Interview with Bishop Bryan Bayda, CSsR, Eparch of Saskatoon
Iryna Ivankovych: Most Reverend Bishop Bryan, where does your devotion to the Mother of God come from?
Bishop Bryan: The short answer is that it comes from the Holy Spirit, but this is how it looks in real life. From 1975-79, during my years as a student in the minor seminary of St. Vladimir’s College in Roblin, Manitoba I loved to pray Moleben to the Mother of God. More personally, She drew me close with Her tenderness when I had difficulties with my peers and other stressful moments in school. I would go to chapel and chat with Her and She comforted me, protected me, just like She held Jesus in the crossing of Her arms, sitting before the icon of Our Mother Of Perpetual Help.
I.I.: What was your first encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Bp Bryan: I saw Her miraculous image as a 13-year old boy when I traveled with my family to Mexico City in 1974. I vaguely knew about the miraculous apparitions then. But I truly encountered Her in 2009 as a bishop during a Congress in Her honour, immediately following a Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention that was held in Phoenix, Arizona. The fervour that Msgr Eduardo Chavez had when he spoke about Her was amazing. I made many connections between our icons of the Byzantine rite and this miraculous image.
I.I.: You have visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and places of apparition many times. How have those pilgrimages transformed you as both a Ukrainian Catholic and a religious over the years?
Bp Bryan: As a young child, I was a pilgrim at Our lady of Lourdes Shrine – St. Laurent (near Duck Lake Saskatchewan just one hour from our farm) where many Métis natives gathered. I encountered people with different cultures on pilgrimage. Even when farm work was pressing, my mother made a point of taking us children to pray. So, I have learned that culture, song, dance, ritual, tradition, language, race, and sacrifice all have a role to play in prayer and a pilgrimage experience. Many subsequent pilgrimages reinforced this experience. A pilgrimage is a short intense experience parallel to the life-long daily experience of prayer as a Ukrainian Catholic and as a Redemptorist living in community with all the same elements.
I.I.: The events of 1531 are almost five hundred years old. How are they relevant to the people of the 21st century?
Bp Bryan: Not everybody gets along very well and human conflict is global. That is why peaceful conflict resolution is an important lesson for all. The chronicles of this story (Nican Mopohua) show how conflict exists internally in a person between reason and faith; externally between friends; between individuals seen as heroes or villains; between the Indigenous and European settlers; between the continents of America and Europe; and between the church and civil forces. This is especially obvious regarding the current conflict on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia. Peaceful resolution takes place with the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message of hope that says ‘conflict resolution is found in Her Son’. Balance is brought to the cosmos and all creation as indicated on the image by the angel at her feet. Indeed, it is a powerful example of enculturated evangelization that has ramifications on economic, political, environmental, emotional, human and spiritual levels. I would go as far to say that this story of Our Lady of Guadalupe has a profound Eucharistic significance. Her message helps people give their hearts to Her so She can give them to Her Son Jesus. This is the proper response to the love Jesus has shown to us. He who gives Himself in the form of His body and blood as well as scriptural Gospel values to sustain us in a peaceful life with each other asks for our hearts. This message is current and relevant globally for all people in relationships, with each other and the environment.
I.I.: How can an average Ukrainian come to understand the meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Bp Bryan: Many Ukrainians are familiar with the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help and in fact, the Mother of God has entered many hearts, homes and churches around the world through the efforts of the Redemptorists. In faith, I believe the Holy Spirit placed on Her lips a message:
1) She spoke these words to Jesus as a child when I pray today before the icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help; 2) the very same words She said to Juan Diego in 1531 when he was worried about the death of his uncle Juan Bernadino, and 3) a message She shares with the people of Ukraine today that the Knights of Columbus can nurture, “118“Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest son, that what frightened you, what afflicted you is nothing; do not let it disturb your face, your heart; do not fear this sickness or any other sickness, nor any sharp or hurtful thing. 119Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more?”.
I.I.: Ukrainians have long developed a profound love and devotion for the Mother of God. How can devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe help them become even closer to Her?
Bp Bryan: What is the difference between a painting, an icon and a picture? The face of a person is a mystery that is difficult to explain. Said differently, what is the mystery that fills your heart when you see the face of a friend, a family member, a parent or the face of your earthly mother? With the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary, the Mother of God, left us an image of Her face. God speaks through paintings as well as icons as well as pictures. For me, in addition to many icons that I feel drawn towards, this sets Her image apart from all icons in the sense that no hand wrote or painted it and there is no reasonable explanation as to how it was fixed to the fibre of the tilma. This miracle is an ongoing miracle for roughly 490 years. She sustains it.
I.I.: Our Lady of Guadalupe is called the Star of the New Evangelization. What can she teach us about inculturation in evangelization? How can she speak to the hearts of people outside of Mexico?
Bp Bryan: The Mother of God, Theotokos, has expressed Her affection for the church in numerous ways. I would like to point out that She has left a profound message of Inculturated Evangelization as Our Lady of Guadalupe according to St. John Paul II. Culture, properly understood in my opinion, is at the service of our faith. This is an important message for us as Ukrainian Catholics, who have a faith supported by our cultural traditions and practices. This experience for Ukrainian Catholics makes them prime examples for Missionary Discipleship. The more we can evangelize others with the proper understanding of the role cultural expression, the more we can understand Her role as the perfect expression of inculturated evangelization. We are drawn closer to Her when we evangelize like Her.
I.I.: It was your desire to have the book “Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mother of the Civilization of Love” translated into Ukrainian. What message to the potential readers did you have in your heart at the beginning of the project?
Bp Bryan: I had the same message then as I have now – She is present to give them hope by drawing close to Her Son. I felt She, the Mother of God, wanted the book made available to the people of Ukraine when She said to Juan Diego during the first apparition, “Because truly I am honored to be your compassionate mother, yours and that of all the people that live together in this land, and also of all the other various lineages of men; those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Because there [at my sacred house] truly will I hear their cry, their sadness, in order to remedy, to cure all their various troubles, their miseries, their pains. (Nican Mopohua 29-32) For me, the numerous connections of the story and the history of the Ukrainian people made a great deal of sense. People of Ukraine love the Mother of God. They seek Her, they trust in Her, they cry out to Her with their sadness. I strongly felt that if they could read about Her in their own language, I would have done my very small part in what She has planned.
I.I.: What role in spreading the message left by Our Lady of Guadalupe do the Knights of Columbus play?
Bp Bryan: The same way She gave dignity to Juan Diego by using his Tilma, I think She also wanted to give dignity to the humble yet ever public witness of the Knights of Columbus. The founder of the Knights of Columbus, Blessed Fr. Michael McGivney did, and continues to do, powerful things for the family through the Knights. During this year of St. Joseph, I think the Knights can do powerful things for the families of Ukraine by spreading the awareness of the closeness of the Mother of God through sharing the miracles of Our Lady of Guadalupe. So much strife tears away at the family unit in Ukraine today. Like the Mother of God enlisted the help of Juan Diego to work with the Bishop and the church, I believe She wants to do this with the Knights who work closely with the clergy and the church, to bring the people to Her Son, contributing to a civilization of love.
To this end, at what point does the gift of Mr Anderson be given to the Knights of Ukraine? Perhaps this is the point in time that they should be the ones to take this project and develop it. Juan Diego was a local lay person. I see the Knights playing this role. The intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ukraine is not just about information and spiritual transformation, but also about the dignity of the family that gets to be elevated in dignity the way Juan Diego and natives were elevated through Her choice of messenger. Perhaps the Knights are the messengers for family values that need to take Her story now, regarding its development, launching, and sustaining of the project as much as possible. Working with the St. Sophia Religious Association of Ukrainian Catholic, Inc. is a definite plus overall.