A first for Canada: International Ukrainian Catholic bishops coming to Manitoba for synod

Article by: Brenda Suderman (Posted with Permission)
Winnipeg Free Press – ONLINE EDITION

UKRAINIAN Catholic bishops from around the world will gather in Manitoba in September, marking the first time the hierarchy of this Eastern-rite church meets in Canada.

About 40 bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will travel to Portage la Prairie for their annual synod, Sept. 9 to 15, to discuss church governance and care for laity, says Archbishop Lawrence Huculak of Winnipeg.

“A lot of the ongoing issues are the expansion of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in fourth-wave immigration to Western Europe, Africa, North and South America and Australia,” he says of the agenda for the September meeting.

“It’s the most broad expansion from the Ukraine ever. With it comes a lot of social issues because a lot of families are broken up because it’s just the working mother or working father (who leaves.)” Usually, this annual gathering of the church’s hierarchy takes place in Ukraine, the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and home to the church’s patriarch leader, Sviatoslav Shevchuk. The Manitoba meetings mark the third time in recent history the bishops have gathered outside Ukraine, says Huculak, and the first visit of Shevchuk to Canada since his election as head of the church in March 2011.

“Although he’s from Ukraine, he lived in Argentina, so he understands the (Ukrainian) diaspora,” Huculak says of the 41-year-old Shevchuk, the youngest among the Ukrainian Catholic bishops.

“He’s young, he’s vibrant, he’s good with languages and he’s really photogenic,” adds Rev. Mark Gnutel, local organizer of the synod.

The synod is closed to the public, but Shewchuk and the other bishops will attend the Sunday mass Sept. 9 at Sts. Volodymr & Olga Cathedral on MacGregor Street and visit parishes in and around Winnipeg the following Sunday, Sept. 16. The bishops will also tour Ukrainian Catholic-run schools, nursing homes and ministries in Winnipeg to understand how the faith is expressed and lived in Canada.

“I’m excited that these people are coming to Manitoba, especially Portage la Prairie, and they’ll see the Prairies,” says Gnutel of the visiting bishops.

“We’re Ukrainian Catholic and we have our customs, but we’re clearly Canadian.”

Manitobans can meet Shevchuk at an evening banquet for 900 on Sept. 16, an event that will include local dignitaries and will showcase local talent and Canadian culture to the international visitors, says Gnutel.

The banquet menu most likely will include chicken instead of traditional Ukrainian perogies, says Gnutel, the Winnipeg priest who played himself recently in two performances of Danny Schur’s musical Perogy Supper Miracle.

“For us, this is a chance to have a real live Folklorama,” says Gnutel, priest of St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic parish. “We’re all Ukrainian Catholic, but a lot of these (bishops) are from France or Argentina.”

The synod marks the 100th anniversary of Bishop Nykyta Budka’s arrival in Winnipeg from Ukraine, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop to this country. Budka returned to Ukraine in 1928 and died a martyr in a Soviet concentration camp in 1949. Ukrainian Catholics are celebrating Budka’s life with the publication of a biography and several other events throughout the year, says Huculak.

“His successors are coming back to Canada to celebrate what he did,” says Huculak. “I think all these bishops can come to Canada to appreciate what we have done in Canada.”