Fire destroys wooden chapel at patriarchal cathedral complex

by Olga Bondaruk
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly

KYIV - Arson reduced to ashes a wooden chapel at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ under construction on the left bank of the Dnipro River, police said on December 6.

The fire was set inside the 538-square-foot chapel on November 19 between 5 and 6 a.m. A security guard immediately called police and firemen, but the chapel's wood burned quickly, and none of its contents could be saved. Only its concrete and steel foundation remained.

"The guard had apparently fallen asleep," said Volodymyr Polischuk, the head of the Kyiv Department of Information of Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The cathedral, future headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, was the site of controversy on August 21 when more than 800 Russian Orthodox radicals protested the move of the Church's seat from St. George Cathedral in Lviv to Kyiv.

Prior to the fire, the chapel served as a place of worship where priests conducted divine liturgies.

The chapel's altar, carved icons, vestments, liturgical books and other religious items were burned. Losses were estimated at more than $20,000 according to church officials.

In their first search, police found a Bible lying beyond the fence and saw that valuables had been stolen from the chapel, Mr. Polishchuk said.

They also found heavily burned spots on the chapel floor as if fuel had been spilled there, he said. Police have opened a criminal investigation and are searching for the arsonists, Mr. Polishchuk said.

But, since "neither the guard, nor other witnesses can give clear testimonies, the investigation process is facing major obstacles," he said. No one has been apprehended thus far.

When worshippers learned of the fire, they cried, said Brother Andrii, a priest at the chapel.

On August 21, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, leader of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, had celebrated a divine liturgy attended by more than 1,000 faithful to mark the move of the Church's headquarters to Kyiv.

This drew massive protests in which Orthodox radicals heckled, insulted and scuffled with Catholics in a failed attempt to intimidate and prevent the divine liturgy from starting. Among the invectives hurled were "Uniates Back to Lviv," "Catholics Back to Rome" and "Fascists" Some of the protesters had even arrived from other cities, such as Donetsk.

Several hundred police officers stood around the construction site to prevent a violent conflict, which would have likely occurred.

Cardinal Husar, who is major archbishop of the UGCC and metropolitan of Kyiv-Halych, has lived in an apartment in Kyiv since the events of August 21.

The fire will not delay the construction of the patriarchal cathedral, which the Church hopes to complete by 2008, Brother Andrii said. Meanwhile, plans are also under way to restore the burned chapel.

Ukrainian Catholics want a place to pray and have already expressed their willingness to work and provide funds to restore the burned chapel, Cardinal Husar said on November 23.

"We are deeply grateful to those who understand the need to have a place of prayer and to those who are ready to help," Cardinal Husar said in a statement. He said he expects reconstruction will begin in spring 2006.

Worshippers had originally built the chapel in 2003 at their own expense.

Now, priests conduct divine liturgies at the site from a temporary wagon placed on the foundation of the destroyed chapel.

"It's very inconvenient for the worshippers," said Father Oleksa Petriv, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kyiv.

Despite the inconvenience, believers continue to attend the liturgies in the wagon with the hope they will soon replace the chapel.

"My spirit grieves when people do these kinds of things," said Tetiana Tkach, 43, a Ukrainian Catholic attending divine liturgy on December 3.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 11, 2005, No. 50, Vol. LXXIII

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