20 July 2015, The Tablet

Pro-Orthodox Ukrainian prelate on path to sainthood

by CNS

Pope Francis has signed a decree declaring "venerable" Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, who led the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the tumultuous period of both world wars and at the beginning of Soviet occupation.

The Pope signed the decree recognising that Metropolitan Sheptytsky heroically lived a life of Christian virtue. The recognition is an initial step in the sainthood process; the Vatican would have to recognize a miracle attributed to his intercession in order for a beatification ceremony to be scheduled.

Metropolitan Sheptytsky led the Ukrainian Catholic Church from 1901 until his death in 1944. During his leadership Ukraine and its people were ruled by seven different regimes: Austrian, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Soviet, Nazi, and finally, the Soviets again.

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris told Catholic News Service that while the process for his sainthood opened five decades ago, it was only with the independence of Ukraine in 1991 that church historians and theologians had access to all his archives. The study required for the sainthood process was not possible while Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.

"It was a rich file," Bishop Gudziak said. "Metropolitan Sheptytsky was involved in everything, so it took a long time to go through it all."

"Metropolitan Sheptytsky lived in the house of the Lord and it had a high roof, open doors and open windows - he lived outside the box," the bishop said. "He reached out to the Orthodox when ecumenism was not official church policy; he defended the Jews during the Holocaust; and he was close to artists, poets, intellectuals and writers."

He died on 1 November 1944, just four months after the Soviets took definitive control of Lviv. Bishop Gudziak said, "The Soviets did not liquidate the Greek Catholic Church while he was alive." The metropolitan's stature was such that they permitted a public funeral for him, but five months after his death, they arrested all the bishops and moved toward declaring the Ukrainian Catholic Church illegal.

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