Pssst, buddy, wanna worship?
Sunday morning, parishioners on their way to worship at St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church can expect a secret guide or two to lead them past guards at their barricaded front entrance.
"In a lot of parts of the world right now, there are Christians fighting just to know God and to pray," explains Rev. Mark Gnutel of why the East Kildonan church, located at 35 Marcie St., is using their Sunday mass on March 30 to recognize persecuted churches.
"This is a chance to pray and to be in solidarity with those who don't have freedom right now."
The 10 a.m. service begins in the church basement with a simple spoken liturgy and singing without musical instruments, mimicking times when the Christian church was underground.
Although the barricades are temporary and the guards are members of the church playing a part, the scenario of persecution and loss of religious freedom feels a bit too close to home for many Ukrainian Catholics these days.
The recent annexation of Crimea by Russia means the members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church living in the region may no longer be able to worship in their own tradition because it is not recognized by the Russian government, says Most Rev. Lawrence Huculak, Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada.
"One day they're in Ukraine and they're legal and the next day they're in the Russian Federation and our church is not legal," he says of the parishes in Crimea.
"That has put that portion of our church in great uncertainty."
The ongoing situation in Crimea also brings back memories of the many decades after the Second World War when the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church operated clandestinely in Ukraine, says Gnutel.
"They gathered in cemeteries, in the woods, in people's homes, anywhere they could assemble safely and pray," says Gnutel of the 45 years when the Soviets confiscated church property and sent many bishops and priests to labour camps.
A broken spoon used by an imprisoned bishop to administer sacraments somehow found its way to Canada and is now on display at St. Volodymyr Museum at 232 Scotia St.
"It's a physical piece of evidence showing the tenacity and faith of people to continue that action, which could have been a death sentence if they had been discovered," curator Natalia Radawetz says.
That tenacity remains in the Ukraine, where Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv has called for his priests to minister to the spiritual needs of protesters in Ukraine, says Huculak, also archbishop of the Eparchy of Winnipeg.
Shevchuk visited Manitoba in September 2012 to preside over the annual synod of bishops and to tour Ukrainian Catholic parishes and institutions.
This Sunday, some Ukrainian Catholic parishes in Canada will mark the deaths of Ukrainians killed in anti-government protests in Kyiv -- dubbed the heavenly hundred -- with a special requiem.
Rev. Michael Kwiatkowski plans to lead the 10-minute remembrance service at 11:30 a.m. at Holy Eucharist Church, 505 Watt St., immediately after the 10:30 a.m. service.
"When we gather in our churches, the hearts of everybody are heavy," he says.
"Now we have this cloud handing over (us) and we wonder what the outcome will be."
Although concerned about the situation of church in the home country, Huculak acknowledges that hard times, and even persecution, are part of the long history of the Christian church.
"The church always has those times of growth, persecution and rebirth. I don't know if that is what's happening now, but we have to be prepared."
Huculak is encouraged by other Christian groups who have sent letters of support to his denomination, and asks for continued prayer for the situation in Ukraine.
"There aren't too many practical ways (to help) but certainly the spiritual support as expressed through prayer in their churches and letters of support which we can pass on to the Ukraine" are helpful, he says.