By Joyanne Rudiak, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church Youth Coordinator
(Editing and design by Jayne L. Buryn, Communications Coordinator, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton)
October 10, 2017: It’s been almost two months since Unity 2017, my fourth plunge into this long weekend retreat for Ukrainian Catholic young adults. I’m sure it sounds cliché when I say that every Unity experience is different, but truly they are, and not just because each one I’ve been to has been hosted by different eparchy.
When I first started attending Unity I was 19 years old, going into my third year of university, endless possibilities ahead of me. I was just really getting interested in learning more about my faith, having attended World Youth Day in Australia the year before. Now, at 28, with almost 10 more years of living my faith under my belt, the way I experience and respond to what happens at Unity is different.
Nevertheless, the beauty of this nationwide retreat is its ability to transcend each stage of a young adult’s experience. No matter if I am 19 or 28 I still get something out of this life-changing event, and indeed it is life-changing.
First, though, let’s look at what Unity is. As I mentioned above, it is a national retreat for Ukrainian Catholic young adults that takes place every two to three years, usually the year after World Youth Day. This Unity was no exception.
From August 17-20, young adults representing each of the five eparchies in Canada (plus guests from the United States) gathered at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. Throughout the weekend, the group of about 45 prayed, ate, laughed, and attended sessions surrounding this year’s theme, “Into the Horizon: Focus on Faith”.
Our group from the Edmonton Eparchy totaled 8. Unlike previous Unitys, I didn’t know everyone in our group, since some of the participants are closer to the age I was when I first started attending Unity.
During our 7 hour drive, though, we managed to make friends. Only friends are able to threaten to stop at every petting zoo on the way when we are clearly already behind schedule due to unforeseen construction that makes us travel 50 km/h for an hour in what would normally be a 100 km/h zone. I kid you not; this is what happened.
We did manage to get to Muenster in one piece and proceeded to spend the evening meeting the other participants through various ice breakers and the “Great Saskatchewan Bushfire”. Our group especially enjoyed the sausage tasting; the Edmonton Eparchy was deemed to have “the best kubasa in the country.” Thanks, Stawnichy’s! Fellowship such as this would continue to be a huge part of the weekend.
The next day, Friday, was chock-full of sessions from our keynote speaker, Frank Mercadante, executive director of Cultivation Ministries in Chicago, and a host of other presenters, including our very own Bishop David Motiuk. Frank’s message throughout the weekend focused on what he’s learned in his work as a youth minister in the United States. He offered tools to help us be more effective as evangelizers and encouraged reflection on our own practices, to make sure we’re sharing the Good News in an authentic way.
The other sessions, of which each us could choose three, ranged in topics from ecology and canon law to making chotki, prayer ropes used to focus on the Jesus Prayer, and the dangers of pornography. All the sessions I attended were well thought out, interesting, and, most importantly, helped me reflect on my faith and how I can continue to practice in the midst of a crazy 21st-century life.
One way we practiced our faith during our time at Unity was through participation in a variety of liturgical services including Eastern and Western Vespers, and Divine Liturgy. Each eparchy led one of the services, and we had the opportunity to pray with the monks of St. Peter’s Abbey during their Vespers service.
One of the most interesting services for me was Divine Liturgy on Sunday with Holy Fire, a choir that uses musical instruments while leading the celebration, something that is not traditionally found in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. I wasn’t sure how I would react to it, but I found it to be very beautiful, easy to follow, and full of the Holy Spirit. It was a wonderful way to conclude our time together.
The most powerful experience I had at Unity, though (which has not changed since I began attending in 2009), was the opportunity for spiritual direction and reconciliation. Before Unity 2009 I really didn’t understand what Confession is all about, just that I should probably go at least twice per year. At my first Unity, however, I had an experience of such freedom and connection with God that something finally clicked for me. I was able to be totally open with Christ in that moment and truly seek reconciliation with Our Lord. I don’t think I’ve had a bad Confession since and will always be grateful for that first experience eight years ago.
There were so many more beautiful moments that I cannot count or explain, so I will just leave you with this: when our group returned home on Sunday night, I felt an incredible sense of peace that only comes of being spiritually filled. Yes, Unity is a social event, and an educational one, but you don’t get that lasting sense of peace from just those things. Peace like that comes from God alone and that’s what Unity gives me every time I go.
For more information, see:
Musical YouTube video invitation to Unity 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCb31l4DnTY
“Unity 2017: Days of Inspiration for Young Adults from Across Canada”, by Alex Pankiw, participant from the Archeparchy of Winnipeg:
Unity 2017 Revisited: Words must be met with Action, by Fr. Paul Paproski, OSB, a reflection in the Prairie Messenger:
Feature article about Unity by Edmonton writer, Brent Kostiniuk: http://www.royaldoors.net/2017/07/unity-2017/