And yet it was in these oppressive conditions in Soviet Russia that the Ukrainian Catholic Church, while it lost many members, grew deep roots and bonds of friendship among those that remained.
"(T)he Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which had about 4 million members in 1939, with 3,000 priests, was totally - on a visible level - liquidated," Gudziak said.
"In 1945-46 all the bishops were arrested, hundreds of priests with their families were deported to Siberia. The church was rendered illegal and it remained the biggest illegal church in the world for 43 years until 1989. And it was very reduced. By 1989 there were only 300 priests left," he said.
"But what a community it was! Forged in that fire of persecution," he added.
When he met the underground Church, Gudziak said everything was stripped to the bare minimum - bishops had jobs as ambulance drivers or coal workers, there were no schools or churches or official institutions of any kind. The bishops didn't even know one another's names, because it was too dangerous to tell someone your name in underground seminary.
"And yet they were profoundly friends of Christ, and it was an incredible, intense relationship of those in the underground," Gudziak said.
"The friendship was not just kind of a nice thing, it cost profoundly to be a friend of Christ in an atheist totalitarian system," he said. "It cost to pass down the faith to your children. But the fruits are amazing."
The Ukranian Catholic Church now again has 3,000 priests, 5 million members and 800 seminarians.
The story of the Ukranian Catholic Church is important because "it's the story of the cross," Gudziak told CNA in an interview.
"I think the story of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its persecution, its underground life, its survival...it's not a philosophy, it's a story of human faithfulness to God...the faithfulness of concrete people to God and to each other."
From the beginning of humanity, God has been teaching human beings about true friendship, Gudziak noted in his talk.
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"From the scriptures we know from our faith, we experience that the Lord so yearns to make us his friends. Moses had a special privilege to see face-to-face. Abraham was called a friend. The value of friendship was modeled by David and Jonathan," he said.
"Then, Jesus came to us. Our faith, our church, our theology, our civilization is based on this incredible gesture that God comes to be close, to convey his divinity. He sits next to us," he said.
"What a God, what a Lord, and what is He conveying? He's conveying the divine life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Friendship...motivates the Father to send his Son into (the world's) grime, into our anxiety, our sin, the pitch blackness that we can create, into our hell, into our death, to create relationship, to create trust, intimacy, to establish an alliance."
"Friendship," he said, "is the school of the spiritual life which reflects the gift of relationship that we have, by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God. God is triune. He's personal and there's relationship. We as persons are called to relationship. We're called to friendship."
Besides his appointments in the U.S., Gudziak also serves as the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. In striving to teach their students about true friendship, the university invites academics as well as students with disabilities into its classes and campus, he said.
"Not because they need us, because they need our social handout, but because the children of God with special needs have special gifts. They don't care where you got your Ph.D. or how many publications you have. They don't notice how rich or poor you are or, which title you carry," he said.