On Sunday, November 9, 2014, in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia a religious and scholarly event took place to mark the legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine. The event was organized by the St. Sophia Religious Association of Ukrainian Catholics, USA, under the aegis of the Philadelphia Archeparchy. The event began with a solemn liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Stefan Soroka, concelebrated with Fr. Marko Semehen, President of the St. Sophia Religious Association in Rome, Italy, and Fr. Ivan Demkiv, Pastor of the Cathedral.
In his homily Archbishop Soroka stressed the meaning of faith in the life of man since as he pointed out it was because of faith that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was able to leave the underground. The examples of thousands of martyrs teach us “to be people of hope, to be courageous and courageously bear witness to our faith.” He urged the faithful to follow the example of the martyrs, especially that of Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky, whom Pope John Paul II beatified. A similar liturgy was celebrated by Fr. Ivan Demkiv in English. Following each liturgy there were two presentations of the exhibit, To the Light of Resurrection through the Thorns of Catacombs, by Dr. Iryna Ivankovych, Executive Director of St. Sophia Religious Association, USA, and the Curator of the Josyf Slipyj Study Center in Philadelphia. The exhibit comprises the period from 1939 – 1991 and reflects three important segments of the tragic/heroic periods in the history of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: its liquidation, its life in the underground and its legalization in 1989. The presentation was compiled on the basis of the materials housed at the Institute of Church History of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.
The scholarly conference which followed the liturgies was introduced by Archbishop Stefan Soroka who expressed his gratitude to St. Sophia Association for organizing this event. Professor Leonid Rudnytzky, President of the St. Sophia Religious Association, served as chairman of the conference. The first session, held in Ukrainian, featured Fr. Marko Semehen who read a paper about the liturgical life of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the catacombs. Dr. Andriy Sorokowski, a historical researcher at the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Washington, DC, served as commentator. In the second session, held in English, Fr. Taras Lonchyna, pastor of the Church of St. Josaphat in Trenton, New Jersey, delivered a paper about martyrology of the Ukrainian Catholic Church which included brief biographies of those who had lost their lives because of their fidelity to their Church. His presentation contained personal reminiscences which profoundly moved his listeners. In his commentary on Fr. Lonchyna’s presentation, Paul Mojzes, Professor or Religious Studies at Rosemont College, discussed the problems of religious liberty in Central and Eastern European countries and, among others, analyzed the methods through which the various communist regimes attempted to enforce atheism in all areas of human endeavor.
Lengthy and lively discussions, which included some criticism of the educational system in the United States, followed the presentations. In concluding the symposium Leonid Rudnytzky thanked the Archeparchy of Philadelphia and Fr. Demkiv for their hospitality and expressed special gratitude to Dr. Ivankovych for her organization of the events of the day. He stressed that this is already the third scholarly conference in the City of Brotherly Love which marked the emergence of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from underground activity. The impetus for this series was an international conference hosted by La Salle University on May 3, 2014, under the heading “The Church of the Catacombs in the 20th Century.”