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WYD Ukrainian Catholics want world to know ‘what Ukraine’s sacrifice really means’

Pilgrims from the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia arrive at Lisbon International Airport July 30 for World Youth Day 2023. (OSV News photo/Archeparchy of Philadelphia Facebook)

(OSV News) — As Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on, young Ukrainian Catholics from the U.S. are traveling to World Youth Day with a mix of hope, excitement and urgency.

Some 13 pilgrims from the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia are headed to Lisbon as part of the 28,600 pilgrims and 60 bishops from the U.S. who are expected to attend.

Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of Philadelphia leads the archeparchy’s delegation and will be among the more than 35 U.S. bishops presenting daily catechetical sessions titled “Rise Up!” The archbishop will offer a separate catechetical session on behalf of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

The archbishop told OSV News that WYD is “an outstanding opportunity for encounter,” during which “all of the pilgrims are lifted out of their daily grind, from their usual circumstances, and for a few days they spend time with people who have come to encounter Christ.”

“They meet each other, and through the beauty of human life and love, they meet the Lord,” said Archbishop Gudziak, noting he looked forward to spending time “with the youth and refugees from Ukraine, whose bishops will not be able to attend WYD.”

“It’s the first time in quite a few years that we’ve had a delegation for WYD,” Sofia Zacharczuk, the archeparchy’s chief of staff and one of the pilgrims, told OSV News. “It’s a small group, but one made up of young adults from all different types of backgrounds.”

The archeparchy’s pilgrims include “some who speak Ukrainian, some who are of Ukrainian descent but are no longer Ukrainian-speaking, and some from Ukraine,” said Zacharczuk. “It’s essentially a nice representation of our archeparchy.”

The delegation will be part of “a larger umbrella group from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church,” she said.

At the same time, “we also find it important to be true to who we are as an archeparchy,” she said. “So we also plan to attend WYD events at which pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be present.”

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, both the Philadelphia Archdiocese (of the Latin Church) led by Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez and the Philadelphia Archeparchy have collaborated closely on initiatives for prayer and humanitarian support for Ukraine.

Also accompanying the delegation is Father Ostap Mykytchyn of St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.

The WYD gathering gives Ukrainian Catholic youth an opportunity to reflect on the war — which continues attacks Russia launched in 2014 — in the context of their faith, said Father Mykytchyn.

“Young people have active lives, and their own way of life, and maybe sometimes don’t fully recognize the problem of war, that it’s real and it continues,” he said.

The pilgrims “will also feel that they are not alone,” said Father Mykytchyn. “They will see they participate in a global community of young people, young believers. They have many people throughout the world that are also praying for Ukraine, and they are with them.”

Attending as both Ukrainians and Americans, the archeparchy’s pilgrims are “splitting a few worlds, so to speak, with our feet in both camps,” said Zacharczuk. “We’re doing a little bit of it all, and we’re excited.”

While there is “some apprehension, because (WYD) it’s new for everybody” in the delegation, “it’s really powerful to think that we’re about to be among so many Catholics from around the world at one time, especially as representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church,” she said.

“It’s important for us as individuals to realize we are all one church,” Zacharczuk said, adding it means a lot “to see the support from Americans and from those around the world.”

Amid the joy of WYD, the archeparchy’s pilgrims know greater global awareness of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church “is coming at a cost” due to Russia’s war on Ukraine — and they feel an increased sense of responsibility, said Zacharczuk.

“We can’t waste the opportunity to make sure the world understands what Ukraine’s sacrifice really means,” she said. “Ukrainians are showing the world what it really means to stand for our God-given rights and freedom.”

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News.

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