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Q&A: What Does Archbishop Huzar’s Example Mean for Ukraine?

Melinda Haring
Archbishop Lubomyr Huzar, who died on May 31, was the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and a leading moral authority for a very large number of Ukrainians

First published by the Atlantic Council  

Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, head of Ukraine’s eastern-rite Catholic Church blesses the faithful during a service marking the church’s official move to the capital in Kyiv, August 20, 2005. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Archbishop Lubomyr Huzar died on May 31 at 84. Born in Lviv on February 26, 1933, Huzar’s family fled to Austria in 1944 when Soviet forces seized Lviv. His family eventually moved to the United States, where he studied at a number of universities and then obtained his doctorate in Rome. He returned to Lviv in 1991. Huzar was the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and a leading moral authority. “He united Ukrainians, becoming their spiritual father and the highest example of morality,” his successor Sviatoslav Shevchuk has written.

UkraineAlert asked a number of religious leaders, scholars, politicians, and activists the following question:

In the reform process, many Ukrainians emphasize the need for moral leadership from cultural, religious, and community leaders. What does Archbishop Huzar’s example mean to you, and what does his example mean for Ukrainians? How will you remember him? 

Bishop Borys Gudziak, Ukrainian Catholic University President, Eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris: Lubomyr Huzar will be remembered for what he said, stood for, and actually did. He had a tortuous and miraculous biography that took him through war and genocide from county to country and continent to continent. Huzar was on a constant spiritual pilgrimage, the fruits of which he shared in a very eloquent but simple and direct way with the people of Ukraine. He spoke about the simplicity of life, sincerity in relations, true freedom always connected with authentic responsibility. He did so with great humor. Cardinal Huzar stood for profound change, not just constitutional readjustment, somewhat improved laws, or financial socio-economic betterment of his faithful and all Ukrainians. He called people to deep reflection upon the nature of the human condition—its glory and its depravity—both of which he witnessed throughout his life, whether it was in the heroism of the martyrs or the genocidal policies of both communist and fascist totalitarianisms. What he did was unify and bring people together. He was willing to speak to anybody. Anyone who had a conversation or encounter with Huzar went away lightened and enlightened, inspired to look at his or her own condition from a fresh perspective. Lubomyr could turn things a bit upside down or inside out but never in a destructive or damaging way, always with respect, and with a profound trust that every person is created with an inalienable dignity in the image and likeness of God. When asked what can be done regarding the oligarchs, he ruefully responded that they should attend more funerals. If any of them were at his funeral, I hope that they had the same experience that I did. I wanted to convert.

Sergiy Gusovsky, Member and Head of the Samopomich faction, Kyiv City Council, wrote on Facebook: His Beatitude Lubomyr Huzar was a man who his entire life showed himself independent of titles and positions. Lubomyr taught people to love one another, care for each other, and appreciate every minute of every day. He taught people to think. He helped them find answers to difficult questions. In doing so, he always spoke softly and plainly.

I was fortunate to meet Lubomyr twice at his residence. Both times we drank tea and ate muffins. Both times we talked about different things. Both times I wanted to cling to every minute of our conversation. These are the moments when you know for sure this won’t ever happen in your life, when you’re trying to absorb everything you hear—all the wisdom, serenity, and warmth emitted by this unique man.

I managed to write down some of the words of his Beatitude; the rest I just memorized. For example, “Wisdom is not just knowledge. A person can have great knowledge but not be wise. Wisdom is the ability to apprehend reality holistically.” Lubomyr was able to see the whole picture. He really knew what to say to anyone who turned to him.

Yevhen Hlibovytsky, Member of Nestor Group: Lubomyr Huzar was a unique leader who helped Ukraine overcome its path dependency, moving from Soviet to Western traditions. He bridged the gap between Ukraine and the West by emphasizing the importance of integrity, dignity, and responsibility, values that were corrupted in the USSR. He helped fill the vacuum of discourse of freedom and leadership in a country that just started to free itself from its past. He was a religious leader, but not only. When he untraditionally resigned as the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 2011, he provided an example for former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was growing increasingly autocratic. Huzar remained vocal through numerous meetings with students, businessmen, and a regular op-ed in Ukrainska Pravda, showing that there can be life after high office.

With the legacy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, whose center he transferred from Lviv to the left bank of the Dnipro in Kyiv and the Ukrainian Catholic University, which rose under his reign, Huzar is one of the defining Ukrainians of twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He was a potential candidate for the Papacy after John Paul II died, sending yet another message to modern Ukraine: you’re not locked in, if you are good enough, you can be globally competitive.

Hanna Hopko, Member of the Verkhovna Rada and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee: Huzar’s life is an example of serving God, people, Ukraine, and the world. I had the privilege to work with him from 2012 until the sad moment he died.

His optimism and hard work, dedication to Ukraine, and real love for people inspired me when I was an activist and continues to inspire me as a member of parliament.

After the Revolution of Dignity, the Ukrainian nation lost its moral fathers: dissident Yevhen Sverstiuk, who blessed me for parliament, Bohdan Havrylyshyn, who invested his money and experience in younger generations, dissident Yevhen Hrytsyak, who was a leader of Noryl Rise in 1953 during Soviet times, and now Huzar.

All of them were moral examples who placed national interest first, serving the people above all else. They sacrificed their lives for Ukraine. We must continue to pray and work hard to build the country, based on Christian values, that they dreamt of.

The need for new moral leaders after such incredible losses is becoming more and more acute.

Nataliya Popovych, Co-Founder, Ukraine Crisis Media Center: Archbishop Huzar spoke softly, but his words always cut through to the core of an issue. Even after all the sacrifices of blood on the Maidan, Ukraine’s political elites still lack the servant leadership which the Archbishop always promoted. Neither politicians nor a majority of civil servants wake up thinking “How can I serve my country best.” Too often that question is clouded with “How can I stay in power or on my job longer,” while the Archbishop’s primary question was “How can I better serve you?” regardless of one’s status. He willingly gave up the power of being the head of the church so that he could have the freedom to be an example and the moral leader of Ukrainians. His legacy, I hope, will be my generation’s pledge to always cherish and protect freedom and dignity of the individual in our country, and to defend the sovereignty and unity of Ukraine. The Archbishop was right that there is no difference between the people who live in the east and the west of Ukraine; there is only a difference between those who love and do not love this country and want it to succeed. He also advocated that any freedom comes with a responsibility to be kind, to have integrity, and to leave a legacy. I feel very compelled to make sure that his moral legacy becomes part of Ukraine’s DNA, like that of Andrey Sheptytskyi and his other great predecessors.

Andriy Sadovyi, Mayor of Lviv and Chairman of the Samopomich Party: Destiny gave me the pleasure to work with His Beatitude for many years. Before I was mayor, he offered me an opportunity to lead the Andrey Sheptytskyi Foundation. At that time, I was the director of the foundation, and as head of the church His Beatitude was the chairman of the foundation. These were two-and-a-half years of exciting cooperation, meetings, and consultations. In fact, he engaged me, and I really appreciated his overtures.

Throughout my life, I could call him at any moment for advice on complex issues. I often met him to consult regarding the difficult situation which Lviv has recently faced. He always gave me wise advice, and thus his death is my personal loss, a loss for the community, and Ukraine. He was a holy man. I think my colleagues are right: he was taken straight to heaven, to God.

He was buried in the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv. And this is also very significant, as he has expanded the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church throughout Ukraine. We will only realize its significance in one hundred years. Just as today we understand the wisdom of Andrey Sheptytskyi, who at the beginning of the last century sent priests with those who went for work to the United States, Canada, and Europe to form parishes. Without the support of Greek Catholics from the West, it would be very difficult to restore the church in Ukraine. Actually, this common work created the Ukrainian independent state. Without the existence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and without its clear and strong position in Lviv, Ukraine wouldn’t be the same.

These are historical moments, and we have already inherited the wise words of His Beatitude, his wise message. We must carefully read every word of his as God’s great grace is there. His death means we are abandoned and must assume greater responsibility.

Alya Shandra, Managing Editor, Euromaidan Press: I will remember Lubomyr Huzar for his ability to unite people toward a common goal and to see the roots of Ukraine’s problems, so aptly highlighted in each appeal of the First December Group which he founded. "Corruption is a spiritual disease," he wrote, stating that if people would see it as a sin, we wouldn’t need the hundreds of commissions that we are trying to set up now. In the sea of Ukraine’s revolutionary and post-revolutionary turbulence and imperfections, he spoke simple yet utterly powerful and transformative words of guidance toward the goal of a new Ukraine, built on mutual trust, respect, and love. Where others sought to destroy, he built beautiful things out of shattered pieces. 

George Weigel, Senior Distinguished Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote for National Review Online: “In a country struggling to shed the bad habits of duplicity engrained during its Communist period, and in a political community whose debates are often more characterized by heat than by light, Lubomyr Huzar became a kind of national patriarch: the voice of reason, moderation, and wise counsel amidst the cacophony of post-Communist politics. And during the Maidan [R]evolution of [D]ignity in 2013–14, a now-blind Cardinal Huzar could be found on Kyiv’s Independence Square, in solidarity with his people’s hopes for a future beyond corruption, a future in which Ukraine would take its rightful place as an integral part of the West, bringing with it the riches of Byzantine spirituality and culture.”

Zoria Yevstratiy, Archbishop of Chernihiv and Representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate, Office of External Church Relations: In my opinion, a lack of trust is one of the biggest problems in the world in general and in Ukraine in particular. Without trust, successful reforms are not possible. Therefore, it is important that individuals who have high levels of public trust—those that it’s difficult to suspect of personal, political, or financial interests—are the voices heard in support of reform. Cardinal Huzar was that kind of a person. He was trusted regardless of his confession or political party.

This was mainly not only due to his personal charisma, but also due to his long life experience in the free world at a time when a majority of Ukrainians lived in the USSR. He knew how democracy and civil society worked and how personal initiative and responsibility were important as a result of his life experience in the US. That’s why he could speak simply and persuasively. For this he was appreciated as a public leader.

We will miss him. But as a Christian, I believe that he is already at home while we are still on the road.

Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, President of Transparency International-Ukraine: Lubomyr Huzar was a man who lived the credo "confess what I preach." He managed to combine tradition and modernity. As a leader of the church, which by its nature is very conservative, he saw the issues of fighting corruption and fair business practices as acute and urgent. I do not know who can replace him.

Melinda Haring is the editor of the UkraineAlert blog at the Atlantic Council. She tweets @melindaharing.

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