Scattered and tested, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community has a new bishop

Yesterday, the Holy Father appointed Father Borys Gudziak, 51, as the new apostolic exarch of France for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics.  He will be the chief shepherd of the small community of this church’s faithful living in diaspora in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

While exact numbers are hard to find online, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, if we take the numbers for Belgium as a basis, likely counts several thousand faithful and a handful of priests in the Netherlands. Based primarily in the Ukraine and Belarus, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is in union with Rome but maintains her Byzantine traditions. It has been a heavily persecuted church, which accounts for the many refugees living in other countries.

American-born Bishop-elect Gudziak was until now the rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He succeeds 83-year-old Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, who had been the bishop since 1982. Msgr. Gudziak’s titular see, reflecting the subordinate status of his apostolic exarchate, is Carcabia in Tunisia. Previous titular bishops of this see include Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Bishop-elect Gudziak was born in Syracuse, New York in 1960 and gained his PhD in Byzantine and Slavic Studies from Harvard University. A date for his consecration, most likely at the Parisian Cathedral of Saint Vladimir the Great, has yet to be announced.

After 66 years, a new bishop

The cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pinsk

Vacant sees, dioceses without a bishop, are not unheard of. At any given time, the worldwide Church has a few dozen of these, as bishops are transferred or pass away and a successor is not yet selected. These vacancies usually last from several months to some two years in exceptional cases. The Diocese of Pinsk, in Belarus, has a different story, though. It has been without a bishop of its own for almost exactly 66 years…

Belarus is often regarded as the last dictatorship in Europe, and a country whose government looks back fondly on its Soviet history. Not surprisingly, the Church is looked upon with suspicion at best, although she has been allowed to maintain her ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the form of three dioceses and an archdiocese. Of these, Pinsk covers the entire southern third of the nation.

Established in 1925, Pinsk was led by two bishops in succession: Bishop Zygmunt Łoziński from 1925 to 1932, and Bishop Kazimierz Bukraba from 1932 to 1946. But then that episode ended, coinciding with the aftermath of World War II and the Soviet Union’s incorporation of formerly Polish territory into Belarus. Just like in other Communist countries, the Church had a hard time, especially when it comes to the free appointment of bishops and priests. As in other dioceses, apostolic administrators were appointed. For Pinsk, these were Bishop Wladyslaw Jedruszuk, auxiliary bishop of Pinsk from the time of Bishop Bukraba, from 1967 to 1991; Cardinal Kazimierz Świątek, the archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, from 1991 to 2011; and Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusievicz, Cardinal Świątek’s successor as archbishop of Minks-Mohilev, from June 2011 to today.

As the last of Belarus’ dioceses, Pinsk now once more has its own bishop. He is Msgr. Antoni Dziemianko, 52 years old, and until today Minsk-Mohilev’s auxiliary bishop. The bishop, who incidentally has the same motto in his coat of arms as our own Cardinal Simonis – Ut Unum Sint -, was ordained to the priesthood in 1980. In 1998, he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop of Grodno, also in Belarus, with the titular see of Lesvi – a see once held by the late Cardinal Sánchez of the Philippines. In 2004, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, of which he was the apostolic administrator from June of 2006 to September 2007, upon the retirement of Cardinal Świątek. He continued his duties as auxiliary bishop until his appointment as ordinary of Pinsk today.

Although a vacancy of 66 years is extraordinary, it is, sadly, by no means unique. There are eight jurisdictions, in China, North Korea, Greece, Ukraine and Romania, which have been vacant for longer. The record holder is the Apostolic Vicariate of Thessaloniki in Greece, which has been vacant since Bishop Allesandro Guidati became archbishop of Naxos-Andros-Tinos-Mykonos in 1929…

Photo credit: [1] Rostisław Wygranenko