Ukrainian Catholic Metropolia of Canada



August 27, 2012

Mission, British Columbia


To fully understand the report that follows, we must first look briefly at the historical, social and cultural context in which catechetical instruction is delivered to the faithful of our Church in Canada.

Ukrainian Catholics, currently numbering some 110,000 (down from 201,957 in 1990 in spite of massive immigration), are scattered throughout the vast expanse between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Within the five Eparchies, there are 390 parishes (2008 statistics) in Canada, which is twenty times the size of Ukraine.

A large percentage of these are very small parishes of a dozen faithful found in small rural communities and the prairies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta – their churches built by early immigrant farmers.  Priests in these provinces serve as many as seven to ten parishes.  Most faithful are concentrated around a few large centers:  Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Region, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver.

Our parishes serve 3rd and 4th generation Canadians as well as 4th wave Ukrainian immigrants who come from various cultural backgrounds:  Polish, Serbian, Siberian, and other former Soviet (Russian-speaking) countries and, of course, Eastern and Western Ukraine. More and more “mixed” marriages and converts from other faiths, among whom, are discontented Roman Catholics, add another dimension to our parish communities.  Language issues (Ukrainian, English, French) and calendar issues (Julian, Gregorian – sometimes both in one parish!) add to the challenges posed by distance.  When a parish community splits along language and/or calendar lines, the essential aspect of belonging to “one Body of Christ”, united in prayer as one family, is lost.

Along with the rest of the world, our Church in Canada is experiencing a declining birth rate (generally fewer and fewer baptisms) and disinterest in things religious.  Financial concerns (working to establish roots in Canada, working more to have more, working two jobs to make ends meet) divert attention from spiritual to material needs and desires.  Sports (such as hockey) and social activities often take precedence over worship, even on Sundays. This is a serious concern, for to be effective, catechesis must be rooted in the experience of Christ through liturgical worship in community.

Early conflicts between Catholics and Orthodox, confusion in identity and a feeling of inferiority (not Roman Catholics and not Orthodox – who are we?) contributed to the loss of many faithful who became either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, or fell away from the faith altogether. For decades, Roman Catholic catechetical materials were used to educate our children. It is no wonder they felt very much at home in the Roman Church. The Liturgical life of our Church became very westernized.  Vespers and Matins virtually disappeared in most parishes, depriving the faithful of a rich source of catechesis found in the texts of those services.

Perhaps this brief and inadequate overview will help somewhat in understanding the unique challenges of catechetical instruction in Canada and appreciate that much more the success that has been achieved in spite of the obstacles.

The Canadian National Catechetical Commission (CNCC) is made up of the Eparchial Catechetical Directors from our five Eparchies: Vera Chaykovska and Vickie Adams (Archeparchy of Winnipeg), Fr. Andrii Chornenkyi (Eparchy of New Westminster), Gloria Green and Sr. Emmanuela Kharyshyn, ssmi (Eparchy of Edmonton),  Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, ssmi and Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, ssmi (Eparchy of Saskatoon and co-directors of the CNCC),  and Iryna Galadza (Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada).  His Grace, Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak is the Spiritual Director of the CNCC  and Fr. Stephen Wojcichowsky is its advisor.  This commission meets annually, usually in Winnipeg.

The Mission Statement of the CNCC reads as follows:

The Mission of the Ukrainian Catholic National Catechetical Commission, mandated by the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops of Canada, is to provide leadership in promoting effective catechesis in the Ukrainian Catholic Church at every level:  local, eparchial, and national.

Each eparchy in Canada has a Religious Education – Catechetical Resource Center and (except for Toronto) is located in or near the Eparchial Offices.  Only three have full or part-time regular staff, while the others, are run by volunteers.   At these centers, libraries of resources (books, manuals and audio-visual materials) are organized for use in parish catechetical programs.  Samples of student books and teacher manuals from various publishers and in both languages are available for review.  Enrichment materials for catechists and adult education materials are also available.  Pastors and catechists are offered assistance in designing a catechetical program that fits the unique needs of their parish.  Displays of new resources are sometimes taken to clergy conferences.  Home-schooling parents are another group that benefits from the resources at the center. Some centers publish seasonal or monthly newsletters for distribution to parishes and offer an electronic version, which contains links to good internet resources.  In essence, these centers provide support to pastors and catechists in parishes and Ukrainian Catholic schools. Some go further in organizing educational workshops for clergy on current issues such as bioethics or eparchial wide events such as a series of talks for adults, children’s camps and even marriage preparation programs.  The Edmonton office runs a Grief Share program and Sr. Marijka offers spiritual direction though the Saskatoon office.  The Toronto Center has mailed out information packages to all pastors on Contraception, Natural Family Planning and Reproductive technologies and organized a Clergy Study Day in Bioethics.  Thus, our Catechetical Centers often reach beyond the basic mandate of the office to fulfill other educational and spiritual needs.

Catechist Formation in Canada is a tremendous challenge. Only the Eparchy of Saskatoon has managed to maintain an ongoing Lay Formation Program by joining the program of three Roman Catholic Diocese and the Aboriginal Roman Catholics. It  requires a commitment of 10 weekends per year, for two years and is currently in year one with its sixth group.  Sisters Bonnie and Marijka organize lecturers on Eastern Christian Studies for the 16 Ukrainian Catholic participants at these weekends. Half of the graduates of this excellent program have become catechists.  In spite of the tremendous energy the Sisters put into Lay Formation, it is very tenuous, since it relies on funding from the Roman Catholic organization Catholic Missions in Canada. The funding is granted one year at a time and could be suspended at any time. There have been hints that that time is coming as other, poorer churches need support.  If the funding disappears, so does the Lay Formation Program.

Very few parishes are fortunate enough to have a Sister Servant or a monastic involved in the parish catechesis. Most are fortunate to find volunteers willing to dedicate their time to preparing and delivering a program, much less travel often great distances to attend formation classes. At best, some attend occasional workshops which are held in all eparchies.  Volunteers are often professional teachers, deacons, seminary graduates or clergy wives who are able to do an excellent job with the help of good teacher manuals and resources. Catechists are encouraged to attend the Metropolitan Andre Sheptytsky Summer Institute or take “on-line” courses through the year. There is no national certification system for catechists. The parish pastor is ultimately responsible for ensuring the catechist in his parish has the appropriate knowledge and resources to deliver a good program.

All teachers working in the Roman Catholic School System (Alberta and Ontario) must have completed a course in Religious Education.  Teachers in the Eastern Rite Schools within this system take the same course, but there is no requirement for supplemental courses in Eastern Christian Tradition, thus many teachers (some of whom are Roman Catholic and others who are not practicing members of the Church) are ill equipped to present the faith in the context of Eastern Spirituality. Staffs in these schools receive instruction at little workshops on Professional Development Days or at staff meetings, but these are hardly adequate.  Schools that are fortunate to be visited by priests receive valuable support from them, but it is not consistent, as pastors often lack the time required for school visits.  Catechetical libraries in the schools are minimal and often gather dust, as teachers are so overburdened with responsibilities, that they rarely have time to delve into materials beyond the manual for the student books that are being used. School boards have strict guidelines on the amount of time and money that can be spent on professional development, which limits the kind and amount of support they can be given within the school year.

A variety of Catechetical Programs for all age groups (including adults) have been developed within our eparchies, responding to the particular needs of parishes within them.  These needs are so diverse, that much creativity is needed to fulfill them.

Children’s programs vary from traditional classes organized by age to mixed age group instruction.  Traditional classes are mostly found in day schools and larger city parishes.  Most use the God With Us series, which is extremely practical, because it exists in both Ukrainian and English.  Some use excellent supplemental materials from OCEC (Orthodox Christian Education Commission), especially for First Confession preparation.

Due to small numbers of children in small city and rural parishes (anywhere from one or two children to 15 or 20 if lucky), a “one-room school” approach is used with teachers having to put together a special curriculum appropriate for all.  Often, a thematic approach is used, for example:  Old Testament/New Testament stories, feasts of the year, icons, church history, Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, etc.

Various kinds of “camp” experiences have been successful in providing children and youth with good catechesis, especially for those who have no access to parish or school programs.  “Break for Jesus” (an annual, week-long spring break camp) and “Fun in the Sun With the Saints” (a week-long annual summer day camp) both in the Toronto Eparchy, have become so successful, that they cannot accommodate all the children that would like to attend. Summer camps are also run in New Westminster, Edmonton and Saskatoon Eparchies.  Some parishes in the Winnipeg Archeparchy run their own summer program.  Experience has shown that these weeklong camp experiences are often more beneficial to children than sporadically attended Sunday School Classes.

Unfortunately, most parishes only offer catechism classes for children up to the eighth grade and many only through grade two (First Confession).   Many youth receive religious instruction in Roman Catholic High Schools, in provinces where they exist.  In parishes, instruction of youth often takes the form of retreats, camps or less formal gatherings, where a catechetical talk is part of a wider program.  Altar Servers and Children of Mary meetings also include catechesis. In some eparchies, the Youth Ministry Office is responsible for providing support to educational youth programs in parishes.  UNITY, a national youth pilgrimage/retreat and World Youth Days are an inspiration to our youth, who mature in faith through these events.

More attention has been given to Adult Catechesis in recent years, as adults themselves have expressed interest and desire to grow in knowledge of their faith.  On the parish level, monthly lectures, Bible Study groups and book and movie clubs have provided this opportunity without requiring a major commitment in time which is often a problem for working adults – especially parents.  Some parishes provide catechetical CDs and DVDs for parishioners to borrow.  These are especially popular and effective, as they can be used at home when time permits or listened to in the car during long drives to work.  Some parishes have borrowing libraries or host Book Fairs, offering an excellent selection of spiritual literature. Occasionally a series of talks is organized, as was in Winnipeg last year, with five different churches each hosting a day-long session on a different topic.  Parishes in The Toronto Eparchy have found that these talks are especially successful when connected to a liturgical service such as Vespers.

Parents are encouraged to take on the role of catechist in the home – the Domestic Church.  They are offered materials that help them teach their children about major feasts and fasts and the traditions attached to them.  Publications such as Soul Food offer short, easy to understand bits of catechesis, that teach families how to live the faith in the Canadian cultural setting.

Intergenerational Programs address the catechetical needs of all three age groups – children, youth and adults.  Generations of Faith, modeled on a Roman Catholic program, is designed to bring parish families together for a faith and community building experience.  It includes prayer, a meal, various learning activities and a take-home package of follow-up materials.  Each year’s sessions of the five year cycle address a particular theme such as the Mysteries of the Church, Feasts and Fasts, Liturgy etc.  Three parishes in Saskatoon run the program on their own, while the Office of Religious Education runs it for four rural parishes.  In New Westminster, the Religious Education Center runs a GOF session each year for the Eparchy, with various parishes participating in it together. The Montreal Deanery organized a session for that city’s parishes. GOF sessions require trained facilitators who need to spend a fair amount of time in preparation.  Some have found the instructions in the packaged program difficult to follow and lacking in information.  Some activities were found to be difficult to implement in the space and time they had available.  Thus, GOF almost always requires time consuming modification.  It is well worth the effort, but few parishes have the human resources to run the program of six to eight sessions per year.

Whole Parish Catechesis is another way some parishes address educating all age groups.  It works well on a Sunday as most of the parish community is present for Divine Liturgy anyway.  After Liturgy and a brief snack, children and youth go to their respective groups for a lesson, while the adults are invited to enjoy their coffee as they listen to the forty-minute presentation prepared for them. Often, supplementary reading materials are offered. The informality and flexibility of this approach, which does not demand a great commitment of time, is very appealing to this generation of adults. Though monthly sessions hardly seem adequate, they are doable and have a cumulative effect over the years.

Interaction of our Eparchial Catechetical Offices with other eparchial organizations like the Women’s Leagues and with Youth Ministries, which can benefit from the materials in the resource centers, is an important part of our ministry.  Where day schools exist within the Roman Catholic School System, we have brought together principals from these schools to address common concerns.

Building good relationships with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters is another important role of our catechetical centers. Tours of our churches and educational materials are offered to Roman Catholic schools and parishes that are interested in learning about the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, is vitally important to our Church in Canada.  It is a tremendous resource for our catechists who are encouraged to attend the Summer Institutes offered in Ottawa and Edmonton or to take the on-line courses offered.  Our National Catechetical Commission has a special relationship with MASI, as its director, Fr. Stephen Wojcichowsky, fulfills the role of advisor to the commission.

The Canadian National Catechetical Commission’s relationship with the Patriarchal Catechetical Commission is a relatively new and very welcome one.  Members of our commission have helped in developing catechetical materials in Ukraine and taught sessions at the Catechetical Institute.  A very short time later, the Patriarchal Commission oversaw the publication of Ukrainian language materials that would become very useful to us in Canada as immigration from Ukraine was increasing. By translating into Ukrainian some of the excellent Orthodox catechetical materials we had been using in Canada, the Patriarchal Commission legitimized their use in our Church. Most important is the inspiration that the Patriarchal Catechetical Commission provides in its zealous development of catechetical materials such as the new catechism and program for the catechumenate designed specifically for our Church.  Its outreach to our Catechetical Commissions in Canada (and other countries) has dispelled the feeling of working in isolation and given us a sense of identity in belonging to the greater Church.

Catechesis in Canada faces great challenges yet has experienced much success.  Some of these have already been referred to and a description of the rest will conclude this report.

In the past, faith informed culture, but unfortunately in Canada the reverse is true today.  Ukrainian Catholics, immersed in this secular and pluralistic society, are challenged to take out of it what is good.  In homogenous Ukraine, the entire country celebrates major feasts at the same time.  Religious celebrations are part of the culture.  Even those of little or no faith are surrounded by celebration and cannot ignore it.  In Canada, our Church is a very small fish in a very large pond.  Here, celebrating feasts takes conscious effort and much planning in taking time off work, for example, if celebrating on the Julian calendar.  Weekday feasts are ignored or moved to Sundays and the catechesis imbedded in the texts of the feasts is lost.

Canadian faithful need to be educated and re-educated in regards to our Eastern Christian identity.  This is a difficult process in a setting where the church has spent decades trying to develop an identity and seems, in many areas, to have lost it in the process.  Circumstances such as one priest serving several rural parishes, left no time for anything but the bare essentials in liturgical life – basically Divine Liturgy, often shortened so the priest could rush off to the next parish.  It forced practices such as the plaschtsianytsia being carried in procession on Pascha morning, since there was no Great Friday Service. Eventually, these practices became the norm, deeply ingrained in the life of the faithful.  A rich liturgical life is the core of catechesis.  Without it, catechesis remains in the head and doesn’t reach the heart, where a lasting faith takes root.

New catechetical resources are desperately needed to accomplish the necessary education and re-education in a uniform manner throughout Canada.  For this, a National Curriculum Development Office is Essential.  Although materials developed in Ukraine have been helpful, they need to be translated and modified to accommodate a different cultural context.  An example of this is the beautiful workbook for preparing children for first confession.  It presumes the child has never received Holy Communion, since the practice of communicating children from Baptism onward is not a standard practice yet in Ukraine. In Canada, this ancient practice has taken root and is increasing, thus a preparation text must address this practice and focus on the transition to receiving as a child that now takes full responsibility for his/her actions.  Even within Canada there are cultural differences between eastern and western provinces, which must be considered.  A national curriculum is needed to balance out these differences and work toward a more uniform approach.

Developing and publishing curriculum takes money, a scarce commodity in our eparchies.  By the time our Bishops pay their dues to the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops (for publishing materials we can not use) and to the Patriarchal Synod, there is little left for funding programs locally.  Appeals for funds much needed for education in Ukraine over past years have diverted attention from the support needed at home. Perhaps appeals for funding the needs of the Global Church need to be balanced with the needs of the local Church.  Most catechetical directors and their staff (if any) are volunteers who often have other responsibilities.  There is no stability in this arrangement, as their time is limited.  The reality is that, if we want to see the catechetical ministry grow, it needs funding applied to full time human resources.  Were it not for grants from Canadian Missions or donations from Women’s Leagues to supplement what the Bishops can afford, our offices would not even have the meager funding that exists today.

In spite of these financial challenges, catechesis in Canada is moving forward and building on the historical work of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate.  It is no wonder that progress is being led by women of their order, Sr. Luiza in Ukraine and Sisters Bonnie and Marijka in Canada, who head our National Catechetical Commission.  The establishment of the NCC and its regular meeting has been instrumental in inspiring individual directors to maintain this momentum of a growing catechetical ministry.  New resources and ideas are shared at these meetings.  Common problems are discussed and often solutions emerge (surely through the action of the Holy Spirit).  Most importantly, the exhaustion and discouragement we all experience is dispelled in the grace filled interaction of our members.

Much has been accomplished while creatively working within our means. There has been a great increase in programs for adults.  Eparchial wide programs are growing, much to the credit of our Bishops, who have been very supportive of these initiatives and encouraged more extensive catechesis for those preparing for receiving the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and Marriage.

More and more parishes are embracing the diversity of their membership and have found ways of responding to their varying catechetical needs.  The Liturgical renewal that is slowly taking place throughout Canada has brought about greater participation from the faithful, as texts are provided in English as well as Ukrainian.  The younger generations are slowly embracing old and forgotten traditions, giving them new life in Canadian culture.  They are drawn to more traditional forms of fasting and more “exotic” services, such as Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts.  These are the result of hard work on the part of pastors and catechists and a general interest of the young in what is pure and authentic.

The positive influence MASI has had in educating the faithful cannot be overlooked.  This institution has made studying Eastern Christianity accessible to all, whether through the regular credit program, the Summer Study Days, the Summer Institute, or distance education.  The annual Study Days are particularly successful in encouraging people from all walks of life and backgrounds (Roman Catholics and Orthodox as well as Ukrainian Catholics) to learn more about our Church and grow in faith through the liturgical services offered during these days of lectures and workshops.

Through common catechetical endeavors, our Church’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church has grown.  Roman Catholics are interested in knowing more about our Church and experiencing worship in our tradition.  They often approach our catechetical centers for information and welcome invitations to join us at a liturgical service.  We have come a long way from being looked upon suspiciously and being questioned about whether we are really Catholic.

We take joy in the accomplishments of past years for the Glory of God and we trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we embrace our challenges.  We await with excitement, the English Translation of Christ, Our Pascha and look forward to all the new opportunities it will offer in our catechetical programming.  We thank the Patriarchal Catechetical Commission for all your efforts and especially for your interest in our work in Canada.  You are an inspiration to us, and a joy to work with.  May God grant you Many Years and continued success!

This report is based on information submitted in eparchial reports

by the following directors:

Vera Chaykovska and Vickie Adams (Archeparchy of Winnipeg)

Fr. Andrii Chornenkyi (Eparchy of New Westminster)

Gloria Green and Sr. Emmanuela Kharyshyn, ssmi (Eparchy of Edmonton)

Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, ssmi and Sr. Bonnie Komarnicki, ssmi

       (Eparchy of Saskatoon and co-directors of the CNCC),

Iryna Galadza (Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada), author of this report.