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"I constantly stress in my sermons: we should leave our descendants a happy and prosperous country"

25.07.2005, 17:01
"I constantly stress in my sermons: we should leave our descendants a happy and prosperous country" - фото 1
An interview with Bishop Markian Trofimjak, ordinary of Lutsk Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine

trofymiak.jpgAn interview with Bishop Markian Trofimjak, ordinary of Lutsk Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine

— In what way was the Roman Catholic Church revived in northwestern Ukrainian Volyn, of which Lutsk is the regional center?

— The Roman Catholic Church in Soviet times was not illegalized as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was, but it almost ceased to exist as a religious structure. There was not a single bishop, not a single seminary, and there was no hope that anything would change in our life time. We realized that the empire of evil built on untruth and harm to people had to collapse some time. There could not be any other way. However, no one expected to witness these changes.

They started in 1988, when the Soviet Union allowed the 1000th anniversary of the baptism of Rus to be celebrated. For the first time, religion was positively spoken of. The process of returning religious buildings to religious communities also started then. And in 1991, the situation was so favorable that the Holy Father was able to revive the Catholic hierarchy in Ukraine, both Greek and Roman Catholic.

On 16 January, 1991, Marian Jaworski was appointed archbishop of Lviv. As a seminarian he was deported to Poland, and later he was a professor and rector of the Papal Theological Academy and then became bishop of Lviv. However, he was not allowed to be called so officially. He was called bishop-apostolic administrator in Lubachov. Everyone knew well that there was no archdiocese in Lubachov and that Lviv was implied. So, when legalization became possible, his status as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine was approved. At the same time, Jan Olszanski was appointed bishop of Kamianets-Podilskyi, Jan Purwinski was appointed bishop of Zhytomyr, and the widely-known dean Fr. Rafaiil Kernytskyi and I were appointed assistants for Lviv.

In 1998, the Holy Father decided to revive the Lutsk Diocese, consisting of 34 parishes. I should say that in 1991 only one small community existed in Lutsk, and the church was not fully returned: they shared it with the museum of atheism. I was well known there, as I had come there very often since 1974. At the time, after graduation from the seminary in Riga [Latvia], I was allowed by the authorities to work in the Ternopil region (because an illegal priest was more dangerous for them than a legal one.) The faithful from Lutsk, Kivertsi, Ostroh, Rivne and Zdolbuniv came to the Kremenets church, and in that way I got acquainted with my future parishioners. So, the appointment to be the ordinary of the Lutsk Diocese was not a surprise for me. I came here with joy, even more so because the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul was returned to us. We are grateful to the people then in power who corrected a historic injustice.

— Did the process of transferring buildings always go so smoothly?

— No, not always. It depended solely on the local authorities. Here in Volyn, we did not have serious problems: the churches were slowly being returned to us. There were perhaps a few moments when we were treated not quite correctly, but it can be forgotten. There were more problems in Halychyna [the Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil regions in far western Ukraine], where old resentments were felt. You know, history is history: one cannot rewrite it or change it; one can only learn from it. When Ukrainians and Poles lived in accord, they beat the Turks who were much stronger than them, and so they saved Europe. But when they squabbled, Russia came and punished both.

The past shows how important it is for us to be together. We do not divide parishioners here into Ukrainians and Poles. It may be a somewhat new phenomenon, but there are now more [ethnic] Ukrainians of the Roman Catholic Rite than [ethnic] Poles. Part of them come from old Polish families who got ukrainianized completely. Another part are pure Ukrainians who consider themselves part of the Roman Catholic Church. We do not persuade anyone to join us, but at the same time, we do not close the doors before anyone. Our Christianity is mutual: looking at the Orthodox and Catholic churches, there are no differences in the creeds, there are differences in the traditions, rites, but these differences should not lead to confrontation. On the contrary, they should be complementary.

— How many church buildings are still in the process of being transferred to the faithful?

— We do not have big plans now, as we principally have received buildings in the areas where Catholics live. A few areas are left in Rivne region, particularly in the village of Mlyniv. Also people from several villages near Berestechko come to the Roman Catholic church. The last, the 35th , parish was registered in Horokhiv, where services are celebrated in some family’s house or in the house of the association of the blind by turns with the Baptists. In Lukiv, near Liubomyl, services are celebrated also in a house, as the local Roman Catholic church is severely damaged. Services are served similarly in the villages of Tomashhorod and Kupel of the Rivne region. In future, I think, at least chapels will be built everywhere.

— How are your relations with other confessions?

— They are excellent with everyone at the level of the heads of churches. I have good relations with the episcopate of the Orthodox church of both the Kyiv and Moscow patriarchates and with the presidents of the Baptists, Pentecostals and Adventists, with Lutherans, the Reformed Church of Transcarpathia, Muslims, heads of Jewish communities. We meet, maintain good contacts.

— And with the Lefevrites? By the way, is their influence felt in Volyn?

— Not here. Lefevritism is a trend which opposed itself against the church because of too fast changes, which people were not prepared for. I have never met with Lefevrites, but I think I would have a normal conversation with them.

— There are different attitudes to Charismatic movements as well.

— You see, here we have to differentiate between the charismatic movements within the Catholic Church, which movements aim at deepening the faith and life according to Christian principles, and those which were formed outside the church and have a different aim, as, for example, the White Brotherhood and similar groups.

— At the same time, neo-Protestant Charismatic communities are growing like mushrooms in Volyn.

— A specific spiritual vacuum was formed during the years of atheist indoctrination. Slavs have an inborn need of faith, and if it is supplemented with religious ignorance, a person cannot distinguish religion from a strange prejudice, and it provides a foundation for the rise of all those trends-- I cannot call them religious trends, as, most often, they have nothing to do with religion-- where either a “guru” gathers adherents round himself and becomes a “god” for them, or a group is led towards self-perfection, self-cognition, self-sufficiency and other “selfs” without a connection with the Supreme Being. It results in tremendous deformations of the notion of “religion.” These trends are formidable also because they wound the family, break the family and separate children from parents. Traditional religions, on the other hand, stress respecting human dignity and view the family as the primary organization of the church. And if the true good spirit reigns in it, there will also be good vocations to priesthood and monasticism. But when the family is sick, vocations will be similarly sick. It is all interrelated.

— In addition to the Neocatechumenate, what other communities are attached to the Roman Catholic churches?

— Young people wishing to deepen their knowledge of the Bible always gather there. There are many young families who seek solutions of problems together. We have a choir of older parishioners and a youth choir, which was honored with the title of “choir of the nation” at the first Ukrainian festival of Christian choirs in Kyiv in 2003, and whose conductor, Valentyna Havryliuk, was granted the title of “honored worker in the arts.” The choirs’ repertoire speaks for itself: the “Coronation Mass” and “Requiem” of Mozart, the “4th Cantata” of Bach, the “Te Deum” of Haydn, and the “St. Cecilia Mass” of Gounod. A branch of Caritas-Spes supports hospitals, children’s institutions, homes for the elderly and persons with special needs, and systematically organizes relaxation for children. The Maltese Aid Service acts similarly. Volunteers of these organizations visit the elderly, sick, lonely. But even if there were 15 such organizations, there are always more poor people than we can care for. It is hard work with a constant need to attend to documents which would allow us to receive humanitarian aid, wait for custom procedures for several weeks (if everything is OK), [etc.]

— Do you have to pay bribes?

— No, never. There are decent people at the customs who understand that it is really humanitarian aid. They show us trust and we try not to lose that.

— What dreams does the bishop of the Lutsk Diocese have?

— First of all, to repair the cathedral. Big efforts are still needed to make it really nice. Secondly, to repair the premises of the Administration of the Lutsk Diocese, where the bishop, priests, and nuns will live. Catechetical classes will also be held there. The next thing is to renew the Olytska Collegiate – I know no Roman Catholic church in Ukraine which would match with the beauty of the Olytsk one. It is a special building which testifies the high culture in this land. But most of all I would like peace and accord to be here and I would like our people to take pride in being citizens of such a state. It is my dream and I have tried to serve this idea all my life.

— This was reflected during the Orange Revolution. How did you, leaders of nearly all the main churches, manage to gather together on Kyiv’s Independence Square?

— It is very simple. The policy of the church is one. The church should maintain the moral image of citizens and form stable, deep foundations of order, decency and morals. In that case, everything will be made right. We never interfered in any direct political processes in favor of any political leader. There were attempts to involve us openly in the electoral process, but we did not let that happen. We did not mention any specific name, for people should choose their head themselves. The addresses signed by me on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church are quite clear. They contain two key points: The church is always with the people and the church served and continues to serve the truth and will stand for the truth.

When Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk and later Leonid Danylovych Kuchma were elected, there were no addresses of churches. But now, when all principles of justice were violated in an unprecedented way, the church could not keep its distance. There was no need to persuade leaders of churches to come to the Square. Maintaining continuous contact, we decided not to restrict ourselves to written addresses only, but to come to the Square and express our opinion. The church could not be silent at the time critical for Ukraine, for otherwise, “the stones would cry out.”

— What do you think of the present divisions among political companions-in-arms?

— I think it is a natural process, because people are people. Former brothers-in-arms may find themselves on different sides of the barricades, because power is interpreted in various ways: for one person it is a responsibility which the person wishes to fulfill for the community; for another person it is a personal goal to make a career. This time has to be patiently endured, and life will put everything in order.

Now the control of the population over the processes in the country is much stronger. If anyone begins to abuse power, the people will not forgive this, as they proved they can have some influence. It may not be always very good, as there is a risk of anarchy, which is also dangerous. But I hope that power is now in the hands of people who will ensure the eventual beginning of changes for the better in Ukraine. Ukraine has deserved a normal and prosperous life for a long time. I always stress in my sermons: we should leave our descendants a happy and prosperous country. It is quite right, despite the fact that many things were wasted and lost. Ukraine is so rich that it will cure all of its wounds and will soon catch up under wise management. And it will happen when we act together: the state on one hand and the church on the other. We have to cooperate in a creative way. And the churches should consolidate and be together. Not to find differences, not to fight with each other. God will find a way to unite us all in such a way that we will not even realize it, but only along the path of love. I think Ukraine will go that way, with Christ, for only he is the way, the truth and the life.

Interview conducted by Olha Khariv in Lutsk.
Posted on RISU’s Ukrainian-language site on 25 July 2005.