An archbishop has said that the Catholic Church in Ukraine is still enjoying a “springtime” despite rising secularization.
Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki said that the Church was thriving amid secular currents, economic difficulties, and war in the east of the country.
“It is still springtime in our Church because we have recovered many churches and new ones are also being built. We have ordained new priests. We also have the possibility to create more parishes,” the archbishop said in an interview with Echo Katolickie, a Catholic weekly based in Siedlce, eastern Poland.
Ukraine is a diverse country of 44 million people bordering Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. Around two-thirds of the population are Orthodox Christians.
The country is home to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with the Holy See.
There are also other Catholic communities, including the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, and the Latin Church.
Mokrzycki has served as archbishop of Lviv, western Ukraine, since 2008, overseeing pastoral care of Latin Rite Catholics.
Thirty years ago, when Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, the structures of the Latin Church were renewed. Today, it has seven dioceses, three major seminaries, and three theological institutes.
The 60-year-old archbishop said that progressive secularization presented a serious problem for the Church in Ukraine.
“Because of the ease with which contact can be made through the internet and on the phone, the spirit of secularization is also reaching Ukraine,” he said.
“Young people, looking for an easier life, are going to Europe. The authority of teachers and parents is declining because the influence of secularization is also spreading.”
He continued: “Similarly, demography is declining, and as a result, there are fewer vocations, although the percentage of vocations is still quite high.”
“We have to put much effort into fighting against secularization, and take care of the children and the youth, by indicating true values that will help to form their personalities and characters well, so that they do not lose, as St. John Paul II said, their life, which is unique and for eternity.”
Mokrzycki has a deep personal connection to the Polish pope. He served as John Paul II’s deputy personal secretary from 1996 to the pope’s death in 2005. He then spent two years as secretary to Pope Benedict XVI.
The archbishop noted that devotion to St. John Paul II was widespread in Ukraine.
“In many of our parishes, there are now monuments representing him, churches put under his name, and city parks, streets, and squares that bear his name,” he said.
“I have also given many relics to our communities in Ukraine. People treat St. John Paul II as their intercessor, he is the patron saint of married couples and young people. All of his teachings help us in our spiritual formation.”
Since February 2014, Ukraine has been in a state of war with Russia over the status of the eastern regions of Crimea and Donbas.
Archbishop Mokrzycki told Echo Katolickie that “many young people from western Ukraine are called to military service. Each week, three or four soldiers are killed (including many from western Ukraine). This causes great pain and loss in every family, for the Church, and the state.”
He added: “We try to be close to people who have lost a loved one in the war by helping materially and taking care of the family of the deceased, comforting them.”
Photo credit: The Cathedral of St. Mikhaila in Lvov, Ukraine (Oleg Nikishin/Newsmakers); the the Cathedral of St. Yura in Lvov (Oleg Nikishin/Newsmakers); Pope John Paul II (Anek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images).