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The Vancouver Sun: Visiting Ukrainian patriarch warns against ‘moral escapism’

By Douglas Todd, The Vancouver Sun (published on August 31, 2012)

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk

Sviatoslav Shevchuk first visited Vancouver 15 years ago as a fresh young priest on an adventure, driving here with friends from San Francisco.

This week he makes a return visit as His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, revered patriarch of the world’s four million Ukrainian Catholics.

“I remember admiring the fireworks,” the patriarch said of an evening he spent on English Bay in the summer of 1997.

On Saturday, he is to lead a morning service and reception at Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic parish in Vancouver.  Then off to an Okanagan church.

BC Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Ken Nowakowski is credited with attracting more people to services.

Patriarch Shevchuk, 42, is back to Vancouver as the youngest “Catholic” bishop in the world, says his Canadian colleague, Ken Nowakowski, the Ukrainian-Catholic bishop for B.C. and Yukon.

Even though the Ukrainian Catholic Church follows Eastern Orthodox rituals and has an arms-length relationship with the Vatican, Shevchuk’s election as Ukrainian patriarch, or main archbishop, was confirmed last year by Pope Benedict XVI.

Canada has the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population after Ukraine and Russia. During an immigration wave beginning in the 1890s, most of the country’s 175,000 Ukrainian-Canadians settled on the Prairies, with a minority ending up in B.C.

The patriarch, whose name is the object of prayer during church rituals, laughingly said one of the reasons he is visiting Metro Vancouver is to show local Ukrainian Catholics he is “not a virtual person, but a real one.”

Members of the Ukrainian-Catholic Church in B.C. “have to feel the big church is with them. They have profound roots not only in Canadian soil, but in the whole church world-wide. It is very important to remember our unity.”

Nykyta Budka

An official reason for the patriarch’s visit is to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival on Canadian soil of the country’s first Ukrainian Catholic Bishop, Nykyta Budka (left).

A fierce advocate of independence from the Vatican, Budka spent 15 years in Canada before returning to Ukraine in 1927. He died of starvation in a gulag after Soviet forces imprisoned nearly all Ukrainian Catholic bishops following the Second World War.

“He is a blessed martyr,” said Patriarch Shevchuk, who is leading a campaign to find Budka’s bones, which were scattered on a desert in a remote part of the former Soviet Union. Shevchuk would like to see them become holy relics.

Even though the Eastern Orthodox church remains by far the largest Christian faith in Ukraine, Nowakowski said most Ukrainian immigrants to Canada came from the Catholic region of the country of 45 million people.

Ukrainian Catholics do not follow the so-called Latin rite, but tend to blend Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Their church services generally adhere to the Byzantine rite.

Because of their historical outsider status, Ukrainian Catholics were systematically persecuted in the Soviet era.

But Shevchuk, a one-time ethics professor, has warned all people against over-focusing on the wrongs of the past. In Catholic media he has called such an attitude “moral escapism” – which he describes as excessive indignation based on old evils.

“It does not always translate into ethical behaviour today.”

Ken Nowakowski

During his weekend visit to Metro Vancouver and Okanagan congregations, the patriarch is being guided by his longtime friend Nowakowski, whose formal title is Bishop of the Eparchy of New Westminster.

The patriarch, who speaks several languages, credited Nowakowski with attracting more British Columbians to Ukrainian Catholic services in his five years in office.

Even though many of the province’s 13 Ukrainian-Catholic parishes have small memberships, the patriarch said many have been growing as a result of ethnically mixed marriages and the church’s openness to newcomers.

Unlike many Ukrainian-Catholic parishes in Canada and the world, Nowakowski, 54, said most B.C. congregations try to offer services in both Ukrainian and English.

“We are committed to evangelization to all, not just to members of one ethnic group,” he said.

For the patriarch’s visit, a full house of about 500 is expected at Saturday’s 10 a.m. service in the visually striking domed sanctuary of Bless Virgin Mary Church, at 14th and Ash.

© Douglas Todd, The Vancouver Sun

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