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Bringing God Back to Ukraine

Institute and university help mediate church, state and interreligious relations.

by Matthew Matuszak

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As a political activist, gulag survivor and, now educator, Myroslav Marynovych can, in a nutshell, sum up the work of the innovative organization he founded.

“The totalitarian communist regime left such deep wounds on the body of religious communities that healing them is a matter of great effort and time,” said Marynovych, the Director of the Institute of Religion and Society in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine.

Through teaching, research and bringing people together, the Institute is helping heal the wounds that Soviet atheism inflicted upon Ukrainian religion and society for over half a century. The Institute, a department of the Lviv Theological Academy – a CNEWA-supported institution that reopened in 1994 – is a strong champion of interreligious dialogue and cooperation. This past June the Academy was renamed the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) to acknowledge its growing scope as higher education in Ukraine again broadens.

“A thaw in religious life came in the 1990s after the artificial ice age imposed during communist rule ended. This led to a great religious renewal,” Marynovych said. In 1988, there were fewer than 6,000 religious communities registered with the government in Ukraine. As of 2002, the number is now more than 24,000. The Institute, which opened in 1997, works with church and state to reintegrate religious groups into society.

Marynovych’s background has made this task manageable. Reared in a family of Greek Catholic priests, Marynovych spent 10 years in a Soviet labor camp for his membership in the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, which waged an open struggle for human rights.

Following his release in 1987, Marynovych became a writer and a scholar. His account of his time spent in the gulag system, “The Gospel According to a Fool for God,” was published abroad in 1988 and later translated into German and French. He continued to write, began teaching and traveled on fellowships to institutions such as Columbia and Emory universities in the United States and the World Council of Churches in Switzerland.

Marynovych’s Institute is an integral part of the Ukrainian Catholic University, which is breaking ground in Ukraine. Though a Greek Catholic institution, the UCU campus has students and staff of various Christian denominations, including a Jewish instructor who teaches Classical Hebrew. UCU does not give out statistics about the religious backgrounds of its students; the question is never asked on campus.

Among the greetings sent for the inauguration of the University, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church expressed his hope that the University will “serve peace and unity between the divided children of God.”

Reintegrating Religion Into Society. Though taken for granted in the West, one of Ukraine’s greatest successes is, according to Marynovych, government-guaranteed religious freedom.

“This has created legal ground on which the most important religious rights of Ukrainian citizens can be protected,” he said. This is unlike the situation in most of the former Soviet Union, where religious organizations have not freely developed.

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