For this red hat, the future's orange
Mar 29, 2006
As a leader of Catholics in a place regarded by the Orthodox Church as its own territory,
Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev holds one of the most sensitive offices in the Church.
Rocco Palmo finds him to be an expert in the discovery of common ground
(The Tablet, 11 March 2006) When I was ushered into the small chapel of the rectory of Philadelphia's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to meet Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev, I found His Beatitude (the patriarchal style, which he prefers over the Roman "Eminence") seated in prayer. The head of the 5.5 million-strong Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on a visit to his Church's American base, was humbly dressed in an open cardigan, slacks and an open-collared shirt. No episcopal ring was in sight and a wooden Byzantine cross hung from a simple cord around his neck. In a prince of the Church - especially one visiting a part of the American Church where the cardinalate has a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for being hostile to the press and not at all averse to the sump tuousness that comes with the office - this grandfatherly appearance and demeanour was refreshing.
As we talked, Cardinal Husar kept using the phrase "in my mind" to preface his answers. The 73-year-old is not afraid to speak that mind, whether he's touching on his country's political situation in the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution, ecumenism with the Orthodox, or the role his Church plays in the life of Catholicism's global fold. The head of Catholicism's largest Eastern-rite contingent recently marked his fifth anniversary in the primatial post and his elevation to the College of Cardinals. Five days before his election as the UGCC's head by the bishops of the Ukrainian Church's synod, the late Pope John Paul II announced that he would elevate 37 cardinals the following month. Two days after Husar's election occurred, John Paul broke precedent to add to his list, and included the newly enthroned prelate.
He may have the red hat, but one title Cardinal Husar and his flock wait on is the long- coveted designation of "Patriarch". Due to the sensitivities voiced in some Orthodox quar ters - particularly from the Moscow Patriarchate, whose head, Alexei II, portrayed the UGCC in a recent interview with The Tablet (25 February) as engaging in a campaign of active "proselytism" - Rome has handled the question of granting Ukrainian Catholics the Patriarchate with great care. For example, it did not make public its assent - which is canonically required - to Cardinal Husar's move last August from his Church's previous base in the border city of Lviv to the capital, Kiev, the cradle of Russian Christianity.
The Ukrainian Church is in the process of building a cathedral in Kiev, the temporary chapel of which was torched in November. While the culprits have not been identified, Orthodox activists are believed to have been behind the fire (The Tablet, 31 December 2005). Given the tensions, the Holy See only quietly implied its approval of the moves in a December release which made mention of Cardinal Husar, but whose prime purpose was to announce other episcopal appointments in the Ukraine. This discretion on the part of Rome led me to ask the Major Archbishop - his canonical title - if this reticence was being reflected behind the walls of the Vatican. "Our law [the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches] specifically prescribes that the head of the Church should reside in the principal city. And we, as a synod, decided that this is the time to execute the move," he said, going on to reveal that the Kiev move had been "very explicitly" approved by John Paul II in December 2004 in an audience with Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, the Lebanese prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, himself a former patriarch.
Then in May last year, Cardinal Husar met the Pope, saying that "the Holy Father encouraged us to keep working" on the patriarchate issue. At the same time, the cardinal downplayed the anxiety surrounding the transfer to Kiev, saying: "I think what has to be considered is that we came back to where we had been driven from 200 years before. So it was not something new, something unheard of - it was simply taking into consideration the new situation of freedom within our own state."
"We made this step to be where we should be," Cardinal Husar went on, "and I'm glad that we did it, and that we did it at this time."
In Cardinal Husar's experience, his country's Christian communities can and do put their divisions aside and find common cause. "Without a strong attachment to and practice of moral principles, we would not get very far," he said. "It is a peculiar aspect of ecumenism in Ukraine: we do not conduct any dialogue. There have been attempts, but they all failed. On the other hand, I would say there is very good cooperation on education."
It is now 15 months since the "Orange Revolution" which swept Ukrainian opposition leader Victor Yushchenko to the presidency, and the cardinal sees the mass uprising as "a platform, a standard, an ideal, [to] encourage [the people] to be more responsible citizens."
To him, it is not so much differences of communion, but the legacy of the country's turbulent past that is the most pressing crisis. "The Communist regime succeeded in breaking down the moral fibre of the people," the cardinal said. "If you look at Ukraine today, the different problems we have in politics and in the economy, and the social problems, all of these can be explained by a lack of moral fibre. There are no commonly acknowledged or accepted moral principles. It will take us maybe one, maybe two generations to reestablish a sense of public morality ... Our most important duty is to help people live their faith, that means to live according to its moral principles."
In its Eastern form, Ukrainian Catholicism is at a curious crossroads. The Church is in communion with Rome, but worships using the Orthodox liturgy. Despite the Vatican's thrusts toward dialogue with the various Orthodox communions, the Ukrainians remain ignored or unknown by many Latin-rite Catholics. I asked the cardinal's thoughts on the place in which his flock finds itself in the context of the wider Church.
"Numerically, we are a real minority ... maybe we are one per cent. So far as I know
from the Holy Father and his way of thinking, he appreciates the importance of us as bearers of a tradition within the Catholic Church. But if you're only one per cent, how do you make your ideas known to everyone? You're always, practically speaking in political terms, outvoted.
"But the Church doesn't go according to the principles of secular democracy, it goes by a synodal concept, and this is precisely, maybe, our responsibility: to make this synodal idea [work], discovering what is the will of God. That we have to contribute to the Universal Church." The appointment of bishops is a key area of the Ukrainian synod's work, and the main purpose of Cardinal Husar's trip to the Americas - a whirlwind tour to Canada, the United States and Brazil - was to preside at the ordinations and installations of the new bishops of these provinces. Their appointments were decided by the last meeting of his synod, which was held in December in Kiev.
The cardinal had some pointed words for the Latin rite's attitude on selecting its future leadership. He sees it as being of prime importance that "priests [who are] future candidates for bishop must be given training. Not to say 'We are going to make you a bishop, we're going to send you to school for training', but [to offer] practical exposure to practical situations."
Last year, Cardinal Husar became the first Ukrainian-rite prelate to help select a pope. Prior to that, he attained some notoriety by being tipped as a successor to John Paul II by John Allen, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Cardinals usually take exception to such speculation. But Cardinal Husar chuckled when I asked him about what he called Allen's "creation". "I don't think anybody took it very seriously," he said. "Neither did I."
Something he does take seriously, however, is the health of his Church, and the strength of the ties that bind the fold in the Ukraine to the diaspora spread throughout the world. After our interview, Cardinal Husar presided over the ordination of a new auxiliary bishop, John Bura, in the adjacent cathedral.
Dressed in the imperial robes of the Eastern liturgy and wearing the bishop's crown, the grandfatherly cleric was transformed into a figure of majesty, guiding a ceremony that extended across four hours. I am told the cardinal, who has impaired eyesight, conducted it from memory. He preached on Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict's first encyclical. "The purpose of this encyclical is that this God, who created us, who moulded us into being, into living, is not only love - but that he loves us. And I would presume to describe the Church of Christ in this way: it is an assembly of people who are conscious, who believe, that God loves them."
"Everything seems very rosy today," he told the newly ordained Bishop John Bura. "But, tomorrow, when you put on the same vestments, you may experience something else. The prayers which accompany the vesting of a bishop almost always reflect [Christ's] Passion and death ... It has its very difficult moments."