Ukrainian parish in Paris offers community, including for immigrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ian Langsdon, EPA

By Mariana Karapinka

PARIS (CNS) — On Sundays, the Saint-Germain-des-Pres
quarter of Paris — known for its artistic cafes, expensive boutiques and
numerous bookstores — is filled with people in embroidered shirts who speak

Since 1943, the Ukrainian Catholic community
has prayed at the Cathedral of St. Volodymyr the Great on the Boulevard
Saint-Germain. Through the years, the parish has become the center of Ukrainian
cultural and social life in Paris.

“We don’t have a feeling that we are in
Paris as we are walking down the Boulevard Saint-Germain on Sunday or other
feasts; it’s like in our city of Ivano-Frankivsk,” said Zoriana Dolishniak. She, her husband,
Andriy, and two children came to Paris from Western Ukraine six years ago. In
Ukraine, Andriy Dolishniak had his own little business, but it did not go well,
and they decided to start over in France. He works as an electrician in a
construction firm; Zoriana Dolishniak cleans private houses. Their children go
to school — ordinary French school and Saturday Ukrainian school.

The Dolishniaks do not have legal status in
France; they are waiting for documents. Their story is typical for the Paris
Ukrainian parish, where new immigrants are the majority.

“Eighty percent of our faithful are
undocumented,” said Bishop Borys Gudziak, who serves the Ukrainian
Catholics in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg. He said
the Paris parish has been totally transformed by an influx of immigrants who
are fleeing social and economic dislocation and, more recently, war.

“We have before us the example of the
apostles and the first generation of Christians,” the bishop said. “What
chance did St. Peter have in Rome where he didn’t know the language, he was an undocumented
immigrant with no citizen rights, while living in the city of marble, senators,
warriors and chariots? What chance do the Greek (Byzantine) Catholics have in
Paris with the population of 10 million? We ask ourselves with a smile and in
confidence in God’s guidance.”

Father Mykhailo Romaniuk knows well about
the parish transformation. Eighteen years ago as a young priest, he was
appointed to Paris, where most of the congregation was an aging post-war
diaspora. His appointment coincided with the start of mass immigration of
Ukrainians to Western Europe, and he was one of the first to welcome them in

“When the inflow started, doors of the
cathedral never closed. People needed support and information. Sometimes people
who arrived had no place to sleep, and they slept in a tiny parish hall,”
recalled Father Romaniuk. He said they were difficult years, yet the openness
of the church for the people in need helped build up the community. “We
now have many people because we were there for them.”

On Sundays, about 600 attend liturgies, but
the parish can see up to 3,500 on Easter, the priest said. It has more than 80
baptisms annually.

Bishop Gudziak said the parish raises the
spirit of people. “They come to church to be together with God and with
each other. In the city they work hard, often in demeaning circumstances, they
live very modestly in tenement dwellings. But in church the glory of the Lord
and the fellowship of the community is theirs.”

One reason people are attracted to the
parish is the school, established in the 1950s. Today it has more than 200

“The Ukrainian school at the parish is
a great advantage,” said Andriy Dolishniak, who is convinced that it is
very important for the children to grow learning Christian values. School
offers lessons on Ukrainian language, literature, history and catechism.
Dolishniak said that while accompanying his daughter Solomiya to her catechism
classes, he was able to deepen his own faith.

The working immigrants are modern-days
nomads; some of them stay for a couple of years, some move to other cities and
countries. Father Romaniuk said he considers his parish a missionary parish.

“It’s hard to implement long-term
programs, but we would like to give as much as we can to the parishioners,”
he said.

One of the programs the parish implements is
the global Ukrainian Catholic Church strategy, “The Vibrant Parish — a
place to encounter the living Christ.”

“For our eparchy, Paris is a model
parish which develops programs and conducts experiments that then radiate
throughout the other 29 communities that we have so far,” said Bishop

One of the tasks is to foster lay
involvement and initiative in administration, in ministry and in outreach.
Lawyer Stephane Dunikowski is actively engaged in parish and eparchy life,
which she said makes her feel needed. She said she tries “to help with my
efforts, my energy, my time and also financially.”

Bishop Gudziak said parishioners organized
collections for sick children in Ukraine whose parents do not have money for
treatment. He said parishioners have been generous toward those who are
suffering in Ukraine because of war and the Russian invasion.

Some French Catholics have discovered
Byzantine spirituality in the parish, even though they do not always understand
national tradition and even the language; cathedral liturgies are celebrated in

“I feel at home in this community,”
said a woman who asked only to be identified as Natalie, who visits the
cathedral almost every day. “I don’t understand a word during the service,
but I get a lot.”

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