A focal point to pray for peace


Built to commemorate the memory and legacy of a modern martyr, a shrine in a church in the North End is now a focal point for Ukrainian Catholics praying for peace in their homeland.

Visit to the sanctuary

Click to enlarge

National Shrine of the Martyr of Bishop Velychkovsky is located inside St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, 250 Jefferson Ave.

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Holy Rosary for Peace in Ukraine, 1:30 p.m. Wednesday

“It’s a very peaceful place. We found that people wanted to hang out here,” says Mary Jane Kalenchuk, one of many people who run Bishop Velychkovsky’s National Martyrs’ Shrine, located in an annex of St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Located just steps from Main Street, the shrine – and its accompanying museum – honors the life and ministry of Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Vasyl Velychkovsky, and also documents his persecution, torture and death. He died in Winnipeg in 1973 at the age of 70 after being exiled from Ukraine the previous year.

Since the Russian military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the shrine has held a special Rosary for Peace prayer services at 1:30 p.m. every Wednesday afternoon at the Jefferson Avenue Church, providing a venue Ukrainians to come together as they pray for their homeland.

“A couple told me that coming together to pray made it bearable,” says shrine director Reverend John Sianchuk, explaining why people attend the hour-long service.

“That’s one thing we can do.”

Before February, Velychkovsky’s story was seen mostly through a historical lens, Sianchuk says, but now people are recognizing parallels to the current situation in Ukraine, as the country is bombarded by the Russian military and the freedoms of Ukrainian citizens are threatened.

“For me, it’s like an echo. We’ve been talking about it for 20 years here, about the persecution of Ukrainian Catholics and (other) people of faith by the Soviets,” says Sianchuk, a member of the same Redemptorist order as Velychkovsky.

“Now it is repeating itself and for those who are there (in Ukraine) it is worse than before.”

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press

Rev. John Sianchuk says a prayer at the shrine.

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Mike Sudoma/Winnipeg Free Press

Reverend John Sianchuk says a prayer at the shrine.

Ordained in 1925, Velychkovsky was first imprisoned by the Soviets for refusing to renounce his faith and leave the Catholic Church to serve as a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, the only church recognized by the Soviet regime. He served 10 years in a Soviet labor camp, where he took care of his fellow inmates.

After his release, he was secretly ordained a bishop in 1963, then became known as the Father of the Underground Church by administering the sacraments, conducting the divine liturgy, and preparing seminarians for the priesthood from his apartment in Lviv.

Arrested again in 1969, Velychkovsky was subjected to repeated torture for three years, then was abruptly exiled from Ukraine, moving to Winnipeg at the invitation of then-Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk. He died a year later from chemical agents administered to him in prison.

After being beatified as a martyr in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, his remains were moved from All Saints Cemetery to the newly completed St. Joseph’s Shrine, designed by Winnipegger Ben Wasylyshen.

“For us, it’s a physical connection,” Sianchuk says of the significance of the shrine to Ukrainian Catholics in Winnipeg and across Canada.

“Having him here is a very concrete connection to what is happening in Ukraine.” – Reverend John Sianchuk

“Having him here is a very concrete connection to what is happening in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian Canadians are inspired by Velychkovsky’s faith in God and his ability to stand up to the Soviet regime, says Kalenchuk.

“Our people are now very strong in their faith and that is what gives us courage – our blessed bishop,” she says.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Catholic Ukrainians fear that their church will be forced underground, as it had been for decades before independence in 1991. Instead of praying openly in their churches, Catholics listened to radio broadcasts in Ukrainian from Rome at home.

After more than three decades of freedom, some fear history will repeat itself, says Bohdana Kornelyuk, a Ukrainian citizen who came to Winnipeg three years ago for graduate studies in religion.

<p>Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press</p>
<p>Rev.  John Sianchuk fears that Velychkovsky’s shrine and history will also become a cautionary tale for the future.</p>
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<p>Mike Sudoma/Winnipeg Free Press</p>
<p>Reverend John Sianchuk fears that Velychkovsky’s shrine and history could also become a cautionary tale for the future.</p>
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“My Baba (grandmother) was very traumatized when it started,” said the native of the western Ukrainian town of Komarno, namesake of the community north of Winnipeg.

“She never imagined it would happen again.”

Neither do Ukrainian Canadians, says Sianchuk. For two decades, the shrine and museum educated visitors about the past and served as a memorial to honor the late bishop for his faith. Now he fears that Velychkovsky’s shrine and history will also become a cautionary tale for the future.

“We talk about him being tortured, persecuted and suffering and now it’s happening again,” he says.

“He is the only one in Canada to have this connection as a martyr.”

[email protected]

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a Saturday Newspaper columnist since 2000, first writing about family entertainment and faith and religion since 2006.


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