Thursday, 10 April 2008
Holiness Amidst Politics
The Social Virtues of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky
Published in Progress Ukrainian Catholic News, no.3/2108, (11 February 2007), p. 10, 12.
In our time, historians are generally in agreement as to the positive qualities of Metropolitan-Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky. During his lifetime, his holiness and virtue were spoken of by lay and church leaders, and many considered him a hero and father of his nation. Nonetheless, his beatification process has been inordinately delayed, partially due to political considerations. I believe that Sheptytsky’s holiness is found, if not principally, then at least prominently in his political action.
Most of us have been brought up believing the axiom that religion and politics do not mix. This axiom was invented by non-believers who wanted to eliminate religion from the visible life of humanity, relegating it behind closed doors or, as is often said, to the sacristy. But religion is a human right and therefore has a right to be manifested and practiced in freedom, in the public domain. Some point to the fact that, in recent times, the Catholic Church tended to prohibit its clergy from becoming involved in politics. Neither is this true. The Church prohibited the clergy from partisan politics, in which religious and human interests are found on more than one side. Instead, the Church has always encouraged its leaders to become involved in protecting mankind, in speaking in defense of the oppressed and in defending human rights, especially when they are threatened. The Church uses political means for religious and humanitarian ends.
Admittedly, the case of Metropolitan Sheptytsky is a particular one, but then so was the situation in Eastern Europe at the time, especially the situation of the Ukrainian Nation. As in the case of other Eastern European nations, the clergy, the only educated class, became the leaders in the process of national awakening. In an age of socialism and atheism, Metropolitan Sheptytsky wanted the Church to have a voice in the national movement, in order to guide the nation according to Christian principles.
Metropolitan Andrei did not initiate a conflict, nor did he sustain it or foment it. The neighbouring Polish and Ukrainian Nations had been in conflict for several centuries. From 1772-1795, Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The Austrian sector (named Galicia) was made-up of approximately half Polish and half Ukrainian; the Poles mainly in the West and Ukrainians in the East. With the awakening of ethnic self-consciousness rise of nationalism, the nations within multi-national states, such as Austria and Russia, began to seek own political self-determination, autonomy and even independence. Such was the case in Galicia where Poles and Ukrainians vied for control of the region.
Both nations, in some way, had been deprived of their intellectual and national elites. Thus, the clergy, as the keepers of the national consciousness, were very involved in politics. This was more so true of the Metropolitan of Lviv, who was the highest moral and even political authority in Ukrainian Galicia. Today, we would say that the clergy were fulfilling their role as guarentors of human rights and promoters of freedom and justice for their oppressed peoples. Sometimes, however, their involvement in politics became extreme and discriminatory, especially when the success of the other nation was perceived as a threat to their own. With the Polish Church being Latin and the Ukrainian Byzantine, the conflict of nations spilled over into a conflict between Churches. Even though both Churches were Catholic, they looked upon each other as opponents.
After the disintegration of Austria-Hungary, in October-November 1918, Poles and Ukrainians attempted to establish their own governments in Galicia. Polish leaders wanted to re-unite all of Galicia with the other Polish lands to re-create their former state. Ukrainians wanted to unite only Eastern Galicia with Russian Ukraine and create a new state. A terrible war ensued in which Catholic clergy on both sides became involved. Both Polish and Ukrainian armies sought to punish the clergy for their national involvement. The principle religious leaders exchanged harsh words and even accusations that each side had not done enough to mitigate their nation’s forces, especially in the harm inflicted upon the Churches. In the end, the superior military forces of the Poles conquered. Eastern Galicia was placed, at first in trust, and then permanently under Poland in 1923. The antagonism between the nations continued inside the Polish State until the arrival of the horrors of the Second World War.
Chauvinism blinds reason and equity. In supporting his people’s cause, indirectly, Sheptytsky came into conflict with the Polish cause, but not because he opposed that cause, in principle. In accusing Sheptytsky of political intrigue, his opponents were projecting their own mind-set and methods upon him. The underlying error in their accusations was that they did not accept that the Ukrainian people (and Church) deserved equal rights. Sheptytsky fought for this and thus earned their anger. Without exception, his foes also opposed Ukraine. On the other hand, Sheptytsky did not oppose Poland but neither did he oppose Ukrainian goals. In point of fact, the Metropolitan’s opponents expected that he should have opposed his own nation for their sake.
Both the Supreme Council of League of Nations and the Holy See was extremely concerned that Poland’s excessive territorial ambitions would turn all of her neighbours against her, endangering her very existence. Along with international political and religious leaders, Sheptytsky opposed the excessive claims of Poland, because they came into conflict with the well being, not only of his own nation, but also that of the entire region and even of Poland itself. The future Pope Pius XI, Archbishop Achille Ratti, then Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, observed that national sensitivity caused the Poles to view any criticism as motivated by hatred or opposition to their nation. In fact, this criticism was for Poland’s benefit. To reassure but also to correct them, Pope Benedict XV wrote to the Polish bishops that “Our love and our towards your nation, beloved children and venerable brothers, has but a single limitation, that laid down by duty and by justice.”
While Sheptytsky’s enemies attacked him personally, the Servant of God refrained from personal criticisms. Sometimes he had to defend himself but his correspondence is remarkably free of any acrimony towards his opponents, which he never mentions by name Yet, the Metropolitan was not alone in speaking in his defense. Significant correspondence regarding Andrei Sheptytsky’s virtues may be found in the Vatican Archives, some of which I reproduce here, in translation:
On July 25, 1919, Ukrainian envoy, Prince Jan de Tokary Tokarzewski-Karaszewicz wrote to the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church: “M[onsi]g[no]r. Sheptytsky is not only a Ukrainian national hero, he is the propagator of our faith, the most fervent promoter of the Church.”
Concerned for his well-being during the Polish occupation, on March 13, 1920, the same Oriental Congregation wrote, in its instructions to Father Genocchi, Apostolic Visitator to Ukraine: “ The Visitator will seek to inform the Holy See precisely as to the conditions in which that most worthy Prelate, whose attachment to the Holy See is beyond doubt, finds himself.”
Upon learning of the Appointment of an Apostolic Visitator, on March 15, 1920, Sheptytsky wrote to the head of Oriental Congregation: “Above all, I want to assure Your Eminence that we will not conceal anything from the Apostolic Visitator. Our defects, our faults, our sins, everything will be revealed to him. I also hope that he will find good qualities and virtues, which the evils of the war and the humiliations of these past years have perhaps increased. In any case, he will see that we all want to be good Catholics and devoted children of His Holiness.” These are not the words of a partisan politician or of one with hatred in his heart, but of a humble saint.
In 1907, Pope Pius X had given Sheptytsky secret extraordinary faculties for the Russian Empire. With them, Sheptytsky attempted to work towards church union in Russia. This too caused a conflict with the Polish missionaries, who wanted to convert the Orthodox (and even the Eastern Catholics) to the Latin Church. Their lobbying caused Pope Benedict XV to suspend these special faculties indefinitely. When this decision was communicated to the Metropolitan, he replied, on July 18, 1919: “In all matters, I freely submit to the decision of the Holy Apostolic See; in all things I gladly obey.” Later, the faculties were restored, after Sheptytsky had the opportunity to present his case to the Pope, in person, and furnish prove of the secret faculties which had been accorded by Benedict’s holy predecessor.
Reporting to Monsignor Benedetti of the Oriental Congregation, on November 27, 1921, Apostolic Visitator Giovanni Genocchi wrote the following description of the Metropolitan’s person: “In the intimacy of conversation, I could clearly see what a holy soul he is and that he had no other guiding motivation, except than the charity of J[esus] Christ. His judgments are very rare that proceed from excessive enthusiasm or optimism. He sees important questions well and clearly and submits like a child, not being attached to his own opinion. He is also extremely patient, like a martyr. One needs to keep him in long conversations and ask him about everything. There is much to learn from him.”
Metropolitan Sheptytsky was a holy man, precisely because he did not avoid politics. Like the Church itself, he made use of political means for religious ends and for the promotion of human rights and values, especially for the promotion of the Catholic Faith in Ukraine and Russia. A more compromising stance would have been much easier but not morally responsible, being himself the highest moral authority of his nation.
Andrei Sheptytsky died on November 1, 1944. The Cause for his beatification was introduced in 1958 but it soon encountered opposition. Since the fall of Communism and the independence of both Poland and Ukraine, old political and nationalist antagonisms have faded. In recent years, not only Ukrainians, but also Poles, historians and churchmen alike have expressed their appreciation of Sheptytsky’s profound wisdom and holiness. In 2001, in Lviv, the capital of old Galicia and the city most disputed between Poles and Ukrainians, the greatest Pole in history, the Servant of God John Paul II, expressed his desire to see Andrei Sheptytsky beatified. We pray that Divine Providence fulfills this wish through his worthy successor in the Papacy.