The Canadian Region held its Assembly on August 31, 2020, through a zoom meeting connecting our three SCJ communities located in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. All but two of the confreres were present. The meeting opened with a song, followed by a prayer and opening speech given by our Regional Superior, Fr. Gustave Lulendo. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic there could only be a virtual gathering of the community. He hoped that it could lead to a “dialogue about our community life as it is lived in the everyday” during this pandemic. He also gives a brief history of the last regional meetings, and acknowledged the efforts taken by all confreres who cared for the well being of our communities and ministries during the pandemic. A special congratulation was directed to our confreres celebrating their birthdays, Fr. Herman Falke (92, on August 31) and Fr. Aegi Warsito (55, on September 1), as well as to this year’s jubilarians. The regional superior concluded his remarks remembering that we are completing 110 years of SCJ presence in Canada, an important event to celebrate.
From Rome, the general councillor, Fr. Stephen Huffstetter, joined the meeting and shared how the General Council is also looking for new ways to work and live together during the pandemic time. He commended the Region for organizing this virtual assembly and wished fruitful discussions for the good of our life and ministry. Then, each member of the Region was asked to briefly share their lives, projects and personal experiences in the last months. In general, despite the challenges of COVID 19 pandemic, all confreres have been making good use of their time. Many expressed their appreciation as our communities are spending more time praying together, cooking and sharing meals. In fact, during the lockdown, our communities have changed significantly with both losses and gifts. Members shared how people’s life and suffering have touched us. Moreover, US political situation has strongly affected Canadian life.
We continue our ministry to God’s people through online platforms, broadcasting services, and slowly resuming church activities following heath safety guidelines. Some have shared the strange feeling of celebrating the Eucharist in front of cameras without the physical presence of the faithful. It was also noted the increasing number of funerals compared to marriages and baptisms. Other confreres are dedicating time to study and to write papers and books, noting the challenge to conduct research while libraries are closed.
Our work with refugees has also been affected. Becoming Neighbours’ office at Presentation Manor (Scarborough) is closed, but the team continued their ministry through letters, emails and phone calls. Fr. Peter McKenna shared how they have been accompanying families currently facing deportation, and remembered that some racial and ethnic groups are experiencing unjust persecution at this time. We are conscious of our privileged condition as priests in a religious community, and this should make us more compassionate towards those who are more vulnerable and discriminated. Members of the Region express their deep gratitude for the generosity of many benefactors, people who continually support us with their prayers and donations. The COVID 19 pandemic has been a time of new possibilities; we know that we not be “going back to the normal,” so this is a time to use creativity and find new ways to live and serve.
For the assembly Fr. Michel Simo Temgo, a member of the Cameroon Province had been invited to give us a presentation entitled “Jesus’ Lifestyle and the Welcoming of the Other in the Community.” The presentation reflected on the topic of Sint Unum – a topic of the Theological Seminar held with Google Meet in July. The Congregation needs to respond to the dire need of overcoming the sort of divisions and acrimony that is devastating the world today. He made specific mention of Pope Francis’ message encouraging a “culture of encounter.” At the end of his presentation, he gave some questions for community discussion. Each of the communities worked until lunch on responding to the issues. In the reports from the communities in the afternoon, there were references to work of hospitality in the Canadian Region, since the Francophone and Anglophone provinces came together: the work on convergences and the promises to learn each other’s language, the welcoming of members from other provinces for studies and ministry, the shaping of international communities, the new ministries especially among refugees and migrants.
The last part of the Regional Assembly was dedicated to the reports of the various committees: finances, vocations, communications, archives and migration. Frs. James Casper and Paul Tennyson presented an overview of our financial situation of the Region and answered questions from the confreres. Paul Tennyson concluded by remarking: “Because of all the present global political uncertainty and the ongoing pandemic threat, the markets will probably continue to be quite volatile. Our investments carry much less risk than most others.”
Fr. Antonio Maria Resende Pereira presented the report of the Vocation Committee. He affirmed that, first of all, we need to remember our personal vocation call. Antonio talked about the challenge to promote vocations among young people who come to Toronto. Fr. John van den Hengel gave the report of the North American Theological Commission. He spoke of their participation in the International Theological Seminar held online between July 11 to 18, 2020. The theme of the seminar was Sint Unum and a final message has been published by the participants of the event. At the proper time, the various papers will be published in Studia Dehoniana. The report of the Communication Committee was given in French by Fr. Maurice Légaré.
Fr. Paulin Makiala spoke about the Regional Archives which he helped to re- organize and put on a catalogue. He found to his surprise the Book of Life which Fr. Bill More had put together on all the members of the Anglo-Canadian Province before he died. Paulin found it to be a valuable work which he said needs to be continued and updated.
Fr. Peter McKenna spoke about the work of the North American Migration Committee (NAMC). The committee works in close relationship with the Justice, Pease and Reconciliation commission of the US Province. He spoke about the work of NAMC in hosting on-site meetings in our local communities, both in Canada and in the United States. During the pandemic the committee has held eight meetings using Zoom continuing to express their concern about the situation of migrants, who have received little protection during this pandemic, and about human trafficking. Peter shared that recently the committee has prepared two brochures. One is about the ministry of Sister Norman Pimentel who works migrants in the Texas-Mexico border. The other is called “Restoring Human Dignity”.
In conclusion, the two students Paulin and Will shared their research projects and perspectives for the future. Fr. Stephen Huffstetter added that it was very important to know the blessings and struggles our communities are facing during the pandemic. He congratulated the Region on its online assembly and wished blessings to all the members of the Region.
Gustave closed the assembly with the question “Where do we go from here?” That will be the question that should preoccupy the Region and he hoped that with his council he could address it during the coming year.
These notes on the assembly were compiled by Fr. Willyans Prado Rapozo (in English) and Fr. Paulin Makiala (in French)