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Newly-constructed Lemko Chapel Blessed during 5th Annual Lemko Vatra

The annual “Lemko Vatra” in the U.S.A. blazed for the fifth year in a row from June 24-26, 2005 at the resort of the Ukrainian Youth Organization, Inc. (CYM) in Ellenville, NY. Each year, this Vatra blazes with bright rays amid a constellation of others around the world — in Lemkivshchyna, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia and Canada – where fate has dispersed Lemkos from their never-forgotten homeland.

The Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (known by the acronym OOL) conducted this festival in order to show participants at least a small portion of original Lemko culture and traditions.

At the official opening of the Vatra, the “ starosta” (or traditional “village elder”) Vasyl Harhaj welcomed all those present, and invited on stage such leaders of the Ukrainian-Lemko community as: Ivan Fil, representative of SFULO (World Federation of Ukrainian Lemkos); Natalia Kravchuk, deputy editor of the newspaper “ Nashe Slovo ;” Bohdan Harhaj, head of CYM; Steven Howansky, head of the Lemko Research Foundation; Stefan Zhuravsky, head of the Committee for the Building of the Lemko Chapel; and Zenon Halkowycz, head of OOL.

Leading the traditional ritual of lighting the Vatra bonfire were Halkowycz, Howansky, as well as OOL branch representatives Ivan Zavada, Stefan Kosciolek, and Michael Khalupa, while a choir of singers from the U.S.A., Canada and Ukraine, under the direction of Alla Kutsewycz, performed the Lemko hymn, “ Hory Nashi Karpaty .”

In his welcome speech, Halkowycz underlined both the importance of conducting the annual Lemko Vatra and the historical meaning of the 5 th Vatra, saying, “On this Sunday will take place the blessing of the Lemko chapel dedicated to the memory of victims of “ Akcja ‘Wisla ‘ – victims whom we should not forget.” (Akcja “Wisla,” a campaign conducted by the Polish government in 1947, forcibly resettled approximately 150,000 Ukrainians from southeastern Poland.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005 will go into the annals of OOL and CYM, as well as into the history of the whole Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S.A., as the day on which Archbishop Antoniy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Bishop Basil Losten of the Ukrainian Catholic Church blessed the newly-built St. Michael the Archangel chapel, constructed at the CYM resort in Lemko style as a memorial to the victims of Akcja “Wisla.”

On a beautiful Sunday morning, the heads of OOL and CYM, carrying flags, met near the entrance of the Ellenville resort and, together with the spiritual leaders of both rites of the Ukrainian Church, walked to the field where the new chapel now and forevermore stands.

Bishop Losten delivered a speech dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, who is the patron saint of CYM and the city of Kyiv, before he and Archbishop Antoniy endorsed a statement blessing the chapel. This was followed by a mass, conducted by Bishop Losten and, at his side, Fathers Ivan Bura, Ihor Mydziak, Bohdan Danylo, Yaroslav Kostyk, Volodymyr Piso and Bohdan Kudleychuk. Sitting with Archbishop Antoniy in places of honor before the chapel were Fathers Yuriy Bazylevskiy and Daniel Zelenskiy. The choir “ Akollada ” from Philadelphia, PA sang during the mass. Afterwards, Archibishop Antoniy also delivered a spiritual speech, and the church hymn, “ Bozhe Velykiy Yedyniy ” concluded the blessing ceremony.

Throughout the Vatra, the sizeable Ukrainian-Lemko community from the United States, Canada, Ukraine, Poland and other corners of the world, was also treated to a concert program, led by mistress and master of ceremonies Anna Pregner and Stepan Sheryliv. A stream of Lemko songs flowed. There were tears of nostalgia in the eyes of those born in verdant Lemkivshchyna, flashes of joy on the faces of festival guests, and shouts of “bravo” accompanying the performances of artists – professional and amateur, singers and dancers, grey-haired and young – all, who, with sincere hearts and souls, responded to the invitation of the festival organizers. And there were a lot of artists. Although it is not possible to name them all in a short article, a heartfelt bow of thanks goes out to all those who made the annual Vatra so rich with cultural performances.

Lviv-born artist Anna Cheberenchyk, known as “Anitchka,” (whose parents from the village of Owczar in Lemkivshchyna were relocated to Soviet Ukraine in the WWII period) began her performance with the song, “ Tam na Lemkovyni .” Now residing in California, she came to brighten the hearts of viewers at the Lemko Vatra in the U.S.A. for a second year in a row. The quartet “ Metelytsya ”; dance group “ Mria ” from Passaic, NJ; the sisters Lida and Gabriella Oros; Roman Tsymbala; “ Hurt Suzir’ya ”; and Vika from Ternopil, Ukraine also performed. And, from Saturday evening to early hours of the morning, participants danced to the music of the bands “ Halychany ” and the quartet “ Karpaty .”

The program on Sunday continued in the large hall of CYM’s main building, where Vatra participants listened with interest to the keynote speech of Nashe Slovo deputy editor Natalia Kravchuk, titled, “The Situation of Ukrainians in Poland from Resettlement until Today.” (Following this speech, a short welcome was also given to the Ukrainian Vice-Minister of Agroculture, Ivan Denko, whose father was from the Lemko village of Brunary.)

As has become a Lemko Vatra tradition, following the concert program, all participants of the festival also had the opportunity to taste a piece of roast pig. And for those who preferred other Ukrainian dishes, there was no lack of pierogies, kielbasa with cabbage and hot borshcht.

At the end of the Vatra, all of the musicians together performed the Lemko song, “ Oy vershe miy, vershe ,” and, as thanks for their participation, received a 5 th Annual Lemko Vatra T-shirt as a souvenir from the Vatra organizing committee. Following words of thanks for all of the organizers of the festival, the administration of the CYM resort, volunteers and participants, the festival came to a close. “ Do pobachennya za rik ” [Goodbye until next year], read the sign above the CYM resort exit, inviting all for the next, 6 th Annual Lemko Vatra, which is planned for June 23-25, 2006.

For more information about the Organization for the Defense of Lemkivschyna readers may contact Mr. Halkowycz at (201) 692-1471 .
For more information about the Lemko Vatra performance, contact Mr. Harhaj at (973) 772-3344

Source: The Ukrainian Weekly, July 24, 2005, No. 30, Vol. LXXIII; Article written by Steven Howansky and Andriy Khomyk

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