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In 1994, Bishop Losten instituted a five-year program for priestly candidates at St. Basil College, assisting the Ukrainian Church to respond to these challenges. An English as a Second Language program inaugurates this course of study and is followed by a traditional four-year liberal arts curriculum with an emphasis on philosophy and pre-theology.

In August of that year, after rigorous enrollment exercises, 20 young men gathered in Lviv to begin their journey to the United States. More than 16 months later, I had the opportunity to speak to five of them, now college freshmen.

We gathered in a conference room lined with books. Though apprehensive at first, these students – all in their early 20s – opened up as soon as we began to speak of the city of Lviv. A source of tremendous pride for most Ukrainians, Lviv is in dire need of restoration. Renowned for its architecture, this splendid city of 800,000 was allowed by the Soviets to decay; punishment for the city’s place in the hearts of Ukrainian patriots.

Most of these young men were born and reared in small farming villages – the nucleus of Slav society.

The students spoke about their school-masters and teachers, the ideological watchdogs of the Soviet state. One fellow, Ostap Soulima, a bespectacled student with brown hair, remarked that several of his peers were the children of prominent communist bureaucrats:

“My teachers were particularly zealous in monitoring the ‘morality’ of their students,” Ostap remarked with some irony. “Belief in God was considered immoral in Soviet society.”

All of the students acknowledged their grandmothers for instilling the Christian faith and preserving their Ukrainian Catholic heritage. But not everything was passed from one generation to another.

“Our grandparents could not trust everyone,” they stated. This fear even extended to their own children and grandchildren.

“Very few people knew the time and place for the secret liturgies,” they continued. “We didn’t know who was or wasn’t a Greek Catholic priest.”

One man, Kostadin Angelov, or Dino, as he is known to his colleagues, remained quiet throughout the early part of our conversation. Dino is one of two students at St. Basil’s from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The student body also includes a Slovak, a Pole and a young man from the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Dino’s experiences are quite different from those of his Ukrainian friends.

“There are only about 6,000 Greek Catholics in Macedonia,” Dino conveyed in a soft voice. “Our problems are more political. The Serbs and Greeks deny our Macedonian nationality. The Serbs and Greeks have imposed a blockade; food and medicine may only be imported through Bulgaria. And now the black market is very powerful.”

“I want to serve our community as a village priest, to help educate our people about Jesus and the Gospel,” Dino concluded.

Indeed all of the men I spoke to desired nothing more than to be village priests.

This desire may seem unambitious. However, the role of a village priest carries “tremendous responsibility,” said Roman Vitynskyi, a solidly built young man whose grandfather fought both Nazi and Soviet soldiers as a Ukrainian freedom fighter during World War II.

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Tags: Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Vocations (religious) Catholic-Orthodox relations