The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church talks about his hopes and aspirations
By Nathan Rumohr and Malin Jordan
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevhcuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church sat down with Nathan Rumohr and Malin Jordan Aug. 31 for an exclusive interview with The B.C. Catholic. The head of the Ukrainian Church talked about his hopes for his pastoral visit to the Eparchy of New Westminster, some of the challenges facing the Ukrainian Church at home and around the world, and how the rite is playing a role in the New Evangelization.
The B.C. Catholic: This is the second time you have been to Vancouver. How does this trip compare to the last one?
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk: The first time I came as a priest and student. I had received a scholarship from the Angelicum University in Rome to study English. I travelled from San Francisco up to Seattle then to Victoria and Vancouver. It was a sightseeing trip to learn more about the area's nature and geography and learn a little more about Canada and the U.S.
This trip is as the head of the Ukrainian Church, and basically I will be visiting the Ukrainian community to discover how the Eparchy of New Westminster is doing, what they need and what kind of support Eparch Ken Nowakowski needs, and also to project the development of our Church not only in Ukraine but here in Canada, and especially in B.C.
BCC: It's been 18 months since your enthronement as major archbishop. How has the first year and a half been?
MAS: I've been very busy! When I was elected I promised the faithful members of our church I would visit them. So all those 18 months I've been visiting. I have visited eparchies in Argentina, Brazil, the U.S., and Canada, but also our eparchies in Ukraine and in Western Europe.
It's been a time of rediscovering my Church, to hear the heart beating, to realize God's will for us and the challenges of the modern world, and to learn how we are supposed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this new era.
We feel that the UGCC today is not only for Ukrainians, but for others too, because we are a global church and we have eparchies all over the world.
We perform our pastoral activities in different countries and different cultures, and we pray in different languages, but the ministry of the head of this church is the ministry of the unity of the church. How do we keep this big church unified?
BCC: What kind of challenges do you anticipate in evangelizing the next generation of Ukrainian Canadians and even those who aren't of Ukrainian heritage?
MAS: There are many challenges, but a very important question is how to inculturate our faith and our Eastern Catholic traditions into different cultures. For example, what does it mean to be an Eastern Catholic in Western Canada?
When I was a bishop in Argentina the question was what does it mean to be an Eastern Catholic in the Latin American culture? This is a huge question. Our presence in the different parts of the world is a presence of sharing our treasures and our traditions.
In order to share we are supposed to be good interpreters of that treasure. We face the same challenge in Ukraine because we are supposed to bring the Christian faith to a new Ukrainian culture, a new Ukrainian society, which is transforming with globalization.
How do we exist in the modern world, but at the same time trust the Gospel of Jesus Christ and exist in the Eastern Catholic tradition?
So the task of inculturation is very similar to the question the Holy Father has proposed for the Church concerning the New Evangelization: How we are supposed to preach the same traditional Gospel of Jesus Christ in new ways and in new places?
BCC: So you see the Ukrainian Church in the West, particularly Western North America, as taking on the task of the New Evangelization?
MAS: Absolutely! Because the primary goal of the Church is evangelization, and as we find ourselves in the new situation we are supposed to perform this task in a new way. So the New Evangelization is that particular call of the Holy Father.
The very notion of a New Evangelization, referred to through Christian tradition British Columbia is a society based on Christian tradition is a question of how we are supposed to perform our mission today in new ways, in new situations.
BCC: What does that mean for Ukrainian Catholics in Canada?
MAS: Ukrainian Catholics have much to say to the people of Canada. We are part of the Catholic family also and we are called to the New Evangelization. We have some treasure in our tradition that Roman Catholics do not have. We have the theology and spirituality of icons.
Today we live in the culture of the image. The Eastern churches have a special theology of sacred imagery and a theology of beauty which can be a very successful way of transmitting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The famous Russian philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky said, "Beauty will save the world."
The beauty of our liturgical celebrations, the beauty of our churches, and the very notion of the Christian temple and the imagery involved can be very useful for the New Evangelization. With our Roman Catholic brothers, together we can be very effective performing the task of the New Evangelization.
BCC: You recently told Catholic journalists in Lviv that they need to be part of the New Evangelization. How do journalists and the media fit in with the Church and her mission?
MAS: I mentioned today's society is a culture of image, but it is also a media-addicted society. If some community or structure has no presence in the mass media that community falls out of the consciousness of society.
Thus it is important for the Church to be present in the mass media. We consider the media a very important instrument to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Media is very important for evangelization.
Our church is open to the media. Ninety per cent of my meetings over the last few months were with journalists. I feel journalists help me get in touch with my people worldwide, because if we preach only in the church, then very few receive our message. If we have profound contacts with journalists, then our audience will increase dramatically.
I also realize many people receive information about their own church through the mainstream media and not through Church media. So it's so important to be present there too.
BCC: What are the most important aspects of faith renewal that you are conveying to the eparchies as part of your worldwide pastoral visits?
MAS: The Church has three different dimensions of its presence and work.
The first one is catechetical service. The Church has always been a mother and a teacher. That is why Blessed Pope John Paul II told us if a parish doesn't transmit its faith, then that parish is a failure. It's very dramatic expression but I think it is very true. In each parish we are supposed to have some space to teach the faith.
Today, as you can see around you, religious ignorance is increasing daily. In each country that kind of ignorance has different causes. In Ukraine we were unable to teach catechism.
I remember in the Soviet Union a priest who was caught teaching would be imprisoned for two years just for catechizing. If he were caught celebrating a liturgy he would pay a fine, nothing more! The Communists felt that teaching catechism was a major threat to the ideology of the state.
Perhaps in British Columbia there are other causes and reasons why some Catholics don't know all the subjects of their faith.
This is why the catechetical work, the catechetical worldwide mission, for the Church is very important. It is part of the New Evangelization.
The second dimension is youth ministry, because youth isn't only our future, but youth is also part of our daily life. It is why I am trying to meet youth everywhere: to be open to youth, to give young people a chance to ask questions and receive responses. It is beneficial for youth to have a personal relationship with the bishop, the priest, the head of the church.
I am meeting with the youth because the media cannot offer this personal contact. The media acts as a surrogate communicator, but young people need a direct approach, a personal one. That is why I am meeting and giving youth the opportunity to ask any question they wish. When I met with youth in Edmonton (in June) it was beautiful.
Youth are also a very active part of the evangelization, so they asked me the same questions they would hear from others outside the Church challenging them on their faith. They asked me those questions to hear good responses for themselves and their peers. It was very interesting.
The third dimension is the formation of clergy and lay people. The formation of clergy means a focus on the seminaries and the formation of women religious. We also need to focus on the formation of lay persons because today it is not easy to be Christian.
Religious education today not only means religious formation, but also a transmitting of information about our way way of life: how we Christians are supposed to live today. It is not only about reasoning, but also about practising our faith.
Watch The B.C. Catholic in the coming weeks for parts two and three.