Bishop Bill Used Humour through Hardship

Updated: Oct 10, 2019

January 9th, 2019. St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church and Bishop Vasyl Velychkovski’s Shrine. 250 Jefferson Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba

This was one of my favorite holy places thus far.

Bishop Vasyl was there to greet us right as we were parking the truck.   He was standing right by the big billboard in front of the church with his arms outstretched!  He was in Spirit of course. He was very happy and gestured for us to come in. He stood about 5’10.  He had grey hair and a beard and was a bit portly. He was wearing a black priest’s robe and had a cross around his neck.  He looked so happy to see us and his demeanor was very welcoming. I immediately felt thrilled to be at this church. He told me he had his resting place inside the building and that he continued to bless the community.

Bishop Vasyl was a deeply spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. He was born in Ukraine and then died in Canada. During his life, he was imprisoned during World War 11, and given a death sentence by the communists for his nationalistic and christian views. As stated in his biography, “After one year of interrogations and tortures in the KGB prison in Kiev, he was finally sentenced on June 26, 1946 to die by firing squad. He was on death row for three months. While in the cell with others on death row, he catechized them and prepared them through the sacraments for their coming death. When his name was called, he left the cell ready to die for Christ, but at that moment, his death sentence was commuted to ten years in Soviet labour camps.”

I told Taras what I saw and asked him if there was a shrine within the church.  He didn’t answer, but instead took me inside the shrine. As we walked in, I could see the shrine was guarded by archangel Michael.  He had long blonde hair. He was wearing a long, white robe and gold sandals. He had a large sword in his right hand.

At the door of the shrine there was a picture of Bishop Vasyl.  He laughed when I looked at it and said “They sure made me look slimmer than I was in real life.  What can I say, I loved to eat.” He showed me that when he passed away his coffin was heavy to carry.  His tummy shook when he laughed. I really liked his demeanor. He was very loving and jovial. He told me his heart was in the crucifix that was behind his entombed body. He told me there was anointing oil there beside his casket. He also told me he was there to bless anyone who touched his casket. He said he had the pleasure of standing on the altar. He explained that he felt the iconostas was alive. There was a beautiful fresco of Jesus behind the altar and he showed me that he hugged that fresco.  He felt that the church was very holy and that saints and angels and even Jesus visited it. He felt blessed to have been able to serve at this sacred church.

When we entered the church and sat in the second row, he was standing just in front of the iconostas. He was standing in the middle. On the left side of the altar there is an icon of him-Bishop Vasyl Velychkovski, that we couldn’t see. The priest later showed it to us.  This confirmed that he was present, both as an image or icon and as a holy Spirit, blessing the congregation.

On his left side, I saw the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. She was wearing  a dark blue gown and veil. She had a gold aura. She wasn’t showing herself as a person, more as an icon. Jesus looked like a baby, with a big head. Jesus had a little bit of brownish, black curly hair. 

On Bishop Velychkovski’s right side was a man with darker hair. He had darker skin and looked worried or tired. He had a brownish robe. His beard wasn’t long, it was black, the same colour as his hair.  I couldn't hear his name because the bishop was taking all of my attention. 

After the service, Taras met a woman he knew.  She had been coming to this church for a long time and was excited to hear about Bishop Vasil being there in Spirit.  The presiding priest was also excited to hear what Bishop Vasyl had to say. He laughed at me saying that Bishop Vasyl considered himself to be rotund.  He agreed with the story of the coffin being heavy. He said that he indeed had a great sense of humor, a keen love for the church and a desire to help people as much as he could.  We did find the anointing oil behind the shrine where Bishop Vasil said it was and the priest told us that it manifested from the cross behind his tomb. Bishop Vasyl also told us that there was a “boring museum”, his words not mine, filled with his cups and dishes.  There was indeed a museum there, but it was closed at the time of our visit. I really loved the experience at this church. The congregation was so warm and open to sharing stories about Bishop Vasil. I felt truly blessed to have the experience of meeting him and hope to go back.

The night after we attended the martyr’s shrine, Bishop Vasyl came to me in a dream. He has a very kind soul and asked me to drop the bishop title and just to call him Vasyl. He had red lips similar to the wine for communion, hugged and kissed me on the cheek and told me I was a  true lamb of God. I felt blessed for meeting such a holy man.