TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) — A tiny Ukrainian Catholic parish in Tucson received a huge honor this summer playing host to the head of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church.
When Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, visited St. Michael Parish in July, “it was an amazing experience,” said Father Andriy Chirovsky, 61, pastor of the 50-member parish. He is one of the archbishop’s former professors.
Archbishop Shevchuk was in the United States for the June 29 enthronement, or installation, of Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk, former auxiliary bishop of Lviv, as the new head of the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago.
Archbishop Shevchuk was invited to Arizona by the pastor of Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Phoenix to attend a special event there to mark its 60th anniversary.
Father Chirovsky wrote to his former student for the latter’s 47th birthday May 5 and encouraged him to make a side trip to Tucson.
“He told me, ‘You have me in Arizona for two days. You figure it out,'” Father Chirovsky told the Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Latin-rite Diocese of Tucson.
He consulted with his Phoenix counterpart, who placed dibs for July 2. On July 1, the feast of Sts Cosmas and Damian in the Eastern Catholic Church’s calendar, Archbishop Shevchuk celebrated a Divine Liturgy at the Tucson church and addressed the worshippers.
“He said, ‘Father Andriy gave me an “F” (in school), but at the same time, I knew I was loved by him.’ I remember it a little differently,” Father Chirovsky told the Catholic Outlook. “I don’t remember giving him an ‘F,’ but I do remember giving him a hard time.”
Father Chirovsky said he recognized something very special in his student. “I saw in him a purity of heart.”
Several Tucson diocesan leaders attended the liturgy, included Msgr. Jeremiah McCarthy, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Chancellor Katherine Rhinehart.
Rhinehart’s leadership role pleasantly surprised the Ukrainian Catholic leader, Father Chirovsky said. “He was tickled by the fact there was a woman chancellor.”
After the Divine Liturgy, instead of a large formal banquet, the parish hosted a barbecue in the backyard of the rectory. The major archbishop attended wearing a simple short sleeve shirt and clericals. “It was very relaxed, very familial.”
In that atmosphere, members of his congregation spoke casually and received blessings from their spiritual leader.
Father Chirovsky said that following the event, at least one member of the community who had fallen away from practicing the faith expressed his desire to strengthen his faith life because of his encounter with Archbishop Shevchuk. Many said they felt joyful and touched by the Holy Spirit in a special way.
David Maciborski, a St. Michael parishioner, said that once news came of the major archbishop’s visit, the parish was abuzz. Everyone pitched in to clean and spruce up the church. “The reaction of the members of the parish was really positive. … Everybody came together to clean,” he said.
“It was a little stressful,” Maciborski admitted. “This is a successor to the apostles.”
Many members of St. Michael traveled to Phoenix the next day to join in that parish’s 60th anniversary celebration.
Maciborski said he found Archbishop Shevchuk to be “very approachable (and) very reflective” even in the less formal setting of the barbecue.
Msgr. McCarthy said he was “warm and engaging and had a great pastoral touch.”
“He showed a great love and affection for the community and the community showed their great love and affection for him in return,” he added.
Father Chirovsky said Archbishop Shevchuk was impressed by parish life at St. Michael. “He said, ‘This is ‘The vibrant parish, a place of encounter with the living Christ.'” The phrase was the title of a 2011 pastoral letter written by the archbishop.
The morning of Archbishop Shevchuk’s visit to St. Michael also was special for Rick and Joanna Cole, who hosted the prelate at their house for breakfast.
Joanna leads the St. Mary and Martha Sisterhood, which is engaged in hospitality ministry and is a spiritual growth group for the women at the Ukrainian Catholic parish.
When Father Chirovsky announced in late May that Archbishop Shevchuk’s would be making a stop at the parish during a whirlwind U.S. visit in July, everyone was pressed into service. Joanna offered to make breakfast at the parish rectory, but the venue had to be changed.
“That’s how breakfast at the Coles happened,” Joanna said.
When Archbishop Shevchuk arrived, he was led to the head of the table, she said. “He surprised us, though. He said he wanted to sit in the middle.”
The entire visit lasted only 75 minutes but it created memories for a lifetime.
“It was all happening so fast. In a blink of an eye, they were here and in another blink they were gone,” Joanna told the Catholic Outlook.
People normally see the prelate at liturgical services, fully vested and engaged in worship.
“We got to see a little bit of his other side,” Joanna said, adding that Archbishop Shevchuk was “unpretentious, personable” and took a liking to the Coles’ pet Maltese.
“It was an incredible privilege. … It left such a joyous feeling in my heart,” she added. “We would welcome an opportunity like that anytime.”
Brown is managing editor of Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson.