After years of cramped spaces, Ukrainian Catholics bless chapel in Odessa

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mariana Karapinka

By Mariana Karapinka

Ukraine (CNS) — When Anastasia Voinikova joined the local Ukrainian Catholic
community more than 20 years ago, liturgies were celebrated at the basement of
the Roman Catholic church.

in 2005, the community was able to purchase a private house and reconstruct it into
a small chapel, which served as the cathedral for the Odessa Exarchate, which
covers huge territory of southern Ukraine and at that time, Crimea.

about 10,000 Ukrainian Catholics lived in Odessa, and the chapel could not
house more than 100 people at a time.

On May
21, local Ukrainian Catholics blessed a new chapel at the outskirts of Odessa.
With the help of Dutch and German aid agencies — and some financial support
from Ukrainian Catholics in the United States — parishioners were able to buy
abandoned Soviet-style construction materials and construct the chapel.

faithful were really engaged in this project, because they waited so long for
more suitable place to pray, said Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy of

dreamed of a golden-domed church,” he told Catholic News Service. “This
is very important in our circumstances in Odessa, where we are often not
considered as a ‘real’ church. A dome is a sign.”

hard to be a Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic in Odessa,” said Voinikova, “because
the Orthodox majority doesn’t recognize us as a canonical church, they just
reject us.”

For more
than dozen years community members sought a parcel of the land from the local
authorities to build the proper church, as allowed by law. But because of the harsh opposition
from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church — affiliated with the Russian
Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate — their demands were rejected.

The Orthodox
hierarchy considers southern Ukraine part of its “canonical territory”
and objects to the right of other communities to establish their structures
there. Roman Catholics and some Protestants have had it easier than Ukrainian
Catholics, because those churches were present from the establishment of the
port and the city.

Catholics came later, explained Bishop Bubniy.

the times of the Soviet Union and after Ukraine got independence, many people
from the Western part of the country, who were traditionally Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic,
moved to Odessa. We just followed our faithful, who invited us,” he said.

it would be wrong to say that only Western Ukrainians are members of our
community,” he added. “There are many locals who are joining our church.”

The May
blessing of the new parish also included members of the
Roman Catholic and Armenian Catholic communities; different Protestant
denominations; even the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine.

priest who had worked in Odessa for 13 years said that opening such a small
chapel in Odessa was a much bigger event than opening a huge cathedral in Western

church is a house of God, but for our city, new church is a true blessing,”
said Roman Catholic Bishop Bronislaw Bernacki, “because Odessa needs God’s
word, faith, and mercy.”

Bubniy dreams of a parish “in every area of Odessa” and plans construction
of a pastoral center with a school and kindergarten.

parish already has a catechetical program, but U.S.-born Father Roman Mirchuk,
administrator of the parish, sees the real work as just beginning.

“It is easy to build the church of
stones, but much harder to ‘build churches’ in the hearts of people,” he
told CNS.

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