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Local church visited by Ukrainian Bishop

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Local church visited by Ukrainian Bishop
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It's a special event this weekend for parishioners at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Syracuse. A visiting Bishop will celebrate mass. But as YNN's Bill Carey reports, this is a Bishop with various close and very old ties to the church on Tipperary Hill.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It is a story that is little known among Americans, but a story that, in many ways, shaped Borys Gudziak's life.

The son of Ukrainian refugees, raised on Syracuse's west side, would find his true calling when he met and worked alongside Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, the patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, then living in exile after spending nearly two decades in the Soviet Gulag for the refusal of his church to bend to communist leaders.

“It was totally forbidden. It was in the catacombs in Ukraine. And it was also the biggest body of social opposition in the Soviet Union. It came out of the catacombs with incredible moral authority because it did not collaborate with the totalitarianisms of the 20th Century,” Gudziak said.

Gudziak's family had strong ties to their religion, to their parish church and a strong reliance on prayer. So it may not seem surprising that Gudziak decided to join the priesthood. But it was not a decision that came quickly or easily.

Gudziak said, “It was only at the age of 38 that I became a priest. So there were a lot of episodes, a lot of ups and downs, lefts and rights along that way.”

Gudziak's mother, now 87, had spent many days praying at St. John the Baptist to have a child, vowing, if it was a boy, she would do all she could to allow him to be a priest.

“I didn't know this until I was 45-years-old. I had been a priest already. I read it in an interview that my mother gave in Ukraine. She never pushed. She never said anything explicit. She witnessed by her life and by the depth of her prayer,” Gudziak said.

In his new role, Father Borys Gudziak helped revive a Ukrainian Catholic University. There has been government pressure to keep a lid on campus criticism of government activities. Pressure Gudziak has resisted.

Church leaders have now named him a Bishop, overseeing church activities in France and several other European nations.

“The church is alive,” Gudziak said. “It's not always well. It's full of sinners. Here's one of them. But, I do not cease to be moved by the surprises of the Holy Spirit.”

He is a world traveler, but back home, Bishop Borys Gudziak says he has never forgotten this church or his hometown.

Gudziak said, “There's an appreciation of that past. A past that is greater than me. But also, my little past. And it's connected with Syracuse.”

Sunday's mass at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church is scheduled for 10 a.m. A reception will follow at Casa Grande restaurant on State Fair Boulevard.

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