OXFORD, England (CNS) — The Ukrainian Catholic Church dedicated its new cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, a move some hope will help the church being designated a patriarchate.
More than 20,000 people attended the dedication of Resurrection Cathedral, the main event in the anniversary of the 988 baptism of Grand Prince Vladimir, who declared Christianity the official religion in Kievan Rus, lands now making up parts of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
In his Aug. 18 dedication Mass homily, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said the cathedral was a sign of the Byzantine church’s “unity and catholicity” and would foster closer ties “in the spiritual desert of the modern world.”
“We share our succession with others who are closely related in friendship, common faith and tradition, though not in full communion,” said Archbishop Shevchuk.
Father Ihor Yatsiv, spokesman for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said the new cathedral would be the “center of unity” for Byzantine Catholics, who are “active in all the world’s continents.”
In an Aug. 21 interview with Catholic News Service, Father Yatsiv said the government of President Viktor Yanukovich had provided legal support for the 1,500-seat cathedral, which was built over a decade with donations from Ukrainian Catholics worldwide, and said Ukraine’s largest Orthodox church also appeared to have dropped its previous objections to the seat of the Ukrainian Catholic Church being moved to Kiev.
“It’s up to the Holy Father to grant us the status of a patriarchate. But relations with the secular authorities and other churches are now normal and peaceful, so this is the right time to discuss and plan for it,” said Father Yatsiv.
“We are already a patriarchate in all but name, with the appropriate administrative structure and synod, so there’s now great hope this will be formally recognized,” he said.
For decades, Ukrainian Catholic leaders have been asking that their church receive the status of patriarchate. Many believe the Vatican has not granted this status in an effort to prevent problems in relations with the Orthodox. After the collapse of the Soviet Union late in the 20th century, ecumenical ties deteriorated over Orthodox complaints about the revival of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Catholics — Eastern and Latin — make up a tenth of the Ukrainian population of 50 million, compared to around a third belonging to three rival Orthodox denominations.
In a message dated July 29, Pope Francis said he hoped the 1025th anniversary of Prince Vladimir’s baptism would bring Catholics closer to “Orthodox brethren,” who were also celebrating it “with great intensity,” and would remind church members of their ecumenical responsibility.
“The conversion of Kievan Rus took place in the context of an undivided church, which continued to develop different traditions which were in communion with each other. That we can refer to this period of significant visible church unity, and have our roots in it, is an integral starting point for ecumenical dialogue,” he said.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of 22 Eastern Catholic churches. It is fully in union with Rome but has maintained the liturgical and spiritual heritage shared with the Orthodox churches.