Quote from Henri Nouwen's Ukrainian Diary - Friday, August 19, 1994
Being back in Poland was like being back in the West. As we drove into Warsaw and saw the well-stocked stores, the well-dressed people and the well-run transportation system, we became aware of Ukraine’s poverty. Not only were there many poor people in Ukraine, but Ukraine as a nation was poor, poorly situated in Europe, poorly treated by East and West, poorly held together by conflicting political interests. Being in Poland made me aware that Ukraine is like the foster child of Europe, not highly respected, not well supported, not given the attention it needs. I suddenly remembered that in the story of the last judgment, God judges not individuals, but nations. The question: “What have you done to the least of mine?” does not simply refer to individual poor people but also, and maybe first of all, to poor nations. God loves the poor, God even has a preferential love for the poor. Ukraine is poor, very poor, not just materially, but also emotionally and spiritually. To care for the poor means much more than to reach out to people who need food, jobs, clothes and a safe place to stay. It means also to care for nations that are crushed by the forces of history and live under the burden of being ignored and rejected by the international community. …. Personally I felt a deep desire to stay faithful to the Ukrainian people and to keep choosing not just for the individual poor, who need support, but also for the country that is so clearly marginalized in the family of nations.
Archbishop Borys Gudziak "The Crisis in Ukraine" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a very special episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.
This week, we have chosen to replay a podcast which first aired on March 13th in 2022. It was just two weeks after Russia had invaded the Ukraine. Our guest that day was a good friend of Henri Nouwen’s, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archbishop Metropolitan, Borys Gudziak. This interview gives so much history and understanding of the relationship between the Ukraine and Russia. It also gives us the history of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church which was deemed illegal by Russia for almost 43 years. I learned so much in my conversation with Archbishop Metropolitan Borys Gudziack and came away very moved. I am honoured to share this episode again on Henri Nouwen Now & Then.
Your Grace, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.
Borys Gudziak: Oh, thank you. It’s a real grace in these turbulent times to think about Henri, and kind of be in his presence.
Karen Pascal: Well, I know that you today are the Archbishop Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Today, you represent Ukrainians in the United States, but you’re someone who spent a lot of time in Ukraine. Maybe you want to give us a little bit of your history and then give us an update from your perspective of what’s happening. It is an incredible time we’re living through. Our hearts are breaking, but I can’t imagine more so than what you might be feeling.
Borys Gudziak: My story is kind of meandering and complex. I was born in Syracuse, not too far away from where you are, in New York State. And I met the man who was the head of the illegal Ukrainian Catholic church. He was exiled in ‘63. I met him as a seven-year-old in 1968. And then after college, I went to live and study with him, in Rome. And I became a seminarian for Ukraine in 1980 when, you know, it was like becoming a seminarian for a diocese on Mars; you couldn’t go there. But after three years in Rome, I went to Harvard to do graduate work. I was kind of a slow learner, so I was in the program for nine years. And the first of those two years coincided with Henri’s two years at Harvard.
And I had read a book in Rome by this author. I was very impressed by it. I thought it was called, you know, his last name was Newan. And I remember reading it, because it said he was at Yale, I remember reading it and saying, “Boy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was somebody like this at Harvard (since I was already going there)?” And lo and behold, after one semester I discovered that this Henri “Newan” guy is at the divinity school.
So, I took his course. I started going to the daily prayer at his house. And those of you who are familiar with Henri’s life, you know that was kind of the foundation of his life and of his day. He had half an hour of the office and half an hour of silence, and then the mass, the Eucharist, there were about 10 of us that were daily regulars.
So, we got to know each other, basically, in prayer and silence. And that went on over the first two years. Henri would spend one semester traveling, but it was the spring semester of ’84 and ’85 that we were together, that I was kind of in his circle. And it took me a while to finish my doctorate. In ’92, I went to Ukraine, but in the interim, Henri moved to L’Arche Daybreak, and I started coming there.
And then when I moved to Ukraine, at the invitation of Zenia Kushpeta, who was at Daybreak and myself, Henri came twice to Ukraine. And he wrote a diary about it. The original hasn’t been published, but the Ukrainian emerged and was published in the fall, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Henri’s death.
And immediately after the publication, I had a chance to present it, in New York City, to President Zelensky. Because it really is a good snapshot of what post-Soviet Ukraine was like in the early ’90s, in the mid-’90s.
So, yes, Henri had an incredible impact on my life. I pray for him daily, and he’s with me. And people in Ukraine, not too many knew him directly, but those that did, who see how I speak, I think might be able to identify how Henri influenced my spirituality and the way I try to communicate.
Karen Pascal: You know, it’s interesting, because for those of us in North America, probably for those of us who are not a part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, we’re not really familiar with that reality that your church was illegal in Russia for almost 43 years, from 1946 to 1989.
Borys Gudziak: Correct. Yeah.
Karen Pascal: It was an underground church. It was a church in the catacombs. Tell us a little bit about that and what happened. How did it come out?
Borys Gudziak: Sure. Well, you know, this is very pertinent to what is happening today. In the last 250 years, every time there’s been a Russian occupation of a part of Ukraine where the Ukrainian Catholic Church ministered, the church gets strangled. It can take a year or two, sometimes a decade or two decades, but sooner or later, the church is strangled and even rendered illegal.
And from, as you said, from ’46 to ’89, it was illegal. Actually, it was the biggest illegal church in the world. And it seemed like they were, you know, extinguishing it, because out of 3,000 priests who were there before the war in ’39 for about 4 million faithful, there were only 300 left by 1985. This is the time when I was introducing Henri to this world. And he took great interest in it. And now we’re back at 3,000 priests.
We have 800 seminarians for the global community of about 5 million Ukrainian Catholics. So, this is a sign of miracles, of the power of prayer, of the grace that comes from a sacrifice of people who give their lives with the ultimate love. They sacrifice their lives for their brothers and sisters. And that’s why during this crisis, we as the church in North America are asking people to do three things: to pray, because prayer moves mountains; to be well informed; and to help where they can.
Karen Pascal: Well, it’s one of the reasons we think it’s so important that we get a chance to talk with you today, because I would like to echo those words to our audience for Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Because I know Henri would be wanting more than anything to be alongside you and helping in all of this.
So, I would echo that we want to pray. We want to be well informed about what’s going on, and do whatever we can to help. And today, we will put links to anything that you are recommending, along with what we would like to put out there. You know, here I’m based in Canada, and in Canada, we have the largest expatriate community from the Ukraine [other than in Russia] – over a million people [are descended from people who came] to Canada from Ukraine. So we have a great love for our Ukrainian Canadians who have added so much to Canada over the years.
So, our hearts are one with you in that. But let me just, at this point, really ask you maybe to give us a little bit of an understanding. I have to admit, I was ignorant about, and it really hit me, this whole business about how Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church plays a part in Putin’s plans. I think it would be interesting for us to understand, because it sounds like the head of the Russian Orthodox Church just wants to take back everything in Ukraine. That’s part of the vision, isn’t it?
Borys Gudziak: Well, yeah, it’s a sad story. All Christian churches are revisiting their history and repenting about their role in colonialism and empire building. Jesus, you know, wasn’t about building empires, and the kingdom of God is not a colonizing phenomenon. It’s a community of love, of service, of going down instead of building yourself up on thrones that are supported by nuclear missiles. So, what is happening is that 16 days ago, on February 24th, Putin escalated a war that had actually been going on for eight years; 14,000 people had been killed. And it really devastated Ukraine’s economy. The purchasing power of the Ukrainian currency already in 2014 lost two-thirds of its value. So, people lost two-thirds of their savings, and the value of their salaries went down by two-thirds, and he thought the country would collapse.
He was bleeding it by waging the war in the Donbas and by annexing Crimea. Well, it didn’t collapse, because Ukraine had in 1991, 900,000 troops when it came out of the Soviet Union; but it was not interested in war. And by 2014 there were 6,000 battle-ready troops left – 6,000 out of 900,000. It also was one of the great holders of nuclear weapons. In the early ’90s, Ukraine had the third-biggest nuclear arsenal after the U.S. and Russia. Ukraine had more nukes than China, France and the United Kingdom put together. In 1994, Ukraine unilaterally became the first country to disarm its nuclear arsenal, receiving in exchange territorial guarantees from Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
And you know, the country, the people wanted to go forward. There were 15 million people killed through the world wars and the totalitarian regimes. Of course, first and foremost, [by] the Soviets, the communists, but also [by] the Nazis. And people didn’t want to go back to that totalitarianism. They wanted democracy, they wanted transparency. When they had presidents who did not hold to these principles, they voted them out. There’ve been six presidents in the 30 years of Ukrainian independence; never in Russian history has a president been voted out of office. And the real reason for this, the first war in 2014 and now its escalation in making it really a comprehensive war, is not the danger of NATO. NATO is a defensive alliance; it had no business or interest or desire to encroach on Russian territory.
I just described to you how Ukraine demilitarized. Ukraine was not a military threat, but it had a very dangerous disease for Russia. It had the virus of democracy. As Putin built up his autocratic, you know, oligarchic kleptocracy, where there’s a few people that can basically rob the country. These are these oligarchs that are now being sanctioned, but who have been welcomed in many countries. Their money, you know, filled investment accounts in London banks, in Switzerland. It was spent, you know, in Paris perfume shops, in casinos in Monaco, for all these years, laundering this ill-gotten money. What democracy next door, what a free press, freedom of religion, a vibrant civic society in Ukraine threatened Russia with, is that this could undermine the dictatorship that Putin was building. And so, he decided to crush it.
There were different attempts. I mean, already 15 years ago, he told George Bush Ukraine was not a real country. He said 17 years ago that the collapse of the Soviet Union is “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” And he wants to reverse the collapse of the empire. He wants to return to empire. And Ukraine has over 40 million people. It builds the biggest airplane in the world. After the U.S. and India, it’s the third-greatest outsourcer of computer programming. It’s got 200 universities. It produces 11% of the world’s wheat, around 50% of the world’s sunflower oil. It’s got some of the most fertile land in the world. It was called in the 20th century, “the breadbasket of Europe.” Hitler actually took train-cars of Ukrainian soil and tried to transplant it to Germany. So, Putin has had a long-term desire to quash democracy in Ukraine, quash this virus of freedom and to actually reconquer the country for the new Russian empire. And we’re seeing the aggressive, brutal manner in which he is trying to do it right now.
Karen Pascal: It’s so frightening. It’s so amazing to the world to watch. So, it’s been a little more than two weeks, but to watch this kind of sickening destruction, and watch a people that just want peace, it’s terrible, it’s terrible. Your hearts must be breaking. What do you want to recommend that we do at this point?
Borys Gudziak: Well, yeah, it is very difficult. I served there for 20 years. I just returned from Ukraine a couple weeks or three weeks ago. And you know, I’m in contact across the country with bishops and people in business and the Ukrainian Catholic University students’ relatives, because I serve as the kind of minister of foreign affairs of our church, the head of the Department of External Church Relations. And as we’re speaking, I’ve moved my offices from Philadelphia to Washington, because this is where there’s a lot of need for clarification and information about what is going on in Ukraine. Yes, Ukrainians are shaken, but you know, most of us when we call Ukraine are really inspired by the fortitude of the people. People are defending their country.
First of all, it’s kind of a biblical David-and-Goliath story. Russia’s military budget is 10 times as big. It’s got about 12 times as many airplanes, even more in terms of tanks and other tactical weapons. And then, of course, it has a big nuclear arsenal. But Ukraine has won this war morally. I mean, everybody of goodwill in the world knows where the truth is, where the justice is and where the injustice is. Ukraine is actually winning the war on the ground there, with disproportionately high Russian losses. You know, nobody’s happy that they’re poor. These poor Russian kids are being thrown into this imperialistic project and are being cut down. But they’re not doing well. And they’re not motivated. There’s no reason; it’s a senseless war.
And many of the Russian soldiers know it, while the Ukrainians know that if they don’t defend their cities, their hospitals, their families, their churches, they’re just going to be destroyed. They’re going to be leveled. So, it’s terrible to see all these refugees. There’s more than 2.5 million that are out, and within the next few days there’ll be another million that are outside, and probably two more million are getting ready to move. And so, it’s really important to pray, because prayer moves mountains. We pray for the conversion of Vladimir Putin. We pray for the Russian Orthodox Church, who will be sullied for decades for not only abetting, but today encouraging the war. There’s a scandalous document out today from Patriarch Kirill. The Russian spiritual leaders, you know, are not defending the 10 Commandments, you know, “thou shall not kill.” They’re not arguing for the refugees. They’re not supporting peace. Unfortunately, they’re supporting colonization and empire-building. And in the 21st century for Christians, for churches, that just is not only morally scandalous, but it’s so out of step with what the world is expecting from the followers of Jesus.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting to see how it’s united Europe, it’s united the world, really. When you look at it, it’s been so amazing to watch in the span of just a little more than two weeks.
Borys Gudziak: Well, you know, I think David Brooks in The New York Times wrote that people are believing in something. People see faith, people see that people in Ukraine are willing to give their lives for this. Ukraine had only 150,000 troops when the war was being escalated. I mean, they went from 6,000 back to 150,000 because of the eight-year war, but there are 200,000 volunteers that have joined in the last two weeks and another 100,000 people that have come – some from Canada, some from the U.S. and most from European countries. They’ve come back to Ukraine to defend these values, to defend the innocent, to defend the poor. So, there’s incredible motivation and, you know, Eisenhower said it’s not so important how big the dog is in the fight, but how big is the fight in the dog.
Karen Pascal: Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday said the ferocity and strength of the Ukrainian people inspire us all. And I think that captures, really, that sense the world is seeing something truly heroic. And as you said, a moral battle that is being won. It’s profound to watch, because in the seasons that we’ve lived through, this just is heroic to watch what’s going on.
Borys Gudziak: You know, you pointed out Ukraine has united the world. It has given new purpose to the European Union, which, you know, had England move out through Brexit. All these fissures showing up in Europe and you know, the previous American administration tried to undermine not only NATO, but European unity. It wasn’t interested in the trans-Atlantic relationship with Europe. All of this has just suddenly, you know, snapped back into an alertness, into a sense of purpose, because of this witness in Ukraine.
And, you know, when you hear the president speak, when you see the church there, the bishops are in place in these different cities, the papal nuncio is in Kyiv. I just talked to two bishops in Kharkiv, to Catholic bishops in Kharkiv, and you know, they’re there with the people, they’re there distributing humanitarian aid, which is being brought by the diocese and parish networks to people. And the Catholic community is tiny in Kharkiv. So, it’s feeding all comers, all people. And people are saying, “You know, we never noticed this church here, but thanks for giving us some bread and some medicine.” It’s been a turnaround. You know, in the 21st century, we live in a time of great subjectivism, of great deconstruction – we’re kind of a confused lot. We question many of the things that have been fundamental for society and civilization for centuries.
And this witness is giving great clarity. There’s something special when somebody gives their life for their friends. Jesus calls it the greatest love. And why are people able to do that? Because they believe that their ultimate sacrifice gives great fruit. There’s a belief, I’m convinced – even among those that don’t go to church and, you know, most Ukrainians aren’t regular church-goers because of a Communist legacy – but they believe in eternal life.
They believe in love. They believe in profound values and justice, in equality, in social responsibility. Already in 2014, European young people were shocked that Ukrainian youth and students were getting shot, you know, during these protests. These unarmed students, the Heavenly Hundred as they were called, they were mercilessly shot by snipers in the middle of the main city at mid-day, with the cameras rolling. And they had European flags in their hands. And people said, “Who would die for Europe? Who would die for this community?”
Ukrainians are giving purpose to civilization, to the European Union. And they’re reminding us of the ultimate values and the fact that sometimes they cost; freedom is not free. And sometimes even the ultimate sacrifice is warranted. But it’s warranted and people take it on, because they believe in eternal life.
Karen Pascal: It interests me. I mean, obviously one of the characters that has risen to the very top in the midst of this is President Zelensky. Just that sense that sometimes there’s a moment you’re called into history, and you stand up because you’re standing up for the right thing. And it’s been inspiring. I’m sure that’s inspired others.
But you’re right. What comes back is this sense of character within the country, within the people who’ve made a choice that they want a free life. They want to have the kind of freedoms and democracy and values that are better than, and are richer than anything that is being offered by Putin in the Russian vision.
Borys Gudziak: Hopefully, I think there’ll be major transformation. There are very difficult days ahead. It’s not inconceivable that Putin could turn to, for example, tactical nuclear weapons. To knock out Zelensky, you know, with a bomb that obliterates just one-tenth of the city, the government quarter. He’s already kind of activated the preparedness of his nuclear arsenal and he’s threatened that anybody that opposes [Russia] will see a reaction that the world has never seen before. He’s already done things that nobody expected— the annexation of Crimea, the war in the Donbas.
And now, you know, yesterday, the maternity hospital in Mariupol was targeted. And the [Russian] minister of foreign affairs admitted they were targeting it, because he said there were troops there. But there were no troops there.
He said there were no women there, but you see the pictures of the pregnant women being carried out on stretchers. The mayor of the city said that 1,300 people have been killed in these two weeks in that city. It’s totally surrounded. There’s no electricity. There’s a lack of water and food. People are dying, you know, a child died of dehydration. The president pointed out that’s probably the first time since the Nazi occupation of Ukraine that something like that happened.
And people are dying of starvation. It’s cold. The humanitarian corridors that were agreed upon through negotiations in previous days were shot upon. And they became, as the head of our church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk has said, they became corridors of death. So, these are war crimes. This is state-sponsored terrorism.
The idea is to generate as many refugees as possible. Empty the cities of women and children, so you can more freely kill the men. Get the people out, so the destruction and the slaughter of women and children will not be used against you. But also, the goal is to create a humanitarian refugee crisis in Europe. There could be as many as 10 million refugees. I mean, when 1 million Syrians came into Germany, this shook up the whole society and the political system. If 10 million people pour into the European Union, the European Union will have great problems. And that’s what Russia wants.
Karen Pascal: It’s destabilizing. It’s interesting, you know, earlier, when you were talking about the humanitarian corridors, when Henri died, he had promised to come back to Ukraine and he was going to bring things that he thought were needed. And his brother Laurent Nouwen picked up that mantle and Henri Nouwen Stichting, which is the Henri Nouwen Society in the Netherlands, has on a regular, biyearly basis, brought truckloads of supplies into Ukraine where it was needed most, and has supported the L’Arche movement that was there. I’m sure that you’re familiar with Laurent, because obviously Laurent was involved in getting that diary of Henri Nouwen’s published. Which was really wonderful. So, in a sense, the very opposite of this incredibly evil plan, incredibly evil and destructive plan, the opposite was Christ’s response in us is to love and to give and to pray and to believe, and to be there present for our brothers and sisters.
Borys Gudziak: Well, you know, Laurent has become a good friend. Those who know him know he looks a little bit like Henri, he talks very much like Henri, his English sounds just like Henri’s. And he made over a hundred trips to Ukraine with big tractor-trailers which he packed himself, with a few friends, with all kinds of things: computers, and desks for schools and humanitarian things and things for psychiatric hospitals. And when I served as Bishop in Paris, covering the Ukrainian Catholic parishes in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg and Switzerland, Laurent’s house was kind of a home-away-from-home when I would be in the Netherlands. We would come in with our priest seminarians, our choirs, for services and for conferences, and Laurent loved us and welcomed us.
And he’s been an incredible friend of Ukraine and a personal friend in front of our church. Laurent, you know, I don’t think he’d be offended if I share this with you, wasn’t too interested in what Henri was writing when Henri was alive. In fact, Henri told me, you know, “My family, they’re really not too keen on my books and, you know, this spirituality I care to share.” But then he had a conversion or, if you will, he discovered the depths of what Henri was sharing. He discovered Jesus and he became a very practical apostle. Laurent would give me hell a lot, because he’d say, “You watch out! Are you really mindful of all the poor around you?”
I was responsible for developing a university, so it was an academic project. But we did it under Henri’s influence from Day One, because Henri was there just as we were doing the feasibility studies, the planning in ’93, ’94; we opened up in September ’94. We decided to build the school, the Ukrainian Catholic University, on two pillars. The two M’s: the martyrs and the marginalized. The martyrs were those who in the 20th century, carried the faith through the totalitarian tunnel. And they met the greatest challenge of the 20th century, which was the totalitarian attempt to crush the human dignity of the person. And we thought if we can look closely at that, we can learn how to face challenges in the 21st century.
So, we did an oral history project, interviewing 2,000 of these people. And Henri met some of the people from the underground when he visited during those two years. The other M are the marginalized. And under the influence of Henri and of that relationship with Zenia Kushpeta, we decided that the best way to address the trauma, the trans-generational trauma of the genocidal history that the Communists left, was to introduce, right into the heart of the university, our friends with special needs. See, people who’ve been traumatized, who’ve been violated, and who from their childhood are taught by their grandparents, “You have to be careful of the other, because the other is dangerous. The world out there is dangerous. You can get arrested, you can be sent to Siberia, you can be executed, you can lose your job for saying a prayer. You don’t trust the others.”
So, you put on a mask, put up a facade and build a wall. And you kind of peek out to see if that other person might not have it out for you, might not be an informant. It really breaks down trust, even in the family. And, you know, the archives now show that wives were informing on their husbands, husbands on their wives, neighbors, members of families, people that worked together were conscripted to provide information to the KGB, which was where Vladimir Putin worked.
Our friends with special needs – they helped build trust. They break down those walls and facades and help us take down our masks, because when you meet one of our friends, they basically, with all their being, ask one fundamental question: “Can you love me? Do you love me?” And so, we’ve invited our friends with handicaps to be tutors of human relations in the university. They live in the dormitory; they help in our cafeteria. They helped in my office when I was the Rector President of the university; they’re part of our community. And I think it’s the first university in history that has placed the mentally handicapped at the heart of the identity of the university, not as a social project, but at the identity. So, it’s the martyrs and the marginalized, and that is what Henri brought me into and helped us, you know, kind of conceptualize.
And this university, you know, it has the highest incoming SAT scores of any university in Ukraine. So, the most talented kids come to this school. It’s academically very competitive, but we want to make sure that our competition is not against, you know, the Beatitudes. That it’s a competition to build each other up, not to bring each other down. And in light of that gospel vision, this war is just completely devastating, because it’s killing, it’s marauding, it’s destroying. And it’s very sad that there are Christians who are publicly behind this war.
Karen Pascal: You know, I am really struck by your phrase, “tutors of human relations.” I think that the Ukrainians right now are tutors of human relationships for the world, in their sense that no, they will not give into what is so, so immoral, and so dreadful. And I’m really moved by that description of what’s happening with your university: martyrs and the marginalized.
Borys Gudziak: Karen, I want to ask you and all the listeners that are inspired by Henri’s legacy to be steadfast in your prayer, information and support of Ukraine. Not just this week or this month, because the world’s focus on Ukraine is going to change, but the trauma that already has been inflicted – and it might get much, much worse. Putin is announcing that he’s not going to stop. He’s going to conquer the whole country. And the only way he is going to do that is by reducing city after city to rubble. This country, these people are going to need the support of the world for a long time.
So, put the people in your prayers and get the message out. Get your friends, maybe, to listen to our conversation. There’s a lot of disinformation there. The political extremes on the right and left have often been funded by Putin, particularly in Europe.
You know Madame Le Pen in France, the right-wing presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Her party has been publicly, openly funded by money from the Russian government. Brexit was something that was supported by Russian funding and Russian disinformation. We see the elections in the U.S. and in other countries that are influenced. This is a global issue, and Ukrainians are the ones who are confronting it, and they’re paying the dearest price for it. And I think they deserve the support of the world for a long time to come in the future.
Karen Pascal: Borys, I thank you so very much for that word, that challenge, and we hear you, and we will continue to hear you. We will not let go. We will pray, and we will be your allies and the allies for Ukraine and not be silent. And not be silent. That I commit to. And I know that those that are listening today will join me in that. We will have links to anything that you’re recommending in terms of ways to support and ways to aid, because aid is going to be needed as well. And we’ll have that on our website. I promise you that. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for the vision you’ve shared today and for the honesty. And our hearts are with you, and we will be praying. I promise you that.
Borys Gudziak: Thank you. God bless you. And thank you for keeping Henri’s legacy. And I invite all good friends and followers of Henri to come and visit a land where he found inspiration and where he left so many fruitful seeds that have given life to ministries. Not only for the handicapped, but through the handicapped to the country. There’s a university built on the vision that Henri helped bring to Ukraine.
Karen Pascal: Borys, I love hearing how Henri Nouwen has been such an influence in your life and that he has had such an impact.
Borys Gudziak: You know, Henri, I didn’t want to say it this way, but Henri was the closest friend of my life. We were very, very close friends. I wasn’t maybe necessarily a big, public friend, but we were really, really close and his death was, of course, it was a shock. I came to the funeral in Canada; I flew from Ukraine. But Henri has been one of the greatest influences in my life. And you know, he taught me how to preach, how to speak. I’m not in his league, but what good there is in my preaching is very much influenced by him. And I pointed out in the conversation, how his introduction to the world of L’Arche influenced the project of my life, the university.
And that was all supported by L’Arche, by Daybreak, by Henri. I don’t know if you remember, but in that sabbatical journey book, which he was writing when he died. He put it in there. We met in August of ’96. I had been teaching at Harvard in the summer school, and he was in Peapack, New Jersey. And I went down there and we discussed things. And he was going to come the next academic year. He was going to spend [it] in Ukraine. He was going to come and teach and write in Ukraine.
Karen Pascal: Isn’t that amazing.
Borys Gudziak: He told me, I haven’t told too many people this, but he was going to go see Mrs. Kroc. You know, the wife of the guy that founded McDonald’s. She was taken by Henri’s message. And she would take the Prodigal Son book and put it leather binding, and that was her Christmas present to scores of people. And she would fly Henri down to San Diego, I think it was. She would send her private plane and pick Henri up. And after we met in Peapack, Henri was going to go see her. And he said, “I’m going to ask her for a million dollars for your school.” And he saw her and I imagine he did ask her, but then he suddenly died, and I never had the courage to knock on her door at that time. Because the annual budget of our school at that time was about $200,000. The whole school. I mean, salaries were $20 a month, for faculty. Anyway, those are some, just little, little tidbit stories, but …
Karen Pascal: … they tell me much about your friendship. You know what I sense, is I sense you were meant to pick up the mantle, and you picked it up. And it gives me joy, too, to see the finish or the continuation of that love for Ukraine, that Laurent picked that up and was so committed to it.
Borys Gudziak: Well, Karen, I’m very grateful to you, because these have been some very difficult weeks. And we knew that there was a great buildup. So, it’s been months, actually, where we have been running around the world and trying to get people to understand what’s happening and what’s about to happen. And just spending a little time with you, being prompted by you, and remembering the great graces that God gave me through Henri has been a great consolation for me today.
Karen Pascal: Oh, thank you. I’m glad to hear that. I’m glad to hear that. It won’t be long before we talk again and hopefully it will be a conversation of rejoicing. I pray that. Be well, my friend. Thank you.
We are replaying this important podcast one year after it first aired.
I trust that you come away from this interview with Archbishop Borys Gudziak profoundly and deeply moved, and determined to be prayer partners with all Ukrainians at this moment. I think you probably also got a deeper understanding of who Henri Nouwen was, and how Ukraine shaped him.
I have good news – the Ukraine Diary by Henri Nouwen, with a Forward by Archbishop Borys Gudziak, is coming out in English this March. We will have links in our show notes to this very insightful and moving account of Henri’s love and commitment for Ukraine.
We’re going to post links in our notes to all the things we discussed today. There, you’re going to find links for very vital ways you can be a blessing to the people of Ukraine.
If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we’d be grateful if you take time to give it a stellar review or a thumbs-up, and even share it with your friends and family.
Thanks for listening. Until next time.
Praise from our podcast listeners
Help share Nouwen’s spiritual vision
When you give to the Henri Nouwen Society, you join us in offering inspiration, comfort, and hope to people around the world. Thank you for your generosity and partnership!