Staff Photos By Thom Barker
Article by Thom Barker

His Beatitude Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, thrilled the local faithful with a whirlwind visit Friday and Saturday during which he presided over a prayer service at St. Mary’s, had breakfast at Sacred Heart High School gymnasium and chatted with youth groups in the auditorium. Yorkton This Week staff writer Thom Barker was there and files this special report on a once-in-a-lifetime event for Yorkton.

He carries himself like a man who is very comfortable in his own skin and in his role as head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC).

In official appearances, he has a dignified, almost regal presence.

One-on-one, he is sincere, articulate, gracious… even affable.

Most Reverend Bryan Joseph Bayda, bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, describes him as a “very prayerful man,” something the bishop said doesn’t get regularly reported in the media.

“To be able to sustain a sense of leadership, a sense of what is God’s will for our Church, it certainly requires a close relationship with God and, I would say it is a very important aspect of his life,” Bayda told a gathering of students at Sacred Heart High School in Yorkton Saturday as he introduced His Beatitude Patriarch (officially Major Archbishop) Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

Shevchuk was elected to lead the world’s estimated four million Ukrainian Catholics at the 2011 Synod of Bishops in Brazil. The youthful Shevchuk—at 42 one of the youngest bishops in the world, let alone head of one of the largest semi-autonomous “particular churches” in the Universal Catholic Church—told the students his initial reaction was “scared to death.”

“I accepted only because I rely on the hand of God and encouragement and help of my bishops,” he said.

An accomplished life

Sviatoslav Shevchuk was born May 5, 1970 in Striy, Lviv region of Ukraine. He was ordained a priest on June 26, 1994 by His Beatitude Myroslav Cardinal Lubachivsky who was major archbishop from September 1984 to December 2000.

From 1994 to 1999 Shevchuk studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome achieving a Ph.D. in theological anthropology and the moral roots of theology in the Byzantine theological tradition.

Upon completion of his doctorate, he returned to Lviv, where he held several administrative and formation positions including: rector at Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary; vice-dean of the theology department at the Lviv Theological Academy, now the Ukrainian Catholic University; head of the secretariat of the Patriarchal Curia in Lviv and personal secretary to His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar (major archbishop, 2005-2011).

In January, 2007, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI blessed the decision of the Synod of Bishops to name Shevchuk as auxiliary bishop of the Protection of the Blessed Mother Eparchy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In April, 2010 he was named Apostolic Administrator of the Eparchy of Argentina.

The new evangelism

With his youth and resume, the bishops are counting on Shevchuk to breathe new life into the Church. The UGCC faces the same challenges as the Catholic Church at large. Congregations are aging, many middle-aged parishioners have lapsed, the priesthood is dwindling and youth simply are not as engaged as they once were, particularly in large urban centres.

The major archbishop laid out his vision for the future in his December 2011 pastoral letter “The Vibrant Parish—a place to encounter the living Christ”.

“The parish is the place where Christian holiness most often germinates, grows and matures,” he wrote. “For this reason the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 2011, in its concern for the spiritual renewal of our entire Church, focused its particular attention on the parish, that foundational portion of the People of God, which strives for holiness under the guidance of its bishop as father and teacher of the faith.”

Evangelism is nothing new to the Catholic Church. According to Matthew (28:18-29), Christ ascended into heaven saying: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Shevchuk envisions a return to this fundamental tenet of Christianity, not just by clergy and missionaries, but by each person who calls himself a Christian.

“Frequently it is the case today that Christians are ashamed to acknowledge their faith, hiding it by their silence and passivity, instead of defending the Church of Christ and standing in the defense (sic) of the rights and dignity of the human person,” he wrote.

“Our pastoral initiatives, catechesis, Divine services, the reading of God’s word, etc. should make us strong and unwavering in our faith, as well as always ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1Pt 3:15).”

Modern technology

In order to accomplish its revitalization the Church is reaching out to lapsed Catholics and youth using modern technology including Facebook, Twitter and DVDs.

The synod has also published a uniquely Ukrainian catechism, which
Shevchuk promised Yorkton parishioners would be available in English probably by Spring 2013.

The catechism is not merely a study program, he explained during his address at Sacred Heart. It is an introduction to the faith that is useless without personal experience.

“This is why it is so important to keep a bodily connection between explanation about God, explanation of the living Christ present in the Church and a personal experience of that presence,” he said.

Yorktonites were certainly inspired by the major archbishop’s presence.

“It’s a dream come true,” said parishioner Walter Prystai.

In his own words…

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk took a few minutes after breakfast on Saturday to talk to Yorkton This Week. The following is some of what he had to say.

On why it was important for him to include Yorkton on his tour of Canada:

This city is very famous in Ukraine because of the first community of the Ukrainian redemtorists. And also, my great predecessor Andrey Sheptytsky visited this city in 1910 and exactly here he got a request for the first Ukrainian bishop for Canada. It is very symbolical that we do celebrate a centennial of the arrival of the first Ukrainian bishop Nykyta Budka in Canada. I am visiting this very specifically historical place for our Church, not only for Canada, but worldwide.

On the strength of the Ukrainian faith in Canada compared to in Ukraine:

It is difficult to compare, but I think that those parishes which we have here, we are trying to be vibrant parishes. And also my visit is supposed to help them to renew the Christian commitment and to be places of the transmission of our faith, our heritage, our culture and all those treasures that Ukrainians brought here from Ukraine to Canada.

On why it is important to elevate the status of the Ukrainian Church to patriarchate:

For the first time that question was posed by my great predecessor Patriarch Josyf Slipyj. Almost 50 years ago, he was liberated by Pope John 23rd from the Soviet prison and he came out and he was trying to save his Church not only in the former Soviet Union but outside of the Soviet Union in so-called free world; to save it from the assimilation.

The patriarchal structure is a special possibility on how to build the unity of that Church. I would say today we have the same challenge, how to reconnect our church and build a unity of the community who is spread around the whole world. We are today far ahead than in the time of Patriarch Slipyj toward the patriarchal dignity. First of all because we have a synod. Now I have a title, major archbishop, but I have the same rights as each of the eastern Catholic patriarchs. The most important, I would say, dimension of the patriarchal dignity is the synodality of the Church.

On whether troubles in Ukraine may prevent the elevation of the Church to patriarchate:

No. Our Church in Ukraine understands a different role we have in the society, unlike the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church according to the ancient idea of the symphony between church and state always is trying to be part of the state system. But Catholic Church is always part of the civil society. For us it is very important to be active in a civil society educating our citizens to freedom. And I think it’s a most important issue in today’s development of the democracy in Ukraine.

On the importance of modern technology to today’s Church:

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, modern technology is very helpful for the evangelization because with the modern technology we can speak more widely to our people. Not only to those who are present in the Church, but we can reach them in their homes. It is why mass media today we consider very important tools for the new evangelization.