By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
In the midst of a ministry year affected by COVID-19 restrictions, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon continues to move forward with the vision of its Pastoral Plan “To Proclaim Christ and the Kingdom of God Today.”
The ongoing focus on the priorities of the three-year Pastoral Plan that was launched in September 2019 is bringing about a number of new directions for adult faith formation in the diocese, with a significant focus on evangelization.
Some programs in the diocese are changing, while other new initiatives are being introduced – but all with a view to advance the Pastoral Plan’s priorities, and to adapt to new realities. Those realities include the challenges posed by the global pandemic, the growing use of new technologies for learning and sharing faith, fiscal challenges, and a number of expanding partnerships.
“The winds of change are blowing strong these days” when it comes to adult faith formation in the diocese, said Bishop Mark Hagemoen, reflecting recently on diocesan developments.
“However, the changes we are seeing relate not only to external circumstances – such as those related to the COVID 19 pandemic – but to ways in which the People of God of our diocese are accessing a variety of activities, supports, and other resources,” he said.
“Pastors and parishes are indicating the need for new and diverse ways to access religious education and ongoing formation.”
Changing methods and new resources
The ways in which people access information and resources have been revolutionized by technology and ever-increasing online use in recent years. Those shifts are prompting new ways of providing faith formation and outreach as well.
“One significant example relates to how many parishes over the last several years are enabling their parishes to access the increasing number of on-line parish resources, which not only provide quality sessions on various topics of Catholic faith and spirituality, but provide opportunities for ongoing personal and communal participation in a number of faith-based activities and study programs,” noted Bishop Hagemoen.
As an example, he describes how several parishes in the diocese have purchased a subscription for all their parishioners to access the “Formed” website, and its “Catholic-faith-on-demand” services. “The various programs, videos, articles, and other on-line activities provide a range of quality faith formation supports, which parishioners can access as they choose,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
Such resources offer a flexible, online method of accessing faith formation materials that matches how more and more people access information in every part of their lives.
Another example is the expansion of programs offered by Catholic theological colleges to individual lay Catholics, and also to clergy and religious – including many programs with online access for distance education.
“These ongoing education and formation programs feature non-academic options – including certificates and diplomas – as well as academic degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
“Almost all programs are now delivered via on-line education platforms and are very accessible. Examples that parish ministry staff and other parishioners are accessing include: Newman Theological College, Edmonton; St. Paul’s University, Ottawa; St Augustine Institute, Colorado; and Divine Mercy University, Virginia.”
Pastoral Plan – goals, training and focus
Marilyn Jackson, Director of Ministry Services in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, stressed the impact and importance of the Pastoral Plan in moving forward with proclaiming Christ and God’s kingdom in the diocese.
“The Pastoral Plan is the lens through which we should see everything that we do in the diocese,” she said. “It’s not about programming, process or strategy but about striving to be holy – and holiness is more about perseverance than perfection.”
Adult faith formation is a central element of the diocesan Pastoral Plan, stressed Bishop Hagemoen. “In fact, all six goals contain elements that – in order to realize these goals– require some form of adult faith formation.”
The six goals of the pastoral plan are:
- Draw People into a Deepening Intimacy with the Lord
- Make Every Sunday Matter
- Embrace Your Priesthood: discerning God’s call to each person to share in the mission and life of the Lord
- Promote the Healing Journey in the Lord
- Build and Support Family Community
- Moving from Maintenance to Mission: helping parishes proclaim Christ in everything
“Some adult faith formation will be focussed on ‘ministry-related’ considerations and activities, while others may be more practical – including matters of administration, finance, and ‘best practices’ regarding carrying out parish and diocesan activities,” the bishop described.
To assist in pursuing the six Pastoral Plan goals, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has continued to develop a comprehensive annual training plan, which features Administration Day; a Congress exploring ministry development themes; Clergy Study Days; and retreats and days of spiritual reflection.
“The circumstances of the COVID 19 pandemic have very much challenged us as we are now not able to gather together for these major training events. However, these circumstances are the occasion to develop non-gathered strategies that rely on technology delivery to accomplish training and formation,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
Diocesan programs affected by new directions
As part of the ongoing evolution of adult faith formation in the diocese, two diocesan programs have been impacted by recent changes: the diocesan Justice and Outreach Year (JOY) and the Adult Faith Enrichment Program (previously known as Lay Formation).
“One key development is the conclusion of the JOY program. The difficult decision to conclude this program was made as a major funding source concluded – a grant from the Porticus Foundation,” announced the bishop.
“The JOY program, led by Kate O’Gorman, established a high standard for service learning, and has expanded our awareness of how service learning needs to infuse adult faith formation initiatives,” said Bishop Hagemoen, announcing the end of the diocesan program.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings, a reflection was already underway to find a more effective delivery of the Adult Faith Enrichment (AFE) program, which has seen several years of transition and change to the original Lay Formation program launched some 33 years ago, in September 1987.
“Plans are currently being made for an on-line delivery of the second year of the two-year program, which is to begin in September 2020. This online delivery will last as long as the pandemic is ongoing, and then we will look to being able to gather again for meetings,” announced Bishop Hagemoen.
“The program has had many coordinators over the 33-year history of the Lay Formation Program – now called AFE – most recently being coordinated by Blair and Jennifer Carruthers. The Carruthers will not be guiding AFE into this next phase, and we acknowledge them for their faithful service since the fall of 2017,” the bishop said.
“Thanks also goes to Marlene Hansen, who served for three years as the coordinator of the Indigenous track. The Indigenous portion of AFE will continue through the online delivery this coming fall,” said Bishop Hagemoen
Evangelization Commission initiative
The diocesan Evangelization Commission which was created in September 2019 has been putting much work and reflection into reviewing and responding to the Pastoral Plan, the bishop noted.
“The Evangelization Commission is in the midst of a proposal regarding a special initiative for interested parishes wanting to inspire Catholic parishioners to grow as Catholic Christians in today’s world, and to embrace Pope Francis’s call to be ‘missionary disciples,’” emphasized Bishop Hagemoen.
“As Pope Francis emphasizes in his exhortation ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ (Evangelii Gaudium), every member of the Church is like the Church herself: we don’t merely have a mission – we are a mission,” said Bishop Hagemoen, quoting the Holy Father: “My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ‘extra’ or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world.” (EG #273)
Bishop Hagemoen added that this new initiative might be characterized as: “re-awakening one’s faith; deepening one’s relationship with the Lord Jesus; inspiring one’s witness by word and life.”
Director of Ministry Services Marilyn Jackson said that the Evangelization Commission initiative will be designed to help make evangelization a practical reality in the diocese.
“Catholics across the diocese are telling us that they are ready to move beyond talking about the need to evangelize and embrace the practical ‘how to,’” she said.
Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Ministry Education
The bishop also announced a joint initiative of St. Thomas More College, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, to be known as “Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Ministry Education.” The program – presented as both a certificate and a following diploma – establishes a curriculum to address ministry with indigenous people by clergy and lay leadership in the Canadian context.
“Inspired by several of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – the program will seek to bring together clergy and lay leadership – indigenous and non-indigenous – in a learning dialogue about ministry with our indigenous peoples,” announced the bishop.
“It is hoped that participants will join us from the Keewatin-Le Pas diocese, as well as other regions of western Canada,” he said.
Formation of young adults
In another joint initiative with St. Thomas More College (STM), the diocese will collaborate in the religious and faith formation of young adults discerning a religious vocation or professional ministry in the Church.
“Titled ‘Religious Vocations Bachelor of Arts,’ the Philosophy BA program has been designed by STM to address the requirements for application to a Masters of Theology program typically required for candidates for priesthood or religious life, or for persons wanting to work in the Church. This program will also feature addressing human and spiritual formation which is increasingly required for all candidates to ministry in the church,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
“To assist with that human and spiritual formation, I am pleased to announce that three religious sisters from the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity will be joining us in September 2020,” he added.
“As reported about a year ago during their introductory visit to our diocese, the goals of Verbum Dei are to live a dynamic life of contemplation of the Word and God and of active work and ministry to transform disciples and society into the image of God’s kingdom.”
The three Verbum Dei sisters come from different areas of the world, and Saskatoon will be the fraternity’s first Canadian presence. “It is hoped that they will work in conjunction with our diocese and St. Thomas More College in establishing the religious vocations program that will feature excellent academic, human, and spiritual education and formation for adult candidates,” said the bishop.