SASKATOON — A new Justice and Outreach Year (JOY) of Formation diocesan program was recently launched with an orientation retreat held at Queen’s House in Saskatoon.
“It was like the first day of school,” said co-ordinator Kate O’Gorman, who along with two other team members welcomed 15 participants to the inaugural JOY program. “One by one we all arrived — not knowing exactly what to expect, but carrying with us an openness to learn and a deep desire to immerse ourselves in the work of social justice.”
The JOY program has its origins in a diocesan-wide discernment about initiating the permanent diaconate in Saskatoon. During those discussions two years ago, a need for practical formation in providing outreach and service was identified as something that should be available to all the baptized. As a result, Bishop Donald Bolen established a committee to develop the JOY program, led by O’Gorman, who previously served as one of the co-ordinators of Lay Formation in the Diocese of Saskatoon.
“This diocesan pilot program has been a labour of love, born from a passion to pursue justice and live the Gospel in solidarity with the poor,” says O’Gorman. “For some time, it has been gestating in the hearts and minds of Catholic Pastoral Centre staff, committee members, program volunteers, agency partners and of course, lay applicants.”
The program will run from September to June, with participants coming together once a month to focus on issues of social justice, visit local service-based agencies, and work alongside people who experience life on the margins.
“Throughout the year we will also prayerfully consider our own baptismal call in the midst of the realities we encounter,” adds O’Gorman.
During the weekend sessions, participants will explore outreach related to human dignity, refugees, indigenous experience, anti-poverty, international development, health and elder care, hunger and food, restorative justice, youth and family, and care of the earth.
“By connecting with nearly 30 local service agencies throughout the next 10 months, meeting with those who work in these social justice fields and being with the people they serve, we seek to broaden our understanding and become equipped with skills to engage in service outreach.
“The JOY program is embarking on a new adventure — learning what it means to walk in solidarity with one another and work together toward a safer, more just society where the dignity and rights of all of God’s beloved are recognized and honoured,” says O’Gorman.
The orientation retreat Aug. 27 provided participants with grounding for the year ahead.
One topic was Catholic Social Teaching, presented by Gertrude Rompré, director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College. Sometimes described as “the Catholic Church’s best-kept secret,” Catholic social teaching is an integral part of the JOY formation program.
“Themes of Catholic Social Teaching will be woven into each weekend of the JOY program and experienced in concrete ways through the agencies we visit, the people we meet and the stories we hear,” says O’Gorman. “Catholic Social Teaching — along with Pope Francis’ ecclesial vision and the compassionate life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth — is the foundation upon which the JOY program stands, and which we will strive to embody.”
Another orientation session, led by Christine Zyla of the diocesan Office of Migration, raised awareness about possible unconscious assumptions and privileged perspectives.
“The experience of some of us is not the experience of all of us,’’ notes O’Gorman. “Inequalities and injustices based on race, economic status, gender, age, and ability are predicated on unconscious assumptions and beliefs that have been deeply and systemically entrenched. The formational aim of the JOY program seeks to awaken us to some of the assumptions we hold, so that we can enter as fully as possible into equitable relationship with those we meet along the journey.”
O’Gorman points to Pope Francis’ words: “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor” as a guiding principle for the JOY program.
“We are taking up the invitation through our involvement in the Justice and Outreach Year of Formation to respond to our baptismal call and meet our human responsibility to reach out to others. We will seek to grow and be transformed in humble service, discipleship, compassion and of course, joy.”
Those interested can follow along via Facebook, Twitter, and a blog at www.joyformationprogram.com.