Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith and Mackenzie Bishop Mark Hagemoen hold up drums they exchanged that depict aspects of their respective dioceses.

PHOTO SPECIAL TO THE WCR | SUSAN WADDELL

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith and Mackenzie Bishop Mark Hagemoen hold up drums they exchanged that depict aspects of their respective dioceses.

July 21, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith have signed a covenant that will see the two dioceses expand their cooperation.

The two dioceses have been working together for well over a year. The covenant, signed July 2 in Yellowknife by Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Bishop Mark Hagemoen, makes their partnership official.

"I'm excited about this agreement because it provides an opportunity for Edmonton and Mackenzie-Fort Smith to work with each other," Hagemoen said July 9.

Smith said the partnering initiative grew out of an invitation by Pope St. John Paul II to dioceses in the Americas to join in some kind of partnership of mutual support. He said often this has meant that dioceses from the United States and Canada partner with needy dioceses in the South.

People in Edmonton, however, suggested partnering with their brothers and sisters in the North. Smith liked the idea and shared it with Bishop Murray Chatlain, then-bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith.

Chatlain agreed and the two bishops started to share ideas.

"From the very beginning what we wanted to establish is this is not a one-way street with one diocese that may have more resources coming to the aid of another," Smith said in an interview.

"This is a situation of mutual respect, support and reverence recognizing that each diocese is gifted by the Lord in many ways and how can that mutual sharing of gifts enrich both."

When Chatlain became archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas, Man., talks between the two dioceses stalled but Hagemoen agreed to carry on the conversation.

At the end of an evening Mass July 2, Smith and Hagemoen sealed their partnership through a formal signing ceremony of a covenant statement and an exchange of drums, each so painted as to depict aspects of the respective dioceses.

The drums feature a depiction of St.

Kateri Tekakwitha, "because we have placed this partnership under her patronage and are seeking the help of her intercession," Smith explained.

"It was a joyful encounter and we all look forward to discerning together where the Holy Spirit is leading us in this endeavour."

Smith is enthusiastic about the partnership but doesn't yet know how it will unfold. "We are still in the stage of questioning one another," he said. "This will unfold in ways only known to the Holy Spirit and that also is part of the excitement."

The more the dioceses become involved with one another in meeting their mutual needs, "the more we will grow in our knowledge of one another and then all sorts of other initiatives and possibilities will emerge," he said.

DETERMINING NEEDS

Currently, the Edmonton Archdiocese has a priest on loan in Mackenzie-Fort Smith and has helped in the early stages of rebuilding a church and rectory in Fort Simpson. Other needs and gifts the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese has will have to be determined, Smith said.

One gift the First Nations people of the North can share with the Edmonton Archdiocese is their relaxed pace of life, "which is something we need to learn." Another is the value they place upon silence. "They are not at all uncomfortable in being silent in the presence of one another because presence is the most important thing."

First Nations people can also teach us about the importance of God. Smith is impressed at the spontaneous acknowledgment of the Creator in all that First Nations people do.

"They will not allow God to be eclipsed from their lives."

Smith said the two dioceses need to find avenues in which the people can share their gifts and cultural richness. There could be exchange trips between the two dioceses.

"It would also be good for us to facilitate a welcome for people of the North who come to Edmonton for medical treatment."

Hagemoen agrees mutuality should permeate the covenant between the two dioceses. "It's not about one diocese giving or doing predominantly for another but it is about a relationship as we journey together."

However, the Mackenzie-Fort Smith bishop pointed to needs that cannot be overlooked.

"There is lots of work that relates to providing programs for families and young people that we need help with," he said. "We also need assistance with some of our infrastructure – old buildings that the Oblates built 50 to 100 years ago (that are now falling apart)."

COMMON PROJECTS

Hagemoen also spoke of the possibility of twinning parishes from Edmonton with missions or regions in Mackenzie-Fort Smith that could spark dialogue or work on common projects.

The northern bishop also mentioned the need for technology in his large diocese. "Technology is a very important way to connect with people when there are no roads year-round and the distances are so vast."