Bishop Robert Kasun and Fr. David Reilander

Southern dioceses stepping up aid to North

  • August 9, 2017

Not all missions are foreign missions.

People often forget that Canada has communities that need our help, which is why 25 Canadian dioceses are getting behind a new initiative to proactively support six mission dioceses in Canada’s North.

“When I go around preaching, people are astonished to know that Canada is still a mission country,” said Fr. David Reilander, president of Catholic Missions In Canada (CMIC).

“Twenty-four dioceses can’t support themselves ... Maybe (this new initiative will) balance out. We don’t know because it hasn’t really happened yet and this is just getting started.”

Pope Francis announced 18 months ago that responsibility for Canada’s six most northern dioceses, previously considered mission territories would be transferred into the common law of the Church. In practical terms, this means responsibility for the pastoral and financial support of the dioceses of Keewatin-Le Pas, Churchill-Hudson Bay, Moosonee, Grouard-McLennan, Mackenzie-Fort Smith and Whitehorse will fall to the local bishops, with the support from other Canadian dioceses.

As Canada’s largest diocese, the Archdiocese of Toronto will play a significant role in this new arrangement. It will pair with the dioceses of Mackenzie-Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories and Grouard-McLennan in northern Alberta. Collections will be held across the diocese on Aug. 13 with a goal of raising $200,00 to support these two Northern dioceses.

“This initiative represents a new direction for the people in Toronto archdiocese because we are now focused on our missions in Canada,” said Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Robert Kasun, who acts as liaison between Toronto and the two northern dioceses.

“Charity must begin at home. If we in the South want to provide presence of the Church to people in the North, then by contributing to this collection, people are helping make that presence possible.”

The archdiocese has for years held an annual August collection that raised about $400,000, which was shared by CMIC and the Scarboro Missions. But with Scarboro Missions winding up its century-old operation, its share will now go to Toronto’s two new partners in the North.

Kasun is working closely with Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Mackenzie-Fort Smith and Archbishop Gérard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan to identify their specific needs.

“(Hagemoen) has got 32 communities and only four of them can pay for themselves,” said Kasun. “For 2017, we are contributing funds to Bishop Hagemoen for capital expenditures for the repair of churches in parishes which cannot support themselves.”

With only six priests travelling between Mackenzie-Fort Smith’s 36 parishes, which are spread across more than 1.5 million square kilometres, Kasun is also looking for Toronto priests and seminarians who might be interested in serving a two-year mission in the Northwest Territories.

“For a priest to commit a period of time in his life, this could offer him a sense of personal, spiritual fulfillment because he’s contributing to the broader Church and not just Toronto, but to the dioceses in the North that just don’t have enough,” said Kasun.

The Grouard-McLennan archdiocese is counting on Toronto to provide a scholarship for a local priest studying to become a canon lawyer. The two-year program at Saint Paul University in Ottawa will qualify the priest  to establish Grouard-McLennan’s office of spiritual affairs.

Through the dioceses pairings, the Canadian bishops hope to not only eventually replace the Vatican’s annual funding, but also provide mission parishes additional support in years to come.

“We’re hoping that this will not just keep them where they are, but lift them out of poverty a little bit,” Kasun said.

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