Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 23, 2007
Show people Jesus, says Wiesner
Jesus spent more time healing, feeding people than talking about God
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Bishop Gerald Wiesner told an Aboriginal ministry conference the church should minister with, not for Aboriginal people.
WCR Staff Writer
We teach Christianity not by talking about it but by showing people Jesus, says Bishop Gerald Wiesner of Prince George.
"It's not the Christians' duty to discuss Christianity with others so much as to show them what Christianity is really all about," Wiesner told a gathering of Aboriginal ministers at Newman Theological College July 16.
The bishop said when the disciples came from Greece to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, they met the Apostle Phillip and immediately told Phillip they wanted to see Jesus.
"The holy father says that's what people are asking today," Wiesner told conference participants. "They are asking us to show them Jesus. They don't want us to talk to them so much about Jesus but to show Jesus to them."
Wiesner, president of the Western Assembly of Catholic Bishops, made his comments during the opening of Directions in Aboriginal Ministry, a weeklong conference intended for people who are involved in or interested in Aboriginal ministry.
The July 16-20 conference brought together more than 100 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal delegates from across Western Canada and beyond. The week was built around the themes of Aboriginal ministry, Aboriginal spirituality and current issues facing Aboriginal peoples.
The Western Assembly of Catholic Bishops and Newman Theological College sponsored the event.
The conference has been taking place on and off since the Oblate Fathers first launched it at Lac Ste Anne in 1997. This is the first time it has been held at Newman College and college officials are hoping it will become an annual event at Newman.
"One of the goals of the conference is to help prepare non-Aboriginal people to do ministry among Aboriginal people with a greater understanding of their history, their issues, their spirituality and how to minister among them," said Oblate Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie of the Diocese of Keewatin-The Pas, one of the organizers.
"Another goal that we have is to help prepare and form Aboriginal lay people to take on leadership among themselves."
The list of conference speakers included Lavoie, St. Joseph Sister Eva Solomon, an Ojibwa from Ontario, former chief Harry Lafond of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and Jesuit Father Carl Starkloff, a professor at Regis College in Toronto who has served among Aboriginal people in Wyoming and northern Ontario.
"When we are talk about the significance of ministry we need to show the Lord to others," Wiesner told the delegates. "Jesus was a healer and the Gospel that Jesus brought did not stop at words; it was translated into deeds."
By reading the Gospel, we see that Jesus spent far more time healing the sick, feeding the hungry and comforting the sorrowful than he did talking about God, the bishop of Prince George noted.
"Jesus turned the words of Christianity into the deeds of Christian love. Jesus said our mission consists in love. Ministry consists in love."
Wiesner also told the assembly about the importance of empowering Aboriginal people to take over ministry in their respective communities.
"It is important and necessary that we do ministry not simply for First Nations people but that we do ministry with First Nations people. My limited experience attests that perhaps we have done too much ministry for First Nations' People and not enough ministry with First Nations' People."
It is very important that the baptized be involved in ministry, stressed the bishop.
"The teaching of the Vatican Council says that the laity has an obligation to be involved in the teaching of the faith. So if I am baptized I am called by God to share faith, to lead others in faith, to help others celebrate faith."
The Church is not fully established if there is not a laity worthy of its name working side by side with the hierarchy, according to Wiesner.
"We have to work with the First Nations people. They have to be the ones who are taking over the ministry in their respective communities. Pope John Paul II said we will not have a New Evangelization without involvement of the laity. The future of the Church belongs to the laity."
Sharing the faith
Rosalie Desjarlais was happy to hear Wiesner's message. Like him, she thinks the laity must be involved in the living and sharing of the faith.
The Metis woman came from Cold Lake to the conference to pick up information for her husband Walter, an ordained St. Paul deacon who will soon begin ministry on the Frog Lake Reserve.
"This is very important to us," she said. "We hope this conference will better prepare us for our ministry."
Leah Perrault, the new director of pastoral services for the Diocese of Saskatoon, attended the conference "to round out my education to include the Aboriginal way of living as well as the wisdom that their culture has to offer the Church."
The diocese is launching two new projects in Aboriginal culture and spirituality and Perrault thought she would benefit from the conference. "Because I don't have a lot of history and knowledge in this area I thought it would be a great way to start my ministry in Saskatoon with an awareness of Aboriginal spirituality," she said.