e-mail us
North Americans pervade Ukraine trip

In the eyes of most observers, the big winners from John Paul’s Ukraine trip were the nation’s 6 million Greek Catholics. The most persecuted church of the 20th century got a chance to tell its story to the world and flex its muscle in a region that has long been an Orthodox stronghold.

A fair bit of credit for their victory must go to the United States and Canada. Americans were highly visible during the papal visit. The spokesperson and a chief organizer for the trip was a priest from Saskatchewan, Fr. Kenneth Nowakowski, who works as the head of Caritas, the church’s charitable aid agency, in Ukraine. Like several Americans in the country, Nowakowski has Ukrainian ancestry.

Nowakowski won a reputation among reporters who covered the trip for honesty and efficiency. In a refreshing twist, he refrained from inflating estimates of crowd size at papal events.

Another American who occupies a key role in Ukraine is Fr. Borys Gudziak, rector of the L’viv Theological Academy, slated to become the country’s first Catholic university. At least two other faculty members are Americans.

The highest official of the Greek Catholic church, Patriarch Lubomyr Husar, holds American citizenship.

Like many Ukranian Catholics, Husar took refuge in North America during the Soviet era. Some in the émigré community returned after the country regained independence in 1991; others have given the Greek Catholic church financial support.

During the L’viv leg of the papal trip, the city’s Sputnik Hotel was dominated by two groups: the Vatican press corps and a delegation of Ukrainian-Americans from Parma, Ohio.

Americans largely ran the press operation. On loan for the event were Mercy Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a communications officer for the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Paulist Fr. Ron Roberson, an expert on Eastern churches for the U.S. bishops.

Several other bishops’ conference personnel were present, including Msgr. George Sarauskas, who runs the Office to Aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe. Sarauskas told NCR that the U.S. bishops have funneled some $8 million to $9 million to Ukraine since the Greek Catholic church emerged from the underground. Germany, he said, is the only nation that has given more.

U.S. Catholics on average give about $2.5 million annually to the Ukrainian church, Sarauskas estimated.

Several American bishops were on hand to lend support. They included Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis and Bishop John Meyer of Peoria, Ill.

At a celebratory dinner in L’viv’s Grand Hotel June 27, Nowakowski was given an ovation by a table full of U.S. bishops’ conference personnel.

Sources told NCR that this pipeline of support from the United States, both financial and human, is part of what Orthodox leaders mean when they object to “proselytism” from the West. They complain about the deep pockets of the Catholic side in competition for adherents.

Fr. Andriy Chirovsky, a Greek Catholic priest and scholar based in Toronto, said the Orthodox must understand that such aid is part of Catholic identity.

“Does being in communion mean that sometimes we help each other?” he said. “You bet it does.”

-- John L. Allen Jr.

National Catholic Reporter, July 13, 2001