De Margerie ecumenical lecture 2022 showcases yearning for connection, reconciliation

Archbishop Donald Bolen, Fr. Bernard de Margerie, Bishop Chris Harper (l-r) on the stage of the STM auditorium at the conclusion of the 2022 De Margerie ecumenical lecture March 15 in Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Saskatoon Catholic News)

Bishops from two churches, and backgrounds, discuss the way forward

By Paul

The De Margerie Series for Christian Reconciliation and Unity 2022 ecumenical lecture was not so much a lecture, as it was a conversation between two bishops from different churches and different backgrounds.

Archbishop Donald Bolen of the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina and Bishop Chris Harper of the Anglican Diocese of Saskatoon entered into dialogue and shared the story of their journeys toward reconciliation. While confronting the truths of the past, they reflected together on their inter-related commitments to ecumenism and reconciliation — in the hope that they could help participants “dream new pathways forward.”

The 2022 De Margerie series event featured a joint presentation in a conversational style between Archbishop Don Bolen (left) and Bishop Chris Harper. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

The De Margerie lecture, held March 15 in-person at St. Thomas More College as well as being available online, was the ninth since the De Margerie Series for Christian Reconciliation and Unity was established as a collaboration between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, and St. Thomas More College to welcome global ecumenical leaders to our prairie soil.

It was named in honour of Fr. Bernard De Margerie, an ecumenical pioneer in Saskatoon and a founder of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism in 1984.

While past lectures have welcomed speakers from far and wide, this year, the more than 300 in attendance at STM College and online heard voices from closer to home.

Bishop Chris Harper is from the Onion Lake First Nation and is the Anglican Bishop of Saskatoon. Archbishop Don Bolen is from Gravelbourg and is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Regina. And, rather than a more traditional lecture, organizers invited the two church leaders to engage in dialogue.

“Both in Anglican-Roman Catholic relationship and in the relationship between Christian churches and Indigenous peoples today, we use the metaphor of walking together,” said Archbishop Bolen, as he kicked off the evening. “When our churches both arrived together on this land, Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops did not sit down to have friendly conversations in the public domain to ask what they could do together and what they could learn together.

“In fact, relations were very tense. And that had a negative impact on Indigenous people, as well. So, this is an opportunity and a gift that comes with this moment.”

Archbishop Donald Bolen (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Bolen put forward four main areas to touch upon during the evening:

  • What would it mean for Anglicans and Roman Catholics to walk together in a good way today?
  • What would it mean for us, separately and together, to walk together with Indigenous peoples in a good way?
  • What should we be doing together? The famous ecumenical Lund Principle from 1952 says that Christian churches should do all things together, except where deep differences require that we act separately.
  • What should we be learning from each other? I ask this specifically from a Roman Catholic perspective because I know that the Anglican Church in Canada has taken some profound and significant steps in terms of fostering closer relations with Indigenous peoples, and the Catholic Church has a lot to learn.”

Bishop Chris Harper reflected on the journey of ecumenism, reconciliation, healing and growth undertaken over his own lifetime.

“These conversations between Anglicans and Roman Catholic have been going on for 50 years — how long does a conversation have to go on before anyone listens?” Bishop Harper asked.

Bishop Chris Harper (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

“Meanwhile things are happening in our world that we all have to agree and acknowledge have opened our eyes, shaking us to the very foundation of who we are as Christians,” he said, pointing to the revelations about unmarked graves near the sites of Indian Residential Schools that have captured the attention of the nation.

“How do we respond? How should we be responding? As I in my conversations have been stating: this is not a denominational issue, it is a Christian issue, where we as Christians need to recognize that we need to honour, listen, respect, and acknowledge ‘the other’ in the family around us.”

There is an invitation to come into the circle, to come and listen, to become part of the story and to share with each other the stories, Harper said, quoting Anglican Indigenous Archbishop Mark Macdonald.

Sometimes it gets down to the basics of language, he noted. “Each and every one of us as Christians need to start to listen. We need to hear, we need to acknowledge.”

Harper said he has even heard from clergy statements like “well, we don’t have those issues because we don’t have Indigenous people in our areas.” Harper’s question: “Have you looked? We are there.”

The reconciliation among different Christian denominations and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous means “there is a double witness and a double conversation going on,” — one that Bishop Harper carries within, Bolen pointed out.

At the end of the bishops’ conversation, audience members were invited to ask questions, spurring further discussion between the bishops.

The event was sponsored by the Leslie and Irene Dubé Chair for Catholic Studies at STM and the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism.

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