When they were working together some years ago at the Ukrainian Catholic University — the only Catholic institution of higher learning in the former Soviet space — Father Borys Gudziak and Father Sviatoslav Shevchuk did not imagine themselves occupying their present positions.
Nor could they imagine that they would be at the centre of epic historical events in 2022-2023, defending order and decency in world politics amidst a brutal war.
In that wholly unanticipated circumstance, however, and from their current positions of responsibility in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major-Archbishop Shevchuk (the UGCC’s head) and Archbishop Gudziak (the archeparch of Philadelphia for Ukrainian Greek Catholics) have borne a powerful global witness to the truths of Catholic faith amidst a moral monster’s genocidal assault on the people of Ukraine.
When I first met Borys Gudziak at the home of mutual friends during a post-christening reception, he was a doctoral student at Harvard.
“He has remained at his post as Kyiv has been bombed time and again by the aggressors, maintaining a rigorous schedule of prayer and worship that demonstrates his determination, and that of his entire Church.”
And I hadn’t the faintest idea that I would eventually pass the dissertation he was writing (which had subsequently become an important book) to John Paul II over the papal dinner table.
But on that Sunday afternoon in the mid-1980s, I did have the sense that this was someone with whom I would be in conversation for the rest of my life — and so it has been.
It was then-Father Gudziak who urged Major-Archbishop Shevchuk, the newly-elected head of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, to meet with me when Shevchuk and I were both in Rome in April 2011.
Eight weeks before, I had spent two hours with Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, who had said more than a few bitter (and false) things about the UGCC during our encounter.
I had written a memorandum on that meeting, which Gudziak thought his former colleague should see while Shevchuk was meeting various Vatican officials (often starry-eyed about Russian Orthodoxy) after his accession to the metropolitan see of Kyiv-Halych.
The new major-archbishop was terribly busy but made an hour available, during which I was struck both by his immediate friendliness and by his remarkable calm as he read through a memorandum that portended serious ecumenical difficulties for him — his only remark while reading the memo being an occasional, “Oh, dear.” Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Major-Archbishop Shevchuk has inspired his Church and the entire Ukrainian people through daily reflections that address Ukraine’s suffering through the lens of a cruciform faith.
He has remained at his post as Kyiv has been bombed time and again by the aggressors, maintaining a rigorous schedule of prayer and liturgical worship that demonstrates his determination, and that of his entire Church, to maintain a spiritual life of praise, worship and intercession under the most challenging conditions.
The major-archbishop has also worked indefatigably to educate the Roman authorities on the realities of the war, its cause, and Russia’s barbaric conduct of its “special military operation,” once giving Pope Francis a fragment of a Russian mine that had destroyed the front of a Greek Catholic Church at the beginning of the war.
Archbishop Gudziak, while leading and renewing his archeparchy, has been tireless in supporting the university he and others built from scratch, which has remained in service to the country it is helping for.
“Archbishop Gudziak got the “Davos People” thinking about the transcendent meaning of human life, which is unveiled every day when Ukrainians bravely face death, knowing that death is not the end of their individual stories …”
He has also been a most persuasive advocate for Ukraine’s cause in the US, Rome, and throughout Europe.
I cannot imagine another churchman who could have held the attention of participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as Gudziak recently did, as he spoke of the stakes in Ukraine as being nothing less than the foundational principles of Catholic social doctrine, including the dignity of the human person, the common good and solidarity.
In an environment dominated by elite concerns for the financial bottom line, Archbishop Gudziak got the “Davos People” thinking about the transcendent meaning of human life, which is unveiled every day when Ukrainians bravely face death, knowing that death is not the end of their individual stories, or the human story. It was a paschal, evangelical message far more powerful than any I’ve seen conveyed by Vatican diplomats at their occasional Davos appearances.
Major-Archbishop Shevchuk and Archbishop Gudziak are brilliant exemplars of apostolic zeal and courage. They can be such models because they are men of holiness.
May they inspire all of us, and especially their brother bishops, to live the faith fearlessly, in and out of season — and in and out of danger.