Calgary Bishop William McGrattan, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an undated file photo. Register file photo/Michael Swan

Calgary renewal targets mission, witness, family

  • October 27, 2023

As the new president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Calgary Bishop William McGrattan devoted his October to the Synod on Synodality in Rome, while at the same time his diocese in Canada launched a new five-year pastoral renewal process. 

The Diocese of Calgary set in motion this undertaking on Oct. 4, coinciding with the opening of the synodal assembly and St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day. In McGrattan’s introductory letter for the pastoral renewal, the bishop relayed how St. Francis first heeded the call of the Lord to rebuild the Church in San Damiano, Italy.

“While mindful of the chapel that was in disrepair, St. Francis was much more aware of the call of Christ to lead the Church on a path of prayer, penance and renewal,” wrote McGrattan. “He did this by following Him more intently and in joyful humility, living his life and offering his work as a more authentic witness of Christ to all his brothers and sisters.”

All 68 parishes and 11 missions in the Calgary diocese are now encouraged to undergo a similar journey of spiritual rejuvenation.

Following a year of executing the parish-level synodal consultation proceedings, a group of chosen clergy and lay leaders in the diocese met for an additional year to further dialogue, discern and pray about the path forward.

The diocesan pastoral renewal committee has outlined three areas of pastoral priority, all seen as equally important. These pillars will help “the Church to become more intentional in walking with the people,” stated McGrattan.

One of the three calls of this journey is for every Catholic within the diocese to become more intentional in living their baptismal promises and becoming a true missionary of Christ. The second renewal priority is fostering parishes of encounter and witness, which will require a serious commitment to listen and learn from the lived experiences of congregants. The third is enrich­ing Catholic family life at home, at Church and within Catholic schools.  

Every parish within the diocese introduced the pastoral renewal by airing an introductory video featuring McGrattan during Thanksgiving weekend liturgical celebrations. Inevitably, new endeavours inspire reactions of excitement from some and skepticism from others. 

Bonnie Annicchiarico, one of the lay leaders invited to serve on the pastoral renewal committee, has some questions for parishioners who greeted this diocesan initiative apathetically to contemplate.

“Are you happy with the way your Church community is now? Is it thriving? Are people attending? Are many people involved in ministry? Is the Holy Spirit present? Do you know each other’s names? Do you feel that families in your community have the resources and support they need to be successful? Examine your own situation. Most of us recognize that the Church is in a bit of a crisis right now, and it is time to be thoughtful about that and respond,” she said.

Annicchiarico, a former educator and administrative leader within the Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools system, also shared her belief that “the Holy Spirit has been at work in the Diocese of Calgary through the Synod, the work of the discernment committee and the evolution of this pastoral plan.” Though the resident of Brooks, Alta., is aware “there are doubters out there and people ignoring it completely,” she said Catholics who have actively engaged in the process have said, “I have hope now,” or “this really speaks to me.”

Each stakeholder may offer advice on how the diocese can tackle the three pastoral renewal priority areas. Renewal planning sessions will be hosted in Calgary, Lethbridge, High River and Medicine Hat over the first two weeks of November.  

Fr. Fábio de Souza of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Calgary said these forthcoming diocesan gatherings communicate a clear message: no individual parish journeys alone.

“Once in a while, we think that our parish walks alone by itself,” said de Souza, who served on the pastoral renewal committee. “No parish is on an island. We live together in the same place under the governance of the bishop, and we are (called) to walk together.

“Let’s strengthen one another with our presence on this new journey and live this communion at the diocesan level. We want to encourage the lay parishioners to embrace this mission. They are not only spectators from the pews but can become active in ministry and active disciples in the Church.”

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