In Ukraine, ‘the future of the Church is the family living with God’
IN A COUNTRY where the birth rate has fallen to a critical point, Ukrainians need more than ever to re-discover the value of the family as the primary setting for the nourishment of the Christian vocation. Magda Kaczmarek, who oversees projects in the Ukraine for Aid to the Church In Need (ACN), was interviewed after she attended a congress on the family held in Ukraine.
What were your general impressions of the country?
It is a big and beautiful country, and very welcoming. It also is a country that has been through the torment of 70 years of communism. This is reflected in the difficulties that many young people have in getting grounded in life. The communist era continues to mark today’s society. The bad habits persist, for example in public administration, which is being eaten away by the gangrene of corruption. Many Ukrainians have the feeling that their country has no future, and the younger ones, the brightest and the best, are emigrating. Others fall into despair, and it is this lack of hope that explains the alcoholism, the family break-ups and so forth.
The family is under attack. Sixty-five percent of children are growing up without a father; there are some 300 abortions daily—and this in a country that is tragically lacking in children. The birth rate currently stands at 1.38. It needs to be 2.1 simply to replace the present generation. Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, summed up the problem very well, saying: ‘there is a lack of hope in society and a lack of love in families.’
What about the Catholic Church in Ukraine? How is faring?
The Catholic Church in Ukraine is made up of the Greek Catholic Church and the Latin-rite Catholic Church, which is the smaller of the two. Nonetheless, the Latin Catholic Church, despite having no more than 1.5 million faithful, is doing wonderful work. It has come back to life, following the communist era, and it is altogether striking to see the youthful nature of its clergy, which is a sign of the Church’s rebirth. But it needs all our support to be able to rebuild itself, and that is why Ukraine is one of the priority countries for ACN, which allots more than $3.4M a year for projects supporting the Catholic Church in Ukraine.
Despite its small size, the Latin Church plays a leading role in supporting Ukrainians trapped in a war zone in the east of the country, where Ukraine is fighting Russian-backed separatists. Its Christian Rescue Center provides people there with both material and spiritual support. The Church is also helping those who have fled the war zone, so that they can rebuild their lives elsewhere. It ministers to them pastorally, too.
Then there is the role of the family
Beyond the political trials and tribulations, the Church’s primary concern is the defense of the family. I was deeply moved by the talks given at the congress. They were often given by fathers who are very much involved in both the spiritual and the temporal life of their parishes. Together with their wives they are bringing up large families, of five, seven and even as many as ten children, something quite exceptional, above all in Ukraine! They are willing to tackle the lack of hope head-on. I believe that the commitment of these men is proof that the future of the Church resides in the family living with God. This is happening through daily prayer, catechism, liturgy, celebrating feast days and shared family meals.
These dedicated fathers and mothers number no more than a relative handful. How is their example going to be enough to bring about the spiritual rebirth of Ukraine? Key to this are the new communities. The fathers and mothers of families who, at the Congress, witnessed so beautifully to their life of faith within the family setting all belong to the new communities, for example the Neo-catechumenal Way, the Families of Nazareth, and the house churches, to name just a few. These communities are places of spiritual dynamism.
Pope Francis himself has said so: we are living in an age where Christians can recover their spirit of Christian mission within such communities, just as they did in the very early years of Christianity.