A $2.5 million renovation and addition to the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Bloomingdale is still months away from completion. But on Sunday, it received a little divine support.
Patriarch Filaret, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, paid a visit to the center and blessed its cornerstone.
Filaret was in town as part of a national tour, during which he has called on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to relinquish control of Ukraine's orthodoxy.
The religious struggle is seeded in political battles that have simmered beneath the surface since Ukraine declared its independence from Russia in 1991, said Taras Konowal, vice president of the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church parish's council.
"The church has become an important part of keeping Ukraine's independence," Konowal said. "Without our own church, there is no nation."
The visit coincides with the 40th anniversary of the parish, which began in Downers Grove and moved to Lombard before finding its permanent home in Bloomingdale in 1976. Last year, the patriarch, who is the church's equivalent of the Catholic Pope, also visited the parish.
"To have him come builds unity of the people here that still believe the Ukraine will continue to be the Ukraine and not become a part of Russia," Konowal said. "Because of what's going on there, the Ukrainian people depend on people outside of the Ukraine."
Filaret visited Washington D.C., Florida and the east coast in an effort to build support for the Ukraine Orthodox Church. The church has 20 million followers worldwide, Konowal said.
As part of the weekend's festivities, Filaret officiated Sunday's liturgy and spent time with parishioners and officials throughout the weekend.
Konowal said the visit and religious services lend more credence to the church's authority, a credibility he said comes from within the church.
"The legitimacy is all politics," Konowal said. "We don't need legitimacy from somebody else. We have legitimacy from Jesus. We are a church."