LVIV, Ukraine -- Illinois Army National Guard Chaplain (Maj.) Vincent C. Lambert of Task Force Illini, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, connected with key religious leaders from the Armed Forces of Ukraine at the Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church here Aug. 5 in support of the ongoing Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine partnership.
Lambert, of Chicago, and Staff Sgt. Gregory W. Baumgartner of Peoria, Illinois, the Task Force Illini religious affairs specialist, met with Father Mykhalchuk Taras, senior chaplain of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and his deputy Father Andrii Sidanych. Taras greeted Lambert and Baumgartner in front of the church, explained the building was under renovation, and began the day by giving a tour.
“I enjoyed spending the day experiencing a new culture while establishing key relationships that allow us as a Unit Ministry Team to influence current and future partnerships with Ukrainian religious leaders. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the history of Garrison Church,” Baumgartner said.
The 400-year-old Jesuit church served as a garrison building and place of worship during military holidays from 1739 to 1946. The church features a series of shrines dedicated to fallen Soldiers and civilians involved in past wars and revolutions.
Baumgartner said he was surprised to see shrines dedicated to fallen soldiers and civilians displayed inside the church.
“It was a display of military respect I’ve never seen in a church before,” said Baumgartner.
Lambert said he was struck by the Garrison Church’s deep military association.
“I really appreciated the connection between the local church and military chaplaincy,” said Lambert. “It was a wonderful chance to see and hear about their history and how things are working in the AFU’s chaplaincy program today.”
The church reopened in 2010 and was consecrated on Dec. 6, 2011, the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s 20th anniversary.
Communist Russia ordered the church closed in 1946. In 1950 it became a book storage facility for a science laboratory. Taras said storing books in the church helped to protect the most vital parts of the structure from damage over the years, but several artistic frescoes and naves were destroyed due to moisture.
“Damaged fixtures are being restored to their former glory centimeter by centimeter,” Sidanych said.
Though the restoration process continues, the church remains open daily as a site for families and community members to pray and pay their respects. The leaders of the church plan to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of reopening in 2021.
“Being able to stand in a building older than the United States was an ‘awe’ moment for me,” said Baumgartner.
Lambert and Baumgartner said they enjoyed connecting with their religious counterparts while learning about the history of Garrison Church.
“For the past 5 years, [the AFU] has been working side-by-side with the chaplains of the US Army,” Taras said. “It gives us the opportunity to deepen our chaplaincy experience, to take a closer look at what chaplaincy looks like in America, and it is very good for us because the Institute of chaplaincy is just beginning to emerge in our country. This exchange is very important.”
Lambert said he is excited to work with his Armed Forces of Ukraine counterparts.
“It presents another opportunity for us to continue to grow and learn together, to continue these meetings, to continue to share best practices, to continue to learn how we can both serve the AFU as well as the American military, and as we come together as partners I think it allows us to learn, grow and be able to walk away being better chaplains together,” said Lambert.
Task Force Illini is the command element of Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, which is responsible for training, advising and mentoring the Ukrainian cadre at CTC-Y in order to improve Armed Forces Ukraine’s training capacity and defense capabilities.