In one of Europe’s poorest countries, one thing is still doing well: Christianity
Arguably no European country is in a worse economic and political situation than Ukraine. Since 2014, Russia’s war against its neighbour has claimed 10,000 lives. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund estimates that in terms of GDP per capita, Ukraine is Europe’s poorest nation. Fewer Ukrainians are having children while growing numbers of them are emigrating, causing the population to plummet.
There is, however, one aspect of Ukrainian life that is flourishing: the Christian faith. According to the Pew Research Centre, 78 per cent of Ukrainians identify as Orthodox Christians, a figure that has doubled since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Spectacular increases in the number of Orthodox Christians have also occurred in Russia and Bulgaria.) Ukrainians themselves note this change. In the same poll, 59 per cent said their country is “very or somewhat religious” today, while just 15 per cent believed this was so in the 1970s and 1980s.
Meanwhile, 10 per cent of Ukrainians identify as Catholics, primarily Greek Catholics. A close look at the Ukrainian religious revival shows that it is much more pronounced among Catholics than the Orthodox. Weekly church attendance among Catholic Ukrainians is 43 per cent (the third highest rate among East-Central European countries), compared to just 12 per cent among their Orthodox counterparts. This Catholic revival has led to a vocations boom: currently, the Greek Catholic seminary in Lviv has 200 students, making it one of the largest seminaries in Europe. There are six Greek Catholic seminaries in Ukraine with 850 students, a high number given that there are five million Greek Catholics in the country.
Whereas in Western Europe the relative lack of priestly vocations is worrisome (there is only one seminary left in Ireland, for instance), Ukraine has the opposite
“problem”. According to Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, there are more young men interested in the priesthood than there are available slots in Ukrainian seminaries, with five applicants for each one. The average age of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest is around 35. Ukraine’s small Latin Rite Catholic minority, about 0.8 per cent of the population (mostly the Polish minority), is also flourishing. In an interview with Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, the Latin Rite Archbishop of Lviv, said that Mass attendance among his flock exceeds 90 per cent.
Sociological studies of Catholic demographics often emphasise that the Church is in decline in Europe and stagnant in the Americas, while it is booming in Asia and Africa. This is largely true, but there are a few Catholic bright spots in Europe – and Ukraine is probably the brightest.