SASKATOON — A hands-on formation program grounded in Catholic social teaching will begin this September in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
Recruitment for the Justice and Outreach Year of Formation (JOY) was launched Feb. 20 at a diocesan Congress Day presented in Saskatoon with a simultaneous broadcast to Humboldt and Kindersley.
Held over 10 weekends once a month from September to June, JOY will cover a multitude of social justice themes, said JOY co-ordinator Kate O’Gorman.
Learning and prayer will be part of the JOY process, but there will be a strong emphasis on practical experience and hands-on service, practically linking Catholic social teaching with the real-life challenges experienced by people living on the margins.
A promotional video for the program began with Blake Sittler, co-ordinator of pastoral services for the diocese, asking, “Who is your social justice hero?”
Sittler suggested heroes such as Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, as well as local examples Sister Calista Arnold, OSU, who pioneered work with AIDS patients in the 1980s, Rev. André Poilièvre, who started the STR8 UP outreach to men and women striving to leave behind gang life, and Dianne Anderson, who provides prison ministry in the diocese.
However, the call to live the Gospel among those most in need is not confined to a few exceptional people, but is the baptismal call of every Christian, Sittler stressed. Understanding that call, and being formed and equipped to answer it in an appropriate and transformational way is the goal of the JOY program.
In starting to co-ordinate the program and planning sessions, O’Gorman says she has already deepened her own understanding of the struggles and issues being faced by so many who are suffering in different ways in our community. Helping participants authentically encounter those situations, hearing those stories, reaching out to others, and then helping them “wrestle through” the experience is key to the JOY program, she explained, describing how there will always be an attempt to discern “where is Jesus in those moments?”
As part of the commitment to the program, participants will be asked to undertake a field placement in an area of service or outreach that they feel called to — an estimated commitment of about two hours a week, in addition to the JOY program gatherings that will take place monthly on a Friday evening and all day Saturday.
The Friday evening will be a time to gather as a community, spend some time in reflection, talking about the experience of field placement, and “re-rooting ourselves in the Gospel and why we’re doing this program and why we are giving service,” said O’Gorman. The Saturday sessions will involve going out into the world to learn and to experience life and service at different locations in the community, related to each month’s social justice theme.
A range of themes will be addressed over the 10 weekends, with Saturday visits to various helping agencies and organizations to hear from those “on the ground” and the people they are serving, she explained. Planned themes for the JOY program include international development and peace, economic injustice, refugees, indigenous/Métis experience, poverty, human dignity, health and seniors’ care, hunger and food, care of the earth, and restorative justice.
“I anticipate a large part of this program is going to be about story telling. Learning people’s narratives and experiences, and learning how we are a part of it, how we walk in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, and also wrestling with those issues that come up in us when we are hearing people’s stories,” O’Gorman said.
She described the JOY program as an introduction that will hopefully lead participants to discern where they are being called to explore justice teachings and issues more deeply, and to offer their service in response to those issues.
During the Congress Day presentation, two speakers came forward to give a sample of themes participants will explore in the JOY program. Armella Sonntag, provincial animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace spoke about international development and justice advocacy, and Lyndon Linklater of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner spoke about the meaning and the importance of treaties.
Representatives of parishes across the diocese, both in Saskatoon and at the satellite sites of Humboldt and Kindersley, discussed a range of topics related to the new JOY program, including how to involve rural participants and whether the weekend should include a Saturday celebration of the eucharist and wind-up meal each month with family members invited.
There were also questions about how the program will connect to the formation for permanent deacons.
Bishop Donald Bolen explained that the JOY program is open to everyone, but that in the Diocese of Saskatoon it will also serve as a “propaedeutic” year of preparation and discernment for men who are experiencing a call to the permanent diaconate.
“We are setting up a model of diaconate formation that builds on the JOY formation,” he explained. The bishop reviewed the history of the diocesan discernment about ordaining permanent deacons, and the decision to focus strongly on a model of the diaconate as a ministry of service and outreach to those in need.
“The deacon would be a person who would not only engage in that ministry, but would facilitate others to engage in that ministry, and speak to that ministry in liturgical contexts,” Bolen said. “That is the emphasis that our committee and our discernment process led to.”
He stressed that the diocese is working to avoid two tiers of the JOY program with a separate group of potential deacons. “They are just going to launch into it with everybody else.”
In February 2017, those men journeying through the JOY program who are interested in discerning the permanent diaconate would then begin to meet with a director to discuss possible future steps, suggested the bishop, describing how formation for deacons in the diocese will be undertaken on an individual basis, tailored to the education and experience of each candidate.
Bolen reflected on the richness and the integrity of the JOY program, which is being distilled from a large number of possibilities and options for exploring themes related to Catholic social teaching.
“We really have a luxury of speakers and locations that we can go to, and really draw on the very best,” Bolen said. “I think it is going to be exciting. It very much resonates with Pope Francis’ ministry, his focus on outreach to the peripheries, his sense that the church needs to get messy and needs to learn to walk with people in their actual struggles and difficulties.”
Bolen noted that there is also an ongoing effort to connect the JOY program to Catholic faith and evangelization. “How does it involve an aspect of speaking our faith into those situations?” he queried. “How do I speak the Gospel into that situation? Sometimes that’s with words, and often it is not with words, but we want to ask that question.”
For more information about the JOY program, visit www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/joy or contact O’Gorman at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Saskatoon.
The diocesan Congress Day also included a discussion about strategic planning, including plans for updating a diocesan administrative manual, and the possibility of conducting parish audits on a range of policies, procedures and activities.