“Only when we love do we have the capacity to see the abundance of life surrounding us. The beautiful land here in Saskatchewan is an expression of love for me: the trees, the sky, it's a sign of love for me,” said the Nuncio to Canada, Most Rev. Luigi Bonazzi, during his homily at the first mass shared in the Diocese of Prince Albert at John Paul II Collegiate School in North Battleford on October 4th. This mass marked the beginning of the Nuncio’s three day journey across the diocese.
Approximately 600 religious, priests, parishioners, parents and teachers from the local deanery gathered in the school gymnasium for mass whhere Archbishop Bonazzi spoke on love, faith and family life. He called love “an unending journey which starts every day,” and underlined the joys of family life.
When the Nuncio finished delivering his homily, he received the first of many gifts on his journey. Deanery parishes presented the Nuncio with a painting of a fall harvest scene, created by Cut Knife, SK artist Mary Ramsay.
Following the mass, the congregation gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall for lunch, prepared by the North Battleford Catholic Women’s League. Mayor of North Battleford Ian Hamilton welcomed the Nuncio, saying he hoped fond memories were made and encouraged him to keep the local people in his prayers.
Archbishop Bonazzi, happily surprised at the large gathering, explained he didn’t expect so many people to have come out. He spoke on one gospel passage close to his heart, “Give and it will be given,” and the many times he has experienced it throughout his life. “If I give a little, I receive much more. The gospel is not only something spiritual; it’s really a book of life. If you put it into practice, you will experience it.”
Recalling Pope Francis’s commonly used intention, he also asked those gathered at the hall to pray for him, promising he would truly pray for them in return.
The following day, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary in Prince Albert held a mass in their chapel. Those in attendance included students, board members, trustees, principals, and representatives from four Catholic school divisions throughout Saskatchewan. Also in attendance was the general counsel for the Presentation of Mary sisters who would be attending an intercontinental meeting with English-speaking sisters from Japan, the Philippines, Gambia and the United States.
In his homily, the Nuncio spoke of a cloudy day in Lithuania a few years earlier. Feeling under the weather, he headed to the chapel to pray. He spoke aloud and asked Jesus what he could do for him that day. He heard a voice in his head, asking, "Luigi, what are you saying? You are asking what you have to do for me? Please try to see what I am doing for you." He said he wished for each person present to feel the same thing.
"In a new way … you open your eyes and you realize the life of God [is] surrounding you, entering and fulfilling you."
He referred to a letter in the Bible to the Corinthians, where Paul invites them to cloak themselves with love. "What comes first is not to love God, but to let God love ourselves. To be a Christian and Catholic does not mean to do things for God and for others, but to let God enter into my life and reach my life with his grace. Jesus tells us, 'Ask and you shall receive. Open the doors of your life and I will come and enter to bring light and joy.’"
He also addressed the students, impressing upon them the importance of learning that life is a journey with God. "… It is me and Jesus. I am not alone in the adventure of life. Jesus gives me the possibility to be united, to establish friendships with the others."
After the mass, Archbishop Bonazzi had lunch with the sisters, including those from the infirmary upstairs. He welcomed each one specially, giving a blessing and a smile. He spoke to them in French about how much importance he places on a religious life. He spoke on humility, telling them how he thanked God, even for the times he made mistakes, and how it helped him to be more humble and attentive to others.
He asked prayers from them for this year's Synod on the Family. He emphasized that it is an important and delicate moment in the life of the Catholic Church, saying that perhaps expectations could make preparations difficult.
"The one performing this is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes when we ask for him, when we give praise to him. As we make sacrifices, we put aside ourselves. This makes us protagonists with the Bishops at the Synod."
He asked them to pray for him, for the Bishop and for all his priests, promising to pray for them as well.
The Nuncio’s next stop was École St. Anne School, where a group of children were waiting to welcome him to their school. A meeting between four Catholic school divisions in Saskatchewan, including Lloydminster, Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert, took place in the newly built school's gym.
Welcoming him to the meeting were Lorel Trumier, Director of Education for the Prince Albert Catholic School Division (PACSD) and George Bolduc, president of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association (SCSBA) and chairperson of PACSD. Students from the school's Glee Club performed a song for the conference.
Representatives from each school division made a presentation describing their population demographics, as well as the changing family structures and dynamics that challenged them as they strove to engage families in their communities. One representative brought up a question that helped them to keep focused and to keep their mission alive: “Are we making a school for Catholics or a Catholic school?”
Agreeing that problems arising today are not those of ten years ago, the Nuncio encouraged each of the divisions to turn to Jesus to help them with the problems of today, assuring them of his continued support. He expressed gratitude in the name of Pope Francis.
He recalled a story he had heard about Pope John Paul I, who, in encouraging professors in a new year of school, asked if they knew what was needed to teach math to a child. The teachers came up with many good ideas. However, he said, "To be able to teach math to a pupil, they simply needed to know mathematics and Peter."
Archbishop Bonazzi asked the representatives what characteristics made up a Catholic school. He explained that an essential characteristic was the love with which the teacher teaches to the student.
"It is the wish of the Holy Father to teach the same love and esteem to the young people that the student will feel that we know them and love them. How I am as a professor is more important than what I do. What I am as a professor, it is more. What makes me the real Luigi Bonazzi? It is Christ entering me and making me the example. We teach as we walk around the school; they learn from us.”
He affirmed that he supported them in their mission as directors, principals, vice principals and board members.
The Nuncio then blessed the school's Bible and a rosary for each guest, which student greeters handed out at the end of the meeting. He presented a special Vatican coin to Ken Loehndorf, Executive Director for the SCSBA, thanking him for his work in and for Catholic schools in Saskatchewan.
Later that evening, a mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Prince Albert was packed full. The large choir included many youth from St. Mary High School .
During his homily, Nuncio Luigi Bonazzi spoke about Jesus, the Good Samaritan. "When we turn to Jesus, he frees us with his charity. My life is like the Good Samaritan. Who has shown more mercy? Mercy is the very foundation the church lies on. Nothing in our mission and witness can be lacking in mercy; it must show the mercy of the Good Samaritan."
He said Jesus took an interest in the man on the road, abandoned himself and put his needs aside, united his life with ours until he died for us. He expressed how important it is that the church has this attitude so that Reconciliation may continue to grow.
"Pope Francis may come to Canada to show gratitude. Jesus says, 'Go and do likewise.’ My life is constantly accompanied by the good true Samaritan who is Jesus, acting as the Good Samaritan with each one of us, and in turn asking us to be the Samaritan to everyone. It is at the end of the parable that Jesus asked who has shown more mercy."
He also spoke of the new jubilee year, the Year of Mercy, which begins on this year's Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.
“‘Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life,’" he quoted from Pope Francis's encyclical. "All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. Everything the church does should be to show mercy of the Good Samaritan."
At offertory, traditional drummers from St. Michael Parish at Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation in Duck Lake, SK sang an honour song, walking up with a young family who brought up gifts.
After communion, Bishop Albert Thévenot, M. Afr. called Madeleine and Clement Marchildon of Prince Albert, parishioners of Sacred Heart Cathedral, to the front of the altar. The Nuncio presented them with a special medal from the Vatican in recognition of their volunteer work. In addition to fundraising for Haitian refugees, they have also been involved with helping refugees entering Prince Albert from Africa, Haiti, and other countries. They have worked with the RCIA program and volunteered within Prince Albert’s French community for many years.
"They are dedicated to their faith and so today, we want to dedicate their faith," said Bishop Thévenot. He spoke of their work as being Good Samaritans. "This medal is the image of Pope Francis with his motto, 'Miserando atque eligendo,' meaning 'by having mercy and by choosing,' who desires to show the mercy of the church and God, the mercy which you both show.”
At the closing of the mass, as a thank you for his presence in the diocese, the Nuncio was presented with a stole, handcrafted by parishioner Jennifer Brown from St. Michael Parish in Prince Albert. Ms. Brown crafted the stole out of white leather to honour Metis culture. The design of the stole features cascading maple leaves of cotton fabric alongside a satin Italian flag. It is meant to represent the union of two cultures and two countries, illustrating his presence here in Canada while also honouring his home country of Italy. She also included an image of the Holy Spirit on the cross. On the front of the stole are 84 red rose buds, representing the parishes and First Nation parishes in the diocese.
A wine and cheese social followed, catered by staff at the Prince Albert Diocesan Centre. St. Mary High School Principal Mark Phaneuf acted as emcee for the evening, introducing Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dion and other dignitaries. Betty Makelki, Diocesan Pastoral Council Executive (DPCE) for Deanery 1, welcomed the Nuncio on behalf of the council.
Parishes from several Diocesan Deaneries areas presented donations for the office of Papal Charities, the department of the Holy See that is responsible for acts of charity to the poor in the name of the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
The Nuncio thanked everyone for the opportunity to visit the Prince Albert Diocese. For him, the theme of family was evident in intention and direction. He thanked everyone present for the many gifts they offered him and for travelling to see him. He admitted he could not host everyone at once in his home, but that "one at a time, when you come to Ottawa, I would be pleased to receive you there."
People came forward to stand in line to ask questions, to voice concerns and to receive blessings; a smiling Nuncio greeted each person.
On the last day, Monday, October 6, the Nuncio visited Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Laurent Shrine, northwest of Duck Lake. After his welcome, the congregation recited the Hail Mary and sang a song of praise for Mary.
Two long-time volunteers of the Shrine toured the grounds in golf carts with the Nuncio and Bishop Thevenot while explaining statues, historical monuments and areas such as the grotto and cemetery. Board secretary of St. Laurent Shrine, Linda Nosbush, presented a series of slides explaining the history, culture and events at the site over the years.
Presentations of gifts included funds from each parish in the deanery for Papal Charities, and bannock from St. Michael Parish at Beardy’s.
Nuncio said a special thank you for letting him see more fully the culture in Canada. He explained that Jesus left us the Eucharist so that we may be nourished by his real presence. Archbishop Bonazzi asked the congregation why, before returning to heaven, Jesus did not leave us a real presence of his mother.
"Jesus did leave us himself in the Eucharist, but Jesus wishes to see his mother in people. For me this is important: I always see Mary as not just something I must imitate, but in a special way, I must be another Mary. Thank you for keeping alive the presence of Mary in this place. Let Mary live in you."