WINNIPEG — The Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops held its annual conference in the neighbouring Archdioceses of St. Boniface and Winnipeg this year, as the gathering became one of many events in the celebrations for Catholica 200, undertaken by the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.
In 1818, Bishop Norbert Provencher arrived at the Red River Settlement to establish the Catholic Church in the Canadian West and became the first bishop of the Diocese of the Northwest, founded in 1847 in St. Boniface.
Two hundred years later, 25 bishops serving Canada’s west and northwest came together Feb. 27 to March 1 to mark the momentous anniversary, share brotherhood, and to discuss issues of importance to the church and society.
The current AWCB president, Archbishop of Winnipeg Richard Gagnon, said that the deliberations covered a range of topics, including: safe environments for children and vulnerable adults, relations with indigenous peoples and efforts at reconciliation following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the difficulties for people of faith arising out of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, youth ministry initiatives to form leaders, social justice concerns relative to the poor and the role of Caritas International under the auspices of Development and Peace in meeting these needs, and, Gagnon added, “regional concerns from Winnipeg to Vancouver to the Arctic were discussed at length. “
Established in 1974, AWCB gathers the bishops of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic churches of the four Western Canadian provinces, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. It serves 18 Roman Catholic dioceses and four Ukrainian Catholic eparchies (Roman Catholic: Calgary, Churchill-Hudson Bay, Edmonton, Grouard-McLennan, Kamloops, Keewatin-Le Pas, Mackenzie-Fort Smith, Nelson, Prince Albert, Prince George, Regina, St. Boniface, St. Paul, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Victoria, Whitehorse and Winnipeg; Ukrainian Catholic: Edmonton, New Westminster, Saskatoon and Winnipeg).
A mass at which St. Boniface Archbishop LeGatt presided was celebrated at St. Boniface Cathedral Feb. 28 with all the bishops, many clergy and religious and laity. The homily was preached by Gagnon.
“This week has been a privileged moment in the life of the church in the west of our country,” Gagnon said. “It is a privileged moment because we as bishops from the western and north-western part of Canada, gathered in assembly, have had the opportunity to reflect on our vocation to serve the People of God and to collaborate with the ordained, the religious men and women, and the faithful in this great task. What Jesus teaches about service in the Gospel today finds a direct connection with what we know and try to do through our ministry as bishops.
“We stand on the shoulders of the missionaries who came before us, facing different hardships, different challenges and yes, disappointments, but with the same call to mission. After giving his teaching on service, Our Lord also reminds us that he will give his life as a ransom for many. It is truly a humbling experience to read the historical accounts of many of these early missionaries — their witness through physical hardships, the difficulties they faced on the plains and in the north, the triumphs and disappointments. So many of them served with great faith and generosity of heart, sometimes giving up their lives for the Gospel so as to serve the many, before ever seeing the fruits of their labours.
“During this week of assembly we are sharing and dialoguing on many topics of concern, some of which are not only challenging but represent real difficulties and disappointments. There can even be a fear in our hearts about the future and what being faithful to the Gospel might mean for us and the church. Yet the Psalms, which the Jews believe King David wrote, represent attitudes of faith in different circumstances. David was a sinner and he certainly had difficulties, but he remained a remarkable man of faith. Today we hear him say, ‘But I trust in you, O Lord; I say: You are my God. My times are in your hand, deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Save me O Lord in your steadfast love.’ ”
Gagnon concluded: “We ask the Lord to bring much good fruit through our gathering this week and to give us the courage and wisdom necessary for these times.”