May 10, 2017


We met at the Vancouver airport to take our last flight of the day to Prince George, BC on a WestJet Bombardier Q400 propeller plane. We were priests from three different provinces and three different ecclesial jurisdictions. Father Anthony from the Diocese of Kamloops, Father Greg from presently vacant see of the Diocese of Saskatoon and Father Michael from the Archeparchy of Winnipeg. We greeted each other and our conversation was a bit subdued as it was a long morning that started as early as 3:00 AM for those outside of British Columbia. We were all representatives of our respective eparchy/diocese to the Canadian Federation of Presbyteral Councils and we were on our way to the annual gathering of the Western Canadian region of the Federation.

       We made the decision at the Federation’s annual National Assembly in Hamilton, last October to hold our Western gathering at the local diocesan retreat centre in Prince George. We were convinced that it would not be excessively remote for representatives to find reasonable transportation and the accommodation would be less expensive than the hotels that the Federation is often forced to choose. We were soon to discover that we made an excellent decision.

       In a relatively short drive, a taxi took us from the airport to the Damano Renewal Centre near the city’s southern edge west of the Frazer River. The Damano Centre is part of a large campus that includes the Chancery offices of the Diocese of Prince George, the Catholic Schools administration and a separate guest house for visiting clergy and a hermitage. The Damano Centre itself includes four good-sized blocks that house sleeping accommodation, conference rooms and dining facilities and a separate large wooden chapel. The whole centre is nestled down one side of slightly sloping wooded hill with tall trees. It is amazingly quiet – especially since right across the roadway - visible only from the hilltop - is a large retail area with the big-name stores and many smaller shops and restaurants.

       The 2017 Western Gathering was also shortened to three days to allow the priest-representatives less time away from their pastoral duties in a season traditionally filled with First Holy Communions, Confirmations and the National Week for Life and the Family. The principal coordinator was the Federation Vice President for the Western Region, Fr. Michael R. Savarimuthu from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg and Parish Priest of St. Augustine’s in Brandon. He did an excellent job in arranging the site and coordinating all the communication between the western representatives, the Federation executive and the host diocese.

       The first event, appropriate for a federation of Priests that had been travelling from an early hour, was a concelebrated Mass, led by the local Bishop of Prince George, Most Rev. Stephen Jensen. After the Eucharistic Liturgy the participants enjoyed an amazing dinner (all the meals and coffee-break trays were “amazing”) This was followed by the first session. Bishop Stephen drew from the documents of the Vatican II, especially the decree on the priestly ministry, “Presbyterorum Ordinis” to revisit the essential vocation of a priest and his role in the mission of the Church. He also encouraged the gathering to revisit the provisions in canon law for deans (i.e. vicars forane CIC cc. 553-555) or protopresbyters CCEO cc. 276-278). The idea was that the federation may serve brother clergy and their member-dioceses by proposing a practical revitalization of deaneries for an even better coordination of priestly ministry for the pastoral good of pastoral activity within any given eparchy/diocese. He encouraged the clergy, all of whom functioned as parish priests as well as other duties, to be cautious of “parochialism”. This is such a limiting attitude in an age when the People of God would be best served by a collaborative effort between neighbouring parishes.    The evening ended with a Q&A and open discussion. This was followed by a bit of fellowship before calling it a night.

       The following morning, began with a fresh breakfast, followed by morning prayer in the beautiful, albeit rustic wooden church. Although not a few of the clergy were up well before this and out for a morning jog or walk around the rich green surroundings and fresh BC air.

       The first order of the day was a session led by Vice-President Fr. M. Savarimuthu about the latest developments within the CFPC itself and some proposed changes that will be further discussed and voted upon at the National Assembly in October in Victoria, BC. The Federation President, Fr. Doug McNeill from the Diocese of St. John, New Brunswick. However, as his flights were cancelled and no reasonable alternatives were available, he chose not to attend and the Vice-president chaired the session.

       The second session was lead by Sister Dorothy Ryan, CSJ, PhD who was designated as the principal speaker of the conference. Her expertise is that of a registered clinical psychologist. She has a rich experience of religious life, serving a the General Superior of her order, the Sisters of St. Joseph, for a period of time. She has spent many years in the world of education teaching at schools and colleges and involved with teaching and counselling. She presently maintains a private counselling practice and offers spiritual sessions as well within the Diocese of Prince George.

       Sister Dorothy gave an excellent presentation on dealing with the reality of ministry and the many potential stress-factors that may accompany any pastoral assignment. The talk was entitled, “How to deal with difficult people when strangulation is not an option”. As one can imagine, there was good deal of humour mixed into her presentation and interactive engagement with the priests gathered. However, aside from the upbeat nature of her lecture, she shared a lot of information and insights that most agreed will offer a great deal of assistance in evaluating and dealing with seeming crises in everyday ministry.

       After the lecture, each of the participants had time to quickly collect his vestments or at least his stykar/alb and make it to the waiting vehicles near the chapel. In a matter of about fifteen minutes everyone arrived at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Cathedral in the city centre and proceeded to vest in the lower level and then gather at the upper entrance. The regular Liturgy attenders were impressed by the number of clergy. The rector of the Cathedral, Carmelite Father Melvin Pinto, OCD, graciously welcomed the CFPC Representatives and explained to the congregation who they were and why they came to Prince George. The main celebrant at this Liturgy was the Vicar-General and Chancellor of Prince George Very Rev Rectorino M. Tolentino, Jr. Being the local CFPC Representative Fr. Rectorino was basically the host for the entire conference seeing to all the facility and accommodation details. Following the Liturgy, the clergy met at a local restaurant – the White Spot for lunch and were joined by Bishop Stephen.

      In her second session in the afternoon, Sr. Dorothy offered insights from her many years in the Church – over 50 of those years in Religious Life with the Congregation if St. Joseph. The lecture was entitled, “Resuscitation of Spirituality in the 21st Century”. She shared her personal insights and observations from the time immediately after the Second Vatican Council right up to today. She encouraged the clergy not to lose ground in the area of many advances over the last half century. She monitored a change in attitude and pastoral practice of priests over the years. Her points prompted a lively discussion among the participants. She also stressed the generally underappreciated vast contribution of women religious - i.e. Sisters – to the life of the Church in so many areas…. the fields of education, healthcare, social programs and parish life. Much food for thought.

       The second afternoon session, which was open to CFPC eparchial/diocesan members only, was somewhat altered as the Federation President Fr. Douglas McNeill, as mentioned above, was not in attendance.

       On the last day, immediately after the Morning Prayer (Matins) and Divine Liturgy in the chapel, a couple of the participants had to leave as their travel plans required it. However, the Federation representatives that stayed ended up having one of the most lively and in-depth discussions of the conference. Concerns and ideas about the present state of the Federation and direction that it must take in the immediate and long-term future were sometimes passionately expressed. One of the current issues was the upcoming National Assembly of the CFPC to be held in Victoria, BC in October and what role the Federation’s Western Region would play in that.

       The CFPC Representatives from Manitoba that were present were Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski (Archeparchy of Winnipeg, Chancellor); Fr. Chris Nwosu (Archdiocese of St. Boniface, Chancellor); Fr. Michael R. Savarimuthu (Archdiocese of Winnipeg, Dean of Westman, CFPC Vice-President).

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