recently have been in the Latin, Polish and Hungarian languages. We would like, therefore, already to have our own Ukrainian publications, which would be accessible to all.
If the topic of discussion is spiritual literature, then we already have authors who write books on such topics, and we publish them. We have the publishing firm "Kairos," as well as a publishing entity of the Kyivan Vicariate, which publishes books for children and youth, to provide them as much as possible with simple, albeit very important religious information. All this is evolving very slowly, the main problem being financial support. As you know, there are never too many books.
– What is the status of the Church's charitable activities?
– The Church is engaged in this area. We have three centers, in each of which approximately 130 children spend their summers. According to our records, this past year over 2600 children spent time in our centers. This is very good information, because our centers exist to help people.
Interview conducted in Kyiv on December 200i
by Taras ANTOSHEVSKY