Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 14, 2003
Northern orientation planned by bishops
Missionaries sample Arctic life, hardships
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The bishops of the seven dioceses that make up the northern two-thirds of Canada continue to struggle with a shortage of new missionaries but are helping those who do make the commitment adapt to hardships in the vast and sparsely populated area.
Acting on a pastoral plan presented to the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops last fall, the northern bishops are launching a two-week "orientation" session for priests, religious and lay people who are newcomers to the northern dioceses or have less than two years experience. Most of those attending will come from foreign countries or southern Canada.
To be held in Edmonton from July 17-30, the session is designed to help participants adapt to the culture of the North and to develop relationships with missionaries now working there. Edmonton was chosen because it is considered a point of entry for many northern areas.
It will be the first time that the northern bishops have banded together to host such an event and they are hoping it will be an annual event, said Bishop Reynald Rouleau, the Bishop of Churchill-Hudson Bay.
"It's a kind of deepening of our own enculturation in the Church of the North," he said in an inteview.
Many of the 80 or so priests ministering in the North are advanced in age and few younger priests want to come because of the isolation, stoic living conditions, distances between parishes or missions and the diversity of cultures.
"We need to find priests who can come - some can come for a year or two and that's fine - but we're looking for priests who will come for many years," said Rouleau.
In his diocese, Rouleau has only five priests and a deacon caring for the sacramental needs of about 5,000 Catholics in 17 parishes and missions, 80 per cent of whom are Inuit. In the neighbouring Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, the largest Catholic diocese in the world, there are just seven priests serving its 40 parishes and missions totaling 20,000 Catholics.
Lay missionaries and members of men and women religious congregations are taking up much of the slack left by the shortage of priests but ordained priests are badly needed, Rouleau said. "We are on the border. We cannot have fewer priests than we now have."
A decade ago, the bishops of the North went to Rome and asked that an exception be made in the North to allow married native men to become priests. "But they said we cannot make an exception," said Rouleau. "So for now there is no movement. Maybe in a few years . . . we hope."