Podillia residents remember their fellow-countryman, who became prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
RISU's Ukrainian-language site posted the original of this text on 4 June 2008.
A cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Wladyslaw Rubin (1917-1990), is little known in Ukraine. No books were written about him here, no TV or radio programs were made. During Soviet rule he was forgotten on purpose, and at the time of independent Ukraine, very few people are left who remember him. In his native village of Toky, Pidvolochysk District, in western Ukraine’s Ternopil Region, there still live elderly people who know at least a little about the cardinal. In the mid-war period, they were still children, but it is thanks only to them that their fellow villagers do know about their fellow countryman. Even now one can see in the village the family house where the pastor of all the Polish diaspora scattered around the globe lived. Volodymyr MOROZ reports.
Toky is a small village located in the River Zbruch’s valley in the Podillia area [a historical name for west-central Ukraine]. The terrain here is hilly, uneven, but, at the same time, it is very picturesque and comfortable for life. That must be why people settled here long ago: there are ruins of a settlement there dating back to the time of Kyivan Rus. And a written mention of a settlement there is for the first time recorded in chronicles only on 30 March 1430. The village was not an independent administrative unit at that time. It was part of the town of Ozhyhovets or Novyi Zbarazh, one of the estates of the princes of Zbarazh and later the Vyshnevetskyis. Nobles built a major castle here, where, according to legend, an enemy of the Cossacks, yet at the same time a protector of the Orthodox Kyivan Monastery of the Caves, the war-like Prince Yarema Vyshnevetskyi spent his childhood. However, the heroic times passed, the noble families were interrupted, the fortress became neglected. The 18th and 19th centuries turned Toky into an ordinary forgotten village with a bad road and Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic churches.
“The Polish [Roman] Catholic Church was tremendous. It was demolished in Soviet times. There were many Poles there, but they intermarried and coexisted in a friendly way. My mother told me that she attended the Polish church for Polish holidays, and the Poles attended ours for Ukrainian holidays. The times of pacification were horrible: the Poles annihilated Ukrainians. Later they became friends again. There were many Jews here, but the Germans annihilated them and they fled.” So tells the cardinal’s fellow villager, Maria Pazdrii, born in 1933.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Toky was a typical Ukrainian-Polish-Jewish settlement, first under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and then Poland. It was a border village: from the 1920s Soviet soldiers guarded their regime on one bank of the Zbruch, and the Poles guarded their regime on the other bank. Only the ruins of the castle watched this impartially. For the people, it was the border between two worlds which separated one and the same nation. So, in this place, on 20 September 1917, the future Roman Catholic priest, cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican, Wladyslaw Rubin, was born to a Polish father and Ukrainian mother. According to the census of 30 September 1921, when Wladyslaw was four, 2753 persons lived in Toky. The family lived in an ordinary one-floor house near a pond and a hospital.
“He was born and reared here, in the house where his sister Hanka lived. She died recently and the children sold the house to the neighbors and moved to the town of Dolyna, Ivano-Frankivsk Region. The house has undergone some repair since then, but it is still the same house at the same place. Everything remained the same,” says Maria Pazdrii.
Wladyslaw Rubin was a deeply religious person from early childhood. Therefore, upon graduation from the gymnasium in Ternopil, he entered the Lviv Seminary. From that time, the future priest only came to Toky as a visitor.
“I am young enough to be his daughter. I saw him when he came here. He was not very tall, rather of average height. Stumpy,” says M. Pazdrii.
However, W. Rubin was never to graduate: he terminated his seminary studies and entered the school of junior cornets in Ternopil. Later, he studied at Jan Casimir University.
After World War II broke out W. Rubin never visited his native village again. As an active defender of Poland from being divided between Germany and the USSR in September 1939, he attempted to reach Romania but was arrested. The native of Toky was exiled to Arkhangelsk, Russia, to uproot virgin forests. He stayed there until 1943, when he joined the Army of Wladyslaw Anders and received release documents. On 8 February of that year, a new stage of Wladyslaw Rubin’s life began: he came to Beirut.
”Wladek Rubin was noticeable in that small group for something subtle. He is very sincere and friendly, but timid rather than imposing. One had to find him out rather than get to know him. He did not like to stand out. He won people over by his patience and compromise. In addition he had moments of some melancholic meditation. He constantly thought and dreamed about the steps of Podillia at the Bolshevik border, in his native Toky. He was a good swimmer and would demonstrate different swimming styles in the seminary’s pool. He liked to play volleyball, saying that he needed movement. He served others without manorial loftiness, even though it cost him sometimes much time and trouble. But that was what he was like.” So Josef Janusz, a priest and later Jesuit missionary in Africa, described W. Rubin at that time.
On 30 June, W. Rubin was ordained to be a chaplain. He provided pastoral care for Polish immigrants, especially youth and students in Lebanon. In 1949, the young priest went to Rome to study and was conferred the degree of doctor of law at the Gregorian University. In ten years, the primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, appointed him rector of the Papal Polish Collegium in Rome, and in 1964 Pope Paul VI named Wladyslaw Rubin auxiliary bishop of the Gniezno Diocese. Then, after the death of Archbishop Jozef Gawlina, the new bishop assumed the powers of the delegate of the primate of Poland on matters of pastoral care for the Polish diaspora all over the world. The bishop did this work for 26 years, until 1980. He managed to visit the faithful in all the populated continents. Eventually, in 1980-1984, having been elevated by Pope John Paul II to the dignity of cardinal, Wladyslaw Rubin became prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the main institution of the Roman Curia which coordinates the life of the Eastern Catholic Churches all over the world.
While in Lebanon, Fr. Rubin dreamt of returning home, but when he realized it was impossible because of “big” politics, he would say: “I do not interfere in anything. There is so much work available for priests that the Lord God will think of something for me as well.”
He said those words long before his ministry as bishop and cardinal. Wladyslaw Rubin felt the connection to Ukraine all the time. He read his sermons on Radio Vatican in the language of his native Podillia as well.
“I remember us listening to his sermons on Radio Vatican. He spoke Ukrainian,” tells a native of Toky, Yaroslava Fedoruk, born in 1936.
But the closest connection of the priest with Toky was associated with his family: his sister Hanna stayed in the village after the “exchange of population” between the Communist Polish People’s Republic and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
“When the war broke out, she was already married, had children and had the surname of Hunka. Her first husband did not return from the war and, in a few years, the woman married someone whose surname was Maksymchuk,” recollects Yaroslava Fedoruk.
Hanka Rubinka, as she was often called by the villagers, was not the only sister of Wladyslaw. Another sister, Palazia, moved to Poland after the war and took their father with her.
“And Hanka was a Ukrainian. I was a collective farm field team leader at that time. She worked in my team. It was difficult then to visit Poland, but she did go there once in a few years to see her brother. They arranged it. Palazia called Hanka out and the brother came there from Italy. Upon her returns, she would say: ‘Yes, Wladzio came.’ She called him Wladzio. She told me that he was ordained cardinal and stayed close to the pope, she brought pictures as well,” says Maria Pazdrii.
According to M. Pazdrii, Hanna was not persecuted in Toky because of Wladzio. Her husband perished in the war. People respected that, it was a great sacrifice.
“And the fact that her brother and father were Poles, that her relatives moved to Poland, did not depend on her,” explains the villager.
So, the Rubin family could not be separated either by distance or totalitarian regimes. But in the 1980s, Wladyslaw Rubin fell ill and, after a long illness, died on 28 November 1990 in Rome. According to his acquaintances, the cardinal had many unfulfilled plans. Cardinal Wladyslaw Rubin was buried on the territory of the old Lviv Latin Diocese in Lubachov, of which his native Toky had been a part for many centuries.