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Ukrainian voices on campus: Fr. Andrij Hlabse works to spread awareness, support during war

| Friday, April 1, 2022

This article is part two of a series called “Ukrainian voices on campus” detailing the stories and perspectives of Ukrainian and Ukrainian American tri-campus community members. The first installment of the series can be read online.

In light of the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the University of Notre Dame has been putting on events to support the people of Ukraine. At the forefront of many of these events is Fr. Andrij Hlabse. 

Hlabse has traveled the world but has always had ties to Notre Dame. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and found his way to Notre Dame for his undergraduate studies, where he majored in music performance and romance languages and literature and minored in European studies. 

After attending the University, he was still not certain what he was going to do with his life and was unsure if becoming a priest was the right path for him.

“It was always a live question for me,” Hlabse said. “What was God asking me to do?”

He returned back to his Jesuit high school, where he had made the decision to become a priest. From there he lived in Detroit, Montreal, New York City, Rome and many other places. After 11 years of training, he finally became a priest and made his way back to Notre Dame in an attempt to get his doctoral degree in historical theology. 

Hlabse came back as a priest, but more specifically he returned to Notre Dame as a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. 

“That is one of the reasons I’ve been asked to do all these events — because I am connected to the Ukrainian Church,” Hlabse said. 

Hlabase’s connections to Ukraine do not stop there: His mother’s side of the family is all from Ukraine. The family’s emphasis on Ukrainian culture makes the conflict even closer to home.

“Ukrainian immigrants have a really strong sense of responsibility to maintain their culture,” Hlabse said. “If we don’t preserve this stuff, it’s not going to be persevered. So therefore, somebody growing up like me, we’ll have a lot of exposure to those kinds of things, the songs, and the dancing and the church traditions.” 

The tumultuous history of Ukraine

The Soviet Union has always tried to push themselves onto Ukraine, creating a forced “Russification,” Hlabse said. This is why Hlabse said he urges students to understand the history of Ukraine and why it is important to get a firm grasp on the situation now. 

“It’s a complicated history,” Hlabse said. “The propaganda that’s being used falsifies the history and plays with the history in order to justify what it’s doing. And so, if you want to be able to dismantle those reasons, you’ve got to know, you’ve got to study.”

Although Hlabse emphasized the importance of studying, it is not the only thing he said he feels that students can do to help. 

“Give your time or give your goods, your belongings and donations,” Hlabse said. 

As a priest, Hlabse said he also feels that it is important that students help through the activity of praying for Ukraine. 

“Prayer is really worth something. It could really change things,” Hlabse said. “Look at this war and the unprovoked nature of the attack, the drastic attack on civilians and infrastructure, the evil of it’s just so obvious, and prayer is a response to that.”

When asked what more he wishes he could do, Hlabse responded with an ambitious approach. 

“Do I wish I could do more? I wish I could stop the war,” he said. 

Because this goal does not seem very feasible for him to accomplish, he said he tries to focus on his goals to help within the Notre Dame community. 

“In a time of suffering, people need to be reminded or reassured that they are not alone,” Hlabse said. “For a priest that means assuring them that God is with them, that is first and foremost. And then also that other people are with them.”

Hlabse established that his faith is what gives him hope that the situation will turn for the better. 

“Hope is what we call a theological virtue, so just keeping your eyes on God, especially when situations are difficult and trusting that God is good, that God is just, that God wants peace, helps you to believe and keep moving ahead,” Hlabse said. 

Hlabse expressed that it is important to him that this movement does not lose the momentum that it had gained when the conflict began. 

“We don’t want it to fade out because the question of Ukraine’s continuing existence and let’s say hopefully flourishing, doesn’t get answered in two or three weeks. It gets answered in months and years,” Hlabse said. 

Even though this is a difficult situation, Hlabse said he is appreciative and encourages everyone to keep this conflict in their mind. 

“I’m grateful for the support the university has given. I’m grateful for the support that faculty and staff have given, and especially for the support that students have given,” Hlabse said. “Don’t underestimate the importance of this war against Ukraine for various reasons, and do everything you can to stay engaged with it to support peace and justice.”

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