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Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Priest gets a curtain call"

Fr. Ed Evanko now using acting skills to help charity

From the The Province
by Susan Lazaruk
Photo by Arlen Redekop

Father Edward Danylo Evanko has gone from acting to the priesthood and back to acting.

When former Vancouver actor and singer Ed Evanko -- a Broadway musical star who once had his own short-lived CBC TV variety show and a long-running role on a U.S. soap opera -- answered a higher calling to the priesthood, he gave up the stage for the pulpit.

Or so he thought.

After 40 years in showbiz, the tenor with the matinee-idol looks cast aside any thoughts of performing -- beyond singing the liturgy and delivering weekly homilies as priest of a small Byzantine Catholic church in Richmond.

But soon after he was ordained at age 66 in 2005, Evanko found himself answering a "calling within a calling" when staging a fundraising play to help a fellow priest and his family recover financially from a kidney transplant.

Now Father Edward Danylo Evanko has two one-man plays in his repertoire that he performs in Europe and across Canada and the U.S.

One is Damien, about a Belgian Roman Catholic priest who ministered to lepers in Hawaii in the 19th century. Evanko last performed it in Vancouver and Indiana earlier this month.

The other is a 75th-anniversary commemoration of the 1932-33 Great Famine in Ukraine. He performs it today at 2:30 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Parish, 3040 Heather St. in Vancouver as a benefit to aid local food banks.

"I really regard this as part of my ministry," said the newly installed priest of the Holy Dormition of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church.

"Being a parish priest is my first calling, but [performing] is what I was born to do," he said.

After performing Damien in London, Rome, Chicago and across Canada, Evanko was asked by a Toronto Ukrainian Catholic priest to prepare a performance to mark the famine, or Holodomor.

He remembers politely declining because at the time he was ministering to 12 small parishes dotted across rural western Manitoba, where he spent 21/2 years in his first assignment as a priest.

But after reading the heart-wrenching survivors' accounts, he knew he had no choice. "I've got to do this," he remembers thinking.

The result is Be Well and Prosper, My Beloved Ukraine, in which he reads dramatic accounts of survivors, interspersed with mournful hymns.

Historians agree the famine, during which three to 10 million peasant farmers starved to death, was engineered by Soviet authorities under dictator Joseph Stalin to force peasants to give up private plots of land and join collective farms.

Authorities confiscated grain and when it became clear villagers were starving, insisted on strict grain quotas and prohibited peasants from moving to cities or other republics.

Some say the famine targeted Ukrainians as an ethnic group; others argue the Soviet Union was attempting to pay for its industrialization with grain exports its starving people needed.

Ukraine, independent since 1991, has been trying for years to get the United Nations to recognize the famine as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people.

The Russian parliament this month passed a resolution saying the famine was not ethnically motivated.

Bishop Ken Nowakowski, spiritual head of B.C.'s more than 2,000 Ukrainian Catholics, said it's important to commemorate the Holodomor to honour the victims and to remember the injustice of such tragedies to prevent them in future.

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