By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
A joyful celebration of shared faith, reflection on sins of division, and affirmation of unity concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 25, 2023 in Saskatoon.
The Wednesday evening ecumenical service at Holy Spirit Catholic Church wound up a week-long program that saw a return of in-person gatherings as well as online offerings Jan. 18-25, exploring the 2023 theme “Do good, seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17) from the Minnesota Council of Churches.
The closing celebration in Saskatoon began with words of welcome from Fr. Joseph Salihu, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, and from Mary Nordick, Chair of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism board of directors. “Ecumenism is not just one week,” she said. “It is an ongoing movement, guided by the Holy Spirit, and prayer is its foundation.”
Prayer leaders Fafali Ahianhonu of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and Cathryn Wood of St. Stephen Anglican Church then offered the call to gather, saying: “By the waters of baptism, we have become members of the Body of Christ, yet our sins have caused pain and trauma to each other. We have failed to do good. We have not sought justice in the face of grave oppression, nor heeded God’s command to care for the widow and orphan. As we gather, let us reflect on our actions and inactions, and learn to do good and seek justice.”
The service continued with an invitation to confession and prayers for forgiveness, grounded in scripture. “As we have been washed clean in the living waters of baptism, forgive us anew and reconcile us to one another and to creation,” prayed the leaders.
Susan Burns of Holy Spirit Parish proclaimed a reading from Ephesians 2:13-21, and Rev. Ron McConnell of the United Church of Canada led the Psalm 42 response. Bishop Mark Hagemoen proclaimed the gospel from Matthew 25:31-40 – “Whatsoever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”
Other readers included Joanne Steckler, Carol Pek and Melissa Schubert of Holy Spirit Parish, and Carol Claypool and Sharon Weins of McClure United Church, which shares a covenant relationship with Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
In the homily, Rev. Dr. Ali Tote of the Saskatchewan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) reflected how our intentional effort to “do good and seek justice” is the important first step, even when our hopes to “do good” fall short. He shared his own struggles, coming to Canada from Cameroon to live and work in a L’Arche community. “I thought I came to do good,” he said, but was dismayed by failures and inadequacy, before ultimately finding strength and comfort from the prayers and acceptance of those he came to help.
Tote led the assembly in a refrain of “Yet we are the people of reconciliation,” in response to a litany of examples of division, racism, oppression, hurt and failure — such as the treatment of Indigenous Peoples and the tragedy of Residential Schools involving Christians and churches.
In the midst of these failures, God continues to “bless our desire to be willing to do good and seek justice,” he said, pointing to the hope of conversion, reconciliation and unity and urging his listeners to “take heart” and continue the journey. “Be renewed in your commitment to labour and do good.”
The service continued with a ritual action of “stones and stories” introduced by Holy Spirit parishioner Cam Choquette. Guests representing many nations and cultures came forward to share where they come from and to place a stone in front of the altar. All those assembled were then invited to also place a stone, representing “the struggles and triumphs, the hopes and dreams that your ancestors knew; the lived stories embedded in your culture and history.”
“We are all part of one bigger story on earth,” said Choquette.
Together the assembly offered a prayer of renewed commitment: “Let us stand courageously against all abuse of power — where women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and all others who are rendered vulnerable for some particular reason, are treated as less than equal in dignity. Let us stand for the deepest dignity of all human beings. Let us strive always to elevate others and work with one heart towards unity. Let us know and strengthen the bonds of our unity as Christians, that we may be a beacon of hope and a light on the hill for the world.”
Bishop Mark Hagemoen gave the final blessing, noting that the closing celebration fell upon the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul — a reminder of the constant call to conversion. “We go forward knowing that we are people humble before God and one another, and that we will find our common strength and source in Him.”
Other events during WPCU 2023
Earlier in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Prairie Centre for Ecumenism in Saskatoon and the Regina Council of Churches once again offered an eight-day online Bible study, with each day led by a different Christian leader from across Saskatchewan.
Speakers for the Bible study included Rev. Brody Albers, Anglican, Christopher Lake; Rev. Dr. Kathleen James-Cavan, United Church, Saskatoon; Major Al Hoeft, Salvation Army, Regina; Pastor Rachel Wallace, Mennonite, Eigenheim; Deacon Harry Lafond, Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert; Dave Feick, Micah Mission, Saskatoon, Rev. Keitha Ogbogu, Free Methodist, Calgary and Rev. Dr. Ali Tote, ELCIC, Saskatoon
A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity youth event was also presented by the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism working in partnership with some of the Saskatoon downtown churches, starting with supper, followed by a presentation on Restorative Justice from Dave Feick, Executive Director of the Micah Mission in Saskatoon.
Queen’s House of Retreat and Renewal in Saskatoon again hosted an ecumenical prayer service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held Jan. 19 and followed by a lunch.
The De Margerie Series for Christian Reconciliation and Unity featured two lectures — one in Regina and one in Saskatoon and both available online. The series guest speaker was the Anglican Bishop of Quebec, Bishop Bruce Myers, OGS, speaking on “Ecumenical Log Drivers: Forming Agents of Reconciliation for Church and World.”
The De Margerie Series is named in honour of Fr. Bernard de Margerie, a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon who has dedicated his life in ministry to the promotion of Christian unity. In this 10th year of the series, the annual event was expanded to offer lectures in both Regina and Saskatoon under the sponsorship of the Leslie and Irene Dubé Chair for Catholic Studies at St. Thomas More College, the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, the Archdiocese of Regina, and Campion College.
Bishop Myers was also the speaker at two morning workshops held at St. Stephen Anglican Church in Saskatoon presented by the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism – one Jan. 20 for clergy and leaders entitled “Ministering Ecumenically In Our Congregations,” and the second on Jan. 21 “Living Into The Unity We Seek”, which was open to all.
Related: 2023 WPCU Bible Study series is available on PCE YouTube Channel – LINK
Kiply Lukan Yaworski is the communications coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – rcdos.ca