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In Ukraine, Church Continues to Fight Dark Legacy of Soviet Times

People Receiving Humanitarian Assistance Find Cause for Hope

This report is contributed by Eva-Maria Kolmann of Aid to the Church in Need.

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The Soviet Union is long gone, but its dark legacy persists in Ukraine, a leading Church official charged.

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the 82-year-old former head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, is concerned that many people are still influenced by the Soviet period.

“The older people began their lives in the Soviet era, and it is not easy to bring them to a different way of thinking. The Soviet mentality is still present in politics and economic life,” he told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

The prelate called for study of the Soviet period “to show young people what they should not do. But one must also ask the question whether we have the right model before us, because Western Europe is also no ideal model. One must be very careful. There is much that is good, but there is also a moral liberalism.”

Ukrainian Church sources report that many citizens feel what they describe as an inner emptiness; a longing for God, observers say, is becoming ever greater.

Many first encounter the Church through its charitable work. The poverty in the country, which was already great, has been made more severe by the ongoing crisis in the east of the country, where Russian-backed rebels continue to challenge the Ukrainian authorities. A growing number of people is dependent on Church-run soup kitchens, clothing banks or other forms of practical assistance. Then there are a great number of displaced people, who have fled the violence in their home regions.

The Roman Catholic Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia has set up a social center that offers a variety of assistance such as outpatient care, various forms of counseling, and pastoral care.

Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia expressed particular concern for people on the margins of society, including drug addicts and alcoholics. These, he said, not only need humanitarian aid; they also need pastoral and spiritual support to break out of their addiction. “So many young people came to our soup kitchens, but too many of them are ruined,” the bishop said, adding, however, that, if they can escape from drugs and find their way to God, wonderful things can happen. Already, Bishop Sobilo has ordained a former drug addict. That priest is now responsible for the youth ministry in the diocese.

Bishop Sobilo’s own journey is an unusual one too: he came from Poland to Ukraine 25 years ago as a young priest, expecting to stay for just a year or so. Thanks to an early welcome from a local Catholic family, he eventually managed to build the local cathedral and was ordained a bishop.

The bishop describes the local Carmelite convent as the “heart” and the “most important point in the diocese.” The mostly young sisters even get up at night to pray when anyone calls on them needing help. “Their prayers are a great support for the priests, for the sick and for many people. The success of the pastoral work of our diocese also depends on their prayers,” Bishop Sobilo said.

Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)

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