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Ukraine: the Catholic Church and the European football championship
If one lived in Ukraine for the past couple of years, the topic that, one could safely say, dominated the local mass media realm was undoubtedly preparations for the upcoming UEFA’s soccer tournament EURO 2012, drawn to be co-hosted by both Poland and Ukraine in June/July of this year. The national news reports ranged from the planning for the big event in terms of improving the country’s infrastructure to the recent talks about the tournament’s alleged boycott from the side of the European Union due to the current political situation in Ukraine, which does not seem to satisfy the West. The tournament did not start yet – less than a week left till the official kick-off in Warsaw – however, one could certainly have an impression that we are not talking about a sports event here, but of some kind of economic/political venue. Is it? Well, there are definitely all kinds of elements intermingled therein; nevertheless, I think we all want to hope that EURO 2012 will be a real sports celebration in the spirit of healthy competition, fraternity and tolerance – something that Ukraine and Poland could always be proud of.
Since the Church is not of the world, but lives in the world, a question might arise here: what impact is EURO 2012 going to have on the life of the Catholic Church in Ukraine? In other words, what’s in it for the Church in this European country? Actually, quite a lot and it’s not the question of how the Church could use the soccer tournament for her own sake, but what the Church could do, given her universal salvific nature, to help EURO 2012 become an authentic human experience. First and foremost, the contest is an opportunity for the Christians in Ukraine to bear witness to their rich Christian heritage to their fellow Christians from other European states, who will be coming here to support their native country teams. In what ways? Simply by being an authentic Christian: to be able to serve our neighbors – all the guests, who’ll be coming to the country – in any need they might have. This means to be courteous and helpful at the border the minute they arrive to Ukraine all the way till the moment they leave the country. And what’s in between? Well, being helpful to the people on the streets with the directions, taking their photos when asked to do so and even by receiving them into your homes for overnight, if need be, etc. Let’s not forget: whatever we do to the least of our brethren, we do it to God Himself (cf. Mt 25:40). It could even be as simple deed as sitting together around a lunch/dinner table (provided the two respective teams end up with a tie (smile)) and having a conversation about Ukraine’s religious roots. I mean, let’s face it: while many of the Western European countries are undergoing a phase in their history, where the beautiful Gothic, Baroque, etc Christian churches are often becoming – as sad as it sounds – architectural memorials, picture galleries and organ halls due to religious indifferentism and agnosticism, which seems to spread around Europe, the Church’s faithful in Ukraine have a lot to offer to their European brethren in faith. For isn’t it inspiring that despite the severe Communist persecutions that the Catholic Church, in particular the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine had gone through between 1946 and 1989, the Church not only kept her faith alive and full of vigor, but is dynamically growing and developing, looking forward to the future with great hope in God?! Our churches will be open, especially in the host cities, to our Catholic brothers and sisters as well as to all men and women of good will to partake in the Divine Liturgies/Holy Masses and the Holy Sacraments, if need be, not just in Ukrainian, but in Polish, English, German, Portuguese, etc.
Certainly, the Church in Ukraine is not perfect in as far as it consists of men and it does face a lot of challenges due to the “great patrimony”, left by the Soviets: abortions, alcoholism, corruption, you name it. However, the Catholic faith is the faith of love and hope and my personal desire is that when the fans from all over Europe come to Ukraine this and next month, they will be able to experience firsthand the great Christian patrimony that the Church in Ukraine, being in communion with the Successor of Peter, has to offer to them. Welcome to Ukraine! Everyone!
08/06/2012 - Lubomir Zhybak - SIR Europe (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church)