“The whole of Ukraine is my relative” – prayers and concern echo across Canada

People protest against the war in Ukraine in Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy, Feb. 27, 2022, as around the world and across Canada protests and prayer services were also held. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – After praying the Panachyda — traditional Byzantine prayers for the dead in time of war — Katia Metersky left Toronto’s St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in tears.

“My whole family is back there,” she told The Catholic Register. “My grandparents. All my cousins are males, young males. I am terrified of getting that call. All I can do is pray.”

Mertersky is a professor of nursing at Ryerson University who confesses to feeling guilty about living her life in Toronto while her skills are needed in Ukraine.

“All I do is pray. I feel such guilt,” she said.

Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, as well as Administrator of the Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada offered the Saturday morning Eucharist and Panachyda prayers at St. Nicholas Church.

In Ukrainian, he prayed for the dead.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported at least 136 civilians had been killed in Ukraine as of March 1. Numbers of soldiers reported killed on both sides have been the subject of highly variable reports and are impossible to verify.

Bayda has no doubt that this war is a moment of decision for all.

“It’s about prayer. It’s about discernment,” he said. “Definitely some are called (to return to the war-torn nation). I’ve talked to people who are leaving their work, their place in their country – Germany or wherever. They’re going.”

Prayers for Ukraine offered in Ukrainian Greek Catholic Churches, the Roman Catholic Church and other rites across Canada are not an empty gesture, Bayda said.

“There is a mystical unity in the Body of Christ that perhaps is underestimated,” he said. “The more a person can become the Christ they are supposed to become, there’s victory in that. There’s a strengthening of the body of Christ… Therein lies the strength that clearly the Russian Federation has underestimated. That is a weapon, if you will, of strength in the Body of Christ that he (Russian President Vladimir Putin) can’t defend against. How do you defend against prayer?”

Leaning heavily on her cane, Olga Semeniuk struggled to St. Nicholas Church early Saturday morning to pray with Bishop Bayda.

“The whole Ukraine is my relative,” she said. “It’s my country. It’s always going to be my country. They’re fighting for their country (in Ukraine) but they’re fighting for my country.”

Alexander Palchuk doesn’t buy the Russian explanation that war was necessary for Russia to claim security against an encroaching NATO military alliance. He believes it’s a religious war against Ukrainian Catholics and the majority of Ukrainian Orthodox who have separated from the Russian Orthodox Church.

“(Putin) would want this part of Christianity to be totally non-existent,” Palchuk said. He cares for his mother full-time, keeping her out of long-term care as COVID-19 claims the elderly. He came to the church to pray on his mother’s behalf.

“This is a repetition of how my mum came to Canada during the Second World War,” he said.

Ukrainian prayers were accompanied by Roman Catholic prayers in every part of Canada. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a statement Feb. 24 urging Canadians “to pray for the imminent restoration of peace, dialogue, and human fraternity.”

All 225 Toronto parishes prayed at Sunday Masses “that world leaders may focus on the good of all people by advancing peace, rather than descending further into war. May God comfort the Ukrainian people.”

The Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth announced Archbishop Joseph Dunn would celebrate the 5 p.m. Ash Wednesday liturgy “for the people of Ukraine, for all people of Ukrainian descent and for the immediate restoration of peace and dialogue.”

London Bishop Ron Fabbro asked the faithful “to pray for peace and the safety of all in the conflict zone,” and urged donations to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton offered its prayers “in solidarity with the Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, in unison with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with the people of Ukraine as well as with Canadians of Ukrainian origin and descent.”

In Victoria, Bishop Gary Gordon urged “all those in the Diocese of Victoria to pray for peace in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon held a Moleben prayer service the evening of Feb. 25 at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Saskatoon, and close by, a Novena of prayers for the Ukraine was being offered daily at noon hour and after Sunday Masses at St. Paul Co-Cathedral in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

Every prayer matters, said Bishop Bayda, as he recalled his own visit a few years ago to the east of Ukraine, 100 kilometres from the front lines of the war in Donetsk.

“I saw the people in their refugee camps. I saw the coming together of many European nations offering support and aid and practical and tangible social needs. The human being, the human heart is a mystery. And we’re seeing the mystery unfold,” Bayda said.

“Is there some way to explain how the heart holds so much pain? Yet that’s where laughter, truth and love are found. That’s the mystery.”

[With files from Catholic Saskatoon News]