The Edmonton Archdiocese and the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith have entered into a twinning arrangement that may lead to more cooperation between the two dioceses.
The Edmonton Archdiocese has sent a priest to Mackenzie-Fort Smith and will give half the proceeds from its upcoming Jubilee Gala to this northern diocese to help pay for a new church.
"This is sort of a partnership of mutual support and mutual enrichment," said Archbishop Richard Smith, who will visit Mackenzie-Fort Smith in March.
In an Oct. 15 interview, the archbishop said this type of twinning arrangement goes back to the 1990s when Blessed John Paul II in his apostolic letter Ecclesia in America encouraged the dioceses of the Western Hemisphere to consider ways that they may enter partnerships with one another of mutual support.
As the question arose about a partnership between Edmonton and another diocese, Smith said his thoughts naturally turned towards South America.
"But as we talked internally about this more and more the question came up what about the needs of our people in the North of Canada?" he said.
The idea of Edmonton, the gateway to the North, twinning with Mackenzie resonated with local Catholics, he said.
Smith said the twinning also recognizes that the Edmonton Archdiocese was established through the efforts of missionaries. "We are the result of a missionary effort and that's a reminder to us that the Church is and must always be missionary in its outreach."
Mackenzie Bishop Murray Chatlain said he is pleased with the twinning.
Apart from the sharing of human and material resources, it "will give people (in the Edmonton Archdiocese) a chance to understand more who we are, what our life is like and what are some of our blessings and challenges," he said.
Things are already happening.
Last June, youth leader Andrew Papenbrock visited Mackenzie-Fort Smith to lead a workshop on youth ministry. Since then, Papenbrock has helped the northern diocese with other youth ministry issues, Chatlain said.
As well, Father Arlan Parenteau, an Edmonton priest, was recently sent to serve in Mackenzie-Fort Smith.
"Obviously this is a sacrifice on our part because we certainly need every priest that we can have, but at the same time we have to recognize that the Lord calls us to be generous," Smith said.
Also, half the funds that are raised in the Nov. 21 Jubilee Gala dinner and live auction will go to the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese. The other half will go to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Smith said the two dioceses will ask what gifts Mackenzie can share with Edmonton.
When Chatlain spoke at Nothing More Beautiful, Smith recalled, he talked about the great importance that is placed in the North on silence in the encounter with the other.
"That's something our busy Western culture needs to learn – the value of silence and, within silence, encountering the reality of the other and encountering the reality of God in our midst."
Chatlain said many people in his diocese travel to Edmonton, especially when facing serious medical issues, and attend Sacred Heart or other parishes.
The partnership may enable a deepening of those relationships, he said.
Chatlain said Mackenzie-Fort Smith and Edmonton are also encouraging the twinning of parishes from the dioceses.
Funds from the Jubilee Gala, which he will attend, might be used to help renovate the church in Tuktoyaktuk and build a new church in Fort Simpson.
The Mackenzie Diocese has 11 priests to cover about 38 communities. "If we have 10 or 11 healthy priests, I think for the size we are it's okay," he said.
"What we are trying to do is to encourage the local leadership." Lay people, Chatlain said, lead services, funerals, Baptisms and even marriages.