Tens of thousands of believers and Ukraine's top politicians bid an emotional farewell to Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, former head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on 5 June in Kiev.
Husar, who headed the the largest Eastern-rite church in full communion with the Holy See for 10 years, died on 31 May after a serious illness.
In a personal letter, addressed to Husar’s successor, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Pope Francis noted the “extraordinary influx of people” paying their respects to the late Cardinal. This, he wrote, “is an eloquent sign of what he has been: one of the highest and most respected moral authorities of the Ukrainian people in recent decades”.
Born in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Lubomyr Husar fled his country with his parents in 1944 during World War II. They briefly lived in Salzburg, Austria, then emigrated to the United States in 1949. On March 30, 1958, Husar was ordained a priest there for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy in the US.
At that time the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine was heavily persecuted by the Soviet authorities. All church activity were suppressed, and the hierarchy interned. The Soviet authorities pressured the Greek Catholic bishops to dissolve the union with Rome and forced them to 'unite' with the Russian Orthodox church. The Ukrainian Catholics continued to exist underground for decades and were the subject of vigorous attacks from the Communist state.
In late 1989, after the fall of Communism in the former Soviet bloc, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was again made legal and Husar could return home to try to revive the decimated church.
In December 2000, Pope John Paul II named him apostolic administrator of the Ukrainian Greek Major-Archeparchy of Lviv and, in January 2001 the Ukrainian Greek synod elected Husar the head of the church.
He became an influential and respected public figure in Ukraine.
After ten years, in February 2011, Husar resigned due to health issues. After the news of his death last week, his successor Greek Catholic Archbishop Shevchuk said Husar “was the spiritual father of the Ukrainian people, and today, in one moment, we became orphans”.
In his official condolence letter Pope Francis recalled Husar's “tenacious faithfulness to Christ, despite the hardships and persecutions against the Church, as well as his fruitful apostolic activity to promote the organisation of Greek Catholic faithful, descendants of families forced to leave western Ukraine, and his efforts to find new ways for dialogue and collaboration with the Orthodox churches.”
Within Ukraine itself, the Greek Catholic church ranks third in allegiance among the population after the Ukrainian Orthodox Chruch of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Chruch of the Kiev Patriarchate. The Greek Catholics dominate in three western regions of Ukraine, including about half the population of the Husar´s native city of Lviv, but constitutes a small minority elsewhere in the country.
PICTURE: A military vehicle transports the coffin of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the former head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, during a farewell ceremony in the city of Lviv, Ukraine