Legal Victory for Catholics in Ukraine

After a legal struggle lasting over a decade, the Church of Saint Joseph in the city of Dnepropetrowsk in eastern Ukraine has finally been returned to the Latin-rite Catholic Church.

The building was solemnly reconsecrated this August, at the end of the month, according to information given recently to international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by the Franciscan Capuchin priest, Fr. Jerzy Zielinski.

This church was originally confiscated and closed in 1949 by the local communist government. More recently – after the political changes – it was illegally sold in 1998 by state authorities to a private company, and since then it changed ownership several times.

In July, 2007, Catholics who had gathered to pray inside the church, among them elderly women, were physically attacked by security staff hired by the new "owner."

More threats of violence against members of the parish were made during the ongoing legal proceedings, most recently just before the reconsecration ceremony and after the legal judgment restoring ownership of the building to the Catholic Church.

Ever since these violent attacks on parishioners praying in the church two years ago, the Catholic faithful of the parish had gathered every day in front of the locked church building, praying on their knees for the return of the church. After the most recent threats in August, the parish priest asked the authorities to provide police protection.

Additionally, the Catholic faithful decided to mount a round-the-clock guard on the church, according to Father Zielinski.

The priest told ACN, "From early morning until late at night the parishioners have been working to clear away the rubble and make the church ready for the reconsecration ceremony. They have been camping in tents and watching over the church. Even to this day there are always a few people who stay behind in the church and keep watch."

The dedication ceremony of St. Joseph’s Church was attended by bishops, priests and faithful from all over Ukraine. It began with a solemn procession of the Most Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Dnepropetrowsk. Commenting to ACN, Father Zielinski remarked that it was profoundly "symbolic" that "Our Lord Jesus Christ was being carried aloft through streets named after Marx, Lenin and so forth." Following the procession, the church was formally reconsecrated during a solemn Holy Mass, led by Bishop Marian Buczek of the Diocese of Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhya.

With this event the Catholic Church in Dnepropetrowsk – which with over a million inhabitants is the third largest city in Ukraine – marked a number of important historical milestones. Catholics have been living in the city for 230 years, and the first Catholic church was built there 130 years ago. It was also 60 years ago that the church of Saint Joseph was confiscated by the communists, and it is now 10 years since the Franciscan Capuchin Fathers have once more been working in the parish. This year the Capuchin Fathers themselves are also celebrating the 300th anniversary of their ministry in the territory that is now Ukraine.

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