July 11, 2019


Less than a week after hosting a two-day Vatican summit meeting with the top leadership of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Holy Father Pope Francis, has erected an apostolic exarchate for Ukrainian Catholic faithful of Byzantine rite that have taken up residence in Italy.

The Pope has appointed as apostolic administrator sede vacante of the exarchate for Ukrainian Catholic faithful of Byzantine rite resident in Italy His Eminence Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of His Holiness for the diocese of Rome. It is interesting to note that a Bishop Exarch was not immediately appointed, but the see was designated as vacant. Among several reasons, it may be that the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church needs yet to put forward the most suitable candidate that would be approved by the Holy Father and, besides, as the exarchate is in its formational first year, a well-respected Italian Cardinal would do wonders in seeing to it that the needed cooperation around teh country is easily negotiated. Up until now, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Dionisius Lachovich, helped oversee the pastoral life of Ukrainian Catholics throughout Italy. The exarchate will cover the entire country of Italy. And the cathedral of the Exarchate will be the famous Ukrainian Catholic Parish church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in the heart of Rome at Piazza Madonna dei Monti.


The presence of Ukrainian Catholic faithful in Italy dates back centuries, but has become a major concern only in the last twenty years with the great influx of immigrants and migrants from Ukraine. Since Ukraine had its independence restored after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Ukrainians flooded into western Europe - Italy included - seeking work and new opportunities. Some of the estimates have put the numbers in the 100s of thousands. The offices of His Beatitude Myroslav-Ivan, Ukrainian Catholic priests, seminarians and religious institutions (primarily the Basilian Fathers, the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate and the Basilian Sisters) did amazing working in trying to provide pastoral care for the many Ukrainians all across the country. Many non-Ukrainian organizations also helped very much and the pastoral care was progressively organized within the Servizio Migrantes of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI). Although CEI opted to appoint a priest of their choosing as national 'coordinator' and basically entrusted the pastoral care of the individual communities in each city to the local Latin (i.e. Roman Catholic) bishop, the connection with the Ukrainian Catholic Church was maintained through the figure of the bishop apostolic 'visitor', currently Most Reverend Bishop Dionisiy Lachovicz, O.S.B.M. Bishop Dionisij would travel around the country and visiting the many communities offering his encouragement and support in any way possible. To date the number of registered faithful has reached seven thousand, divided into 145 communities assisted by 62 priests.

(Sources: Vatican Press, Wikipedia, other.)


Video of Mothers Day event at Sts. Sergius and Bacchus Ukrainian Catholic Parish - now to be the Cathedral Parish....

What is the significance of an Exarchate being established in Italy?

Within Ukraine, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav, would establish an "exarchate" (a.k.a. exarchy) if he felt that there were enough people and that the pastoral activity was growing to a point where more 'structure' was needed. Some signs would be - the faithful (i.e. members of the Church) that were migrating to a certain area seem to be staying long-term. Also - distinct communities were developing and the number of clergy serving those communities had increased. Another reason would simply be that the whole area would be better served pastorally and administratively if one centralized structure was formed for that particular area.

Why not just establish an eparchy? Very simply, because the wiser thing would be to take a first step approach and work out the kinks and observe development before establishing an eparchy which enjoys permanence as one of its characteristics. An eparchy is not merely an administrative structure, but a particular church within the universal Church of Christ. A comparison might be the growth of a civil community, which is first a village, then town and then city if it meets certain criteria to warrant such a status. Things that could be worked out in an exarchate (before and if it is elevated to an eparchy) might be questions like: are the "parish" communities truly stable or could some of them change in a year or two if people move on... what really is the best location for the cathedral and the chancery offices... what the unique pastoral needs in the situation and what qualities will the clergy - including a permanent bishop - need as the structure develops, etc.

With regard to church activity outside of Ukraine, present canon law restricts the authority of Eastern Church leaders. Put another way, Church law does not recognize the authority of Eastern Church governance outside what is often referred to as the traditional territory - except by a case by case special consideration. It should be stated, however, that this universal authority is not only permitted, but binding, in one area of Church life - liturgical matters. So this means that His Beatitude Sviatoslav together with the Synod can make decisions about exarchates, eparchies and such, but within Ukraine. The creation of eparchies and exarchates outside of Ukraine can be suggested by the Ukrainian hierarchy - as it surely has been on various occasions, but then it must be followed through (or not) by Pope Francis. This is what happened in Italy. For years, the Ukrainian Catholic Church grew in that country and some interim solutions were applied to answer the growing pastoral needs. Rome was also petitioned to establish an official visiting bishop and/or exarchate/eparchy. The exarchate matter and associated questions were decided now by the Vatican and Pope Francis agreed.

It is an exciting development! What it means, first of all, is that the pastoral needs of Ukrainian Catholics are being met even in a foreign land. It also means that the Ukrainian Church is developing and growing both in Ukraine and throughout the world wherever Ukrainians settle. We look forward to similar developments in other countries where many Ukrainian Catholics are found today... Spain, Portugal, Russia and Kazakhstan. Perhaps additional eparchies in such countries as Brazil, Poland and the U.S.

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