Pope Francis has recognized the heroism of Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church from 1900 to 1944 in personally protecting hundreds of Jews from Nazi occupiers during World War II.
The Pope in a July 16 audience with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints also recognized the heroism of seven other potential saints, who will now be called 'Venerable' along with Sheptytsky.
"Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky was a very important church leader in central and eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century," said Father Athanasius McVay, a scholar specializing in Church history in the early part of the last century.
Father McVay, a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, told Vatican Radio about the life and mission of Metropolitan Sheptytsky.
Venerable Andrey Sheptytsky was born in the Ukrainian village of Prylbychi in 1865, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Lviv, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He was given the name Roman Alexander Maria at baptism, and later took the name Andrey when he entered the Ukrainian monastery of Saint Basil the Great in 1891.
"He went to serve the Ukrainian people who required strong spiritual leadership," McVay says. Sheptytsky "entered the Order of St. Basil order, associated with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
The order worked for the oppressed and downtrodden Ukrainian people in Austria-Hungary, also seeking to promote unity with Orthodox Christrians.
Andrey Sheptytsky became Archbishop of Lviv of the Ukrainians and Metropolitan of Halych in 1900, and kept that office until his death in 1944 toward the end of World War II.
This was an "era of great upheaval" that witnessed two World Wars, and saw the country that is now Ukraine occupied by various groups, including the Soviets and the Nazis said McVey.
"During this time of foreign aggression against Ukraine – as well as turmoil in so many other historically Eastern Christian lands – this recognition brings particular consolation," said Father Peter Galadza, Catholic News Agency reported.
Galadza is acting director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa, Canada and spoke on July 17.
"Archbishop Sheptytsky demonstrated saintly courage when he sheltered more than 160 Jews during the Nazi Holocaust."
In 1899 he was consecrated a bishop, and appointed Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stanislaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk).
Then in 1901 he was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Lviv, making him head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
He maintained his position until his death on Nov. 1, 1944, at the age of 79.
RUSSIAN EMPIRE, NAZI GERMANY, USSR
His time as Metropolitan Archbishop was marked by conflict with and persecution by the successive governments that ruled Ukraine, including the Russian Empire, the Second Polish Republic, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union.
Under the Russian Empire, he was jailed from 1914 to 1917 for his pro-Ukrainian position and his promotion of Catholicism. The Second Polish Republic twice held him for supporting an independent Ukrainian state and for opposing Latinization.
When the Soviet Union occupied Poland in 1939, he opposed the atheist regime and supported an independent Ukraine, and at first welcomed Nazi armies as liberators when they pushed back the Soviets in 1941.
However, he spoke up against Nazi policy toward Jews, encouraging his faithful to treat Jews well, with a 1942 pastoral letter.
He also encouraged his priests and local abbots to follow his example, and shelter Jews. In this he was helped by his brother, Blessed Klymentiy Sheptytsky, archimandrite of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's Studite monks.
Archbishop Sheptytsky also promoted Christian unity, Galadza said, noting that he "worked tirelessly throughout his lifetime for reconciliation between Ukrainians, Russians and Poles, as well as other nations and groups.
"Particularly legendary were his efforts to see Catholics and Orthodox overcome their historical estrangement. Sheptytsky was a precursor of the ecumenical movement long before the Catholic Church officially endorsed the movement," CNA reported.
The Greek Catholic church is an Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See in Rome and plays a strong role in Western Ukraine.