WINNIPEG — The religious communities that have served the Archdiocese of Winnipeg over the past 100 years were honoured Oct. 18 with an evening prayer service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Winnipeg, and, by divine coincidence, while The Year of Consecrated Life continues to be observed.
The event was one of many celebrating the Centennial of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg which concludes Dec. 4.
The Year of Consecrated Life proclaimed by Pope Francis “is a significant event in the life of the universal church,” said Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon. The special year in fact spans 14 months from Nov. 30, 2014 to the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on Feb. 2, 2016, and, said Gagnon, “it has been marked by many events large and small in Manitoba, Canada and the world.”
Gagnon said the pope’s letter to inaugurate the year expresses the gratitude of the church “for the participation and pastoral service of religious communities. The Holy Father refers to opportunities of these present times for religious communities to meet present challenges. Pope Francis encourages all religious to live their charisms despite the challenges.”
Gagnon said Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 1996 letter Vita Consecrata (Consecrated Life), “you have a glorious history and future. Look to the future where the spirit is sending you to do new things — new charisms have always sprung forth out of need, we are called to have every confidence in the evangelical vitality of spiritual life.”
In the evening’s reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Gagnon said, the writer Paul “continues to teach that Christ sends consolation in times of great difficulty; ‘as our suffering is great our consolation is also great with Christ.’ Paul’s sufferings help the Corinthians with their spiritual and physical and psychological challenges. It is appropriate this year for each religious community to thank God for the gift of the spirit and religious vocations.”
Gagnon said that during Pope Francis’ recent visit to St. Patrick’s Church in New York City the pontiff expressed his esteem and gratitude to religious women, asking, “ “What would the church be without you? To you I say a big thank you I love you very much.’ On behalf of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg I can express the same to all of you here tonight.”
The list of communities of men and women that have served the archdiocese numbers more than 40, some of which were working in Manitoba before the archdiocese was created. “An astonishing historical fact,” said the archbishop, “and many continue today to live out the meaning of our baptisms.” The archbishop reiterated the question, “where would we be without you? Without you the very evangelical heart of the church would be empty and the fervour of the Gospel would be blunted.”
“Consecrated life is a gift to the church,” Gagnon said. “It grows in the church and is dedicated to the church. It is at the very heart of the church. It belongs to the life and holiness of the church. During this centennial of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg I encourage what Pope Francis is encouraging, a renewed commitment.”
“The movement of the Holy Spirit works in times of cultural change. We must inform our young people about the rewards of giving one’s life to Christ. Pope Francis has said the health of the church depends on this. The young will be drawn to those who are joy-filled in their vocation.”
Sister Mary Coswin, originally from Winnipeg and who joined the local community of the Sisters of St. Benedict in 1963, spoke on behalf of religious communities, saying that although communities of consecrated men and women have long provided vital ministries of education, health care, care for the poor, the sick, those in prisons, young people at risk, and much more, “religious life is not a workforce but a prophetic life forum. Consecrated life is a slow journey to the mystery of God.”
“We live a life of counter culture,” Coswin said. “It’s no secret we religious have our own problems. So it’s very heartening to hear the pope say we all know the problems of decreasing numbers, aging members and threats of social irrelevance. But it is precisely because of the challenges that we continue to hope. ‘Be not afraid, I am with you’ ” (Is 41:10).
“We are not perfect but should not be afraid of making mistakes. We recognize our many benefactors, lay men and women and we learn from them. We are all baptized into Christ to wake up the world in desperate need of faith, love and joy.”