Ukrainian Youth in London learn about the life of Josyf Slipyj

The London branch of the Ukrainian Youth Association hosted a presentation on Saturday, January 28th, on the life of Josyf Slipyj, Cardinal and Patriarch, who spent 18 years in Soviet concentration camps persecuted for his faith and allegiance to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The presentation was made by Andy Hunder, Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, who studied philosophy and theology in Rome for ten years. The Ukrainian Institute in London, which is affiliated to the Ukrainian Catholic University, is one of a number of institutions across the globe founded by Patriarch Slipyj.

Josyf Slipyj, who was born 120 years ago in February 1892, became head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1944 following the death of his predecessor, Metropolitan Andrei Sheptycky, when western Ukraine was in the midst of World War II fighting both the Nazis and Soviets. When the war ended, the Soviets started their persecution of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Josyf Slipyj was arrested together with all of the Church’s bishops. He was sent to a Soviet concentration camp, where he subsequently spent 18 years in a number of prisons and labour camps across Siberia and over hostile parts the Soviet Union. Slipyj was liberated in 1963, thanks to the efforts of Pope John XXIII and US President J.F. Kennedy.

Already a septuagenarian when released, with frail health following 18 years of harsh imprisonment, the head of the world’s largest Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See arrived in Rome in 1963 and attended the Second Vatican Council. For the next two decades Cardinal Slipyj inspired and led the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Diaspora to become a thriving and vibrant community. From 1978, when Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, both John Paul II and Slipyj highlighted the evils of the Soviet Empire, especially in regards to the persecution of freedom of speech and religion.

In 1969, Slipyj founded the Ukrainian Catholic University in Rome, and later launched 6 affiliated institutions around the world; the UK affiliate is the Ukrainian Institute in London. The Holland Park white stucco villa building, where the Institute is located today, was acquired due to the vision, leadership and efforts of Patriarch Slipyj and the Ukrainian community in the United Kingdom.

Josyf Slipyj passed away in the Lord in 1984, aged 92. He was buried in the crypt of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Rome, which he had built, and is still considered by many as one of the most beautiful churches in the Eternal City. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, his body was transferred in a glass coffin for burial at St. George’s Cathedral in the Ukrainian city Lviv, less than a year after Ukraine had proclaimed its independence.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church was legalised in 1989 after forty-three years of being the single largest banned religious community in the world.

The process to recognise Josyf Slipyj as a saint of the Catholic Church has already been launched.