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Ukrainian Catholic Church selects young bishop as new leader

Catholic World News - March 25, 2011

A 40-year-old bishop serving in Argentina has been elected to lead the Ukrainian Catholic Church: the largest Eastern Church in communion with the Holy See.

Bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the apostolic administrator of the Eparchy of the Protection of the Blessed Mary in Buenos Aires, was elected by the 40 bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Synod on March 23. The results of the election were not announced to the public until Pope Benedict XVI confirmed the choice on March 25. The new Major Archbishop will be enthroned in Kyiv on March 27.

The Ukrainian prelate succeeds Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who retired in February, citing his failing health, after 10 years as the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. (Cardinal Husar, who is 78, is losing his eyesight.) During his tenure Cardinal Husar had moved the headquarters of the Ukrainian Church from Lviv to Kyiv.

Born in 1970, Bishop Shevchuk was ordained as a priest in Lviv in 1994. After graduate studies in theology he taught at the Lviv seminary, and served as personal secretary to Cardinal Husar In 2009 he became an auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy in Argentina, and was appointed as apostolic administrator when the previous bishop retired.

The election of Bishop Shevchuk broke a temporary deadlock in the Synod voting. Following the rules for such elections, after 12 inconclusive ballots the bishops narrowed their selections to the two prelates who had been named most frequently in the last round of voting. Shortly thereafter, the winning candidate received the necessary two-thirds majority.

One of the youngest Catholic bishops in the world, the new Major Archbishop becomes an enormously influential figure in Ukraine and on the ecumenical scene. The Ukrainian Catholic Church, with over 4 million faithful, is by far the largest of the Byzantine-rite Catholic churches. After decades of brutal suppression under the Soviet regime, the Ukrainian Catholic Church emerged with remarkable vigor after the fall of Communism. Ukrainian Catholics have pressed the Vatican for recognition of a Ukrainian patriarchate. But the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims Ukraine as its own “canonical territory,” has adamantly opposed that idea, and views the activities of the Ukrainian Catholic Church as an impediment to ecumenical progress.

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