Bishop Peter addressed a Syro-Malabar gathering on 12th July 2015
I am standing before you with great emotion. A lot of thoughts come to my mind, and I will explain that to you. First for all, I would like to tell you that there are five Eastern Catholic Eparchies in Australia. Four of these eparchies originate from countries which are war zones today in 2015. The only country that is not at war is your country – India. All the rest of us Eastern Catholic Churches are experiencing war at this present time. There are at present 23 different Eastern Catholic Churches. We are all very ancient. Our Ukrainian tradition comes from the Apostle Andrew; yours comes from the Apostle Thomas. We should be very proud of the fact that we are Eastern Catholics. A lot of people don’t know enough about us and one of the reasons that you are here, and that I am here, is to witness to the unique faith that we share.
Why should we be proud? Well, did you know that in the year 325 the Council of Nicaea was held? The bishops at the council created the Apostles’ Creed. All the bishops who attended were Eastern Catholics. In the 4th century, one of the councils gave St. Jerome the job of creating the Bible. Again, it was the Eastern Catholic bishops that put the Bible together and gave it to the world. We come from a very deep and I’d say spiritual tradition. A very proud theological tradition!
When I walked into the hall today, I was so very happy to see that you are full of the Holy Spirit, that you are excited about your faith. I have said I come here with a little bit of emotion, because I came from Canada. I am an immigrant. My grandfather immigrated to Canada in 1906, over 100 years ago. I wasn’t born in Ukraine. Most Ukrainians came to Australia around 1949. At that time Australia had a White Australia policy. Only white people were welcomed here. After the Second World War, there were prisoner of war camps in Europe. Almost half a million Ukrainians were in these prisoner of war camps. People were forced by the Nazis to go to work in the German war machine that keep the economy going or keep the factories going when their men were at war. Our people, men and women, were stuck in camps after the war. The Australian government, thank God, took about 18,000 Ukrainians. 3,000 went to New Zealand. Probably the oldest immigrant that came in 1949 was around 24 years old.
Now looking at you, I am thinking about my predecessor, Bishop Ivan Prasko, and thinking about him in the early 1950’s when he was the bishop here and I am saying to myself, this is the kind of young crowd that he had to start to work with to build the Church, to build the Eparchy some 65 years ago. A lot of things have happened and, of those 18,000, we probably have only about 500 people alive today of those who immigrated 65 years ago. But our pioneers built churches, halls, schools, institutions, and integrated fully into Australian society. In a sense, you can hardly tell the difference between a Ukrainian Catholic and an Australian Catholic or any other Australian person nowadays because their mentality, their thinking is the same, yet they remain proud Ukrainian Catholics.
As I look at you, I am able to imagine how our immigration probably started and I was thinking to myself, I have a lot to learn from you. Our whole Church does. You have faith; you have the burning desire for God, for Jesus Christ, to praise him, to glorify him, to be united with him, to pray to him. You are a young and energetic Syro-Malabar Community.
Bishop Ivan and his 4 or 5 priests had a difficult time. They had to gather the people into the bigger cities and larger community groups. Slowly they started building the church and the community. They worked hard and you have to admire our pioneers. In your church you are the pioneers. And what you are going to do with your Church, with the Syro-Malabar Church, is going to be very interesting. I don’t know what your future is but I know it’s going to be bright. You’ve got a better start than we had, you certainly have a faith. Our people came with a suitcase in their hands and that’s all they had. They had their God, they had their families, and that was it. The only difference was a lot of our people in 1949 wanted to go back to Ukraine after the war or after the Soviets got out of there. They never got out until 1990 so everybody stayed. It would seem that most of your people have come to Australia to stay. Your present population is about four times greater than ours was in 1949.
I think the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Syro-Malabar Church have lot in common and I am so happy to hear about you, your bishop, and your priests. ‘Let’s start, let’s share our experiences, and let us learn from one another.’ You have a lot to teach us. I could never, as they say, in a month of Sundays gather this many people for a prayer meeting if I paid them, and I don’t think Bishop Bosco has paid you at all. But, look at you, there are a couple thousand of you and you have come here to pray. You can teach us to pray and to believe and I am very happy to see that the rest of the Australian community is helping you in your first year in Australia. You are on a very good foundation. I am very happy for you and excited about your future. May God bless you and may you continue to be filled with the Spirit and may your Church grow. Praised be Jesus Christ!
Bishop Peter Stasiuk C.Ss.R.