Here is an interview with the president of the Canadian episcopal conference, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, during his trip to Ukraine this month to address the Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops’ synod. His address at the synod was delivered Aug. 15.
The interview is provided by the Canadian bishops. It was by Oksana Klymonchuk.
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Your Eminence, when we talk about the Cathedral, its basic idea is to unite all Greek-Catholics throughout the world. In your opinion, do the faithful need such a main place of worship in the Church?
Unity is an integral part of belonging to Christ’s Church; it is Jesus Christ Himself who gave his life in order to unite all people, spread throughout the world, into one body into one Church. This unity is symbolized in many ways. We, the Catholics of the entire world, are united around the Holy Father, and a visible symbol of this unity is Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Greek-Catholics who are spread on various continents, are united under the person of His Beatitude Sviatoslav – Head of the Church. And a visible sign of this unity is the Cathedral.
I would also like to emphasize that my presence here is the affirmation of the unity which exists between the Greek-Catholic Church and the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite. We experience this unity wonderfully in Canada and I would like to share this experience with my brethren-bishops here in Ukraine.
In the 20th century UGCC experienced perhaps its most difficult period. At the beginning of the nineties it began to emerge from the underground. Do you think that the Church has already come out of the underground or is this process still continuing?
Unfortunately, I cannot compare how the Church underwent the process of coming out of the underground, in order to say in what condition it finds itself now. However, I would like to emphasize the historical lesson which the Greek-Catholic Church provided for the whole Church.
The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church provides the whole world with a great testimony and an example of faithfulness and indestructibility. Through your bishops and all other faithful we saw how one should live in faithfulness to the call of Our Lord. This is an example and a lesson to us since in the West, the Church is now experiencing persecution. However, it is a somewhat different persecution 00 the faithful are not always ready to bear witness that they are Christians and experience this affiliation mostly on a private level. Therefore, for us, the example of the Greek-Catholic Church is testimony in how to be faithful to the Church of Christ.
In Ukraine, we often observe that some confessions, let us say, closely cooperate with the authorities. They may even campaign for a certain candidate for president or for election to Parliament. In your opinion, is this correct? And how does this work in Canada?
I do not believe that such cooperation between the Church and the authorities should exist. According to the teachings of the Church, there should be certain autonomy between the Church and the State. And, in no case, may the Church campaign for some concrete political power. A political party or a certain candidate may transgress Christian principles and then the Church has to criticize those people for whom it campaigned.
When the Church criticizes the actions of the State – is it not interference in its activities?
Not at all. To react to the actions of the State does not mean interference in the internal life of the State. The Church should make declarations on resolutions which contradict Christian values; after all, it is a part of civic society.
Recently Ukrainians celebrated a centennial of their presence in Canada. What position do they hold in the Christian, civic society of Canada?
The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Ukrainian bishop’s presence in Canada was conducted very nicely and still continues. Last year His Beatitude Sviatoslav visited Canada for this celebration. My presence here in Ukraine is a continuation of these celebrations, in order to highlight to what degree we are happy about the presence of Ukrainians in Canadian society. In their everyday life, Ukrainians remind us about one of the fundamental issues – about God. You are probably aware of the fact that in the western world the issue of God is erased, unimportant… Yet each one, who attends the Divine Liturgy in the Ukrainian church and has the opportunity to feel the symbolism of the icons, always returns to the question of the existence of God. Therefore, the presence of Ukrainians in Canada is very important for us.
I want to add that the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishops in Canada are not only members of the Canadian Conference of Bishops, but they are also very often our friends. There is a very good relationship between the Ukrainian Catholic bishops and the bishops of the Latin Rite. In its own way it is a great testimony to unity in the world, which so often suffers from various divisions.
Can you compare the Ukrainians who for so many generations have lived in Canada to Ukrainians in Ukraine?
I can say what is similar. First of all, it is the unusual hospitality which I feel when I visit the Greek-Catholic parishes in Canada. I always feel very welcome there. I feel the same way in Ukraine.
Another common trait which unites the Ukrainians in Canada with those in Ukraine is their attitude towards food. Every time that I visit Ukrainians, I feel that they try to serve the most delicious food that they have. In the short time that I have been in Ukraine, I have eaten much more than usual.
The main topic of this year’s UGCC Synod of Bishops – the new evangelization. In Canada, are you also searching for new methods by which to bring to the people the Word of God?
Yes, we also try to conduct a new evangelization, because that is the calling of the Church. It has already been doing it for 2,000 years. What we see as the new evangelization concerns methods and fervor with which the Word of God is proclaimed. We face a great challenge, how to find the appropriate language. Often the language which the Church has used for many years is not understandable to all the faithful. Thus, we are attempting to proclaim the eternal truths in an accessible language.
We have wonderful examples of evangelization from the Roman popes. For example, Pope Benedict focused his attention on the perception of beauty because that is what a person feels intuitively at the deepest level. However, Pope Francis teaches us love, especially charitable love towards those who have been disregarded by society. These are examples of new evangelization which we all can use.
But why new forms of evangelization? Are the methods of the Second Vatican Council outdated? Have we started to speak a different language? Has our human nature changed?
This is an important question. Human nature stays the same but the circumstances in which a person lives, change. The basic message of the Gospel, eternal truths also remain unchanged. Yet the Church faces a new challenge – to assure that the eternal truth, which is always preached, is understandable to the contemporary person.