SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ukrainians “have made the Bible come alive for the world,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, told graduates of the University of Notre Dame May 15.
“David withstands Goliath, the Way of the Cross has stations in Bucha and Borodianka, Mariupol and Sumy, Jesus suffers with his people,” said the prelate as the speaker for Notre Dame’s 177th commencement ceremony. “We had a Lent and Holy Week like no other. We pray that the Cross will again lead to the Resurrection, to the victory of life over death.”
Archbishop Gudziak, who also is the head of external relations for the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, said the Indiana Catholic university “has offered a singular response to the Russian invasion and devastation of Ukraine.”
“My presence reflects your heartfelt solidarity. It is a sign of your capacity to love generously, to embrace, to serve and save the suffering, to bless the cursed and lift up the downtrodden and trampled,” he said.
The archbishop also was presented with an honorary degree, and when he received it and was introduced to the crowd, the more than 3,300 Notre Dame graduates rose and waved Ukrainian flags in a show of solidarity with a nation under siege.
“Make some noise! I’m incredibly moved by your hospitality and your singular solidarity,” he told the graduates. “I want to tell you, millions of Ukrainians will see you waving these flags today. They will be heartened by your prayer, your love and your commitment to truth. My hat is off to you dear graduates.”
He addressed why the world has been mesmerized by the courage, perseverance and deep love of the Ukrainian people as they are besieged by Russian invaders.
“Why? Because you and I see the heart of a people and a country, the humanity and strength of its leaders who reflect the posture and character of the whole nation,” he said. “A nation of down-to-earth heroes, plucky patriots, hardcore lovers, those that look into eternity overcoming their fears.
“Countless Ukrainians demonstrate the greatest love, for ‘no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ ”
In introducing Archbishop Gudziak, Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, described an unusual icon of St. John the Evangelist that the archbishop gave him and which he keeps in his room.
It was painted by a Ukrainian iconographer “on crude wood taken from a Russian ammunition box from the war in eastern Ukraine,” the priest said.
The image “is a daily invitation to meditate prayerfully on how wood that had carried lethal weapons now bears the holy, reverent image of the Evangelist, and, more generally, on how good can be drawn from evil,” he remarked.
At the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Father Jenkins issued a forceful statement condemning it. Other university efforts to support Ukraine include weekly liturgies to pray for peace, a website to educate the university community and the wider community about the war, faculty panels and student conversations.
In addition, the “Word of Life” mosaic on the school’s Hesburgh Library was lit in Ukraine’s national colors of blue and yellow.
As he opened his address, Archbishop Gudziak noted that over the years he has had many connections to Notre Dame, including that Father Jenkins’ home parish was down the street from his family’s home in Syracuse, N.Y.
He also had a dream as a boy of “appearing in a Notre Dame arena,” playing football or basketball with the Fighting Irish.
“My youthful ambition was actually quite far-fetched: to make it to the NBA,” he recalled.
“These dreams were dashed early, when I was cut from the high school team. God had different plans, and I’m grateful,” Archbishop Gudziak said. “No NBA, no sports stardom at Notre Dame. Yet childhood fantasies really never die.
“Today, I am here with you dear graduates. Thanks to you, I’ve made it to the House that Rockne Built and … with your permission … I am not going to waste this opportunity to try and complete a pass … to you. I’m not kidding.”
He threw a football to the crowd. “I made it. We made it,” he said. “Touchdown Jesus!”
“The calling of the community of Our Lady’s university is indeed a high one,” Archbishop Gudziak told the graduates. “In fact, the founders understood it to be divine. To uphold the duty and honor of a Notre Dame diploma means to feel the pulse of the people on all continents, of immigrants at our southern border and refugees throughout the world, of those in our towns and cities who do not have equal opportunities, to feel the pulse of the unborn, the disabled, the sick and the aged. To feel their pulse and follow its call.”
“You have felt your neighbor’s heartbeat. Now check your own. You know where it is,” he said. “Let this be your everyday practice. … Really know yourself for who you are and who you are meant to be. Because you do have a destiny. It’s eternal.”
“You have been prepared for life by this university,” he added, urging the graduates “to live it well; to rejoice wholeheartedly; to give life’s challenges your full self; to relate and speak heart to heart; to live without fear with a vision of eternity.”
Two days before the commencement, Notre Dame announced that Father Jenkins and Archbishop Gudziak, as organizer and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, signed an agreement to significantly expand the existing academic, religious and cultural partnerships between the two universities.
Through its Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Notre Dame has for many years hosted visiting scholars from the Ukrainian university on its Indiana campus and in turn has sent scholars to Lviv.
The expanded partnership, which will cost up to $2 million in the first year, will begin in the upcoming 2022-23 academic year.
It will be modeled on similar partnerships Notre Dame has with other colleges and universities worldwide, such as giving cohorts of undergraduate and graduate students from Ukrainian Catholic University an opportunity to study at Notre Dame each semester and offering research grants for collaborations between the universities’ faculty and scholars.
Archbishop Gudziak founded Ukrainian Catholic University in 2002 as the first Catholic university established in territory of the former Soviet Union. He received the Notre Dame Award in 2019 as the leader of university.