Church of the North has unique challenges

January 20, 2014

YELLOWKNIFE – With slightly more than 20,000 Catholics spread across 1.5 million square kilometres of frozen land, the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese poses unique challenges for its new bishop.

The previous bishop, Archbishop Murray Chatlain, now of Keewatin-Le Pas, often travelled by airplane to reach the far-flung Catholic communities.

"Our land is harsh, it's challenging, it's a ruthless teacher, but it's also vast, pristine and stop-you-in-your-tracks beautiful. And when we get on our land, the Creator teaches us and grounds us," Chatlain said.

The biggest part of the learning curve for Bishop Mark Hagemoen will be understanding the communities and their traditions and languages, Chatlain continued.

About half of the Catholics in the diocese are aboriginal.

"I hope he will be able to get out on the land with the people, do some hunting trips. That will be a great help for him."

Chatlain said one of his fondest memories of his post in the Northwest Territories was a Mass he celebrated in a tent near a lake.

"All these hunters were coming in with caribou blood on their hands and receiving Holy Communion. Beautiful," he said.

Other difficulties Hagemoen will tackle are common themes in other dioceses, such as keeping people in the pews between Christmas and Easter.


Gloria Reyes, president of the Filipino association, said she hopes the new bishop will be as accessible as Chatlain was.

"There's always time. When you pull him to the side, he always has time for you."

Chatlain added that one of the most significant tasks of a prelate is "to be a cheerleader."

"There is so much that is good, holy, and spiritually strong in our North, and to be able to cheer that in the right way is such an important job for a bishop."

The diocese has seven priests, one permanent deacon, and seven religious brothers and sisters serving its 37 parishes and missions.