10 March 2016
St. George Cathedral in Lviv was the site of the 1946 meeting that forced the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church underground for over 40 years. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Today marks a significant and tragic anniversary for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Seventy years ago today, 10 March 1946, the church was brutally liquidated by Stalin’s regime, when the territories of western Ukraine fell under Soviet rule.
The liquidation campaign was orchestrated by the Communist regime as a process of reunification of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church with the Russian Orthodox Church. A special “synod” was held at St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv; about 200 local Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests were coerced to participate. The synod did not have any ecclesiastical legal validity since none of the Ukrainian Catholic hierarchs took part in it; by then, most of them were either under arrest or already in concentration camps. But at this meeting, it was decided that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church would break its ties with the Holy See and that it would be absorbed by the Russian Orthodox Church.
From that point, all clergy and religious who refused were subject to persecution by state authorities. All Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops, along with most of the priests and religious, suffered harsh oppression by the authorities for not giving up their Catholic identity and for staying loyal to their faith and the pope. As a result, from 1946 till 1989, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — numbering about 2,000 clergy and several million members — was forced underground.
Among the priests who stood up to the regime and refused to acknowledge the validity of the synod’s decisions was my late grandfather, Adam M. Morawski. Despite numerous threats to his life from the communist regime, he continued to minister to his flock as a Catholic priest. In 1949, he and his family were arrested and deported to a labor camp in Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia. After nine years in labor camps, they were allowed to leave Siberia. Father Adam continued to minister secretly as an underground Catholic priest in Soviet Ukraine for the rest of his life. He died in 1982, several years before the church was legalized with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I admire him for his principles, strong faith and his loyalty to the church.
This sad anniversary is a strong reminder that throughout history Catholic Eastern churches have paid a very high price for their Catholic identity — and that they are a great gift to the universal church.
To learn more about how Ukraine’s church is being revived today, read Out from Underground in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. And to support Catholics in Ukraine as they work to rebuild their church, visit this giving page.