Harvest of Despair



b. 29 July 1865, Prylbuchi, Yavoriv county, Galicia, d. 1 November 1944, Lviv.

Sheptytsky was a prominent church leader, as well as a civic and cultural activist. He was the Metropolitan of Halych and the Archbishop of Lviv. Born into a noble Ukrainian-Polish family, he completed his studies in 1894 at the University of Krakow with a PhD in law, and studied theology and philosophy at the Jesuit seminary in Krakow.

Sheptytsky was ordained and moved quickly through the ranks of the Greek Catholic Church; in 1899 he was enthroned Metropolitan of Halych and Archbishop of Lviv. He also became a member of the Galician Diet and in 1903 a member of the Austrian House of Lords and Imperial Ministerial Council. He often argued for increased rights for Ukrainians in Galicia and for the establishment of Ukrainian schools and a university. His activism earned him great support among the Ukrainian population.

In the interwar years, Sheptystsky was an active supporter of the Ukrainian independence movement, and spoke out against the Pacification campaign carried out in Galicia in 1930 by the Polish government. However, he often criticized the Ukrainian nationalist camp as well, particularly the use of violence and terrorism. Pro-Soviet forces in Western Ukraine denounced him, particularly for his strong condemnation of the Famine in 1932-33 and the ‘godlessness’ of communism.

During the first Soviet occupation of Western Ukraine (1939-41), Sheptytsky exhorted the faithful not to abandon the Church for the atheism imposed by the regime. The Soviet authorities did not harm Sheptytsky because of his prominence; his arrest would surely have brought about a severe backlash. Sheptytsky initially believed that the German invasion of the USSR would provide for the establishment of an independent Ukrainian state. When he witnessed the cruelty of the German regime towards the local population and the Jews in particular, Sheptytsky, in early 1942, sent a letter to Heinrich Himmler denouncing the atrocities being committed.

Sheptytsky began to provide refuge to Jews and instructed his monasteries and convents to do the same. He remained active throughout the war in political and church affairs, despite his advancing age and failing health. His death in 1944 marked the beginning of widespread persecution of the Greek Catholic Church in Western Ukraine by Soviet authorities. After his death, owing to his tireless work on behalf of the Church and his brave stand against both Nazi and Soviet imperialism, a movement to have him beatified began. In 1968, the first phase of this process was completed, when Pope Paul VI proclaimed Sheptytsky a “Servant of God.”

Despite the vilification of Sheptytsky by Soviet propaganda, his status was not diminished among the Western Ukrainian population; since the re-emergence of the Ukrainian Catholic Church he has attained great popularity in Ukraine.