Second Sunday of Advent: Humility

In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent (St. Matthew), St. John the Baptist describes himself as, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness”. In reference to this passage, St. Augustine states, “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning…Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? […]

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Blessing of New Sacred Heart Church, Fort Simpson, September 17, 2017

Blessing of New Sacred Heart Church, Fort Simpson, September 17, 2017

Sept. 17, 2017 concluded the long journey towards achieving the building of the new church in Fort Simpson. The project featured many years of fundraising and planning, and included supporters from within and outside the Diocese.

The Building Committee for the Project included members from both the Sacred Heart Parish and the Diocese: Fr. Joe Daley, Gerri Fletcher, Martina Norwegian, Darlene Sibbeston, Didier Bourgois, Gordon Van Tighem.

The concept design was done by Denis Brunea Architecture, who also assisted the Building Committee throughout the project.

The builder and general project manager was Rowe’s Construction, a Fort-Simpson based construction company.

The Building nearly complete, with sidewalks and bell-tower pad for future installation of the former bell.

The installation of the cross over the main church door the day before the blessings ceremony. For many community members, this marked the time when the building looked and felt like ‘a church’.

Gathering of guests at “Bannock-Land” the evening before the blessing, to recall the history and experience of the visit of Saint John Paul II to Fort Simpson in September 1987.

The Building is made ready for the blessings ceremony, with the arrangement of the sanctuary, and the set up of the “church chairs”.

Practicing the music for the Blessing Liturgy.

Sisters Dian Naud and Mary Lee Prezbylski share a laugh as they assist the preparations the evening before.

Rowes Construction moves the original bell tower onto the site before the installation. The bell tower will be permanently installed at a later date, when a proper support structure can be constructed.

Various Decho community members take turns at ringing the bell prior to the ceremony.

The ceremony begins with Bishop Mark Hagemoen knocking at the new door of the Church.

Owen Rowe of Rowes Construction passes on the plans and the keys to he new building to Pastor, Father Joseph Daley. Emeritus Bishop Denis Croteau, OMI, was also present for the ceremony.

The community gathered for the ceremony in the new Church.

The “First Reading” is proclaimed by Ernest Deneyoua

The Church, Altar, and Ambo are incensed and anointed with Chrism Oil. Bishop Hagemoen and Fr. Daley are assisted by other priests representing other supporters of the Church project: Father David Rylander of Catholic Mission in Canada; and Fathers Murry Kroetsch and David Wynen of the Diocese of Hamilton.

Father Daley express thanks and enthusiasm during the blessing ceremony.

Fr. Daley and Chief Gerald Antoine receive the gift from Gary Gagon of the Archdiocese of Edmonton: a painting of St. Pope John Paul II at the Eh Dah site, where the Pope greeted and celebrated Mass with the community in 1987.

Chief Gerald Antoine and Bishop Mark Hagemoen at the prayer ceremony held at the Eh Dah site the afternoon following the Church blessing and reception at the Community Center.

The new yellow cedar log tepee was installed on the site in 2016, because of serious deterioration of the former tepee and altar constructed in 1984.

Bishop Mark wears a ‘papal hat’ made for the 1987 event, presented at the prayer service.

A view of the Mackenzie River from the site.


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Fall 2017

Fall 2017

Training – Farewells – Moving Forward in MFS Diocese

On September 12, 2017, Pope Francis announced my appointment as Bishop of Saskatoon. The installation day will be November 23, 2017. This announcement came as quite a surprise, given my relative short time in this Diocese. However, God’s ways are not always our ways – and this circumstance reminds us that we are part of a much larger church-faith community. Thus, much of this fall season has been devoted to carrying out scheduled training events, saying goodbye, and sharing hopes and visions for faith communities across the diocese as we all look ahead given this time of transition.

The passage of Sacred Scripture comes to mind: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24)

Visit to St John Paul II High School, Toronto, to promote Catholic Missions in Canada and share about life and ministry in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese.

Students from Archbishop Carney High School in Coquitlam, B.C. visit the Diocese in October 2017 as part of an inculturation and service learning week.

At the end of the Tulita project, members of the community present the work team members of hand-made drums and jackets at a celebration of thanksgiving and sending. The members are: Douglas Pham; Peter Dai Nguyen; Roman Blain; Patrick Le; Joseph Bennoit.

The St. Theresa’s Church and Mission house near the end of the restoration project.

New Northern Catholic Foundation

In the Fall of 2017, a new northern Catholic Foundation has been launched. The “Nohtsi Gots’adi Catholic Foundation” will assist the Catholic communities of the Diocese with needed support to deal with the difficult tasks of church building restoration, and program development and support. The goal is to create endowment funds that can be the basis for matching funding. While this is a long-term project that will take time to build – it is great to start this new beginning for the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith.

Confirmations in the South Slave

Celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation in the South Slave Region in the communities of: St. Joseph’s Cathedral Parish in Fort Smith; Assumption Parish in Hay River; St Ann’s Church at Katlodeeche.

Alex Tambour – elder from St. Ann’s, Katlodeeche – plays guitar during the Confirmation ceremony.

Fr. Don and Julia Flummerfeld are presented with a gift painting by the local Anglican Pastor on the occasion of the retirement event at Assumption Parish, Hay River.

Fall Training: “Christian Leadership and Collaborative Ministry”

Training workshops continue through the Fall in the communities of Fort Simpson (Decho Region), Hay River (South Slave), and Bechokho (Tlicho Region). The focus is ministry by clergy and lay people, with an emphasis on ministry leadership, and the role of Parish Pastoral Councils and Finance Councils.

The community training events feature community sharing and great food. It is common to leave training about five pounds heavier!

Clergy Assistance from the Jesuit Community

The Diocese is grateful to again be receiving clergy assistance this coming Advent and Chrsitmas season for the Sahtu and Athabasca regions of the Diocese. Fr. Justin Glynn, SJ will be assisting in Deline and Tulita, while Fr. Clyde Muropa, SJ, will be assisting at Black Lake, SK. Both are canon law students at St. Paul’s in Ottawa.

Fr. Justine Glynn, SJ, will be assisting in the Sahtu communities of Deline and Tulita.

Fathers Justin Glynn, SJ and Clyde Muropa, SU – Jesuit priests studying at St Paul’s in Ottawa, will again assist the Diocese for Advent – Christmas 2017. (Here pictured with Archbishop Terri Pendergast, SJ, of the Archdiocese of Ottawa.)

Farewells, Celebrations, Moving Forward

The last several weeks since the announcement of the re-assignment to the Diocese of Saskatoon has been an opportunity to visit and share challenges and hopes with the communities during special gatherings and celebrations.

Thanksgiving weekend in Whati was an opportunity to celebrate First Holy Communion for several young people. Following the celebration at the Church, the community gathered for a feast and to express farewell.

At St. Michael’s, Behchokho, a farewell celebration was held for both Bishop Mark and Sister Diane Naud, SJL, who has now moved to Yellowknife after 28 years of ministry in the community.

Sharing a farewell “Pot Luck” meal with Fr. Jon Hansen, CSSR, and members of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Inuvik.

Sunday Mass with community at Fort Providence.

Sam Gargan leads the music.

Community of St Theresa’s Parish in Deline say farewell ….for now!!

New Sacred Heart Church in Fort Simpson opened for regular Sunday Mass in mid-November, 2017.

There is apparently no Dene word for “Good-bye” Therefore, “Until we meet again.” is the more appropriate sentiment!!

Blessings, and Mahsi Cho, to the People of the Diocese of Mackenzie!!!


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Bishop’s Letter for March

Bishop’s Letter for March

This is my first update in my new role as Bishop of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. March was a full month of joy and celebration. Let me share with you some of what has been going on.

I am writing from my downtown office in beautiful Yellowknife, NT, a long way from Inuvik and the Arctic Coast which I left at the end of February. The 4-day drive from Inuvik was an ordeal unlike anything I have experienced before. Several early spring blizzards left me stranded for long periods waiting for roads to be plowed and at other times I could only proceed with white knuckles grasping the steering wheel, praying that my little SUV towing its heavy load would not lose traction on the snowy, steep grades of the mountain trail. Eventually I made it to Yellowknife without any serious incident and grateful for the hospitality along the way; the road crew on the Dempster Highway who brewed coffee for me while I waited, the priests in Whitehorse who gave me a bed in the rectory so I could lay my weary head overnight, and Fr. Joe Daley who eagerly gave me a tour of the new church in Fort Simpson on my way through.

Brian Fletcher guides me to his camp for a pre-ordination retreat

First order of business once I arrived in Yellowknife was final preparations for the Episcopal Ordination. There were so many details to look after I would have been overwhelmed were it not for the efficient and very competent organization committee who had things well in hand. Thanks to the help I was free to spend a few days on retreat in a rustic, cozy camp hidden away in the pine forests a couple of miles by snowshoe, north of my home on Trapper’s Lake.

Papal Nuncio, His Grace Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi

As the ordination day approached many worlds came together in wonderful harmony. The pastoral leaders from across the diocese showed up first to take part in our annual Spring Retreat led by Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria. Then my Redemptorist brothers gathered from across Canada and even from across the ocean as the General Superior of the Redemptorists, Fr. Michael Brehl, made a side trip for the occasion on his way to Mexico from Rome. Next came my first family, including my father, siblings and a few nieces and nephews arriving from Alberta and British Columbia and finally my new family, my brother Bishops including the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

Chief Ernest Betsina
Chief Ernest Betsina, Yellowknives Dene First Nation

The ordination itself was, for me, a bit of a blur but all the feedback I heard afterward made note that the celebration was a very moving and intimate affair, this despite having to hold it in a school gymnasium because of space limitations in the church. We were greeted and welcomed warmly by two chiefs from the local Dene people. Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the diocese of Grouard McLennan presided over the ceremony and Redemptorist Fr. Michael Brehl broke open the word at the homily. The beautiful symbols of ordination were made more so that they were mostly all made by people that I know. The ring was made by a family friend and presented by my father and siblings. The mitre was made of sealskin, a gift from the people of the Arctic, sewn and beaded by hand. The staff, presented by the Parish of Our Lady of Victory in Inuvik, was hand carved by a master woodcarver from Vancouver and he even managed to carve my coat of arms into the luxurious Teak wood.

Blessing with water
New Bishop blesses the congregation with water

A diocesan retreat and an ordination would have been enough to fill my week but before I could say, “Holy Oil”, the Chrism Mass was upon us. We use the opportunity of the spring retreat each year to celebrate the Chrism Mass with the pastoral leaders so that they can be present to bring the newly blessed oils back to their communities. I have taken part in many Chrism Masses, but it brings a new perspective when I am the one who is doing the blessing. It is an awesome responsibility but an even greater privilege.

Holy Thursday
Washing of the feet on Holy Thursday

It was now time for a breather, but not for long. With the arrival of Palm Sunday our Holy Week began and of course the great Pascal Triduum which is the highlight of our church year. I stayed in Yellowknife for the celebrations and was very happy to share duties with Fr. Marek, the pastor of St. Patrick’s parish. I preached and presided at the Mass of the Lord’s supper, the celebration of the institution of the Eucharist and the showcase of Jesus’ great example of service, the washing of the feet of the disciples. For me it is this gift of service that gives purpose to what I do and to imitate the Master in this great act is always a joy.

Fr. Stefano
Chief Coreen Sayeze, Fr. Stefano and Jean Sha’ole

The Easter celebrations across the diocese would have not been entirely possible were it not for our visiting missionaries. I am grateful to; Fr. Stefano Penna who travelled to Black Lake, SK, Fr. Leo English, C.Ss.R. who looked after the good people of Inuvik, Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R. who ventured as far as Paulatuk and Fr. Juan Solorzano who covered the entire Sahtu Region during the Holy days.

One other diocesan note to share is about Sr. Fay Tromblay from Tuktoyaktuk who travelled to Victoria, BC after our diocesan days in order to receive the Polar Medal from the Governor General in recognition for the work she has done in the mission over the past 13 years. We are very proud of her and cannot think of anyone more deserving.

Now that the celebrations have come to an end it is time to go to work. My next weeks will begin to see me reaching out beyond Yellowknife as I begin to venture into the surrounding communities, many of which I have never visited before. It is at once both exciting and daunting, but my experience so far tells me that the people will be ready to welcome me with open hearts and to support me in the next steps that need to be taken. I look forward to sharing the journey with you if you would like to tag along for the ride.

Until next time


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Divine Mercy in Behchoko

Divine Mercy in Behchoko

A beautiful, sunny spring morning greeted me as I left my home for the drive to Behchoko, a Tlicho community about 100 km east of Yellowknife. The road is pavement, but it is difficult to make good time for fear of going airborne over the frost heaves that have left the highway pockmarked and rolling like a poorly designed children’s roller-coaster at the county fair.

Tlicho sign

It was my first visit to the community as a Bishop and the pastor, Fr. Wes had asked if I would bless the new parish council members who had been nominated to serve. It was the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, and the readings of the day were very suitable for such a blessing.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles talked about the early Christian community and how everything was just perfect. The people worked well together, they cared for the poor in their midst, everyone was happy, and people were admiring them and coming to join them because of just how idyllic everything seemed to be.

Greeting the people in Behchoko
Greeting the People

I shared with the people how the image of the early Christian community reminded me of the pictures on the wall of the photographer’s studio, that my family went to when I was just a kid. These photos were of couples holding hands in a sunlit forest, robed college graduates clutching newly minted diplomas and fashion coordinated families cuddling newborn babies, everyone looking at the camera with big gleaming smiles.

While those pictures might have been stunning to look at, I knew in my heart that they did not bear much resemblance to the reality of life which is quite often less than perfect. Those pictures, while a credit to the photographer’s skill, don’t reflect; the ups and downs of young love, the anxiety provoking and financially draining years of academic life nor the sleepless nights and endless days in the lives of new parents.

Children at Mass in Behchoko
Children share their Children’s Liturgy artwork

Our lives, our families and our communities are far from perfect. But where would we be without our less-than-perfect families who always manage to put the fun in dysfunctional? The truth is that the early Christian family we read about today, though we count them as heroes, had their own flaws. We look to them as a good example not because they were perfect but because they persevered in desiring to do God’s will.  They had their own ups and downs just like us.

The beauty of the Christian portrait is not the perfection of the family, but it is in the perfect love of the Lord that sustains them; what Sr. Faustina Kowalska would refer to as the, “Divine Mercy of Jesus”.

With that exhortation I blessed the new members of the parish council and encouraged them not to be perfect but to seek to follow God’s will and to listen to the people whom they were called to serve.

St. Michael's Parish
St. Michael’s Parish

It was a beautiful Mass with everything translated from English into Tlicho and, by the time we had finished, two hours had come and gone. Afterward we gathered for tea, soup and bannock in the parish hall. I only had time for quick bite before my guide Mary took me out around the town to bless the people’s homes and to bring communion to the elders who could not make it Church.

On my drive home I noticed a large granite outcrop on the side of the highway. Someone had taken the time to spray paint on it a message in letters that were at least 10 feet high, “God Loves These People”. A perfect message for Divine Mercy Sunday.

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What does the Pope’s “No Apology” Mean for Reconciliation?

Pope Francis is not coming to Canada as hoped. What are we to make of that and where do we go from here?

It has been a couple of weeks since the Canadian Bishops released their “Letter to Indigenous Peoples in Canada”. The letter “updated” the people that Pope Francis’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action #58 was a no go. He was not coming to Canada to apologize for the Church’s role in the Indian Residential Schools.

The letter was a highlight in the media for a few days and has since faded from the public view of most Canadians, but I don’t think that we have seen the end of the story. It may have seemed for some to be a quick bite, over and done but, for those to whom it was written, it is now being slowly digested. My worry is that the aftertaste will be lasting and bitter.

I was a pastor in Saskatoon when Pope Francis was elected. The first months of his pontificate made daily headlines as he continuously broke with the pattern of former Popes, diving headlong into the sheepfold of the masses, encouraging Bishop’s and pastors to do the same and get their hands dirty on the frontlines of the Church.

The word around town was that Saskatoon might be a place that the Pope would come and visit. This was well before the final report of the TRC, but it was holding one of its national events in the city and it was thought that Saskatoon would make an ideal place for Francis to speak to Canadians and, in particular, to the Indigenous people who make up a significant percentage of the western Canadian demographic. With the Calls to Action, and the desire for the Indigenous people to receive an apology from the Holy Father for the residential schools, it seemed like the perfect, added reason for the Pope to make the trip.

With the “Letter”, two things have happened. First, the trip is postponed indefinitely. If there was no word there was always the hope that Pope Francis would be coming sometime soon, even if we didn’t know when. That hope seems to have been taken away as “sometime soon” has been replaced with “maybe, in the future” You only had to have been a kid hearing those words about a possible family trip to Disneyland to understand the difference in tone and how deflating to a heartfelt desire.

Despite the let down the second thing is more concerning. “With careful and serious consideration and after extensive dialogue”, Francis feels he cannot personally respond to the request for an apology. I am not questioning the Holy Father’s motives, I personally trust that there are good and valid reasons for his and the Canadian Bishop’s decision but, whatever the reasons, it sends a message that will not be helpful in our moving forward with the process of reconciliation and may, in fact, hinder its development.

Some have argued that the apology isn’t really necessary, after all, Pope Benedict already expressed his sorrow for the residential schools to Assembly of First Nations leader Phil Fontaine in 2009, other Church leaders including Bishops from our own diocese have made similar gestures. But in the eyes of the aggrieved, an expression of sorrow does not amount to an explicit apology and the authority of a local Bishop does not amount to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. Strong voices within the First Nations community are saying that, without an explicit apology from Francis, reconciliation cannot move forward.

But let’s put this argument aside. Let’s say we, as a Church, have apologized, and apologized well. Does it really mean that we do not have to take Call to Action #58 seriously? When a relationship has been damaged by a breach of trust, not in a small way but in a very serious, catastrophic way, what is the correct number of apologies?

When asked by his disciples how many times should one forgive when we have been wronged Jesus said seventy times seven, a number which figuratively means a boundless amount of times. If Christ had been asked the converse, “If I hurt someone, how many times should I ask forgiveness”, his answer may have been similar. Sometimes it is necessary to say “I’m sorry” more than once.
So where does that leave us as we look forward?

As a bishop whose diocese is made up of a majority of Indigenous people I am torn in how to respond. First, for those people who are silent, I want to encourage them to speak and make sure I listen to their voice before I project my own concerns and feelings over what this might mean. To those who are vocal and angry and who say reconciliation is not possible without an apology I want to counsel against giving this news too much energy, to not letting the decision of someone so far away have such control over the future of our journey towards reconciliation here at home. For now, I think that listening is the better option and I encourage anyone who wants to share their thoughts on this development to get in touch with me, so I can hear you.

One thing from the letter is clear, moving forward the onus is left on us, all Canadians. Indigenous people and non-indigenous people together; first peoples, pioneers and new-comers, must take the matter of reconciliation into our own hands. Whether an apology will ever come or never come, we must continue the other, harder, work of reconstructing that which has been broken.

The letter has it right when it says that the Pope encourages, “Bishops to continue to engage in an intensive pastoral work of reconciliation, healing and solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples and to collaborate in concrete projects aimed at improving the condition of the First Peoples… The Bishops of Canada are equally convinced about the primary need for additional work to be done at the most local level, in terms of authentic encounters which address the helps and hurts, dreams and aspirations, needs and traditions of Indigenous Peoples.”

Intensive, concrete, authentic… This kind of work takes time, patience and perseverance but if we commit ourselves to it, it will have a better chance to make a far lasting effect than a momentary, media driven, Papal visit. In numerous ways this work is already proceeding but it will not be without setbacks. These need to be expected and faced because the work of reconciliation is never a straight forward path. At the beginning of this letter I expressed my worry that the flavor of this setback would be bitter and lasting, my hope is that it will not, in the long run, spoil the feast.

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Bishop’s Letter for May

Bishop’s Letter for May

Spring seems to have finally arrived in the diocese!

As I have been travelling around, I have been watching with great interest the slow demise of the ice on the lakes and rivers. I asked one elder in Fort Good Hope whether he had a prediction about when the ice on the river would break up. His reply was good food for thought. He said, “we don’t get to tell nature anything, our job is just to watch, wait and be ready.”

Mackenzie River Fort Good Hope
Mackenzie River near Fort Good Hope

While nature will do what it does some things in life take a more proactive approach, perhaps none more so than raising a family. Next week, May 13-20 is the National Week of Life and the Family, an initiative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops ( The theme of the Week for 2018 is: “Love: Encountering the Other.” This year’s resources were developed by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) and can be found on the CCCB website. You might consider using them for your bulletins or for any special activities that could be organized throughout the month in support of our families

As mentioned, I have begun to travel to visit the communities. Last week I spent some days in Hay River where I celebrated First Communion with 13 of the young people. I also had Mass in the surrounding communities of Katlodeeche and the little village of Kakisa. I had intended to continue south to Edmonton to join in the March for Life but was called instead to Fort Good Hope to be with the community in prayer as they laid to rest one of their elders. I will return to the south of the diocese this coming weekend and will celebrate Ascension Sunday with the parish community in Fort Smith.

St. Anne, Katlodeeche
St. Anne Mission, Katlodeeche

As I spend time with the people in the various regions listening and learning, I feel very grateful for the hard work of the Clergy, the lay pastoral leaders and the faith communities that goes into maintaining a vibrant Church. I also hear of ongoing problems of building and infrastructure as well as a lack of pastoral support. These have and will continue to be concerns for our sparsely serviced diocese and I will be focusing my energy on finding solutions and the help that we need.

To that end, this summer we welcome Doug and Jill Robertson to Inuvik where they will serve as Lay Pastoral Leaders for Our Lady of Victory Parish. Doug is a former chairperson for the OLV Parish Council and is looking forward to returning with his wife Jill to the parish they love so much as well as to visit with their Son and Grandchildren in Inuvik. The Focolare group from British Columbia is sending two groups to the diocese this August and Fr. Mick Fleming, a Redemptorist priest, will also be spending some time up here as well. Peter Nguyen has returned from his studies and is back to helping at Trapper’s Lake and it is our hope to bring some more young people to help at the retreat house as well as with renovation projects in Deline.

These developments, along with many others, are signs of hope that have arrived with Spring. We continue to hold on to the promises of the New Life of Easter Resurrection which will continue to sustain us even as that season of 50 days soon comes to a close with the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost.

In the Redeemer


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