Sister Church after having left the catacombs and five years after John Paul II's visit

Cardinal Stanislaw Nagy, SCJ

Sister Church? Of course, we mean the Church in the Ukraine, the Roman Catholic and the Greek Catholic Church, the Metropolitan of Lwow [Lviv] and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the diocese of Lwow with the city of Lwow and the adjacent Zolkwiew [Zhovkva], Sambor [Sambir], Chyrow [Khyriv], Grodek Jagiellonski [Horodok] and a wreath of parishes and pastoral centres, which priests regularly visit. But Lwow is the centre, a lens which focuses magnificence, drama, pain, feeling of pride, etc. 'Niedziela' was there before me and it beautifully depicted everything but from a given perspective, focusing on the local Church 'leaving the catacombs'. But it passed over the epoch-making event, namely the pilgrimage of John Paul II to this place, which took place exactly five years ago. Therefore, I hold a conviction that perhaps another article of 'Niedziela' can complete the wide panorama of this Church.

Lwow above all ( Urbs celeberima

As a city that was visible from afar Lwow was an important centre, especially in the last stage of the partitions. It was known to be a wonderful eastern capital of the once powerful Poland under the Jagiellonian Dynasty. Its magnificent monuments of architecture were known. The city was seen through the prism of the solemn religious and political event ( the Vows of Jan Kazimierz. And then, from the perspective of the 19th and 20th centuries, Lwow appeared to be a living centre, with upper class, great science, versatile art, including outstanding literature and a magnificent theatre. The news about that was in the handbooks of literature, history, medicine, technology and philosophy.
But most of all Lwow was known for its exceptional, if not unique, density of religious and ethnic communities: Polish Catholic and Greek Catholic, Armenian and naturally Jewish. They were very different but they lived in relative harmony; naturally, there were some tensions but they did not have any dramatic end. And we should add the glorious heroic cemetery where the Orleta Lwowskie [Defenders of Lwow] are buried, and finally the domineering joyful, ironical and humorous of 'Lwowska Fala' (Wave of Lwow).
And in the end there was the war with the apocalyptic consequences, the most painful being the woeful tidings: Lwow ceased to belong to Poland. One knew about all these things and one desired to see them.

Being eyeball to eyeball with Lwow

Lwow, seen and experienced in such a way, is actually a new world. Or perhaps the old world but dressed in real shapes, shocking with new elements, a city vibrant with life. Lwow that makes you reflect, shed tears of deep emotions, national pride and joy, mixed with grievous pain. The threshold that leads a Polish Catholic into that city-legend is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary, which is situated at the very centre of the city. The magnificent altar, pearl of the Rococo style, with its miraculous picture of Gracious Mother of God, draws you like a magnet from the entrance. A glance at the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (the Wisniowiecki Chapel), which sparkles with its richness, makes you kneel before the main altar. Your thoughts suddenly returned to the event that happened here 350 years ago. The imagination, supported by Matejko's paintings and Sienkiewicz's writings, tries to reconstruct what happened, who participated in that event, what had occurred in Poland before that event and afterwards. And at the same time your eyes are directed to the low relief in the altar slab with the figure of Blessed Archbishop Jakub Strzemie, the scene of the historical Vows of Jan Kazimierz and the scene of Bishop Bilczewski giving a banner to the Orleta Lwowskie [Defenders of Lwow]. It is hard to gaze away from all these objects and even harder to hide emotions. And the wonderful rest of this treasury of religious art and historical monuments. This rest of the wonderful paintings and sculptures of the cathedral is presented in the album entitled 'Katedra lwowska obrzadku lacinskiego' [Latin Catholic Cathedral of Lwow], with imposing, perfect commentaries. In the cathedral you meet monuments, epitaphs, fragments by Polish classical painters, such as Axentowicz, Matejko, Mehoffer. One should add magnificent chapels, two of them come to the fore: the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, brimming with gold, and the majestic Boim Chapel, with fascinating ornaments.
However, the zenith of the cathedral in Lwow, as it is seen today, after the dark days of the communist regime, is the fact of different spiritual-religious dimension. Throughout the long deathly days of the ruthless social and religious pressure the Lwow cathedral was open and functioning thanks to Fr Rafal Kiernicki, Franciscan monk, who was appointed bishop after the brutal Russian communism in Ukraine had fallen. During the heroic period the cathedral was the only place of the Catholic pastoral ministry in Ukraine. Throughout those long and dark years of the Bolshevik slavery, Catholics from the whole territory of Russia, which was condemned to atheism, were flocking to that harbour of religious refreshment, the only officially open church. And there were not only Roman Catholics; on the contrary, the visitors included mainly the Greek Catholic priests, nuns and believers, who were made, officially and ruthlessly, go underground. And both groups could come to God, none was discriminated or privileged; both were helped to experience their faith and be faithful to the Church and to the Pope. In a word, it was a blessed time when the Polish Catholicism and the Ukrainian Catholicism lived in brotherly symbiosis, which was not disturbed by arguments. And the background of the symbiosis and a favourable climate was the general, deathly threat. It is most telling and most instructive. But Lwow is not only a proud Catholic cathedral.

Other churches of majestic Lwow

There are two leading cathedrals: Saint Jura of the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite and Old Catholic Armenian cathedral of Virgin Mary's Dormition. Both cathedrals are masterpieces of culture and historically rich monuments. The first one is an original mixture of pure Baroque and Eastern-Orthodox architecture, with elements of modern folk ornaments. But the domineering element is magnificent Baroque. The cathedral has crowds of visitors and first of all pious faithful, including people waiting for confession. Opposite the wonderful cathedral there is an impressive residence of the archbishop of Lwow, Metropolitan of the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite. Here one remembers the great church authorities: Andrzej Szeptycki [Andrei Sheptytskyi], Josyf Slipyj, Myroslaw Lubacziwski or Lubomyr Huzar. Those men created great, not devoid of drama, history of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic (Uniate) Church of the last and present centuries. The residence looks magnificent but one recollects the residence of the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, which is in sharp contrast with it. Since the latter is a dilapidating building, with ruined interior that bleeds the heart. Returned to the Church due to the Holy Father's visit to Lwow, the building is being slowly renovated but one can still see that it was condemned to destruction and needs huge amounts of money and work so that this pearl of Lwow can be fully used.
The second church, although much smaller, but with a fascinating interior, is the Armenian cathedral. Once it was the cathedral of the church giant Archbishop Jozef Teodorowicz, today it belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Squeezed into a narrow, dilapidated building development, it looks inconspicuous but when you enter it, you freeze in a look of reflection and admiration. The marvellous marble, clearly profiled, presbytery, with a painting by Jan Henryk Rosen, depicting the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament, with Lord Jesus and expressively painted eleven Apostles and unremarkable Judas - only his arm is clearly visible. One is enchanted by the freshness and richness of the painting. The delightful interior of the cathedral includes a dome filled with wonderful mosaics. The designer of this wonder was Jozef Mehoffer, the author of the Way of the Cross in the Franciscan Church in Krakow, the stained glasses and the polychrome in Friburg, Switzerland. One cannot stop looking at the central mosaic of the dome: the picture of the Holy Trinity with three central figures of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the Mother of God as Pieta, all in an ornamented circle. Looking sideways at this main fragment, radiant with hieratic character and deep faith, there are figures of beautiful women with distinctive oriental features, Armenian ones. The depth of the wonderful dome is encircled with a delightful mosaic depicting Christ among the Apostles at the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom. And all these details are Mehoffer's and so close, ours, Polish and wonderful and charming.
And just a few words about the third dimension of this treasury of art and God's tabernacle, in which one wants to be immersed in God, in the mood of deep admiration and religious rapture. So the sidewalls of the nave with the paintings of the famous Polish painter Jan Henryk Rosen. He is the author of the whole polychrome, commencing with the above-mentioned picture of the Institution of the Eucharist in the presbytery, through the ecstatic image of Golgotha over the bishop's throne, the picture of the Annunciation, to the sidewalls with the moving funeral of St Odilon. The Church full of Rosen, true treasury of his great artistic Polish creativity. No wonder one wants to stay here so long.

Churches that cannot be visited

And yet there are other churches in Lwow. But for Catholics who have little time to visit Lwow these churches are unavailable since they were simply taken away from the Roman Catholic Church. And these are: St Anthony's, the Bernardine Church, St Sophia's, the Benedictine Church, the Carmelite Church, the Dominican Church and St Mary Magdalene's, but first of all the powerful, wonderful, neo-Gothic church, built by the local saint - Archbishop J. Bilczewski. It is painful to see that the above mentioned churches and other churches of wonderful Lwow, were taken away but it is most painful to see that was the last church for Roman Catholics - the so much and explicitly Roman Catholic - the church of St Elisabeth was barricaded. This is painful to a visitor from Poland but how much more painful it is to those who were born there and who are living there.
We must visit the Lwow cemeteries together. We still have to describe religious holidays and a patriotic adventure with the vicinity of the city-legend. And there remains the celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Holy Father John Paul II's visit.

"Niedziela" 31/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: