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Joint conference hears variety of speakers

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — Members of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) and the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS) met in conference from Oct. 20 - 22 in Regina. The conference was themed “Ministering to God’s Beloved: serving and learning from those who are vulnerable.”

All the keynote speakers addressed the sub-theme of vulnerability. The opening speaker was Anne Butler, executive director and founder of Interior by Design Associates: Cultivating Wholeheartedness in Healthcare. She talked about the beauty of vulnerability and described her own struggles with imperfectness.

“We need to cultivate the vulnerability in ourselves, and recognize the beauty in that. It’s a good reflective practice,” she said. “We resist vulnerability because it reminds us of our frailty.”

She reminded her audience that we are born with an inner beauty, created in the image of God. The following day, she talked about embracing the vulnerability of others, inviting the audience to open themselves in order to properly tend to vulnerable others.

Dr. Josephine Lombardi, a professor at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough, Ont., talked about influences on human behaviour, using family as an example. She suggested that some families are concerned about honour and what people will say. “Don’t bring shame on the family,” they say; “hide the truth.” But it’s important to know our family origins, because community is vital in human relationships. In her final session of the conference she explored the deeper meaning of mercy and the obstacles that keep us from being God’s instruments of mercy.

Dr. Hazel Markwell, in her plenary presentation, said Canada has the most liberal approach in the world to euthanasia and assisted suicide and how that is changing everything: “If we don’t engage in this, Catholic health care will be gone,” she warned. “We need to remember our theological roots — that God created the world and it is a gift. Patients ask about this and they need to know,” said Markwell.

Markwell is executive director of the Centre for Clinical Ethics in Toronto and an ethics consultant for the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada. Her plenary theme focused on health.

Rev. Mark Miller, CSsR, focused on education in his plenary address. Miller is a well-known bioethicist, and in his presentation he stayed with the theme of vulnerability, telling the story of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. They were the original Siamese twins who lived long and productive lives together, with respect and accommodation for their reality. He also talked about the reality and vulnerability of transgender people. We have to become better listeners, he suggested, and stop thinking that we have all the answers. We have to walk with the vulnerable, with their differences, and respect people as human persons.

Archbishop Donald Bolen, celebrant and homilist for the closing mass, spoke about how, in a pluralistic society, Catholic teachings and traditions are called into question in a variety of ways: “We need to make our case for our contribution to the world around us. We need to work carefully and intelligently.”

Following the conference, Bolen, reflecting on the theme of the conference to the Prairie Messenger, said that the church’s call to be present to vulnerable people comes from a couple of sources: “First because God in Jesus comes in vulnerability and asks for our welcome, our care, and second because we too have our failures and brokenness, and while we sometimes conceal them well, we all have our vulnerabilities, and in serving others, these are a source of grace so that we can welcome others in their vulnerability.”

Both organizations held separate AGMs during the two days of the conference and each elected a new executive. Regina Catholic School Division trustee Vicky Bonnell was elected chair of the SCSBA and Del Wagner of the Moose Jaw Catholic School Division was elected vice-chair. Chris Donald was re-elected president of the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan, while Therese Michaud was re-elected vice-chair.


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