On April 8, 2006, representatives from the Organization for Defense of Lemkivshchyna (OOL) and the Lemko Research Foundation, Inc. (LRF) visited St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic College Seminary to meet with his Excellency Bishop Paul Patrick Chomnycky, OSBM, who was recently installed as the fourth bishop and Eparch of the Stamford Eparchy.
The purpose of this meeting was to inform Bishop Chomnycky about the work of these two Lemko organizations, as well as to congratulate and wish well the new leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy.
Bishop Chomnycky received the Lemko delegation, which included Zenon Halkowycz (president of OOL), Steven Howansky (president of LRF and vice president of OOL), Wasyl Harhaj (membership officer of OOL and treasurer of LRF), Stefan Kosciolek (treasurer of OOL) and Petro Gress (board member of OOL), in the library of the Stamford Seminary.
After introductions, Halkowycz read a letter in Ukrainian from the National Board of OOL and presented it to the Bishop, stating “On behalf of the Organization for Defense of Lemkivshchyna in America, we congratulate you on your installation as the new Bishop of Stamford Eparchy and wish you good health and strength to continue the journey as the new leader of this Eparchy.” Halkowycz then described briefly the history of Lemkos in America, as well as the beginnings of the two Lemko organizations.
Next, Howansky read a letter from the LRF and presented it to the bishop, stating, “On behalf of the Board of Directors of The Lemko Research Foundation in America and all its members in the Diaspora, may we extend to you a warm welcome to North America, and congratulate you on the appointment and installation as the fourth bishop and new Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford. We wish you a lot of success as the new Eparch and extend our prayers to God for good health, strength and the will to lead us faithful Ukrainian Catholics for many years to come,” Howansky then explained the mission of the Foundation, as well as its accomplishments and achievements.
The bishop asked various questions and showed interest in the organizations, particularly concerning their success in building a chapel in the Lemko style at the CYMA estate in Ellenville, N.Y. Halkowycz explained that the foundation of this chapel was consecrated by his Excellency Cardinal and Patriarch Lubomyr Huzar, and that the actual act of blessing of the new chapel was conducted on June 25, 2005 by his Excellency Bishop Basil Losten of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and Archbishop Anthony of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The chapel was dedicated to the memory of all the victims of “Akcja Wisla,” the act of forceful resettlement of Ukrainian families from their ancestral lands by the Polish Communist Government. The chapel is open to people of all Christian faiths on the campgrounds of CYMA, where children attending summer camps can learn about a dark chapter of Ukrainian history.
The members of the delegation then shared with the Bishop their accounts, memories of their villages, and experiences during 1947. Each member recounted with great sadness their hardships, fear of their Polish neighbors and general despair. The relocated Lemkos, being a God-loving and deeply religious people, missed their churches and clergy, as the Polish government would only allow them to worship in Roman Catholic churches.
At the end of the meeting, members of the delegation presented the Bishop with the traditional Ukrainian bread ( paska ), Easter egg ( pysanka ) and embroidered towel ( rushnychok ), as well as copies of OOL’s magazine “Lemkivshchyna” and books published by LRF.
Afterwards, the members of the delegation, together with Bishop Chomnycky, visited the Ukrainian-Lemko Museum, which is located in a nearby building in two rooms on the second floor of the Ukrainian Museum and Library in Stamford. Howansky informed Bishop Chomnycky about the Ukrainian-Lemko Museum’s history and the recent remodeling of the rooms in which the Lemko museum is housed.
Following the tour of the Museum, the members of the delegation invited Bishop Chomnycky to join the delegation for lunch at a local restaurant, during which there was an exchange of ideas and the delegation members learned about the Bishop’s earlier years and experiences. The Bishop shared that he was also a Canadian CYM member, leading the group, who were all CYM members, to reminisce about their CYM experiences.
At the end of the visit, on behalf of the organizing committee of the annual Lemko “ Vatra, ” or festival, in the U.S., Wasyl Harhaj officially invited Bishop Chomnycky to attend the Sixth Annual “Vatra” and to celebrate the holy liturgy for all participants. The Sixth Annual Lemko “Vatra” will be held on June 24 and 25 at the CYMA campgrounds in Ellenville. Bishop Chomnycky responded that he will make every attempt to be present at this Vatra.
Finally, the Lemko organizations thanked Bishop Chomnycky for allowing them to visit and for the time spent with together during his busy schedule.