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Faith and Courage in conflict

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Australian theologian Dr Andrew Quinlan with seminarians at the Ukrainian Catholic seminary in Drohobych , western Ukraine. For the time being, he and his fellow staff and students are relatively safe – far away from the fighting in eastern Ukraine. When war broke out he chose to stay, he says, as long as the seminary in which he teaches remains open. Photo: supplied

An Australian theologian in Ukraine

In Western Ukraine, about 100 kilometres from the Polish border, is the city of Drohobych. It’s an historic town, with antique wooden churches and the initials of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I over the post office. Like many cities in Western Ukraine, its cobblestones have been drenched with blood century after century: Polish, Ukrainian, Nazi, Soviet, Jewish.

Drohobych is around one tenth of the size of Lviv, the nearby baroque centre of Western Ukraine, with around 70,000 people. And in this ancient town’s Catholic seminary – small by Ukrainian standards with only 70 students – lives an Australian professor of liturgy: Dr Andrew Quinlan.

“1995 was the first year I came to Ukraine,” Dr Quinlan told The Catholic Weekly by Zoom from Drohobych prior to Easter.

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“I came because at that stage there were no teachers for the seminaries. The seminary had just opened maybe four, five years before, as the Ukrainian Catholic Church had been underground for about 50 years.

“There were no scholars, no people who could actually teach. So they were looking for scholars from outside the country who were willing to come.

“I’ve been in and out of Ukraine since 1995. This time I’ve been 13 years here. First I taught in the seminary in Lviv, now I teach in the seminary in Drohobych.”

Dr Quinlan received his license in theology from the Ecumenical Institute of St Nicholas of Bari in Italy, and his doctorate from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome on the topic of Byzantine Lenten liturgy.

Drohobych has not been directly attacked – it is 1000km away from the Russian border. Russian artillery and rockets have come within 30km and have also fallen on Lviv, 100km away. Few thought it possible that Russia would mount a full-scale invasion.

“Not only many Ukrainians, but the majority of Australians in Drohobych thought that,” Dr Quinlan said.

Yet he was advised by the Australian government, the Monday before the invasion two months ago, to leave Ukraine at once.

“I didn’t laugh, but I thought about it. I didn’t believe it would take the form that it did. For that reason I, like almost everyone I’ve met, was in a state of deep shock for almost two weeks. Can you imagine a whole country in shock?” he said. “I can tell you why I stayed and it is a personal reason.

“I rationalised and said ‘I’ll stay as long as the seminary functions. I’ll go down with the Titanic.’

“The seminary closed and I spoke to a guy I’d taught many years ago and he said ‘Why? Why should you go?’ I had to sit down and ask myself that question. Why would I go?”

Since 1991, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has recovered from its status as a suppressed institution to become something of a “moral compass” for modern Ukraine, Dr Quinlan said. This is represented both in its leadership, and in the attitude of its seminarians.

I can tell you why I stayed and it is a personal reason. I rationalised and said ‘I’ll stay as long as the seminary functions. I’ll go down with the Titanic. – Dr Andrew Quinlan

“The Patriarch, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, has been speaking every day since the war began. Just briefly, about five or ten minutes. He has a massive following of people listening to him, looking to him for guidance.”

“His predecessor Lubomyr Husar, during his life was the same kind of person. The media would go to him if there was some kind of moral question to be asked.”

In 2014 what began as a debacle over a Ukraine-EU trade agreement quickly exposed the rot at the heart of Ukrainian politics, leading to the “Revolution of Dignity”, in which thousands of protesters set up a fortified encampment on Kyiv’s Maidan square and forced then-President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

The Catholic Church played a key role in supporting civil society actors during the revolution and fostering a new understanding that Ukraine’s Churches, typically State-sympathetic Orthodox jurisdictions, must be with the people.

“The seminarians here downed tools and went to Kyiv,” Dr Quinlan said. “[The government] blocked the roads from here to Kyiv, so they drove up to a certain point on a bus, got off, walked around the road blocks and hitched rides on the other side.”

“They were on the Maidan making sandwiches, making coffee, sleeping in the basement of the churches. It was about two weeks they were there.”

The Drohobych seminary continues to play a role in supporting social initiatives during the Russian invasion, including receiving and distributing charity to displaced persons and refugees, two million of whom have relocated to Western Ukraine from the East.

“The seminary is full of nappies! The Archdiocese of Liverpool sent two truckloads of stuff from England. It comes to the seminary, it’s divided up into smaller boxes,” Dr Quinlan said.

The seminary was shut for a fortnight, but students have recently returned. Some seminarians volunteer with the Red Cross and other organisations, and discuss among themselves whether they should be more involved.

But Dr Quinlan quotes C.S. Lewis’ Learning in Wartime, an address Lewis gave to students during the Second World War: “Your obligation is to do what you should be doing. Seminarians should be studying, and they should be saying their prayers.”

“We can’t just close the seminary and say, ‘Everybody get out there and do your bit for the country!”

At warehouse, supplies for Ukraine are scarce

In a cavernous warehouse on the edge of Lublin, Piotr Piskorski sees too much empty space, especially near the pallets of baby formula, canned soups and vegetables and individual servings of instant noodles. He didn’t mention the lone box of extra-large jars of dill pickles. Caritas Lublin moved its Ukrainian aid distribution center to the warehouse in mid-March when donations from around Poland and across Europe made Lublin “the largest hub for Catholic humanitarian aid to Ukraine,” said Piskorski, a Caritas logistics manager. Archbishop Stanislaw Budzik of Lublin told CNS on 22 April that Caritas Lublin sent the first semi-truck into Ukraine hours after Russia began bombing the country on 24 February. So far, he said, they have sent 135 trucks carrying 2,700 tons of goods valued at 11 million zloty (about A$3.5 million). Initially, the archbishop said, the trucks were filled with “whatever people from Lublin brought – nothing was purchased centrally. As time went on, we organised better and things began arriving from all over Poland and Europe.” – CNS

He describes the mood in Ukraine as one of “profound sadness, not bravura, not flag-waving, not drumbeating, but profound sadness”.

The Catholic Weekly spoke with Dr Quinlan in the week before Easter. He said the situation was “too raw”.

“They’re being crucified. You can’t objectify it, look back on it, and say we went through that and Jesus went through that. No. We’re going through that.”

“Eight years of war, turmoil, everything and people bring that to the Way of the Cross with themselves.

“Maybe the Cross is more real than the Resurrection. We’ll see. Lent has just been a non-time. I’ve said to people, ‘Can you remember life a month and a half ago?’ I can’t.”


We stand with Ukraine

United with Ukraine

Entrusting the world to Mary’s intercession

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