Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Eparchy of the Holy Family, London Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Eparchy of the Holy Family, London 

Pastoral care of Ukrainian faithful tops agenda at UGCC Synod

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Eparchy of the Holy Family, London, tells Vatican News that the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is focused on providing pastoral care for Ukrainians at home and abroad, as Russia's war against Ukraine continues.

By Christopher Wells

Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) are meeting in Rome this week for their annual Holy Synod. The Synod is composed of all of the Bishops of the UGCC together with the Father and Head of the Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and “constitutes the highest authority in the UGCC and manifests this Church’s unity and community.”

Numbering some five and a half million faithful, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the second largest particular Church in communion with Rome, behind only the Latin Church.

In an interview with Vatican News, Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Eparchy (Diocese) of the Holy Family, London, explained that the Synod is “a legislative body that meets at least once a year to talk about Church governance.”

This year, the Bishop said, “the main concern” of the Synod “has to be the pastoral care of our Ukrainian people throughout the world, especially in Ukraine and those who have arrived in Western Europe, and indeed in other parts of the world,” as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine” in 2024.

He noted that the Synod will also be discussing pastoral plans for the Ukrainian Church throughout the world, and will have the opportunity to speak with members of the Roman Curia.

In the interview, the Bishop also discussed the efforts of the UGCC to share the story of Ukraine with the rest of the world, as well the work being done by the Church in the Ukrainian diaspora to assist Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Responding to a question about how the Universal Church can assist the people and the nation of Ukraine during this time of war, Bishop Kenneth highlighted the need for prayer, while also insisting on the need to build peace in their families and local communities.

“I often say… [that] ordinary people have to do their bit at home,” he said, explaining, “if you don't have peace in your home, if you don't have peace amongst your neighbourhood, if you can't have peace in your communities, I think it's very challenging for us to expect that the world's leadership, who maybe are not coming from where there's peace and accord in their own homes, in their own neighbourhood, to understand what peace means and to try to be leaders of peace.”

Below please find a full transcript of the interview with Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Holy Family Eparchy of the Holy Family, London.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski

Bishop Kenneth: [I am] Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of the Holy Family of London for Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Slovak Greek Catholics in Great Britain; and the Apostolic Visitator for Ukrainian Greek Catholics resident in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Q: So, you have a relatively broad mandate, Bishop…

Well, it is a broad mandate. Of course, the majority of our faithful in Great Britain that I’m responsible for are of Ukrainian background. Our Church last year celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of an ecclesiastical structure. And this last weekend we were having a rededication of our first chapel, which is located in Lockerbie, Scotland, because the first Ukrainians that settled or emigrated were after the Second World War, and they were settled in camps in Scotland before being able to go elsewhere in the United Kingdom. So, in many ways, we’re a new emigration, but in other ways, we’ve been in the United Kingdom for quite some time now.

Q: And that reality is changing a bit now with a lot of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, from Ukraine itself, already prior to the current war, but certainly since the initiation of widespread hostilities last year, you’ve been receiving a lot of people from the home country, as it were.

Well, certainly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, we can say tens of thousands of Ukrainians arrived in the United Kingdom to work in building the Olympic structure for the Olympic Games and remained. And certainly, after the full-scale invasion… in February of 2022, we know that over 200,000 people have made their way, fleeing harm’s way, to the United Kingdom.

Priorities of the Synod

Q: And I want to come back to that in a moment. But right now, you’re in Rome with your brother, bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, of course, in full union with the Catholic Church throughout the world. And I’d like to ask you about the synod that you’re taking part in. Can you tell us about what the main items are on the agenda? What are the main concerns that you and your brother bishops will be facing and addressing in this gathering?

Well, certainly the main concern has to be the pastoral care of our Ukrainian people throughout the world, especially in Ukraine and those who have arrived in Western Europe and, indeed, in other parts of the world as a result of the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory. These pastoral situations emerged very quickly. We know that in a few months after the full-scale invasion, the largest movement of people in a very short period of time in Europe occurred. Almost 6 million people, I think was the numbers that people were quoting left. That may not be the largest movement of people in the history of the world, but certainly the largest movement of people in the shortest time.

And that put a big responsibility on the Bishops, especially in Western Europe, in Germany, in the United Kingdom, to provide pastoral care. We’ve been working very closely with the British government in developing programs and plans, with the government, to welcome the people. There was a programme that was initiated by the UK government called Homes for Ukraine, where local British people were encouraged to sponsor those who were fleeing. And we know that over 85,000 ordinary British people opened up their homes and their hearts to sponsor. And this isn’t opening up one’s home for a weekend. This is for many, many months. And so we’re very grateful to the British people for doing that.

But we also have had to look at what we are doing pastorally, and the Synod is also looking at that now that it’s almost two years since this invasion happened. Uh, how are we responding pastorally to those in need in the West, but also how can we respond and assist our people who have lost their homes, their livelihood, family members, friends in Ukraine?

Q: And are there some other items on the agenda for this week?

Well, of course, other items always are talking about our pastoral plan to in the global church. I’m the head of the Ukrainian Patriarchal Curia’s Pastoral Commission, or Pastoral Council, and we try to implement programs for our bishops throughout the world, whether they’re in Argentina or our church in Kazakhstan [for instance]. responding to the various pastoral concerns that are needed. Certainly, we’ll be looking at our liturgical continuing liturgical reforms regarding the language, the texts of our liturgical books.

And of course, we’re here in Rome, and tomorrow we’ll be having a meeting with the Holy Father, which I know we’re all looking forward to that.

And we’ve had the opportunity to speak with, and will have the opportunity to speak with, the heads of various dicasteries, especially the Dicastery for Eastern Churches, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, who, you know, had been up until recently, our Nuncio in the United Kingdom. And I have to say we were all very sad to see him leave, but also very proud that he has been given such a position here at the Holy See.

Sharing the story of Ukrainians

Q: And I know the Major Archbishop, the Head and Father of your Church, Sviatoslav spoke at the beginning of your synod about the need to share the story of Ukraine and the Ukrainian church -- the people, the church, the nation – with the world, with the Pope, with the wider Church. Can you talk about what you can share with the rest of the world about the story of Ukraine and Ukrainians and the Ukrainian Greek Church?

Well, certainly, I think on February 24, 2022, the world woke up and said, “Ukraine? It’s the largest territory territorial country in Europe, with a population of almost 50 million people… Where did this come from?” And I think that since then, the message of Ukraine… you know, we can say that the world has never been so Ukrainian and Ukraine has never been so global.

And so, I think that the story is about the history, the legacy, the people of Ukraine, also about our Church. Of course, we’re the second-largest Catholic Church in communion with the Holy Father. And so, I think that our bishops here representing South America, North America, also other areas, Australia, Central and Eastern Europe, and of course, Ukraine. We have a lot to talk about regarding our situation in our countries with the Holy Father, with the various heads of the dicasteries that we're meeting, and talk about our pastoral life, our liturgical life.

For example, in the United Kingdom, just this last year alone, I’ve opened up three new parishes just in the city of London. And that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the local Roman Catholic Bishops who have offered the use of their parishes. But that’s also the case throughout England and Scotland, where our Roman Catholic brothers have allowed us and offered us use of premises to organize pastoral hubs and churches throughout. And I think that experience is similar for most of our bishops in Western Europe who are working very closely with the local Roman Catholic Church.

Pastoral care in the UK

Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about what your Church, your particular Church in London, in the UK, is doing with regards to refugees? I know you’ve had several very prominent initiatives that have come up. I know His Majesty The King has also been associated with some of those charitable activities. Can you talk about what your Church is doing in this time?

Well, certainly very soon after the full-scale invasion, we realized that we needed to somehow provide some kind of services for the recently displaced people that would be arriving. And we developed a program called the Ukrainian Welcome Centre, which is housed in our Cathedral.

But we work very closely with the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. And as a result, we have about 31 or 34 of these welcome centres throughout England and Scotland. And initially those centres were simply helping advise people who were, let’s say in Poland or another country, as to what type of documents, what the bureaucracy, we can say, was or is to arrive in the United Kingdom. And also, to talk to those people in the United Kingdom who wanted to sponsor Ukrainians, how that would work.

And, then, when they started to arrive, just to provide them with a safe place, assist them with getting registered with the National Health Service, if necessary; children going to school to register them in the schools, because the UK government gave what was called humanitarian visas, allowing people to arrive and stay for three years with the right to work immediately, the right to national health care, for universal credit, which sometimes is referred to as social assistance and for education.

So, we’ve been working very closely with the government, so that they also provide, every two weeks, on-site workshops so you don’t have to be on hold on a phone saying your call is important. People can come down to our welcome centre and speak directly with the Home Office and the Office of Levelling Up and Wages and Pension.

We also provide various other activities. We have what’s called a “Mothers and Toddlers Day” where women, which make up the majority of those who have arrived in the UK with young children whose husbands have been left in Ukraine to defend Ukraine. So, we have a time where the mothers and their little children can come to our welcome centre, talk with each other, talk with our staff, and their children are allowed to play freely with each other in a safe environment.

We also have different grant programs that allow people just to be with each other. And certainly, His Majesty The King has shown his support. He’s been to visit our cathedral twice, and he had the official opening of our welcome centre. And at that same time, the first lady of Ukraine, President Zelensky’s wife, also joined His Majesty in helping us officially open our centre.

So, the support of the British people and certainly the support of the Royal Family has been very key in assisting us with our programs for the recently arrived Ukrainians.

How can the Church help?

Q: I want to ask another question of you, Bishop. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church with the other Christian churches, the other religions in Ukraine have been very strong and united in supporting the nation, the people, not just in Ukraine, but throughout the world and the diaspora. Can you say a word, perhaps, about what the universal Church can do, [what] Catholics throughout the world can do, to support Ukrainians, to support your Church, and to support your people and your nation?

Well, of course, prayer. That’s a valuable thing.

Of course, everybody wants peace. Everybody wants a just peace. And that’s really, really great. But I often say, ordinary people have to do their bit at home. If you don’t have peace in your home, if you don’t have peace amongst your neighbourhood, if you can’t have peace in your communities, I think it’s very challenging for us to expect that the world’s leadership, who maybe are not coming from where there’s peace and accord in their own homes, in their own neighbourhood, to understand what peace means and to try to be leaders of peace.

So, I think what the universal Church can be doing, what the ordinary citizen – whether they’re in Canada, the United States, or Argentina – can be doing, is promoting peace in their home first, making sure that they are able to be kind and loving neighbours, tolerant people. And I think that is an important thing that certainly doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it takes effort. How can we say we want governments and government leaders to bring peace and justice in the world if they haven’t come from communities and homes?

The Holy Synod and the Synod on Synodality

Q: Thank you. I’d like to finally just change gears a little bit. You’re meeting in Synod here. This is part of the tradition of your Church. And in fact, the governance of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, similar to many of the other eastern Churches. You’re meeting on the eve or just a few weeks before the General Assembly of the Synod of Synodality, which we’ve been undertaking for these past years and will continue over the next two years and then into the future. Can you talk a little bit about the similarities, but also the differences, between the Synod in your Church that you’re taking part in now and the universal Synod, the Synod of Bishops that we're engaged in, in these days in the universal Church?

Well, I think sometimes we have to define terms. For us, in the east, a “synod” means the gathering of the bishops, which along with the head of our Church, Patriarch Sviatoslav, his Beatitude, we are a legislative body that meets at least once a year to talk about church governance.

We also have a tradition of what’s called a “sobor”, which is a nice word of saying 'General Assembly'. And this usually happens in our Church every 4 to 6 years. And this is when there’s a special theme that is given, and then each parish, each deanery, each metropolia discusses the theme for a period of a couple of years.

And then at the culmination of that, there is what’s called the General Assembly or the Sobor, where laypeople, people [who] belong to religious communities, monastic communities, various organizations within the church, youth group, women’s group, this type of thing, along with their bishops and select priests, gather together to talk about the general theme and make recommendations for the Synod of Bishops to consider when they’re making legislation.

So, for us, we have a Synod of Bishops, which is a legislative body, and then we have the Sobor, which is a General Assembly. And I think that for us in the East, we would be looking at what the Universal Synod is, would be more like a General Assembly or a sobor based on certain themes that have been discussed, certainly at the parish level than at the diocesan level and then in the diocesan provinces, that will culminate in a few weeks. And certainly, our Church will be present there and participating in this universal Synod.

Saying thank you

Q: Thank you very much, Bishop Kenneth, there’s a lot of ground for you to cover, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Well, I just want to thank everybody who is listening to this program for their support of Ukraine.

The war isn’t over. We need you to continue to pray and talk about the situation in Ukraine.

We certainly have to extend our gratitude to so many people for this ongoing support, including the Holy Father. When, nine years ago, when the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbas came about, myself, along with a few other bishops, including His Beatitude Sviatoslav had an opportunity to meet with the Holy Father.

And shortly after that meeting he said, on Divine Mercy Sunday, that there should be a general collection for the needs of Ukraine for those who have been displaced because of the invasion of the Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine and I believe in Europe, they raised over €16 million, a lot of money. And the current head of the Dicastery for Eastern Catholic Churches, Archbishop Claudio, was then the nuncio in Ukraine, and he was basically the person in charge of coordinating and responsibility for that humanitarian aid. And I was appointed to be one of the advisors of these funds.

And certainly, His Holiness was – my understanding and recollection – the first world leader to say to call the situation in Ukraine as war. And I think that was very brave of him. And we also have to thank the Holy Father for mentioning Ukrainians almost twice a week in the Angelus and in daily prayers encouraging people to pray. And I think that we are looking forward this tomorrow to hearing from him again for his encouraging words for our people both in Ukraine, those who have fled, those who have had family members and friends killed or wounded in this war.

And so, I think it’s a time for me to say thank you to people.

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08 September 2023, 11:12