Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 25, 2000
Jubilee rekindled the fire of faith
Local leaders say millennium sparked growth in awareness
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, celebrated at all levels and soon to draw to an end, has had a positive impact on the faith lives of the people and on the Edmonton Archdiocese.
So say local Church officials who agree this impact could be long-term.
"I think what it has done is that it has awakened and rekindled the fire of faith on a personal and on a communal level," says Cathy Harvey, coordinator of interfaith and ecumenical relations for the archdiocese.
"And I also think that it encouraged us and affirmed us in our faith."
Harvey said she believes events surrounding the jubilee have been a sign to the wider community that Christianity is alive.
John Lynch, coordinator of the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission, thinks the jubilee celebrations have helped change the social conscience of many Catholics.
"My impression is that of all the many things that have happened in recent years the jubilee year has had a real impact on an awful lot of people and it has created an awareness of the social nature of our baptismal responsibility," Lynch told the WCR.
Jubilee events geared toward debt reduction, global justice and renewal of the earth have helped people make the connection between faith and action, says Bob Schmidt, Alberta leader of Development and Peace.
"I think there is a realization that it's time to put your faith into action and that is really what jubilee means," Schmidt said, citing an increased desire by people to get involved in campaigns to bring justice to the poor.
The jubilee year officially began on Christmas Eve 1999 and will conclude Jan. 7, the feast of Epiphany.
Hebrew Scriptures describe jubilee as a new beginning, proclaimed every 50 years when debts are cancelled, captives are released, the land is given rest and wealth is redistributed. It's a time for restoring balance and justice between people and for renewing the earth itself.
Pope John Paul invited Catholics to make 2000 that kind of year, placing great emphasis on foreign debt relief, faith renewal and on restoring right relations among people.
Likewise, Archbishop Thomas Collins touted the jubilee year as the perfect year for individual examination of conscience, reflection, celebration, penitence and forgiveness.
In Edmonton, jubilee festivities were largely ecumenical and began in 1998 when Christian churches created the Jubilee 2000 Committee and agreed on four main venues of celebration.
The group's first initiative was to join with the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative and Jubilee 2000 International to seek cancellation of the international debt of the 50 poorest countries in the world.
More than 17 million signatures were collected worldwide, including 650,000 in Canada, demanding the G-7 countries to forgive the debts of the poorest countries.
This campaign has resulted in several initiatives aimed at alleviating the debt burden of the Third World, including Canada's recent announcement that it is taking steps to cancel the debt of 11 of the 17 countries that have bilateral debts with Canada.
Local Christians also welcomed the new millennium with an unprecedented display of unity, reverence and colour.
The First Night celebration included a multi-faith focus on the millennium, a celebration of 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus and two prayer services featuring programs of music, dance and drama.
Both prayer services joined for a candlelight procession into Sir Winston Churchill Square for the finale, which saw some 17,000 people in attendance.
"This is the first time the Christian community has had such a visible presence in a city festival," noted Harvey.
The celebration of the jubilee continued well beyond First Night with a lecture series aimed at deepening people's understanding of the biblical concept of jubilee. The series, held monthly at a Christian college, began in October 1999 and concluded in April with the lecture Jubilee: A Way of Life.
In a more artistic vein, the Provincial Museum sponsored the hugely popular exhibit Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries. The three-month exhibit, offering different views of how Jesus has been understood during the last two millennia, was expected to draw 100,000 people before it concludes on Jan. 7.
The jubilee committee's main celebration for the year 2000 was the J2K Festival on Pentecost Sunday, June 11, at Churchill Square and City Hall.
The festival, the first of its kind in Edmonton, marked 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus and featured music, drama, dance and various games and activities.
Despite the rain, some 2,000 people attended the festival, which also marked the first time both mainline and evangelical churches came together with a common focus to celebrate the jubilee.
Three months after the J2K festival, the Edmonton Archdiocese celebrated the Great Jubilee with a four-day assembly at Shaw Conference Centre.
Some 5,000 people attended the Sept. 14-17 event, which included internationally-known speakers such as retired Archbishop John Quinn of St. Francisco and educator Thomas Groome as well as Bible camps for teens and workshops on everything from liturgy to funeral planning.
Parishes and schools celebrated the jubilee in a variety of ways, beginning with the symbolic opening of holy doors and continuing with parish missions and activities to help the poor.
There also were organized tours of local shrines and an increased interest in pilgrimages to Rome, with some 3,000 young Canadian Catholics attending World Youth Day in that city last August.
Many individuals celebrated by placing a candle in their windows as a sign of hope and thanksgiving, planting jubilee gardens in their yards and becoming more involved in activities to help the poor.
Lynch is amazed at how the ideals of the jubilee have impacted the faith lives of the people in the archdiocese.
"How long this is going to last is anybody's guess," he said. "But the tools are there and that's the important thing."
Rita Strauss, who chaired the organizing committee for the archdiocesan Assembly 2000, believes the effects of the jubilee will last "because we spent a full year focusing on Christ and that's bound to have a long-term effect."
She said events like Assembly 2000 attracted many who normally don't attend Church functions, giving them "more depth on their faith and an understanding of how widespread faith in Christ is."
Father Richard Bednar, chair of the Council of Priests, doesn't know if the jubilee will have an effect on people but hopes it will.
"I suppose it will raise the awareness of those who are open but won't do much for those who are asleep," he said. "It's hard to gauge. I'm not sure whether there was a fire started or whether it was just a little flashbulb. But for those who are involved, (the jubilee) was definitely a step forward."
Schmidt of Development and Peace thinks a lot of hearts were changed because of the jubilee.
"People came to the realization that the renewal that the pope called for was a lot more than simply a personal relationship with God and began to demand justice for people worldwide," he commented. "(The jubilee) has brought a greater awareness of the whole world."
Harvey is happy churches didn't let the year pass by without seizing the opportunity to celebrate our faith in Jesus.
"We did celebrate," and in the process "we became more bold and more confident to stand up and say 'We believe in Jesus Christ and God's gift to the world in Christ.'"
Churches also rediscovered the "joy of Christian fellowship" as they gathered together to celebrate, Harvey noted. "It's not easy to come together. It's not easy to work together but when we do make that effort we realize it is right and good that we are together."
The jubilee experience also transformed Christians into "people of good actions," Harvey believes. "Our words have been transformed in actions and my hope is that we will continue to be people of action."