Canada to Host Ukrainian Catholic Synod

OTTAWA, Ontario (CNS) — When 35-year-old Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Nykyta Budka arrived in Canada in 1912, Ukrainian Catholic parishes, missionaries and monasteries were scattered across Canada, particularly on the prairies.

This year, Canada’s Ukrainian Catholics mark the 100th anniversary of their first bishop, who laid the groundwork for a united Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, gathering the scattered clergy, religious brothers and sisters and laypeople.

The anniversary will be marked with events that are historically significant in themselves, said Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Huculak of Winnipeg, Manitoba. For instance, Canada will host the annual worldwide synod of Ukrainian Catholic bishops in Winnipeg, Sept. 9-16.

Archbishop Huculak said Canada’s hosting of the synod comes “as an affirmation of Bishop Budka’s life and the life of Ukrainian Catholics in Canada” who came for economic or political reasons to make better lives for themselves.

The Ukrainian Catholic major archbishop, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, will attend the synod and visit Winnipeg and Canada’s other eparchies: Toronto; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; New Westminster, British Columbia; and Edmonton, Alberta.

Blessed Budka was beatified in 2001. Archbishop Huculak said that, until the bishop arrived, there was very little church organization or structure to oversee the people establishing parishes. Although there were some clergy and some religious orders, there was not much coordination.

But Blessed Budka’s arrival did not mean “everything fell into place overnight,” Archbishop Huculak said, noting how difficult it must have been to communicate or to travel in sub-zero weather.

“It’s quite awe-inspiring how he could carry out his ministry in this country and in the conditions he found himself,” the archbishop said.

In addition to unifying the Ukrainian Catholics, most of whom were new immigrants to Canada, Blessed Budka cultivated good relationships with Canada’s Latin– rite Catholic bishops and obtained the Canadian government’s civil recognition of the church.

The relationship between the Ukrainian Catholics, an Eastern rite, and Latin-rite Catholics went more smoothly in Canada than it did in parts of the United States, where many Eastern Catholics became Orthodox through a perceived lack of welcome from the hierarchy.

“The history of Canada is different,” said Archbishop Huculak, noting the Catholic Church in America was more Irish, while in Canada is was more French. The Ukrainians who came to Canada tended to go to the prairies to farm and did quite well, while those who went to the United States gravitated toward the coal mines in the eastern United States, he said. The population in Canada was sparser; there was more pressure in the United States to assimilate because of denser population.

Blessed Budka’s service in Canada involved suffering and hardship that weakened his health, but Archbishop Huculak noted the bishop was not able to end his ministry in Canada and go into a comfortable retirement.

Instead, he was summoned back to Ukraine, to a country that under communist control. Soviet authorities sent him and other Ukrainian Catholic bishops to a concentration camp in Kazakhstan, “a world totally different from anything he knew,” Archbishop Huculak said.

The Winnipeg archbishop said he thinks of Blessed Budka’s example when he faces challenges in his own ministry, and he reflects on his spirit of “dedication, perseverance and trust in God to carry out the mandate that was given to him.”

Little information has survived about Blessed Budka after he was sent to the concentration camp. At his 2001 beatification, one account said he died in the camp and his body was thrown into the forest, where it was assumed to have been eaten by a wild animal, because only some bits of clothing were found, Archbishop Huculak said.

But later documents found in police records say Blessed Budka died of disease and was buried. Researchers have not been able to find any traces of either the grave or the concentration camp, the archbishop said, adding that he hoped more evidence might come to light.

Though the synod agenda has not been released, Archbishop Huculak said it will renew ties between the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine and Canada and will “affirm the struggle of Bishop Budka and the early pioneers who did so much to establish our church in Canada and bring it to what it is today.”

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