The 20th century was a difficult period for the Greek-Catholic Church. Thanks to divine providence, it was led during this period by some of the most prominent figures of Ukrainian history:
- Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1901-1944) led the Church during two world wars.
- Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, Major Archbishop, Cardinal and Metropolitan (1944-1984) was exiled to the gulag; survived, and headed the Church in exile for 20 years.
- Archbishop Volodymyr Sterniuk, Locum Tenens (Acting Head) of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine (1972-1991), led the Church from the underground to freedom.
- His Beatitude Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, Major Archbishop and Cardinal (1984-2000), led the Church in exile. After returning home, he led the faithful in Ukraine.
- His Beatitude Lubomyr Husar, Major Archbishop and Cardinal (since January 2001), leads the Church in the 21st century.
Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1901-44). During his 44-year tenure, he guided the Church and Ukrainian society through two world wars and seven changes of regime: Austrian, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Soviet, Nazi and Soviet. He was born in Prylbychi, near Lviv, on 22 July 1865, to an ancient aristocratic Ukrainian family which in the nineteenth century had become polonized, Latin Catholic, and French speaking. Despite the strong opposition of his father, he returned to his roots to serve what was regarded as the “peasant” Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church as a monk of the Basilian Order.
Blessed with extraordinary spiritual charisms, at the age of thirty-six Sheptytsky became head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. He worked tirelessly for reconciliation between ethnic groups and left a rich legacy of writings on social issues and spirituality. He developed modern methods of ministry, founded the Studite and Ukrainian Redemptorist orders, other religious communities, a hospital, the National Museum, the Theological Academy and sponsored various religious, cultural and educational institutions.
Metropolitan Andrey was a patron of artists, students, including many Orthodox Christians, and a pioneer of ecumenism. He learned Hebrew so that he could speak with Jews. During pastoral visits to towns he was met by Jewish communities with the Torah. He harbored hundreds of Jews in his residence and in Greek-Catholic monasteries during the Nazi occupation. He issued the pastoral letter, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," a bold outcry against Nazi atrocities. He died on 1 November 1944 and the process for his beatification is well advanced.
Patriarch Josyf (Slipyj), Major Archbishop, Cardinal and Metropolitan (1944-1984). He was born on 17 February 1892 in the village of Zazdrist’, Ternopil’ Region, to Ivan Kobernytskyj-Slipyj and Anastasiya Dychkovska. He finished school in his native village and gymnasium in Ternopil’. He studied theology in Lviv, and consequently finished philosophical and theological studies in Innsbruck (Austria).
On 30 September 1917 Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky ordained him a priest. After this he again departed for studies in Innsbruck, where received a doctorate in theology. From Innsbruck he went to study in Rome, where received the degree of “magister aggregatus.”
Starting in 1922 he taught dogmatics at the Lviv seminary. At the end of 1925 he was appointed the rector of this institution and in 1929 rector of the newly created Theological Academy. In 1939 Metropolitan Andrey ordained Fr. Slipyj bishop with the right of succession. On 1 November 1944, the day of Metropolitan Andrey’s death, Bishop Slipyj became the leader of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
On 11 April 1945 he was arrested by the Bolsheviks and sentenced to eight years of forced labor in Siberia. After the termination of this term, without any reason he was convicted a second time for an indefinite term. In 1957 he was convicted a third time, to seven years of hard labor. Thanks to the intervention of Pope John XXIII and American President John Kennedy, he was released in 1963 to participate in the Second Vatican Council.
For the next 20 years Patriarch Josyf tried to energize the life of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in the West. He founded the Ukrainian Catholic University and built the Church of Saint Sophia in Rome. He wrote many scientific works, some of them with twenty volumes.
He died in 1984. In 1992 his relics were transported to Lviv, where they, with the participation of more than 1 million faithful, were buried in Saint George’s Cathedral.
Archbishop Volodymyr Sterniuk, locum tenens (acting head) of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine (1972 -91). Born on 12 February 1907, at Pustomyty near Lviv, after studies in Ukraine and Belgium he was ordained in 1931 as a priest of the Redemptorist order. He witnessed the liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church at the "synod" of Lviv by concealing himself in the loft of St. George's Cathedral.
After his arrest in 1947, he spent five years in prison and labor camps in Siberia. He returned to Lviv to work as a park gatekeeper, bookkeeper, janitor and ambulance nurse while clandestinely continuing his priestly ministry.
In 1964 Sterniuk was secretly ordained bishop and from 1972 to 1991 guided the UGCC in Ukraine until the return of Cardinal Lubachivsky. This period included the vicious persecution of the Brezhnev years and the final struggle for liberation in the late 1980s.
As a charismatic pastor and leader of the underground church, Sterniuk guided it from a one-room communal flat with a kitchen and bathroom shared with neighbors. He is remembered for his combination of prudence, resoluteness, warmth and understanding. He died on 29 September 1997, and a great funeral procession was conducted through the center of Lviv.
His Beatitude Myroslav Ivan (Lubachivsky), Major Archbishop and Cardinal (1984-2000). Born and raised in western Ukraine, he studied for three years in Lviv at the Greek-Catholic Theological Academy, predecessor of the present-day Ukrainian Catholic University. Sent abroad to study, he could not return to his homeland for decades, because of the Soviet occupation. He served the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, was elected Ukrainian Archbishop of Philadelphia in 1979 and in 1984 became Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.
Following his return to Lviv on 30 March 1991, Lubachivsky led the renewal of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine. Throughout a five-year period, as pastor to 7 million faithful, he found himself in a challenging position. The spiritual revitalization of a devastated Church, alleviating tensions with the Orthodox, rebuilding various church institutions, answering the needs of his clergy, building bridges with government officials and adhering to the expectations of lay activists all posed a formidable task for Lubachivsky on a daily basis.
In 1995 Lubachivsky suffered a bout of pneumonia, which took a toll on his health. The following year, due to his frail condition, the Synod of Bishops of the UGCC chose Bishop Lubomyr Husar as Auxiliary Bishop to the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. After Cardinal Lubachivsky's death on 14 December 2000, thousands of faithful braved freezing temperatures to pay their last respects.
His Beatitude Lubomyr (Husar), Major Archbishop and Cardinal. (2001). Born in Lviv on 26 February 1933, he emigrated with his family in 1944, ending up in the United States. In 1958 he was ordained to the priesthood there and in 1972 he went to Rome and joined the Studite Order. In 1977 Patriarch Josyf ordained him bishop for the Church in Ukraine.
In 1992 Archimandrite Lubomyr returned with the Studite community to Ukraine. On 17 October 1996 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop to the Head of the UGCC, Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky. After the death of His Beatitude Myroslav Ivan, the Synod of Bishops elected him the next Major Archbishop. He was enthroned on 28 January 2001 and on the same day it was announced that Pope John Paul II had named him cardinal.
An article about Cardinal Husar appeared in the New York Times on 23 February 2001, the day after he received his cardinal's ring in Rome. In it he talked about the role of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in relation to Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. It is a recurring theme for him. Here is a speech he delivered on this topic at the Lviv Theological Academy (now Ukrainian Catholic University).