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The Ruthenian Catholic Churches

At the end of World War II, Transcarpathia, including Užhorod and Mukačevo, was annexed to the Soviet Union as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Prešov, however, remained in Czechoslovakia [see Slovak Catholic Church]. The Soviet authorities soon initiated a vicious persecution of the Ruthenian Church in the newly acquired region. In 1946 the Užhorod seminary was closed, and in 1947 Bishop Theodore Romža of Mukačevo was poisoned by the communist authorities. In 1949 the Ruthenian Catholic Church was officially integrated into the Russian Orthodox Church. Rusyns on the other side of the Czechoslovak border were also forced to become Orthodox, while those in the Polish Lemko region were deported en masse in 1947 either to the Soviet Union or other parts of Poland. In all three countries, an attempt was made to wipe out any residual Rusyn national identity by declaring them all to be Orthodox and Ukrainian.

The collapse of communism throughout the region had a dramatic effect on Ruthenian Catholics. The first changes took place in Poland in the mid-1980s, where Lemko organizations began to surface and press for recognition of their rights and distinct status. In Czechoslovakia, the much-diminished Rusyn minority began in November 1989 to press for recognition within the predominantly Slovak Greek Catholic diocese of Prešov. And finally, in the Transcarpathian heartland, on January 16, 1991, the Holy See confirmed a bishop and two auxiliaries that had been functioning underground for the Ruthenian Catholic eparchy of Mukačevo. By 2006 the eparchy had 370 parishes served by 217 priests. Soon after the end of communist rule, the diocese was able to establish the Theodore Romža Theological Academy in Užhorod for the formation of clergy and laity.

A continuing issue for Ruthenian Catholics has been their relationship with the much larger Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. For the first time ever, the Mukačevo diocese finds itself functioning freely in the same country with the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Although it is not officially a part of the Ukrainian church and is still immediately subject to the Holy See, its bishops have attended recent Ukrainian Greek Catholic synods. The bishop of Mukačevo has made it clear, however, that he opposes integration into the Ukrainian Catholic Church and favors the promotion of the distinct ethnic and religious identity of his Rusyn people. This identity received a boost in March 2007 when the Transcarpathian Oblast Council voted to recognize the Rusyn people as an indigenous nationality of the region. As a result, the local government will be required to provide funding to promote Rusyn language, culture, and education.

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