LVIV, Ukraine (OSV News) — A Catholic university in Ukraine celebrated its commencement against all odds, sent forth with “blessings” into a “difficult world,” said its president, Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak.
More than 500 students in humanities, applied sciences and business received their degrees from Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, having completed their studies amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s full-scale invasion of their country.
“We did it. In spite of the coronavirus, in spite of the war, we came here,” said Archbishop Gudziak in his homily during a July 1 baccalaureate liturgy at which he presided in the school’s Holy Wisdom of God chapel.
Only half of the graduating class was present, with the remainder attending a July 2 liturgy and graduation ceremony to ensure the chapel’s bomb shelter could accommodate those present in case of an air raid alert.
The university’s traditional outdoor festivities were also scrapped for security reasons. On June 20, Russian drones had struck critical infrastructure in Lviv, causing a fire, although no casualties were reported. Three overnight air raid alerts sounded a few days later.
Just days after graduation, Russia launched 10 Kalibr missiles at Lviv July 6, with Ukraine’s air force stating it had intercepted seven. The remainder slammed into more than 300 homes and apartments within about 600 feet of the university, killing 10 and injuring some 37. While no one on campus was injured, the school sustained minor damage to four buildings. Staff and students aided in rescue and relief efforts, and the university is currently housing a number of those displaced by the attack.
Archbishop Gudziak said that since Russia launched its February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine — which continues attacks begun in 2014 — some 20 people from the university community had “given up their lives” defending Ukraine.
“It’s real, brothers and sisters. (The war is) the biggest fight — for life, for death, for truth and for good,” he said. “Together we embrace all our defenders, all our wounded soldiers.”
Yet “neither the coronavirus nor the war could overcome you, because you are in God’s hands,” said Archbishop Gudziak, who was joined at the July 1 liturgy by Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, papal nuncio to Ukraine, and Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who was in Ukraine to tour various humanitarian aid sites.
“When I came here, I was told I would see the tears of the past, but also the future,” said Cardinal Cupich. “And so I have seen many tears of the sufferings of the past. But today as I look out at the graduates, I also see the future.”
Graduation was not “the landing of the airplane, but its launch,” said the cardinal.
The liturgy teaches how to reconcile both sorrow and hope, he added.
“Jesus takes bread and breaks it to let us know he is with us in our brokenness,” said Cardinal Cupich. “We should also share that broken bread. … In that solidarity, let us keep hope alive among us.”
Archbishop Kulbokas exhorted graduates to “not only be creative, faithful, loving and full of human talent, but … also be united in what you’re doing, and support each other. In this way, you can be more effective in building the church, society and the political life of the country.”
That mandate can be fulfilled through faith, said Archbishop Gudziak. “If we know that Christ touches us, we can be calm,” he said. “If we know that God’s wisdom guides us, we can go with confidence.”
The reality of death must be faced with the hope of eternal life, he stressed.
“We need to know God holds us by the hand. His healing finger touches us, and he counted every hair on our heads,” said Archbishop Gudziak. “We are beloved brothers and sisters of Christ. Look into his face, and let … the loving eyes of your God (be) the last thing you see in the evening.”
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.