Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Bryan Bayda, right, and other prelates arrive for Pope Francis’ celebration of the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican in 2018. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Deluge of refugees most pressing work for Ukrainian Church

  • December 24, 2022

Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada convened with other world leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) earlier this month at the Vatican to share their vision on their Church’s future. 

The meeting in Rome, organized by the Dicastery of the Eastern Churches, is similar to what Roman Catholics would call a synod. It afforded Bayda an opportunity to share how he and the curia will support the UGCC’s efforts worldwide with the pastoral and spiritual vision he has in store for his eparchy. 

“It is similar, but not exactly according to the letter of how synodality is being rolled out for Roman Catholic archdioceses and dioceses,” Bayda, 61, told The Catholic Register. “We have a sabor, similar to what you would consider a synod. We explained (at the meeting) of how our sabor results will be achieved through pastoral visits, canonical visitations, how we handle our finances, sharing our pastoral goals for the poor and healing in light of the war in Ukraine, and how that impacts our families.”

The most pressing work in the here and now, ever since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, is supporting refugees caused by the conflict. The refugee deluge is only on the rise as winter has hit and Russian forces have targeted Ukraine’s energy sources.  

“Pastorally, the war in Ukraine is impacting the Church certainly around the world, but particularly in Canada because efforts to accommodate newly arrived migrants from Ukraine is well beyond the borders of just what the Ukrainian Catholic Church can do,” said Bayda, ordained to the priesthood in 1987. “There is an effort and a need to welcome people who are fleeing the war. In many cases there are people coming who don’t go to church or even profess a faith that we are trying to help. This is not just merely welcoming another faithful person. This is fundamentally missionary and humanitarian work.”

Bayda spoke earlier with Vatican Radio about he and his curia’s sojourn to meet with Pope Francis and fellow UGCC brethren. He told the interviewer that, though a minority, the Ukrainian Catholic Church thrives alongside the Roman Catholic Church in Canada. They come together to paint “a wonderful image” and constitute a whole.

“And truly, if there are two lungs, and East and West, that the Church relies upon to give life to the body of Christ, there are so many other parts of the body — to use St. Paul’s image — that we have to rely on. And, you know, it’s profound. I mean, the brain and the ear and the feet and the fingers, they all need each other.”

Historical and present persecution in Ukraine has “shaped and transformed” the Church, Bayda told Vatican Radio. The UGCC has embraced the realization that “it’s about mercy, it’s about being Christ.” He said the perspective of the Ukrainian Catholic community, influenced by adversity, is valuable to interfaith dialogue. 

“We can learn from each other that way and we can learn from the West on how to do that, and yet at the same time I think we have some examples that we can give the West, as an Eastern Church in Canada, some hope, some freshness. The Holy Spirit speaks more than one language.”

Pastorally, the goal of the UGCC for much of this past decade was centred on nurturing parishes as places to spiritually encounter Christ. This goal will be carried forward to 2030, with an added focus on uplifting the poor.

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