Canada's first UGCC eparch, revered by current shepherds, honoured at bishop's synod
By Nathan Rumohr
As eparchs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) gathered for their annual synod in Winnipeg Sept. 9-16, Blessed Nykyta Budka's name dominated conversation. Without him the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada might not be in existence today.
Born in Ukraine in 1877, Blessed Budka was appointed Canada's first Ukrainian eparch in 1912 by the Vatican. The 35-year-old was charged with uniting the Ukrainian faithful who were scattered throughout Canada.
He arrived in Winnipeg on a December evening with only 13 secular priests and nine monks to oversea the 80 parishes and chapels. Eparch Budka travelled far and wide across Canada in the days before most of today's highways connecting the country, visiting his 150,000 faithful from coast to coast.
Along the way he organized his exarchate (apostolic administration area), which grew into separate eparchies (dioceses): Toronto, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and New Westminster, and the Archeparchy of Winnipeg.
"I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be the first archbishop of all of Canada," marvelled Archeparch Lawrence Huculak, OSBM, of Winnipeg. "I have trouble just watching over Manitoba. He is very admirable."
Blessed Budka also obtained civil recognition for the Ukrainian Catholic Church from the government of Canada. This also involved getting recognition from the Roman Catholic Church, that was the dominant Catholic rite in Canada at the time.
While organizing and structuring the Ukrainian church Blessed Budka also lived out his pastoral mission. He brought the love of Christ to the poor, the imprisoned, and the sick. He also helped many Ukrainian settlers make a life in the sometimes-harsh conditions of rural Canada.
Building up the church took its toll on Blessed Budka, and he was unable to return to Canada after he returned to Europe in 1927.
He resettled in Ukraine and returned to pastoral ministry. In 1946 he and many other Ukrainian bishops, priests, and nuns were arrested by the communist Soviet Union, which had occupied Ukraine. He was sentenced to eight years of hard labour in Kazakhstan, where he died in 1949.
Even though the conditions in the camp where harsh, Blessed Budka still ministered to the imprisoned. He was beatified as a martyr in 2001 during Blessed Pope John Paul II's visit to Ukraine. His feast day is Aug. 2.