Friday, March 25, 2011

From Ukraine, a Shocker

And, in a word, now we know why the Ukrainian Synod took so long....

The buzz of a shocker from Lviv began circulating last night, and this morning it was confirmed: the bishops of the largest Eastern fold in communion with Rome have elected the youngest of their number -- 40 year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the apostolic administrator of the UGCC's eparchy in Argentina -- as head of the church.

A former private secretary to his now-predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, and head of the UGCC's central curia, the new de facto patriarch of the 6 million-member global fold was named an auxiliary of the Argentine diocese in 2009, and temporarily given its helm last April. A moral theologian and graduate of Rome's Angelicum, Shevchuk has spent practically all his 16-year priesthood in priestly formation, serving as a vice-dean of theology, vice-rector and rector at the UGCC's seminary in Lviv, now the church's former seat.

Six weeks shy of his 41st birthday, the Synod's choice is the third-youngest of the Catholic world's 5,000-odd bishops, now launched into a post long held by a cardinal. Historically speaking, though, it's worth recalling that Ukraine's considerable Greek-Catholic branch has a significant history of youthful leaders: the global fold's most consequential chiefs of the 20th century -- Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who served from 1900-1944, and his successor, the future Cardinal Josepf Slipyj, who headed the global UGCC for another four decades until his 1984 death -- both took office in their late thirties.

Going into this week's Synod of the 40 Ukrainian bishops at home and in the church's diaspora, the front-runner for the post was widely tipped to be the church's #2 figure under Husar, the metropolitan of Lviv Ihor Vozniak, 58. A Redemptorist, Vozniak served as temporary administrator of the global fold following the cardinal's retirement last month.

The decision confirmed by Pope Benedict this morning, the church's hierarchy will enthrone the junior eparch as major-archbishop of Kiev on Sunday at the new patriarchal seat, still under construction, in the historic birthplace of Russian Christianity.

Developing -- more to come.