VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Meeting a group of Ukrainian Catholics, Pope Francis said that long ago in Argentina, he had learned about the suffering of Christians in their homeland and about the beauty of their liturgy.
Speaking to a group of professors, students and alumni from the Pontifical Ukrainian College of St. Josephat, a seminary in Rome, the pope said he valued the lessons he learned as a boy from Bishop Stepan Chmil.
“It did me so much good because he spoke to me about the persecution, sufferings, the ideologies that persecuted the Christians” in Ukraine under communism, the pope said Nov. 9.
Then-Father Chmil was among the first Eastern-rite Catholics allowed to enter the Salesian order while retaining their liturgical rites and traditions.
After completing his studies in Turin, Italy, Father Chmil ministered to countless Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Western Europe during World War II.
In 1948, he was sent to Argentina to minister to Ukrainian refugees there and met a young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was in his last year of grade school.
“I learned how to assist at Mass in the Ukrainian rite from him; he taught me everything,” the pope said.
Assisting Father Chmil twice a week, he said, “taught me to be open to a different liturgy, which has always remained in my heart as something beautiful.”
After Father Chmil’s death in 1978, the pope said, it was revealed that he had been “consecrated a bishop in secret in Rome” by Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, then-major archbishop.
Pope Francis also said he gave testimony for the Ukrainian bishop’s canonization cause to the current head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.
“I wanted to remember him today,” he said, “because it is right to give thanks to him for the good that he has done for me.”