March 23, 2008

Ukrainian Easter

During the early part of the twentieth century, in old Philadelphia, before Rocky and FDR, the Ukrainian community was strong and vibrant.

Located where Fairmount meets Northern Liberties, the gold-domed Ukrainian Cathedral stands as a shining reminder of what once was.

Every year I take my, now 88 year old grandmother, and my two young children to visit the old cathedral (built in the early sixties) to celebrate one event that brings generations, young and old back - the annual blessing of Easter baskets on Holy Saturday.

In the old community center that stands next to the Cathedral, in the gymnasium, tables encircle the room. Families place their baskets filled with kielbasa, perogies, paska, babka, farmers cheese, horseradish, and colorful eggs, on the tables. They light candles, sing Ukrainian songs celebrating the risen Christ, while the Monsignor sprays the crowd with Holy water and prayer.

The Monsignor spoke briefly yesterday. He welcomed us all back, then chastised us for only appearing once a year. We chuckled and nodded, each of us feeling guilty that we ignore the old neighborhood, except for this lone annual event.

Pope John Paul II knew of the strength of this community when he chose it as one of three locations he visited during his 1979 tour of Philadelphia. Crowds outside the Cathedral that day chanted "John Paul Two, we love you." John Paul, always the charmer, answered back to the faithful, "John Paul II, loves you too."

The neighborhood is going through a slow re-birth. The Ukrainian/Polish/Russian/Slovak homes that long ago had deteriorated, are being replaced with expensive two bedroom condos in one block, and single-family twins with white-picket fences and small grassy front yards, in another.

The old school is now a police station, while the dual 8(?) story retirement apartment buildings, one block north of the Cathedral, are sparsely scattered with the few remaining church members of the World War II generation.

The rest of us have scattered to other locations, mostly suburban. In Huntington Valley, on the east side of Abington, is a strong Ukrainian community, while in Hatfield, the Polish Gourmet sells all the traditional eastern European delicacies.

Easter, for this humble Ukie, is the one time of year when my connection to the old-world feels its strongest. I should reach back more often.

Happy Easter ... or Chrystos Voskres (Christ has Risen)


AlexC said...

Voyistynu Voskres!

page13 said...

Indeed, he is risen...Three times now