From the National Catholic Register:
LVIV, Ukraine — Just 20 years ago, in Moscow, some 200 Ukrainian Catholics initiated a hunger strike to dramatize their demand that the Soviet government legalize the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest Eastern-rite Catholic Church, which had been banned and persecuted by the Communists for 45 years.
The bravery of these faithful — and the Vatican’s swift engagement — led to Soviet recognition of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in December 1989, announced during President Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic visit with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic community, geographically centered in western Ukraine around the city of Lviv, began rebuilding with gusto.
The obstacles were immense: The Soviet regime had confiscated all Church property, and the Church had few clergy, since most had been imprisoned, murdered or forced into exile. The number of believers had dwindled, since they had been punished or intimidated into worshipping elsewhere.
But the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, operating underground, also had remarkable resources, including a dedicated diaspora that had protected the faith abroad and strong support from Rome.
And from the start, the Ukrainian Church had a vision of the centrality of education to its revival.
It’s that vision that has brought about the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union and the first university founded by an Eastern-rite Church in full communion with the Holy See.
Founded eight years ago and built on a cornerstone blessed by Pope John Paul II when he visited in 2001, the Ukrainian Catholic University has been cited by many Roman Catholic leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, as a portentous sign of a Catholic renaissance in the former Soviet republics, where political progress is fitful — and religious tolerance still not perfectly assured.
The roots of the university date to an 18th-century seminary, closed by the Soviets in 1944. The seminary reopened just outside Lviv, in the middle of a forest, in 1992, one year after Ukraine regained its independence.
“To replace the Lviv seminary confiscated by the Soviets, the Ukrainian government offered the Church an abandoned summer camp, without even heating for winter,” said Matthew Matuszak, 44, an American who taught English and Latin at the school in the 1990s. In exchange, the Church had to give up claims for the seminary’s original buildings.