Syracuse native Bishop Borys Gudziak reflects on Ukraine’s history and future
By Renée K. Gadoua, Catholic Sun, May 30, 2018
On February 18, 2014, Bishop Borys Gudziak stood among hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters in Kiev, Ukraine. For three months, demonstrations and clashes with police had intensified over warring visions for Ukraine’s future: affiliation with the European Union or closer ties with Russia. On that momentous day of the uprising known as the Euromaidan or the Revolution of Dignity, Bishop Gudziak, a native of Syracuse who leads the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Paris, read a statement to the crowd.
“In God’s name I condemn the violence and the disregard of human rights and of the people’s will,” he read on behalf of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. “To all I say: stop the bloodshed immediately! I call on all the sons and daughters of the Church to fast, pray, and show solidarity with the victims. At this moment, when fratricidal disaster is looming over Ukraine, let the bells ring in all the churches of the UGCC.”
Within three days, more than 100 protesters were killed, including a colleague of the bishop; 13 police officers were also killed and at least 1,300 people were injured. By February 21, Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled Kiev, and early elections were set. For the moment, Western-style democracy had prevailed over corruption and Soviet-style repression.
“They came to sacrifice their life for their principles,” Bishop Gudziak said of the revolution’s martyrs, known as the Heavenly Hundred. During the three-month Euromaidan, he attended the protests several times, praying with the protesters, comforting the injured, and watching as riot police burned the chapel tent he had visited moments earlier. Bishop Gudziak’s public role in the 2014 revolution grew out of a childhood steeped in Ukrainian culture and harrowing accounts of suffering and courage at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s and Josef Stalin’s vicious totalitarianism.
His journey to UGCC leadership began on Syracuse’s West Side, where the Gudziak family attended St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, a parish that dates to 1896. His parents, who immigrated to the United States from Western Ukraine in the 1950s, modeled “allegiance to their culture and their faith.” He described a happy childhood in which he and his brother Marko (a urologist who lives in Michigan) enjoyed excellent education, international travel and parental guidance that mixed discipline and freedom.