Dear Ukrainian Catholic Faithful – Eparchy of Edmonton,
Glory be to Jesus Christ! Cлава Iсусу Xристу!
Many of us have heard about the recent unfortunate incident in the Canadian Parliament where the Speaker of the House of Commons honoured an individual who fought in a German SS unit during the Second World War. The incident embarrassed the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Ukraine.
Related to this incident, as of late some have called for the removal of the central Cross at Saint Michael’s Cemetery, Edmonton, claiming that it was erected as a monument honouring the same Second World War unit. This is not the case.
Most Ukrainian Catholic Cemeteries feature a central Cross where the faithful gather – not just Ukrainian Catholics but many other faith groups – for a prayer service during which, led by a priest, they remember and prayer for their deceased loved ones. Saint Michael’s Cemetery has such a central Cross. The Cross for all Christians is a reminder of the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the hope in the Resurrection and eternal life. To deny the Cross is to deny Christ.
On the other hand a monument can be described as a statue, building, or other structure erected to commemorate a notable person or event. The central Cross at Saint Michael’s Cemetery is not a monument. It is a Cross, plain and simple. It is certainly not dedicated to any particular group of individuals.
Perhaps the confusion arises in who contributed financially to the building of the central Cross when it was erected and blessed by Patriarch Josyf Slipyj the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide, on October 31, 1976. Two plaques, one in English and one in Ukrainian, list the major donors. Of the five groups mentioned, three are veteran groups from World War I and two from World War II. Many other non-veteran Ukrainian Catholic individuals also contributed to the building of the central Cross. The intention from the very beginning, in placing this central Cross at Saint Michael’s Cemetery, was to pray for all deceased who are buried there. This includes those who defended their homeland during World War I and World War II, and others. Today, it also includes those who for some ten years now are fighting to defend Ukraine from yet another Russian invasion. The words behind the central Cross ring out anew today, “For the Freedom of Ukraine.”
War is dirty. It is not always black and white. Where war crimes have been committed by certain individuals, in the past or the present, justice should be sought in the international courts based on evidence. The role of historians and those communities harmed are crucial in this process. The same holds true of the genocide-in-the-making in Ukraine at the hands of the Russian aggressors.
For now, it is my hope to engage in a lasting and meaningful dialogue with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the hope of walking together towards peace and reconciliation. Both of our peoples have suffered much during the Holocaust and the Holodomor and the pain and hurt continue to this day.
Let us continue to pray for the blessed repose of those buried at Saint Michael’s Cemetery and elsewhere, and for those who will die today.
Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton