Georgetown welcomed the Most Rev. Borys Gudziak, metropolitan archbishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, for a keynote lecture on “Catholic Social Thought and Democratic Civil Society in Ukraine.” 

Archbishop Gudziak—who previously served as bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in Paris—is the founder, long-time rector, and now president of Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in Lviv, Ukraine.

The public lecture, co-sponsored by the Berkley Center and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, capped off a week-long visit to Georgetown by a UCU delegation.

A History of Hardship

Archbishop Gudziak provided reflections on the many trials and tribulations of civil society in Ukraine under Soviet rule, referencing atrocities such as the Red Terror and the Holodomor (artificial famine).

“To heal such historical trauma is extremely difficult,” commented Archbishop Gudziak. “After three generations of tyranny and terror, fear becomes part of your DNA. When people live under constant threat, they don’t trust each other."

During this period, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) served as “the biggest self-identified body of social opposition to Soviet totalitarianism,” in the words of Archbishop Gudziak.

Overcoming Soviet-era fear, the UGCC has collaborated with other religious communities in the fight for independence and democratic civil society in Ukraine. 

Archbishop Gudziak shared the photos and stories of three prominent Ukrainian dissidents from different religious backgrounds who were united in their opposition to tyranny, remarking, 

These relationships, these friendships are the matrix in which Catholic social doctrine is articulated and also implemented. It’s something that has touched upon the whole of the country.

Catholic Social Teaching in Practice

The road to a developed Ukrainian Catholic social teaching began with Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky, who served the UGCC from 1901 to 1944. 

“Sheptytsky was a champion of stateless Ukrainians at the dawn of the most tragic pages of their history: the two world wars, the struggle for independence, oppressive Polish rule, Soviet and Nazi occupations,” said Archbishop Gudziak. 

The UGCC has continued to pursue the common good in the spirit of Archbishop Sheptytsky, who supported the establishment of clinics, cooperative associations, and other essential social services in a largely poor and unlettered society. 

“The most important social message the UGCC continues to proclaim to post-Soviet Ukrainian society remains the message of dignity,” declared Archbishop Gudziak. 

The turbulent modern history of Ukraine has provided the UGCC much opportunity to engage in social activism. 

Archbishop Gudziak pointed to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution during which “the Church clearly and decisively stood with the people and provided them spiritual and moral support throughout the conflict with government forces.” 

As Archbishop Gudziak sees it, ongoing political unrest in Ukraine requires the continued social engagement of the UGCC.

The Church in a Global World

During a question-and-answer session following the lecture, Berkley Center Senior Fellow José Casanova asked Archbishop Gudziak about the role of the Eastern Catholic Church in an increasingly global world. 

Archbishop Gudziak shared some of his initial questions upon arriving in Paris to serve as a UGCC bishop: “What is this all about? Is this real? Is this a little ethnic museum that will peter out in 15 or 25 years, or is this a Church of Christ? And if so, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ in Paris?” 

Archbishop Gudziak answered these questions by going back to the basics. 

“I launched my service in June with a call to live heart-to-heart,” recalled Archbishop Gudziak. “In Paris, departing from this intuition—living heart-to-heart—we were able to triple the number of missions in seven years.”

Despite concern over contemporary problems facing the Church, such as demographic shifts and aggressive secularism, Archbishop Gudziak expressed hope for the future.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has sought to the best of its ability to present Catholic social doctrine in a lived way. Time will tell to what extent this witness will prevail, to what extent the Church will remain true to this witness, but we all have great hope.

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