Renovabis and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church: the history of a partnership for positive changes

Friday, 22 May 2020, 17:32

From 13 to 19 May, the Father and Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), His Beatitude Sviatoslav, was to visit Germany at the invitation of the German charitable organization Renovabis.

This year Renovabis chose peace in Ukraine as the main theme of its fundraising collection, which is traditionally conducted at all German parishes on the feast of Pentecost. Inasmuch as the trip was cancelled because of quarantine restrictions, we are offering you material on the history of the many years of partnership between Ukraine and Germany, prepared by the Development and Communications Office of the Patriarchal Curia of the UGCC.  

Sister Churches: The History of Renovabis

Renovabis was started in 1993 as an action of solidarity of the German Bishops’ Conference with the countries of central and eastern Europe which suffered the devastation of religious life under communism and needed help to revive ruined churches and introduce pastoral programs and evangelization activities. It was at this time that the charitable foundation of German Catholics, Renovabis, was founded.

At the basis of the activities of Renovabis is the desire to work for the revival of the Church’s life in post-communist areas.

The foundation’s name comes from the words of Psalm 104 in Latin: «…et renovabis faciem terrae» («…and you will renew the face of the earth»).

At the basis of its activities is the desire to work for the revival of the Church’s life in post-communist areas. Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, who has long cooperated with this German foundation, thus summarizes the contribution of Renovabis:

 “The dynamic revival of the Catholic Church in Ukraine at such a rapid pace would be impossible to imagine or implement without the faithful, generous, and lasting support of the German episcopate and priests and faithful of the Catholic Church in Germany.  Thanks to this fruitful cooperation, our Churches became true Sister Churches, which shared together challenges connected with the times of persecution and its consequences and also the joy in the first successes in various fields of the renewal of the Church’s life and ministry.”

A reliable partner: The revival of the Church’s life in Ukraine

The early 1990s in Ukraine were distinguished by an atmosphere of joy, connected with the revival of the Church’s life, above all in western Ukraine. The participants of the movement for the legalization of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church very well remember those events which instilled much optimism. Having survived more than 40 years of persecution by an atheistic communist regime, the UGCC stopped being “the silent Church.” It showed to the whole world its desire to foster religious life on the basis of its ancestral traditions. Hundreds of thousands of people, spontaneously declaring their allegiance to their mother Church, were prepared to begin the total rebuilding of the ruined life of the Church.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski:

«…The list of needs seemed endless. The organization Renovabis not only provided financial help for those needs but developed friendly relations with our Church. We did not feel alone. We knew that we had partners who were ready to support us.”

Regardless of human resources and enthusiasm, there were not enough financial resources for these activities. Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, UGCC Eparch in London, in the 1990s was a close assistant of His Beatitude Myroslav Ivan Lubachivsky, who had returned from Rome to head the Church which had come out of the catacombs. Today the bishop gratefully recalls those stormy times:

“The financial needs of the UGCC at the beginning of the 1990s were exceptional: the formation, feeding, and lodging of more than 1000 seminarians every day, the support of monastic orders, the youth apostolate, founding and providing for all the necessary diocesan departments. The list of needs seemed endless. The organization Renovabis not only provided financial help for those needs but developed friendly relations with our Church. We did not feel alone. We knew that we had partners who were ready to support us.”

The reason that the UGCC was so impoverished at the beginning of the 1990s was the fact that church property had not been restored. As a result, in addition to church buildings, the Church had not been returned much property which it owned before the liquidation in 1946.

Positive cooperation: Rebuilding the Church’s life

Thanks to the generous support of the Ukrainian diaspora and donors from the West, the biggest among which was, unquestionably, Renovabis, the UGCC honorably passed through the trials of the period of renewal. Starting in the 1990s, the Church was able to rebuild thousands of wooden churches and build hundreds of new ones, to renew seminaries of the pre-war period and establish new ones, filled with young vocations, and to renew monastic life and organize liturgical practice. Our partners from Germany gave particular attention to providing an appropriate education and formation for the clergy, religious, and laity, not only in Ukraine but in other countries of the post-communist camp.

 

Starting in the 1990s, the Church was able to rebuild thousands of wooden churches and build hundreds of new ones, to renew seminaries of the pre-war period and establish new ones, filled with young vocations, and to renew monastic life and organize liturgical practice.

 

Gradually the UGCC started more and more to emphasize the systematic development of pastoral life at various levels: from parish life to ecclesial communion. The summit of this development was the pastoral program “The Vibrant Parish - a place to encounter the living Christ," approved by the UGCC Synod of Bishops in Brazil in 2011. For the first time, the global UGCC received common pastoral guidelines which each community of faithful on various continents of the planet implemented over eight years, according to local conditions and challenges. Renovabis generously supported this program for the renewal of pastoral life and also other pastoral initiatives which the Patriarchal Curia was able to carry out and implement through various commissions and departments of the Church’s central executive structure.

Thanks to the support of Renovabis for exarchates in central, eastern, and southern Ukraine, our Church continues to develop and carry the light of hope to those regions which suffered most the consequences of the totalitarian atheist past. Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh witnesses to the specifics of cooperation with the foundation:

“Cooperation with Renovabis is, for me, yet another positive thing, because our benefactors build their relations with us on the principles of equality, fraternity, and exchange of gifts. The implementation of projects at all stages happens in a spirit of sincere and open dialogue, and our friends from Renovabis emphasize the importance for them of our witness to the faith, through which they spiritually strengthen their communities and faithful in Germany.”

“A friend in need is a friend indeed”: Support in times of crisis

The support of our German partners was particularly felt in the most difficult moments of current Ukrainian history, especially with the start of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Renovabis supported many initiatives of the national charitable foundation Caritas-Ukraine and provided invaluable help to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Donbas and Crimea.

In the words of Andriy Waskovych, president of Caritas-Ukraine, “the projects that Renovabis finances are exceptionally relevant, for a great number of Ukrainians need help to integrate into new communities, and the communities themselves need to learn community-building, combining efforts to solve our country’s urgent issues.”

Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh:

 “We will never forget the prophetic courage of the leaders of this charitable organization, witnessing to the truth of the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.”

Renovabis showed itself a reliable partner in talks with the government of the German Federation, leading to the allotting of significant financial help for Ukraine, suffering from Russian aggression. However, in addition to financial help, Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh accents other, no less important, aid:

“We will never forget the prophetic courage of the leaders of this charitable organization, which was one of the first in the religious and political fields of the European West to call things by their names, witnessing to the whole world about the truth of the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.”

Staff of the organization, in particular Mr. Joachim Sauer, who is responsible for relations with Ukraine, with the help of the media strove to bring the German public an objective assessment of the situation in Ukraine.

At a time when Germany itself was seriously threatened by a deadly disease, Renovabis provided financial support for the Patriarchal Curia’s anti-crisis center.

Also very telling was the help of German Catholics during the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. At a time when Germany itself was seriously hurt by a deadly disease, Renovabis provided financial support for the Patriarchal Curia’s anti-crisis center, thanks to which it was possible to provide lodging to medical personnel in the Patriarchal House in Lviv and distribute thousands of hot meals to needy people who found themselves in isolation during the quarantine. Commenting on this help, His Beatitude Sviatoslav stated:

“As they say in Ukraine, ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed.’ So we are grateful to our friends in Germany for solidarity and fraternal support in the most difficult moments.”

A spiritual bridge and novena. Let us join in prayer!

In an interview for the German media, responding to a question about the main purpose of his visit to Germany, His Beatitude Sviatoslav emphasized this act: “I was invited by Renovabis to participate in the opening ceremony for the Renovabis fundraising campaign and to present the current situation in Ukraine. For me it would also be a good occasion to thank our partners for many years of their support of the Catholic Church in Ukraine”

His Beatitude Sviatoslav:

 “With the help of Renovabis we can do much good: we will change people’s fates and renew our country for the better…”

 

In his video address to Archbishop of Berlin Heiner Koch, the Head of the UGCC said the following:

 “With the help of Renovabis we can do much good: we can change people’s fates and renew our country for the better. We build daycare centers, schools, and even universities. We strive to provide a good education for youth and proper values in life. We  can provide care for the weakest in our society, in particular invalids and older people, and join in rebuilding a society of solidarity and democracy. We are grateful to our brothers and sisters in Germany for the many years of support of pastoral initiatives, which helped our Church grow and develop, especially in eastern Ukraine.”

His Beatitude Sviatoslav also expressed gratitude to Renovabis that the central theme of this year’s collection was chosen to be peace in Ukraine:

“It is appropriate and laudable that this year German charitable organizations have for the first time thematically united their priorities under one motto, choosing ‘peace’ as the central theme of their prayers, thoughts, and projects. In particular, Renovabis, a charitable organization of Catholics in Germany that helps people in eastern and central Europe, this year is emphasizing this idea. They are truly striving to respond to the needs that today most concern their partners on the European and Asian continents, touching the deepest desires of not only Ukrainians but all people, for peace, welfare, and healing.”

As an expression of our gratitude and solidarity with our partners, His Beatitude Sviatoslav is calling the faithful of the UGCC to join in a prayer bridge between Ukraine and Germany, which is planned for 30 May (the eve of the Pentecost on the Roman calendar) from 18:00 to 21:00. The official resource of the UGCC will eventually provide more details. But starting on 21 May, we invite all interested to pray together with German Catholics a Novena to the Holy Spirit, prepared by Renovabis.

Managing Director of Renovabis:

“With our 25th novena for the Descent of the Holy Spirit, we hope in a special way to recall this terrible situation and at the same time to present Ukraine, one of the most important partner-countries of Renovabis.”

In his introduction to this year’s novena, Reverend Dr. Christian Hartl, Managing Director of Renovabis, stated: “With our 25th novena for the Descent of the Holy Spirit, we hope in a special way to recall this terrible situation [the war in Ukraine – ed.] and at the same time to present Ukraine, one of the most important partner-countries of Renovabis. This year’s novena is an invitation to turn attention to people in Ukraine and join with them in prayer.”

This year’s text of meditations for the novena is special, for it is based on the thoughts of His Beatitude Sviatoslav on peace, taken from his book “Dialogue Heals Wounds.” In his preface to the German publication of this prayer, His Beatitude Sviatoslav said:

“With this novena we jointly ask our risen Lord Jesus Christ for His life-giving  Spirit, which makes possible reconciliation and gives peace. Only then, when we in our prayers are open to the actions of this Spirit of God, will we be able to understand and fill with content the invocations at the end of the Byzantine or Roman-Catholic eucharistic celebration, ‘Let us go forth in peace’ and “Go in peace.’ May this peace remain with all benefactors of Renovabis and peace-makers who with prayer and deeds prepare the path for it.”

In place of an afterword

In the 27 years of its existence, the German charitable organization Renovabis in partnership with the UGCC and other Catholic communities in Ukraine has made many concrete steps for changing our life for the better. We express sincere thanks to our partners for this charitable support, both material and spiritual.

At this time, when in Europe and the world the certain syndrome “Weariness with Ukraine” is observed, Renovabis continues to be our faithful and dependable partner.

At this time, when in Europe and the world a certain syndrome “Ukraine fatigue” is observed, Renovabis continues to be our faithful and reliable partner. For our part, we can assure the founders, workers, and benefactors of Renovabis of unceasing prayer for them and express our gratitude in the words of the apostle Paul: “May God make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work… May the harvest of your righteousness increase, so that you may be enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God.” (See 2 Cor. 9: 8, 10-11)

Fr. Volodymyr Malchyn

Head of the Development and Communications Office

 of the UGCC Patriarchal Economate