SASKATOON - Some 200 representatives of Catholic health and Catholic education from around the province recently gathered in Saskatoon for a joint conference exploring the theme, On Holy Ground: Where Catholic Health and Education Serve.
Organized by the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) and the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS), the Oct. 24 - 26 provincial conference featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions, celebration of the eucharist, and a banquet and awards ceremony.
Catholic education and Catholic health share the common goal "of being witnesses to our Catholic faith, and providing a supportive, caring, and faith-filled environment for the people we serve," said Lisa Lambert of the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools board of education, one of the co-chairs for the joint conference. An opening liturgy focused on the scriptural image from the book of Exodus in which Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is told to remove his shoes, as he stands on holy ground. Sandra Normand of CHAS encouraged participants to look for the "burning bushes all around us."
During the opening prayer, representatives of Catholic school districts from around the province brought forward soil from their home communities, pouring it into a large container, which was then mixed together by representatives of Catholic health facilities.
"The soil is here to remind us that while our specific ministries may differ, we are all part of the larger Catholic community, that rich soil in which God plants the word, Jesus our Lord and our saviour," said Normand. "May our container of soil remind us throughout our conference of who we are and who we serve." Archbishop Daniel Bohan of the Archdiocese of Regina brought greetings from the bishops of Saskatchewan, reflecting on the message of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel.
"Pope Francis uses the teachings of the church that we have used for two millennia now, but he does it in a way that makes us think they are absolutely and completely new," said Bohan of the document's plan of action for the church.
"He has called all of our institutions - the diocese, the parish, schools and health care - to what he calls a new process of evangelization," said the archbishop, stressing the Holy Father's call to be missionary. "Our Catholic schools are evangelizing institutions. Our Catholic health care facilities are evangelizing institutions. And everything that we do in Catholic schools and health care must be seen as a way of evangelizing the world," he said. "If we are going to follow the work that Pope Francis is calling us to do, we have to become evangelizing missionaries or missionary evangelizers."
This new energy is an antidote to lethargy and discouragement, said Bohan. "He is giving us a tool and a means whereby we can re-stoke that fire and regain that energy and enthusiasm in what we do as Catholic institutions."
The special element that Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals have is faith in Jesus Christ, Bohan stressed, encouraging participants to focus on the calling that has always been there, and is being articulated again in a new way by Pope Francis: "to take the good news that we have and go out and let people know about it."
Rev. Tony Rickard, a priest from New Orleans, presented the opening keynotes for the provincial conference. Earlier in the day Rickard also spoke to Catholic high school students in Saskatoon. The event's other keynote speaker was Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room doctor and chief of staff at a New England hospital, who spoke about the need for Sabbath.