Winnipeg Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Huculak. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Ukrainian Synod coming to Canada

  • January 25, 2012

OTTAWA - This year the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of his first bishop, Blessed Nykyta Budka, with a number of special events planned in celebration.

The anniversary will be marked with events that are historically significant in themselves, said Winnipeg Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Huculak, including the annual Synod of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in Winnipeg Sept. 9-16, gathering bishops from around the world.

Huculak said Canada’s hosting of the Synod comes “as an affirmation of Bishop Budka’s life and the life of Ukrainian Catholics in Canada” who came here for economic or political reasons to make better lives for themselves.

The newly elected head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, will not only attend the Synod, but will make pastoral visits to all of the eparchies in Canada. The youngest of the Ukrainian Catholic bishops, Shevchuk was elected in a special Synod a little less than a year ago.

Budka, who was beatified in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, arrived in Canada from Ukraine in 1912. He was Canada’s first bishop appointed to serve the scattered Ukrainian parishes, missions and monasteries that were developing in this country, particularly in the Prairies.

This was the “pioneer era of Ukrainian settlement,” said Huculak. Until the bishop arrived, there was very little organization or structure to oversee the people establishing parishes, he said. There were some clergy and some religious orders, but little co-ordination.

Budka’s arrival did not mean “everything fell into place overnight,” Huculak said, noting how difficult it must have been to travel and communicate in an era before airplanes and other modern means of connecting.

“It’s quite awe-inspiring how he could carry out his ministry in this country and in the conditions he found himself,” said Huculak.

Budka, who was only 35 when he arrived, laid the groundwork for a united Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, gathering the scattered clergy, religious brothers and sisters and lay people into a united Church that began as a Canada-wide exarchate. Today, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada is a Metropolitan Province with an archeparchy (Winnipeg) and four eparchies: Toronto and Eastern Canada, Saskatoon, New Westminster and Edmonton.

In addition to unifying the Ukrainian Catholics, most of whom were new immigrants to Canada, Budka cultivated good relationships with Roman Catholic bishops and obtained the Canadian government’s civil recognition of the Church.

The relationship between the Ukrainian Catholics and Roman Catholics went more smoothly in Canada than it did in parts of the United States, where many Eastern Catholics became Orthodox through a perceived lack of welcome from the Roman hierarchy.

“The history of Canada is different,” said Huculak, noting the Catholic Church in America was more Irish, while in Canada was more French.

Budka’s service in Canada involved suffering and hardship that weakened his health. But Huculak notes he was not able to end his ministry in Canada and go into a comfortable retirement. Instead, he was summoned back to Ukraine, a country under communist control. Soviet authorities sent him and other Ukrainian Catholic bishops to a concentration camp in Kazakhstan, “a world totally different from anything he knew,” Huculak said, and where he eventually died.

Huculak said he thinks of Budka’s example when he faces challenges in his own ministry and reflects on his spirit of “dedication, perseverance and trust in God to carry out the mandate that was given to him.”

Though the Synod agenda has not yet been released, Huculak said it will renew ties with the Church in Ukraine and the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada and “affirm the struggle of Bishop Budka and the early pioneers who did so much to establish our Church in Canada and bring it to what it is today.”

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