|Mission Report: Ukraine: March 2009|
Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, March 25-29, 2009
Rich in culture, history, and spirituality, this nation suffered from a vicious religious persecution under Communist dictator Joseph Stalin and his successors like very few other nations. The Ukrainian Catholic Church (i.e., Greek or Byzantine Catholic, united with Rome) was the target of forced church closings and absorption into the Orthodox Church, various fraudulent church synods, the martyrdom of bishops, priests, nuns, and laity on an unprecedented scale, and an ongoing campaign to sully and degrade the Faith.
Yet, despite decades of this type of treatment, the Ukrainian Catholic Church went underground and survived with a remarkable resiliency. Robert Royal, in his book, Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century, mentions that 8 bishops, 1,000 priests, 1,200 nuns and at least 6 religious orders survived intact and emerged from the catacombs once the religious persecution abated in the 1980s (p. 85). In fact, the Church in Ukraine seems to be flourishing now. At the Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv, where our bioethics conference was held, there are a full 200 seminarians studying for the priesthood, and this does not count Roman Catholic and other religious order seminarians, which amount to hundreds more. Truly, God is blessing this Church for its fidelity.
UKRAINE'S ANTI-LIFE SITUATION
The legacy of atheistic Communism has left deep scars on the nation, one of which is the scourge of abortion. Up to a decade ago, this nation of 47 million people used to have more than 1 million abortions a year. That was an astronomical abortion rate given that the country is one-sixth the size of the US, yet had virtually the same number of abortions. As with all countries under the hammer and sickle of the red menace, abortion was not so much a matter of feminist propaganda-it was part of a materialistic ethic that sought to replace the family with the state. The main airport terminal in Lviv displayed this ethic very clearly in a set of murals that I took pictures of when I was leaving. These paintings showed the "glorious workers' revolution" of the people who were all smiling and grouped in sets of anonymous workers; there were a few kids in the murals but no discernible family units. The clear message was that the children didn't belong to parents in an organic, divinely-ordained institution called the family; they were just workers in training. Even today the effects of this control are felt: one sees almost no children on the streets in Ukraine. Children are noticeable by their absence; the fruit of decades of atheism.
REAL GOVERNMENT CONCERNS ABOUT THE FUTURE
Despite its history, Ukraine is one of those countries that are trying to face squarely the coming demographic disaster. A decade ago, Ukraine had a population of 52 million, but because of emigration and the long-term effects of abortion, the number of Ukrainians living in Ukraine is now 47 million and declining. According to the UN Population Division, the 2008 fertility rate was less than one child per family. Surely that must frighten even the most optimistic social planners as they look to the future of their country and wonder who will be there to pay taxes, to provide for the welfare of the elderly and dependent, and to lead Ukraine in the family of nations.
The government has established a special committee to study these problems. There are one million infertile couples, 80% of which are due to the effects of abortion. Abortion has brought immense health costs and hospitalizations, which are placing extra burdens on an already overtaxed healthcare system. As many as 68% of all deliveries have complications and very few of the children born are fully healthy. As a small step to remedying this situation the state is giving generous payments to those families that have a second and third child-I was told that the payments can be as much as the equivalent of a small professional salary per month. They know that the "investment" in their future is well worth the cost.
GOOD NEWS FOR LIFE
The overall effect of these initiatives from the 2003 conference was a dramatic decrease in abortions in Ukraine. Our HLI representatives told me that in the last decade the number of abortions in Ukraine was reduced from one million abortions down to 200,000 per year-that is an astounding reduction in the killing! In Ukraine it is still possible to walk into abortion clinics and talk to both patients and medical personnel about abortion and convince them not to go through with or perform the procedure. Clearly there is an openness to the message of life both at the government and personal levels that makes Ukraine poised for further reductions. Our only problem is giving the pro-lifers the resources to touch the hearts of as many people as possible.
THE BIOETHICS CONFERENCE AND HLI LEADERS MEETING
My main reason for going to Ukraine was to attend our bioethics conference and bring HLI leaders together for some discussions about Eastern Europe. This was accomplished in full force. The conference was held at the Greek Catholic Holy Spirit Seminary which is right next to the phenomenal new Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU), which hosted many of the sessions. Nearly 400 people attended this conference to their great benefit.
The interventions and discussions were too numerous to recount here, but the conference provided ample opportunity for HLI speakers to encourage the pro-lifers there. Of particular note were the talks of Mr. Joannes Bucher (HLI Regional Coordinator), Mr. Paul Vincenti (HLI Malta), and Dr. Antun Lisec (HLI Croatia) who addressed the plenary session in Russian. I had a chance to give a word of warning about the new American anti-life administration, and regular HLI readers can pretty much figure out what I told them about Obama's anti-life record!
The bioethics conference was followed by a day-long meeting with HLI leaders, who came from Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Romania, Poland, and, of course, Ukraine to join us for the discussions. They represented a pretty good cross-section of the HLI family in that part of the world. The meeting provided us with ample time to talk and discuss the future of the pro-life work in Ukraine and other countries of Eastern Europe, and we ended with a pro-life Mass and dinner
The resolutions for Ukraine became very clear as a result of our discussions. The most effective thing that pro-lifers do in Ukraine, and one with long-term impact, is to train people in NFP and the pro- life mentality. Our affiliate, the Foundation for Human Dignity, has three or four week-long training sessions per year and wants to increase that number to ten or twelve, and we have promised to help them to do that! They also desperately need to get pro-life literature translated into their language and distributed to as many people as possible. They work hand-in-hand with the few other pro-life organizations in Ukraine, such as the wonderful UCU Family Institute, to get the message out as much as possible. There is so much to do but, thankfully, many willing hands! I would like to commend above all Genia Samborska and Aleksander Dubroyer of the Foundation for Human Dignity and those who work closely with them in their spreading of the life message. They are marvels of fidelity and creativity.
When Jesus was beginning His public ministry, He bid His disciples to raise their eyes and behold, "the fields are ripe for the harvest." (Jn 4:35) Indeed, the Lord Jesus is directing our eyes eastward, especially to Ukraine and the post-Communist countries, because the time for harvest is right now. We pray that from this beautiful country that suffered the spilling of so much martyrs' blood, will come the fruits of a new civilization of life and love.