Ukrainian Catholics to meet at St. John Neumann

05.03.2013, 13:20

The first Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States was established in Shenandoah in 1884.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, 630 Laurel St., Reading, was founded in 1906.

But the Rev. Andriy Rabiy doesn't believe there's ever been a Ukrainian Catholic church in Lancaster County. Until now.

Rabiy, pastor of the Reading parish, will preside at the first service of the Ukrainian Catholic Mission in the sanctuary at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, 601 E. Delp Road, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

The next two services will be at 1:30 p.m. on March 10 and March 24.

There will no service on Easter, but Rabiy said weekly 1:30 p.m. Sunday services will begin after March 31.

"The purpose of the mission is to provide for the spiritual needs of people who grew up and are familiar with the richness of the Byzantine and Ukrainian traditions," he writes in an email.

Members of the Reading parish encouraged him to open the mission because they know many Ukrainian Catholics who moved to Lancaster County for work, coming from New York, New Jersey and other parts of Pennsylvania. Rabiy says many Ukrainians came to this country after World War II.

According to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Census, there were 2,249 Ukrainians or people of Ukrainian descent living in Lancaster County in 2008.

Rabiy expects to conduct the service in English but is prepared to switch to English and Ukrainian if necessary. The prayer books are bilingual, with English and Ukrainian side by side.

"I do not suspect they will all be Ukrainian because there are so many mixed marriages," he says. "Many don't know the (Ukrainian) language."

Rabiy expects about 25 people to attend the first service.

"I have a good feeling many will come. For anyone who grew up in the tradition, it will be like coming back home again.

"I invite everyone to come and experience our kind of services and maybe come to love it," he says. "It's not all that different, just a different expression of the Catholic faith … . primarily in the understanding of the Christian tradition."

For example, in the Ukrainian church, the priest stands with his back to worshippers when leading prayer, whereas a Roman Catholic priest faces them, he says. Traditional music is sung a cappella.

But the main parts — Communion, the sermon, creed, Lord's Prayer, litanies and intercessions — are "pretty much the same."

Coal mining drew Ukrainians to Shenandoah; manufacturing, to Reading. In its heyday, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Reading parish had about 450 families, he says. Today, it has about 100 families, most of whom are second- and third-generation Ukrainians.

"There's only a handful I can talk to in Ukrainian," he says.

Rabiy, 37, was born in Lviv, a historic city in western Ukraine. He entered seminary there in 1992 and came to the U.S. in 1994 at the invitation of the former archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia, with 67 parishes in need of more priests.

He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1999 and a master's degree in theology in 2002, both from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He was ordained in 2001 in Philadelphia.

From 2002 to 2005, he served two small parishes in New Brunswick and Hillsboro, N.J., then returned to Catholic University for a master's degree in church law in 2008 before coming to Reading.

He learned to read and comprehend English in high school and to speak it in English as a second language classes here.

Rabiy, who plans to stay in this country, said he came to help the church and for an adventure.

"It's a new experience," he says.