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Nathanael experience more relevant, less theoretical

By James Buchok


From left: Rev. Darrin Gurr, Sister Cathy Laviolette, Helena Fitzgerald and Rev. Geoffrey Angeles. (James Buchok photo)

WINNIPEG — The Nathanael adult faith formation experience begins in September in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, the eighth time since 1987 the program has been offered “to deepen one’s Christian Catholic identity and the call to missionary discipleship.”

The three-year course takes place on nine weekends per year from May to September at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg, with one live-in retreat experience each year at St. Benedict’s Retreat and Conference Centre just north of Winnipeg.

The theme for year one is Personal Encounter; year two, Called to the Church; and year three, Sent into the World. The experience involves liturgy, spirituality, human growth, morals and values, sacred Scripture, prayer and discernment, ritual and celebration and ministry of presence.

Organizers have arranged two Come and See events so that everyone from the “just curious” to the “highly interested” can ask questions, find out about the program and meet the team and some of those who have experienced Nathanael.

The Come and See events are March 11 from 9:30 a.m. to noon at St. John XXIII Church, and March 19, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

The team consists of Helena Fitzgerald, Sister Cathy Laviolette, Rev. Geoffrey Angeles and Rev. Darrin Gurr.

“This Nathanael, the eighth generation, is not like the first one,” said Fitzgerald. “Nathanael has continued evolving to meet the challenges of the Christian in the contemporary world.” Fitzgerald holds a master’s in pastoral studies from Loyola College in Chicago and is participating in her fourth generation of the Nathanael program.

“Religious education has changed,” Fitzgerald said. “People used to be steeped in Catholicism, but not anymore.”

Over the years, Nathanael has gained more and more of a presence in the archdiocese, said Laviolette. “The process has become more relevant and less theoretical. It once had a reputation of being intellectual with a lot of studying. Our candidates are the best advertisement.” Laviolette holds a master’s in spirituality from the University of San Francisco and has been part of four generations of the Nathanael course.

Gurr, who has been part of two generations of Nathanael, said it strives to “equip people for Christian witness in the modern world. How do I reconcile all of this in my life?” Gurr said the upcoming course in particular is a response “to the call of Pope Francis to prepare ourselves for the work of the new evangelization.” Both Gurr and Angeles hold master’s degrees in liturgical studies from the University of Notre Dame and both have been involved in two previous generations of the Nathanael program.

The team estimates that up to 650 persons have experienced Nathanael — and, adds Laviolette, “the drop-out rate has been minimal.” A number of Nathanael graduates will be speaking in churches about their Nathanael experiences in February.

There is no set expectations of what the program will achieve for the participants, “or what they’ll do with it,” said Laviolette. In general, she said, Nathanaelites “become evangelizers,” she said.

The application deadline is April 14, with 100 spaces available. Interested persons will be required to fill out a request for an interview. The form is available on the Nathanael Winnipeg website — — or may be picked up at one of the Come and See events. Interviews will take place in April and May. There is a cost per person of $425 while other costs are shared by the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the participant’s parish.

The name of Nathanael refers to the Gospel of John 1:48, when Nathanael asks Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Yet minutes earlier Nathanael spoke of Jesus of Nazareth saying “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

“Nathanael is a seeker,” said Gurr. “He is under a fig tree, a biblical image of where one goes to seek wisdom. He is contemplating his direction.”

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