Ahead of the Pope’s Apostolic Visit to Canada, the Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, Bishop David Motiuk, speaks about the Ukrainian presence in Canada, the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s journey with indigenous peoples, and his hopes for Pope Francis visit.
Pope Francis is set to make his 37th Apostolic Visit abroad when travels to Canada on Sunday.
His first stop is in Edmonton, the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta in the west of the country. While there, he will meet with indigenous peoples.
Edmonton is home to a large Ukrainian community, which is tended to by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Canada’s population is estimated to be 37 million with almost a million and a half of Ukrainian decent.
Their arrival in Canada dates back some 130 years when they found their way to the country in order to escape poverty, overpopulation, starvation, and a lack of employment.
Bishop David Motiuk is Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton.
The Eparchy serves some 25,000 faithful in 81 parishes throughout Alberta and provides, spiritual, catechetical, counselling and sacramental care for families and individuals, as well as outreach programmes for the needy and marginalized.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Christopher Wells, the bishop said Ukrainians have “ingratiated themselves into the fabric of the Canadian mosaic,” and are accompanied by the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The bishop elaborated saying, Ukrainian Catholics now number some 100,000, and that figure has continued to grow in the last eight years, and especially as a result of the war in Ukraine.
Newcomers, he emphasized, are welcomed to Canada, and to their Church, and are offered support as they adjust to their new surroundings.
Gratitude to indigenous peoples
The Pope’s visit to Canada is intended to be a penitential pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of Canada.
Asked about the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s relationship with native Canadians, Bishop David said: “We are blessed to journey with the indigenous peoples here in western Canada. I am very grateful to those peoples. 130 years ago these Ukrainians were struggling, and we would not have survived those first harsh winters.”
He went on to say, “we’re hopeful that with Pope Francis’s visit that the Ukrainian people, who didn’t have any role to play with residential schools, but can identify with our indigenous brothers and sisters in their suffering and their hardship, we can work towards restoring a sacred bond that once existed with our peoples; a little bit of payback for the kindness that were shown to our community.”
The Eparch noted that St Josaphat’s Cathedral in Edmonton is just one block away from where Pope Francis will visit the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. He also noted that “there is a large number of indigenous peoples within our communities, in particular with our school system.”
“We share in much of the tragedy of peoples who perhaps are not well understood in Canada and colonialism, but perhaps together we can work to a brighter future for all of our peoples.”
Hopes for the visit
On a personal level, Bishop David said he hopes that the Pope’s Apostolic visit will be one that fosters both healing and reconciliation which will lead to process of renewal between peoples.
The bishop is also keen to point out that one of the great joys of his life has been working with Ukrainian Catholics.
He explains that “bilingual schools here are very privileged and twinning them with various grades in the indigenous community, the schoolchildren. And they’ve been telling the story of residential schools and of the Ukrainian famine, the Holodomor, through the lens of young people.”
The bishop added that he was hopeful “this generation and the next generation can know each other’s wounds and need for healing, but also can enjoy sharing the joys of what it means to be the people of God and to work together, so that we can encourage support and strengthen one another on our earthly pilgrimage to the heavenly kingdom.”