A Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest celebrates the 8 a.m. Divine Liturgy for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 24, 2024, at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toronto. St. Nicholas parishioners had to evacuate the church toward the end of the 10 a.m. liturgy that day due to a bomb threat apparently made by a woman experiencing mental distress. OSV News photo/St. Nicholas Church via YouTube

Ukrainian Catholic church in Toronto receives a bomb threat amid Sunday liturgy

By  Gina Christian, Maria-Pia Chin, OSV News
  • March 26, 2024

Parishioners of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Toronto had to evacuate the building toward the end of their 10 a.m. liturgy March 24, due to a bomb threat apparently made by a woman experiencing mental distress.

Media relations Officer Ashley Visser of the Toronto Police Service confirmed to OSV News by email that several officers responded to calls March 24 after 46-year-old Tamira D. Loewen of Toronto allegedly "told people of an impending terrorist attack, or that a building would blow up" upon entering "the residence of someone unknown to her, a church, and a community center" in the city.

"Officers located the accused and she was arrested," Visser said in her email. "There were no reported injuries and no explosives located."

Loewen, who appeared at the Toronto Regional Bail Center March 25, has been charged with unlawfully being in a dwelling, two counts of a hoax regarding terrorist activity, and two counts of public mischief and false report.

"We were grateful that the police took it seriously and made sure that it was safe, but certainly not what you expect when you go to church on a Sunday," said Father Alexander Laschuk, who learned about what happened when he was arriving for the 12 p.m. liturgy.

Father Laschuk -- who serves as parochial vicar at St. Nicholas and directs the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute in Toronto -- told OSV News that Father Roman Lobay, the pastor, saw police officers in the back of the church toward the end of the liturgy. Because it was after Communion, the pastor finished the liturgy, but people had started evacuating already, Father Laschuk said.

"(Father Lobay) learned that someone had made a bomb threat," he said.

The police, alongside bomb-sniffing dogs, went through the entire parish church with one of the associates to make sure all was safe, he said, adding that the search took nearly an hour.

Many churchgoers waited outside while the police investigated, with some singing the traditional Ukrainian song "Mnohaya Lita" ("Many Years") in honor of Father Lobay's birthday.

Father Laschuk said that the 10 a.m. Mass is the most popular service at St. Nicholas and there were likely a few hundred people in attendance.

"They weren't sure if the last Mass would be able to happen," but a few minutes later, they were "able to still get back into the church with the all-clear from the police," he continued.

The bomb threat took place on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, which commemorates the return of icons to the churches, after a synod at Constantinople restored the veneration of holy images around A.D. 843.

The liturgy also marked the beginning of Great Lent in the Julian liturgical calendar, observed by St. Nicholas and several other Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes until 2025 with the permission of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. (After 2025, all Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes will follow the Gregorian liturgical calendar, with the Julian date for Easter and its related holidays, known as Paschalia, remaining intact for the present in Ukraine.)

Father Laschuk said that the parish has had some security issues in the past, but that was the first time they had a bomb threat.

When asked about a potential motivation for the threat, the priest said, "Naturally you think about the war (between Russia and Ukraine), but at the same time, it's in a pretty unique neighborhood; sometimes, you know, there's a mental hospital nearby, so mental health issues are always an issue in that neighborhood as well."

Father Laschuk said those waiting outside the church were surprised since "a church on Sunday tends to be a safe place."

He added that there will likely be extra security measures to ensure people's safety, but the church has cameras because the Canadian government has been releasing funds "to different groups to increase security because there's been a general concern about hate-related crimes across the country."

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