LVIV, Ukraine, JUNE 17, 2002 (Zenit.org).- June 29 will see the ceremonial opening of the first Catholic university in formerly Soviet territory and also the first university opened by one of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Ukrainian Catholic leaders last century dreamed of the opening of such a university, and, while he was in Lviv last June, John Paul II blessed the cornerstone of the future Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU).
Seminars, conferences, pilgrimages, concerts and other activities will be held in conjunction with the inauguration here. The ceremony is expected to attract delegates of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from all over the world, representatives from many European and American universities, noted scholars, and civil and religious leaders.
UCU is being founded on the basis of the Lviv Theological Academy, the educational and scholarly institution that has become a center of intellectual and spiritual life for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
The model of a full-fledged university education was not able to develop during the repressive Soviet era. Humanities departments had to serve the reigning ideology. With the collapse of the Communist system, however, the humanities departments of many universities began to expand the field of their work.
The opening of UCU, with the only university-level school of theology and philosophy and the largest modern humanities library in Ukraine, is a major step in the effort to change higher education of this nation. As a nongovernmental institution, it has wider possibilities to innovate and to aid in the push for the general reform of university education.
“I consider this project one of the most successful in the field of Ukrainian education,” says Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, president of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, who has been following the establishment of the Lviv Theological Academy and its transformation into the Ukrainian Catholic University.
“I´m impressed by the persistence, consistency, high intellectual standards, and clear spiritual vision of the university´s leaders,” he adds. “Our nation is now in need of a purification of the soul, a return to Christian ideals.”
“It is simply impossible to overestimate the meaning of UCU here,” Bryukhovetsky continues. “Above all it will further raise the quality of academic and formational processes by creating a harmonious environment for the development of young people. And this will inevitably yield fruitful results.”
Father Borys Gudziak, who holds a doctorate from Harvard, is the rector of the new university. “Ukrainian Catholic University — every word here has deep significance,” he says. “The scholarly dimension is indicated by the word ´university,´ a responsible, creative and critical search and use of knowledge.”
“The word ´Catholic´ reveals UCU´s religious dimension, the openness of the human being to transcendent and interpersonal dialogue,” Father Gudziak says. “The Christian identity of the university, while rooted in the Eastern tradition, develops in constant dialogue with other people of faith and good will.”
“Our cultural and social dimensions,” he adds, “are found in the word ´Ukrainian,´ the reality that surrounds us; this is who we are. So our task is to be a center for cultural thought and the formation of the new Ukrainian society based on human dignity.”
A prototype Ukrainian Catholic University was established in Rome by Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (1944-84). The patriarch was exiled from Ukraine in 1963, after 18 years in Soviet work camps. In the 1970s and 1980s, he inspired Ukrainian seminarians with the dream of returning to Ukraine to create a fully developed university there.
In 1994, thanks in part to the efforts of graduates of the program in Rome, the Lviv Theological Academy was established in Ukraine as the first stage in the development of UCU.
The accreditation of the academy´s bachelor´s program in theology by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education in 1998, and the opening of a history school and graduate program in theology last year were the most recent steps in the new university´s development.