‘The Church always has to be seen as a lighthouse’: The bishop with a new mission to Ukrainian refugees in Ireland
News: Ukrainian refugees
Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski has overseen the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in England, Wales, and Scotland for the past two years. On Monday, the Vatican announced that he will also be responsible for the faithful in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Pope Francis named Nowakowski on July 4 as an apostolic visitator to Ukrainian Greek Catholics on the island of Ireland. In the Latin Church, a visitator (or visitor) is an official who performs an often delicate short-term mission on the pope’s behalf. But in the Eastern Catholic Church, a visitator has a more long-term role in overseeing communities which do not have their own bishop.
Nowakowski told The Pillar:
“In practice, it means that I’ll be working in close collaboration with the Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland to ensure that we’re able to offer good pastoral care for Ukrainian Catholics who reside in Ireland and Northern Ireland, to be able to be a liaison between the bishops of Ireland regarding our Ukrainian Catholic faithful and the Holy See and, of course, with our Synod of Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops.”
“It probably means being able to visit our one parish in Dublin and speak with the one priest that’s there and look at the possibility of establishing other communities or mission points, especially due to the influx of well over 30,000 fleeing harm’s way and arriving in Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
A total of almost 5.5 million Ukrainian refugees have settled in surrounding European countries since the full-scale Russian invasion on Feb. 24. Some 87,000 people have arrived in the U.K. (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) and almost 39,000 (mostly women and children) in the Irish Republic.
Nowakowski underlined that the new arrivals needed compassion, “signs of hope and care,” and a listening ear.
“That’s my experience, both here in the United Kingdom and also in other parts of Europe that I’ve visited recently, that people just really need to know that people care for them and that there’s a place for them to come to,” he said.
“I think the Church always has to be seen as a lighthouse, where those beacons of hope are there, and that it’s not just an electronically manned lighthouse, but there’s actually a human being there able to provide a compassionate ear, prayers, and the ability for people to know that God loves them.”
From Canada to Ukraine
Nowakowski was born on May 16, 1958, in North Battleford, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1989, he left for Ukraine, where he worked as the chief of staff of the Ukrainian Catholic Church leader Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky. Nowakowski was among the founders of Caritas Ukraine, which has lost staff in the war, serving as the aid organization’s first president from 1994 to 2001.
Returning to Canada, he was rector of the Holy Spirit Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Ottawa until 2007, when he was appointed head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of New Westminster, at the age of 49.
In January 2020, he was named leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London. Three days after his enthronement, England was placed under nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
“So I wasn’t able, in those first several months, to be able to travel and visit my parishes, visit the Ukrainian communities, meet with my clergy,” Nowakowski recalled.
“And just when things seemed to be opening up, I myself, even having been vaccinated, contracted COVID and I was quite seriously ill and needed some time to recover.”
Building in Britain
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in England can be traced back to the late 19th century, when immigrants from Ukraine settled in the industrial city of Manchester, as well as London.
An Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainian Catholics in England and Wales was established in 1957. Scotland was added to its jurisdiction 10 years later. Months before his resignation in 2013, Benedict XVI raised it to the rank of an eparchy (the equivalent of a Latin Rite diocese).
The war has greatly increased the numbers needing pastoral care. Nowakowski said that his main thought since the full-scale invasion had been “how can we assist those who are fleeing?”
“Along with the organization called the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain and a few other stakeholders, the Catholic eparchy has founded a Ukrainian Welcome Center to assist those who have been displaced and have arrived here in the United Kingdom,” the 64-year-old bishop said.
“Both for those who have arrived, but also those for those who are sponsoring people [providing accommodation], to be able to have a place to come, even if it’s just to have a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit and talk - or practical issues like registering children in school, registering for health issues, signposting to other agencies that can help, perhaps legal counseling.”
Nowakowski is preparing to attend a meeting of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Synod of Bishops in Poland later this week. The gathering, which will take place near the border with Ukraine, will be the first in-person assembly of its kind since 2019.
The bishop said it was vital for Catholics worldwide to continue to pay attention to Ukraine as the initial shock of the war wears off.
“The big thing - and I emphasize that time and again - is to keep us in prayer, to remember Ukraine, don’t let it slip off the horizon because it’s become, perhaps, old news. It’s very important,” he said.
“And we can’t expect our leaders or world leaders to bring peace in troubled areas of the world like Ukraine if they haven’t come from communities that encourage and nurture peace on our block, in our homes, in our neighborhood. And I think that that would be an important thing that we all can do.”
“And of course, do not allow false information, or fake news as we’ve come to know it, to be what influences how we react and respond.”