WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Pastoral workers from various parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese make their way through an indoor labyrinth as part of the annual Pastoral Assistants day May 30.
Pastoral assistants help others encounter Jesus. At Pastoral Assistants' Day, one woman spoke of a non-Catholic custodian at her parish. He has been inquiring more and more about the Church, and now keeps a rosary in his vehicle.
Another woman spoke of her grandson asking questions about the crucifix and its meaning.
Someone spoke of a Chinese woman who did not know anything about Christianity, but delved into understanding it, eventually took RCIA and is now a practising Catholic.
"We are the light of Christ. We are the Body of Christ. It stands to reason that people should encounter Christ through us," said Debbie Doornbos, who facilitated Pastoral Assistants' Day on May 29 at Providence Renewal Centre.
It was a day of retreat, reflection and formation for pastoral assistants, parish secretaries, administrators and other parish employees. They were reminded of what called them to their respective jobs.
The day was themed Reconnecting to my Call: What Am I Looking For? A total of 51 people registered for the annual event. They shared encouraging stories from RCIA, and other good news from their parishes, as they help others encounter Jesus.
Doornbos said people often encounter Jesus, but do not recognize him. Through prayer, those encounters become more obvious. Jesus' qualities of compassion, forgiveness and love are evident in others.
"People bump into Jesus in their daily lives all the time," said Doornbos.
"We encounter Jesus in our day-to-day life in the people that we work with, the people that we minister with, in our family, in our friends. We always encounter Jesus, and we just need to open our eyes to see that."
The pastoral assistants shared personal reflections, enjoyed small group discussions, found solace walking through either an outdoor or indoor labyrinth, and found God in nature. The nature walk involved going to five stations: the fountain, the birdhouses, the grotto, the trees and the labyrinth.
"Labyrinths have been used spiritually by Christians around the world. I call it prayer in motion. It's a way of walking and praying. A labyrinth isn't a maze. It's a journey, and the journey takes us to the centre," explained Doornbos.
The Providence labyrinth was designed by Lynnell Prediger in honour of the Sisters of Providence. The labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. It was built in June 2006 by volunteers, including women from the Edmonton Institution for Women.
Journeying through the labyrinth with an open mind and an open heart is supposed to reveal joys, sorrows, insights, peace and healing. Walking a labyrinth is a way to tranquility, harmony and peace of mind. Moving inward is an opportunity to shed negative thoughts and emotions.
At the centre of the labyrinth, people meditate or pray. They enjoy the stillness and the simplicity of seemingly nothing happening. Moving outward, they sense oneness with God and become comforted, energized, empowered into action or perhaps given new direction.
Joan Tucker, pastoral assistant at Annunciation Parish, enjoyed walking through the labyrinth. The day was a chance for her to step into serenity.
"On a typical workday, I go in with no preconceived notions, and do whatever comes my way. It can be quite hectic at times," said Tucker.
Her job entails answering questions on Baptisms, filling in parish registries, teaching Baptism preparation classes, meeting with RCIA members, and planning First Communions and Confirmations.
"I find it very fulfilling when I notice I've helped somebody in some way. Maybe they're still carrying an old theology, and they're still concerned about limbo, for example," said Tucker.
She's met grandparents who want their grandchildren baptized quickly because of their belief that infants who die unbaptized will go to "limbo." The concept is a speculative notion that is not part of Catholic teaching.
Tucker viewed Pastoral Assistants' Day as a chance to relax and be rejuvenated. It also served as a reminder that she is doing the work to which she was called. Walking the labyrinth gave her a chance to slow down and reevaluate the balance in her life.
"Since I only live about 10 minutes from here, I'm thinking I might take the time every so often to drive over and do the labyrinth. I've done other retreats here, but this was my first time in the labyrinth," she said.
On the day her mother died, Tucker was passing by Providence Renewal Centre. She stopped in and later left feeling supported by the community of sisters.
The Pastoral Assistants' Day was also an opportunity to network and compare notes with other pastoral assistants.
Mark Guevarra, pastoral associate at St. Matthew's Parish, does sacramental preparation, ministry to schools and general pastoral care.
"I have a real affirmation of who I am, who I am called to be, what I am called to do, and this is an affirmation of my faith. I have a real trust in God who loves me unconditionally. My response to that is catechesis and education," said Guevarra.
He has been to a Pastoral Assistants' Day before, and he appreciates the opportunity to see others like him, doing similar work, and sharing the same faith. It is encouraging to see he is not alone in his ministry.
"Sometimes you can just keep doing without thinking. This was an opportunity to not only think, but to reflect and pray about what we're doing. It's a gift to be able to do that," Guevarra said.