On November 26, the Blessed Omelian Kovch awarding ceremony took place in Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber, in the presence of the UGCC leader, His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk). Omelian Kovch was a Greek-Catholic priest who saved lives of over 600 Jews and became the only priest for doomed people of different religions in Majdanek Concentration Camp in Lublin. A father of six children, he had an opportunity to rescue his own life, but voluntarily accepted the death of a martyr, together with other victims.
This year’s award laureates are writer Lina Kostenko; Canadian civic activist Zenia Kushpeta, a pianist who left her teacher’s job at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto to lead charity activity in Ukraine; Shimon Redlich, Professor of History at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, who works, in particular, on recognition of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky as the Righteous Among the Nations; and another historian Andrea Rikkardi, Professor at Roma Tre University, who founded the Community of Sant’Egidio, which helps the downtrodden in over 70 countries of the world, Minister for International Cooperation in the Monti Cabinet.
Below is the speech delivered by Oxana PACHLOVSKA, who represented Lina Kostenko at the awarding ceremony in Rome.
“My greetings to the highly respected High Beatitude Sviatoslav and other representatives of the Church! My greetings to the highly respected society!
“First and foremost, I must send to all of you, in particular, to the founders of the Blessed Martyr Omelian Kovch Award and the organizing committee, most cordial greetings from my mother, Lina Kostenko, and her deep gratitude for the honor to receive such a high and noble award.
“To my mother’s deep regret, a range of unpredicted work-related circumstances prevented her from arriving in Rome in person this time. Therefore along with apologies let me say a few words – in the sense of our common contemplations about Omelian Kovch’s symbolical name and his meaning for our time.
“I remember a photo of a young and beautiful Jewish woman from Majdanek. There was a child’s hand on her shoulder, but the part of the photo which depicted the child was absent: the cut photo, the slaughtered life, and the sweet embrace of the child, which dissolved in time. To whom did the Ukrainian priest give the last minute’s consolation – to the tortured Jewish woman or her doomed child? Maybe, the doll of this child is still lying among the crashed toys in Majdanek, this time behind a show-case.
“To oppose the understanding of God’s nature of life to a well-arranged death machine. To embody the mercy in a surrounding of pathological sadism. To stand against the global catastrophe of history with the help of moral resistance of a person who was not protected by anything and who was armed only with the power of spirit.
“Camus was working on his The Plague, when Omelian Kovch already knew that the world was divided into the plague and its victims. To take the side of the victims, sacrificing his own life, is the greatest feat of a person.
“I have to say that since my childhood I have been breathing in my family with this feeling of solidarity and empathy with other peoples. When in the late 1940s the Stalin system renewed its repressions against the Jewish intellectuals, my mother, a young 18-year-old girl at the time, was defending. When Polish people and Tatars were persecuted, when Baltic and Caucasian peoples were destroyed, when Soviet army entered Prague, Vasyl Stus, Ivan Dziuba, Lina Kostenko, and other Sixtiers were defending these peoples and paid for this with their lives, like Stus, or faced repressions and bans. This is the ethos of the Sixtiers, which today finds a synthesis with the ethos of Greek-Catholic Church that is open to Europe and the world. This eternally topical question returns and will always return: in those dark times the ethos of Sixtiers was life-saving for the persecuted peoples, and today it is as well life-saving for us, for the honor of the Ukrainian culture as a European culture. And Lina Kostenko’s poetry says about this:
Jesus Christ was crucified not once.
On Golgotha, it was the first time.
Death killed him, or maybe by the insults,
and he did not regret about his life.
Later he was crucified on canvas,
in marble, plaster, and in granite.
Then he was crucified in me,
and the entire world nailed him.
They ate his flesh, they drank his blood.
For years more, or till the end of time?
They sold his image under the counter,
and they aren’t letting the man die.
Where will I go? Where will I go now?
Where is the Promised Land on earth?
There are barracks in Gethsemane,
And all peoples are like an open sore…
“That is why today, on the eve of the Vilnius Summit, which is catastrophic for Ukraine, the voice of European Ukraine comes from the Majdanek plank beds, not from the governmental palaces on Kyiv hills. It is the voice of the Ukrainian priest, who spread his palms over the sufferings of Poles, Ukrainians, Estonians, Russians, and Latvians. It is the voice of the priest, for whom the destiny of every person and every people, which suffered violence, became his own destiny. Omelian Kovch did not divide people along religious or national-ethnic lines. God was one, the suffering was common, and there had to be a common salvation.
“Actually, this is the moral depth of Ukrainian identity which gives way to civic society in Ukraine. This is a manifestation of higher human dignity in inhuman conditions. May the severe and kind face of Tlumach priest will shine for us, as a reminder and as a warning. He brought back to the doomed people the lives they were deprived of, in the highest moral standard. We are living in a different time. So, won’t the Ukrainian society today find the resource of this dignity, won’t it square its shoulders to shake off the poisonous dust of another totalitarian system, which is still choking the country’s lungs? Won’t we be able to bring back the future we were stolen of? Will we put up with the fact that Europe was taken away from Ukraine and Ukraine was taken away from Europe? Will we allow ourselves to leave the path of honor?
“I want to thank once again the founders of this award, in particular, Cardinal Liubomyr Huzar and all the contributors, on Lina Kostenko’s behalf and from myself, for this special opportunity to bow before the memory of the great Ukrainian. Together with him, following the slogan of the November Uprising in Poland, Ukrainians have the blessed right to say to Jews, Poles, Italians, to very nation which seeks a worthy life: for your freedom and ours! For your dead and ours! For your eternal memory and ours!
“Owing to Omelian Kovch, we have another opportunity to understand that the road of human consciousness is the shortest way to cognize God’s essence and presence.”