'Today, in one moment, we became orphans,' said his successor, Archbishop Shevchuk

Ukrainian Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, known for his “velvety baritone” when chanting the Divine Liturgy or making one of his regular appearances on television or radio programmes, has died at the age of 84.

Like many Ukrainian Catholics around the world, he knew what it meant to be a refugee, to spend time in a displaced persons’ camp, to immigrate and to start all over again.

But the experience also helped him become fluent in five languages, “and he could joke in all of them,” said Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris.

And in a post-Soviet Ukraine, where leadership often meant “a compulsive passion” for money and power, “he lived in exemplary simplicity,” Bishop Gudziak told Catholic News Service.

“In Ukrainian folklore, a blind elder is considered a sage,” the bishop said. “He was the wise man of the country, a real father whose embrace, word, warm smile and sense of humour – often self-deprecating – gave people a sense of joy and peace.”

Cardinal Husar also was an avid blogger and published his last piece on May 1, a blog about politicians who show their loyalty to a Church only to gain votes.

He saw a lack of ethical behaviour and declining moral standards as a major problem at home and abroad, one that required a creative pastoral response.

“Addressing the problem of morality is not a matter of reciting rules, rules, rules, but of helping people to do God’s will,” he said in an interview with CNS in 2005.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who was only 40 years old in 2011 when he succeeded Cardinal Husar as Archbishop of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, cried as he spoke to reporters about the cardinal’s death.

“He was the spiritual father of the Ukrainian people, and today, in one moment, we became orphans,” Archbishop Shevchuk told the press. The cardinal was a “great man, great pastor, great Ukrainian.”

One of the first questions reporters asked was when the process for Cardinal Husar’s beatification would begin. Archbishop Shevchuk replied that everyone who met the cardinal saw the beauty of his holiness, but the formal sainthood process requires prayer and time. Standard Vatican rules require a waiting period of five years from the time of a person’s death before the process can begin.

The cardinal’s body was being driven to Lviv, his hometown, on June 1 for two days of memorial services there. His funeral was scheduled for June 5 in Kiev.

Born on February 26, 1933, Lubomyr Husar fled Ukraine with his parents in 1944 ahead of the advancing Soviet army. He spent the early post-World War II years among Ukrainian refugees in a displaced persons’ camp near Salzburg, Austria. In 1949, he immigrated with his family to the United States, eventually becoming a US citizen.

From 1950 to 1954, he studied at St Basil’s College Seminary in Stamford, Connecticut. He continued his studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington and at Fordham University in New York. He was ordained a priest of the Ukrainian Diocese of Stamford in 1958.

For the next 11 years, he taught at the Ukrainian seminary in Stamford and served in parish ministry. Sent to Rome, he earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University in 1972 and joined the Ukrainian Studite monastic community.

He was ordained a bishop by Cardinal Josyf Slipyj in 1977 while the Church in Ukraine was still illegal and operating from exile in Rome.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he returned to his native country and served as spiritual director of the newly re-established Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv.

The synod of Ukrainian bishops elected him exarch of Kiev-Vyshhorod, a position he took up in 1996. Several months later, the synod elected him an auxiliary bishop with special delegated authority to assist Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, the major archbishop of Lviv.

Cardinal Lubachivsky died in December 2000, and in January 2001 the synod elected then Bishop Husar to succeed him as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. St John Paul II made him a cardinal a month later.

Under his leadership and despite strong protests from the Russian Orthodox Church, in August 2005 Cardinal Husar established the major archiepiscopal see of Kiev-Halych and transferred the main church offices to Ukraine’s capital.

Cardinal Husar’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 221 members, although Pope Francis is scheduled to create five new cardinals in late June.