Blessed Nyktyta Budka
This year the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of her first bishop, Blessed Nyktyta Budka.
The anniversary will be marked with events that are themselves historically significant, Archbishop Lawrence Huculak of Winnipeg said in an interview Jan. 20.
Winnipeg will host the annual Synod of Ukrainian Catholic Bishops Sept. 9-16, gathering bishops from around the world.
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 here for economic or political reasons to make a better life.
The new head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Sviatoslav Shevchuk will not only attend the synod, but will make pastoral visits to all of the eparchies in Canada. The youngest of the Ukrainian Catholic bishops, Shewchuk was elected in a special synod less than a year ago.
Budka, who was beatified in 2001, arrived in Canada from Ukraine in 1912. He was Canada's first bishop appointed to serve the scattered Ukrainian parishes, missions and monasteries that were developing in this country, particularly on the Prairies.
This was the "pioneer era of Ukrainian settlement," said Huculak. Until the bishop arrived, there was little Church organization or structure to oversee the people establishing parishes. There were some clergy and some religious orders but not much coordination.
Budka's arrival did not mean "everything fell into place overnight," Huculak said, noting how difficult it must have been to travel and communicate in an era before airplanes and other modern means of connecting.
The first bishop had to travel by train or by wagon, often in -25 degree weather. "It's quite awe inspiring how he could carry out his ministry in this country and in the conditions he found himself."
Budka, only 35 when he arrived, laid the groundwork for a united Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, gathering the scattered clergy, religious brothers and sisters, and lay people into a united Church.
Today, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada is a metropolitan province with an archeparchy (Winnipeg) and four eparchies: Toronto and Eastern Canada, Saskatoon, Edmonton and New Westminster, B.C.
In addition to unifying the Ukrainian Catholics, most of whom were new immigrants to Canada, Budka cultivated good relationships with Roman Catholic bishops and obtained the Canadian government's civil recognition of the Church.
The relationship between Ukrainian Catholics and Roman Catholics went more smoothly in Canada than it did in parts of the United States, where many Eastern Catholics became Orthodox due to a perceived lack of welcome from the Roman hierarchy.
The Ukrainians who came to Canada tended to go to the Prairies to farm and did quite well, while those in the U.S. gravitated to the coal mines in the Eastern states, he said. As well, there was more pressure in the United States to assimilate because of its denser population.
Budka's service in Canada involved suffering and hardship that weakened his health. But Huculak notes he 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 then 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."
Huculak said he draws on Budka's example when he faces challenges in his own ministry, and 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 Budka after he was sent to the concentration camp.
At his beatification, there was an account of his dying in the concentration camp and his body being thrown into the forest, where it was assumed to have been eaten by a wild animal as only bits of clothing were found, Huculak said.
Later documents found in police records say Budka died of disease and was buried, but researchers have not been able to find any traces of either the grave or the concentration camp, the archbishop said.