Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 20, 2006
Bishop Huculak witnesses the thirst for faith
Now the metropolitan of the Church in Canada, this man's trip to Ukraine cemented his belief in people's love of Jesus
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Bishop Lawrence Huculak told the Edmonton Catholic Schools' Faith Development Day audience that teachers are persons who enable young people to encounter the Lord Jesus.
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
A mob scene outside a small church in rural Ukraine showed Bishop Lawrence Huculak the strong faith of a people who, for decades, had been denied any public expression of that faith.
Shortly after Huculak was ordained a bishop in 1997, he took part in the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in Ukraine. It was his first trip to Ukraine.
During the synod, the bishops had time off when they were free to do whatever they wanted. "A group came to me and asked me if I would go with them to a small village church just on the edge of the city that had been built in the 1500s," Huculak told about 3,000 teachers and support staff of Edmonton Catholic Schools Feb. 7 at the Shaw Conference Centre.
"It had very beautiful iconography, but during the communist period, it had fallen into ruin. And so they had fixed up the church and were looking for a bishop who would come and bless the church on that Sunday.
"I agreed to go with them to this very old, small, wooden church that at one time had been in a little village. Its entrance was so low, I had to duck to get by this doorway."
A huge crowd packed the little church. Hundreds more filled the churchyard.
Bless the church
"At the end of the liturgy, they wanted me to go and bless, not only the interior of the church, but to walk around the whole church and to bless it with holy water. And they said that for this service they would have some seminarians," the bishop related in his homily at Edmonton Catholic Schools' Faith Development Day.
(It was his last homily as Ukrainian Catholic bishop of Edmonton before being installed as archbishop of Winnipeg and metropolitan of the Church in Canada.)
"I thought that's okay; they'll show me where to go. When I looked at these seminarians that they brought forward, these were big seminarians, very huge young men. I said 'Well, they are eating well here, that's nice to see.'
"And they began to lead me around the church. There was such a crowd of people that young people had to hold hands to form a corridor for me to walk through them to go around the church and to bless it with holy water."
Things were going fine. The hefty seminarians led Huculak and the crowd watched him with "fixed eyes."
This all happened but a few years after the fall of communism and once again people were able to freely practise their faith.
"As we got about halfway around the church, suddenly one lady broke through that crowd and reached out and touched my vestment. She touched me on the arm. And when she was finished the others began to do that. They were going to mob me," the bishop said to laughter from the crowd.
Reach out and touch
"Then I realized why they gave me those hefty seminarians. They held the people back until I could get back into the church. After the service, they had to escort me to a van and took me away."
Huculak was shocked by the event. "But when I pondered upon this after, I was so struck by the faith of these people that they wanted to physically touch me and the vestment I had on as a way, we can say, of encountering Jesus Christ," he told the audience.
"For so many years, they had lived unable to touch the Lord Jesus that they were willing to reach out and touch whoever they could or find whatever means that they could to have that encounter with the Lord Jesus."
The bishop compared his Ukrainian experience to the Gospel passage for the liturgy where a woman who was sick for many years saw Jesus coming along and rushed to touched him. "She wanted to touch him and in this way feel that she was united with the Lord Jesus."
This happens often not only to clergy, but also to people who are in education and more specifically in Catholic education. "The children and the young people who you work with, who you instruct, look to you for so much," Huculak said. "They look to you for information, they look to you for leadership and indeed they look to you for the truth of their lives and the truth of the world that we live in."
Teachers, he said, are persons who enable the young people to encounter the Lord Jesus.
"St. Paul says that when we are baptized, we put on the Lord Jesus; we are full with the Lord Jesus. So wherever we go out into the world we represent the Lord Jesus. And thus it is not unusual that the young children especially will look up to their teachers as a sort of model, as a leader, as a hero.
"How important it is for us in this ministry of education that we offer to all of those young people that come into our lives an opportunity not only to learn about the various facts of living in this world, but also to reach out and touch Jesus in whatever way it's going to be. So often you are the ones that the young people will touch and encounter the Lord Jesus."
In time of crisis, in times when the young people have to deal with the issues of life and death, violence and family breakups, the ministry of offering them the encounter with the Lord Jesus is most important, Huculak told the teachers.
The bishop said he would leave for Manitoba convinced he had worked with a top-of-the-line Catholic education system in Alberta. "I especially leave this memory of working with an education system that you are so honoured to have here in Alberta," he said.
"We did not have this in the province of British Columbia where I grew up and I will not find it now in the province of Manitoba. But you have a very strong Catholic education system here within the City of Edmonton and other areas throughout the province.
"Realize how important that is and how God has blessed this province with this structure of religious and Catholic education. Might you continue to make it alive and make it a valuable tool for all of those young people that come across your lives and in this way might you continue to offer them the encounter with the Lord Jesus that they will need throughout the rest of their life."
At the end of the liturgy, board chair Debbie Cavaliere presented Huculak with a painting as a parting gift. "I think we are going to miss your sense of humour, your gentleness and your storytelling," she told the bishop.
Then Cavaliere read a statement from the board and the administration thanking the bishop for his years of service to the district.
"The Catholic community of Edmonton and in particular our school district have been deeply touched by your humble leadership," the statement said. "We are better people for your devotion to Catholic education, your down-to-earth humour, your pastoral leadership and your approachable demeanour. You are really leaving a legacy as a true shepherd of our Lord Jesus Christ."
"We are very sad to see him go," said Superintendent Dale Ripley. "He's been a wonderful role model for us, very, very involved in the Ukrainian program in our district; it's a huge loss. But I think Canada has gained in terms of him being the metropolitan for all the Ukrainian Catholics in Canada. It's a huge gain for them and a huge loss for us."
Father Stephen Wojcichowsky, director of religious education for the district, said Huculak's ministry to Edmonton Catholic has been a ministry of presence and acceptance and encouragement.
"Whenever he has been in the schools, with gatherings of teachers, with gatherings of support staff and other personnel, he's always been that person who lifted people's dignity in terms of what they are doing regardless of the position they hold in the school district," he said.
"He is encouraging to parents and most importantly here you have a leader of the Church affirming people's own gifts and their ministry to our young people."