SASKATOON — During a recent pastoral visit, Pope Francis’ representative in Canada witnessed the diversity and outreach of the Catholic community in Saskatoon and shared words of encouragement, love and support.
Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, was in the province for the Oct. 1 dedication of the Called to Serve monument honouring the contributions of Catholic sisters to Saskatchewan. After the dedication celebration in Regina, the nuncio visited Saskatoon Oct. 2 - 3, before travelling on to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert.
It was a historic moment for the Catholic community, as none could recall a similar pastoral visit by an apostolic nuncio in the past, said Bishop Donald Bolen of the Diocese of Saskatoon.
“The nuncio embodies Pope Francis’ own warmth and down-to-earth style of leadership,” said Bolen. “He wanted to be close to the people, and succeeded in bringing Pope Francis’ own warmth and pastoral concern very close to us.”
The nuncio’s full itinerary included visits to local schools, seniors’ residences and the prison, a media event at a restorative justice conference, and opportunities to meet leaders in Catholic health and education, as well as to pray — and eat — with the faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy, the Roman Catholic diocese and the Chaldean Catholic parish in Saskatoon.
On his arrival, the nuncio was welcomed with bread, salt and flowers at Bishop Filevich Ukrainian Bilingual School by two Grade 8 students. Children in traditional dress lined the sidewalk singing, as the archbishop and other special guests entered the building for an assembly with students that included the singing of the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian, as well as a trivia contest of questions about the apostolic nuncio and the school, moderated by principal Shelly Lord.
A visit to St. Mary’s Wellness and Education Centre followed, where the nuncio met with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) board and administration members, Saskatoon Tribal Chief Felix Thomas, elders and community representatives, as well as teachers and doctors who work at the elementary school in the city’s core neighbourhood.
St. Mary’s serves a primarily First Nations and Métis student population, explained GSCS board chair Diane Boyko, describing the history of the school and the opening of the new building in 2012. The school includes an early learning centre, an optometry clinic, and a pediatric clinic.
Thomas welcomed the nuncio to Treaty 6 territory and spoke about the importance of partnerships in meeting the needs of children. “We also realize, that as much as we are doing, we need to do more, not just for the kids here, but for the surrounding community.”
The nuncio expressed appreciation for the collaboration underway at the school. “When we join our efforts, in reality, the result is not one plus one is two, but three — the result is something new,” Bonazzi said. “Your common effort summons and produces something greater.”
Bonazzi also met with representatives of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, which serves First Nations, Métis, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Catholics in Saskatoon.
Parish life director Debbie Ledoux, elder Gayle Weenie, and Deacon Paul Labelle greeted the nuncio, and Weenie explained First Nations traditions that are incorporated into parish life. The nuncio took part in a smudging ceremony, and was presented with a star blanket.
Bonazzi also met with Catholic health leaders at Trinity Manor, a faith-based facility offering both independent and assisted living accommodations. The nuncio expressed appreciation to all those continuing to advance the legacy of Catholic health care. Health care “is part of the mission, of the nature of the church,” he said.
Conveying the gratitude and the blessing of Pope Francis, the nuncio urged leaders in Catholic health care to take the upcoming Year of Mercy as an opportunity for reflection and to seize new opportunities to expand outreach, since “what must be done is greater than what has already been done.”
The Sacred Heart Chaldean community in Saskatoon celebrated the eucharist with the nuncio Oct. 2, followed by a community dinner. During the mass, Bonazzi spoke to children participating in the catechism program, encouraging them to have “a friendship with Jesus Christ.”
He expressed love and concern for the Christian community undergoing persecution and suffering in Iraq and throughout the world. He also encouraged the parish to work together to follow Jesus and serve those most in need.
An early morning moleben at the Ukrainian Catholic Shrine of the Blessed Nun Martyrs Olympia and Laurentia was held Oct. 3, with the nuncio and the two Saskatoon bishops in attendance. Sister Sophia of the Ukrainian Sisters of St. Joseph presented the nuncio with an icon of the two 20th-century martyrs, whose relics are housed at the Saskatoon shrine.
At the Musée Ukrainia Museum, the apostolic nuncio was greeted by Bishop Bryan Bayda and leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon. Bonazzi viewed museum exhibits, describing the building as “a sanctuary of culture.”
Following a reception with the eparchial leaders, Bonazzi joined Bayda on a visit to St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, before returning to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of St. George for a meeting with clergy and religious from both the eparchy and the diocese of Saskatoon.
The nuncio spoke about principals of priestly life, which he said apply to the journey of every Christian. There is no such thing as a part-time priest, he noted. The call of the priest, and of all Christians, is to listen to the Word of God. “What Christ does in me is more important than what I do myself,” he said, stressing the importance of service, and seizing the most important value, the value of the cross.
After a lunch with clergy and religious at St. Mary’s Parish Hall, the nuncio joined Bishop Bolen and Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria on a visit to the Saskatoon Correctional Centre for a sharing circle with inmates led by Dianne Anderson of the diocesan office of Restorative Ministry, and volunteer Russ Powell.
Bonazzi also met with participants in the diocesan, eparchial and Aboriginal Catholic Lay Formation program, immediately before a diocesan celebration of the eucharist Oct. 3 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family.
The diocesan mass reflected the diversity of the community, and included prayers in nine languages, as well as an honour song during the procession of gifts, with the gift family accompanied by a First Nations dancer.
“How significant it is that the cathedral of your diocese is dedicated to the Holy Family, because the vocation of the church is to be a family, a family of people from every nation, every tribe, every culture, recognizing ourselves as brothers and sisters, children of the one Father,” said Bonazzi, conveying the request of Pope Francis for prayers for the synod on the family which began in Rome Oct. 4.
After mass, the community gathered for a multi-cultural meal with food prepared by Vietnamese, East Indian, Filipino, Ukrainian and First Nations communities.
The visit concluded later that evening with a candlelight rosary procession around St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral in downtown Saskatoon with the Filipino Catholic community, held in spite of a steady rain.
The nuncio expressed his joy at the faithfulness of the Filipino people, and spoke about the power of prayer and the gift of the rosary.
Closing with words of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s, Bonazzi prayed a blessing over the people as the representative of Pope Francis. The people in turn sang a blessing over the apostolic nuncio, concluding the last event of his Saskatoon visit.