Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 4, 2002
Western bishops help francophone faith
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The bishops of Western Canada will extend a hand to French Catholic minorities across the West as well as to foreign priests coming to serve in Canada.
At their annual plenary conference at the Grey Nuns Regional Centre Feb. 21-24 the bishops decided to hire a full time coordinator to provide pastoral assistance to French Catholics. They also began discussions on how to help missionary priests coming to serve in Western Canada.
"The (French) minority is having an increasingly difficult time and the bishops feel this is a very important issue in Western Canada and so we are putting new plans into place to try to increase their support for teaching religion to the francophones," said conference president Bishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg.
"They want real support in maintaining their culture and their tradition within the Church community and the bishops support this 100 per cent. But then to make sure that our support is not only verbal, we are trying to assist them this way."
The role of the coordinator will be to prepare regional formation programs for francophone catechists as well as to help communities access resources. The coordinator will start in June and will respond directly to the bishops.
"When people are in the minority it's very important that they come in contact with other people who are in the same situation and so the coordinator's role is one of communication, of putting people in touch with each other."
Edmonton, St. Boniface and St. Paul dioceses have the largest concentration of French-speaking Catholics in the West, said Weisgerber. "But there are pockets of people in every diocese who want to worship in French."
At the conference the bishops also discussed the need to establish regional programs to help foreign priests adapt to the Canadian culture.
"There is a real recognition of our dependence on missionary priests to serve the basic needs of the Church in Canada and we also recognized the need to help these missionaries adapt and adjust to our culture so they can help more effectively," Weisgerber said.
He said there are no concrete proposals but there are some ideas. One would be to have foreign priests meet together regularly to share experiences.
Support for foreign missionaries has been uneven across the West with some dioceses having good programs and others recognizing the need to do more.
"This is a very new situation and we haven't discussed it a lot together," noted Weisgerber. "We realize that this is going to be an ongoing challenge and so it is time to have a more organized response. We are going to continue to need these priests at least for the foreseeable future"
The Winnipeg Archdiocese recently set up a committee to figure out ways to help missionary priests as they come into the country.
"The first task of the committee will be to interview all of those who have come over the years to find out what they found was helpful and what they would have needed," Weisgerber said.
The percentage of foreign priests serving in the West varies from diocese to diocese but in some, like Winnipeg, is as high as 50 per cent.