All posts by Fr. Jim

Statement of Apology by the Catholic Bishops of Canada to the Indigenous Peoples of This Land

We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, gathered in Plenary this week, take this opportunity to affirm to you, the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we acknowledge the suffering experienced in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Many Catholic religious communities and dioceses participated in this system, which led to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, failing to respect the rich history, traditions and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples. We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual. We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day. Along with those Catholic entities which were directly involved in the operation of the schools and which have already offered their own heartfelt apologies1, we2, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally.

We are fully committed to the process of healing and reconciliation. Together with the many pastoral initiatives already underway in dioceses across the country, and as a further tangible expression of this ongoing commitment, we are pledging to undertake fundraising in each region of the country to support initiatives discerned locally with Indigenous partners. Furthermore, we invite the Indigenous Peoples to journey with us into a new era of reconciliation, helping us in each of our dioceses across the country to prioritize initiatives of healing, to listen to the experience of Indigenous Peoples, especially to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools, and to educate our clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, on Indigenous cultures and spirituality. We commit ourselves to continue the work of providing documentation or records that will assist in the memorialization of those buried in unmarked graves.

Having heard the requests to engage Pope Francis in this reconciliation process, a delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders/knowledge keepers, and youth will meet with the Holy Father in Rome in December 2021. Pope Francis will encounter and listen to the Indigenous participants, so as to discern how he can support our common desire to renew relationships and walk together along the path of hope in the coming years. We pledge to work with the Holy See and our Indigenous partners
on the possibility of a pastoral visit by the Pope to Canada as part of this healing journey.

We commit ourselves to continue accompanying you, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples of this land. Standing in respect of your resiliency, strength and wisdom, we look forward to listening to and learning from you as we walk in solidarity.

24 September 2021

Statement in French and English available at this link.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The Canadian government proclaimed September 30th as a new national statutory holiday, a National day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families, and communities. The Catholic Church has a significant role and responsibility for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. With the recent confirmations of unmarked graves, this day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the history of residential schools, grow in our understanding towards a commitment to true healing and reconciliation

We encourage everyone to wear orange shirts to show wâhkôhtowin – kinship – with Indigenous communities, especially those still struggling with the intergenerational effects of residential schools. Orange Shirt Day, as September 30th was previously known, is part of a larger movement in the country to provide opportunity to unite in a spirit of reconciliation and hope for future generations. The movement is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event held in B.C. in 2013, emerging out of the account of a young girl named Phyllis Webstad who had her new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school. www.orangeshirtday.org/aboutus.html.

“The annual Orange Shirt day on September 30th opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of Residential Schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind. A discussion all Canadians can tune into and create bridges with each other for reconciliation. A day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those that have been affected. Every Child Matters, even if they are an adult, from now on.”

Regina Event at Holy Rosary Cathedral September 30th from 3:00 to 6:00 pm.

3pm: Communal Prayer Service in honor of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation; followed by an Indigenous led Rosary in Cree
Time for silent prayer for those who wish

4:30pm: Cultural experience and teaching through traditional Indigenous children dancing; steps towards healing and reconciliation.

Snack bags will be provided outside in the church parking lot. Please bring a lawn chair and warmer clothes as we hope to have the dancing outside in the parking lot area.

 

Statement from the Archdiocese of Regina regarding the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Residential School Grave Site Near Kamloops, BC.

From Archbishop Donald Bolen:

We have all heard the devastating news that has come out of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation with the discovery of 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in unmarked graves. There is an outflowing of emotion: outrage, dismay, profound grief. And we have questions, many unanswered questions that need to be asked in the coming days and weeks. This shared history of residential schools profoundly impacts residential school survivors, and indeed all Canadians.

Here in the Archdiocese of Regina, we have a responsibility to look anew to the four Catholic operated Indian Residential Schools within our diocese: the Marieval Indian Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation, the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School on the White Calf First Nation, the Muscowequan Residential School near Lestock on the Muskowekwan First Nation, and the St. Philip’s Residential School near Kamsack on the Keeseekoose First Nation. There are cemeteries at these schools as well.

Recent reports have stated that there are at least 35 unmarked graves on the site of the Muscowequan Residential School. Indigenous communities here in Saskatchewan are speaking about the importance of using the same ground-penetrating radar technology to search for unmarked graves on other sites of former residential schools. The Archdiocese has a moral obligation to assist in that process, to support the Indigenous communities carrying out that work, and to walk alongside Indigenous brothers and sisters as we face anew the waves of suffering that were part of residential schools. In the coming days, we will seek out ways to enter into conversation with these communities while also continuing the dialogue that has already begun with others so that we can offer support and assistance in this work.

As an Archdiocese, we are striving to show our support and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community. In the last few days, we have been connecting with and supporting the kohkums (grandmothers) and friends who have been deeply affected by this. Over the past four years, we have taken a number of steps to build right relationships and to walk together in truth and reconciliation. We are mindful, however, that events such as we have heard and experienced are extremely re-traumatizing to the survivors of residential schools. We acknowledge and understand that the road ahead is long and that there is much work to be done. We are in the process of consulting with Indigenous Elders and community leaders on how best to respond as a church. We will have more to communicate in the coming days in terms of direction, ideas, and ways that we can take concrete steps as a church towards healing and reconciliation. It is ever important to walk together in a spirit of humility and repentance and to honestly acknowledge the ways that we have caused deep pain to Indigenous communities.

We know that we cannot hide the past, and we cannot ask people who carry heavy burdens from the past to set those aside. We need to deal honestly with the past, to know as much as possible of what happened, to repent and ask forgiveness where appropriate, to walk together as much as we are able in the present, and to work together where possible in building a better future.

We are profoundly sorry for the hurt that actions and decisions of our church in the past have caused to Indigenous Peoples and in ways that we presently re-traumatize by our actions and inactions. We have heard and acknowledge that apologies are not an end point but a starting point, and are learning how to walk in solidarity. On this journey, we have embraced a simple saying that I learned from Indigenous friends years ago, “nothing about us without us.” As an Archdiocese, we invited Indigenous Elders and leaders to join us in establishing an Archdiocesan Truth and Reconciliation body. Since 2017 that group has helped us to identify what work can be done in parishes and schools, in formation, and in the joint pursuit of justice, and we have engaged in that work. We will continue these conversations in the coming days. A key part of what lies ahead will be working together in the field of education, so that more and more people will come to know the history of Indigenous Peoples, the wisdom of their traditions and ways, the suffering they endured, the legacy of colonization in today’s society, and ways of constructively walking together today.

May the Creator bring consolation to Indigenous Peoples, perseverance to us all in the pursuit of justice, a healing of relationships, and the grace of being able to walk together in our day.
Yours in Christ,

+ Don Bolen
Archbishop of Regina

Going to 30% capacity on May 30th

This Sunday, May 30th, we begin step 1 of the Government of Saskatchewan’s “Re-Opening Roadmap” which allows an increase in the number of persons who may attend Mass here at Blessed Sacrament Church. Beginning Sunday, we move to 30% of capacity while at the same time maintaining effective health measures including the wearing of masks and proper social distancing.

We will not allow occupancy beyond the limit of 30% capacity, nor do we envision reaching that level at this time. Consequently, we no longer require pre-registration to attend liturgies at Blessed Sacrament Church. So we welcome you back to Mass here, weekends and weekdays, if you feel comfortable doing so and if you do the Covid-19 self-assessment:
https://public.ehealthsask.ca/sites/COVID-19/

If you will be attending Mass at Blessed Sacrament, besides the personal self-assessment, we ask that:

  • you register with your name and telephone number upon entering;
  • you wear a face-mask upon entering and during the entire Mass.
  • you keep proper social-distance – the pews have been carefully restricted to encourage social distancing.
    only members of one household occupy a pew.
  • for communion, please social distance during the communion procession and also wear a face mask during the distribution of communion and removing it only after receiving the host in your hand, stepping to the side and consuming the host before returning to your pew.

The Saskatchewan government has indicated that we are able to move forward with this first step towards reopening because so many Saskatchewan people are doing their part and getting vaccinated, and because we are all following the public health orders and guidelines which all contribute to reduce the spread of this virus. While the decision to be vaccinated is a personal decision, the vaccines are morally acceptable for Catholics, and medical and government officials have deemed these vaccines medically safe and highly effective at saving lives and preventing serious illness. Personally, I hope to receive my second dose of the vaccine in the coming week.

Whether or not you are able to return to a weekend or weekday Mass here at Blessed Sacrament Parish, be assured that you remain in my prayer.

Peace,

Fr. Jim Hentges,
administrator

May 30th • No pre-registration begins

  • Beginning with the Eucharist on Sunday, May 30th, no pre-registration is required to attend Eucharist at Blessed Sacrament.
  • All those attending will be required to “sign-in” with name and contact information.
  • Face masks and social distancing still in effect.
  • Seating in the church will be carefully marked off to encourage social distancing and 30% of capacity is maximum attendance (we do not envision reaching 30% capacity at this time based on previous experience).

Update on Progress toward Reopening

This week, Premier Scott Moe announced that the province has set Sunday, May 30th as the target date for the commencement of Step One in Saskatchewan’s Re-opening Roadmap.
This means that parishes will be able to return to 30 percent of building capacity or 150 people, whichever is less. So, Blessed Sacrament Parish will return to the 30% capacity and this means that pre-registration will not be needed beginning on May 30th at the 10:00 AM Mass.
Please keep in mind that Sunday, May 30th is the earliest that parishes would be able to move to the new capacity level. Our anticipated Mass on Saturday evening (May 29th) at 5:10 PM will need to remain at the 30 person maximum. 
We thank you for your continued patience and we especially appreciate your diligence (and continued diligence) in keeping people safe in the midst of this pandemic.
Please encourage everyone to get vaccinated at the first opportunity. While the decision to be vaccinated is a personal decision, the vaccines are morally acceptable for Catholics and most importantly medically safe and highly effective at saving lives and preventing serious illness.
Peace,

Fr. Jim Hentges, administrator
with the Parish Pastoral and 
Finance Councils

Message from Blessed Sacrament Parish: Towards Reopening

This week the Premier and Dr. Shahab held a news conference to announce a “roadmap” towards the re-opening of Saskatchewan. While this is exciting news, it is important to be clear that, until noted otherwise, all current health orders and guidelines remain unchanged, including the travel restrictions in and out of the Regina area. The Roadmap does not begin until certain thresholds are met.
Step 1 of the Roadmap begins when the vaccine eligibility is 18+, and 3 weeks after 70% of people 40+ have been vaccinated (at least one dose). In Step 1, places of worship will move back to a limit of 30% of capacity, maximum of 150 persons. As of today, the level is 67% of people 40+. This means that the earliest date when limits on attending Mass at Blessed Sacrament can go above the current 30 persons will probably be the first weekend of June (5th and 6th). Clearly the current level of 30 persons at Mass will be in effect to the end of May.
The Re-Opening Roadmap is based on vaccination levels in Saskatchewan. After a year of following infection rates, it is refreshing and hopeful to look at the daily vaccination rates instead. However, we must realize that there will be a detour on the Roadmap if infection rates do not continue to fall.
More details of the Saskatchewan 3-step Roadmap can be found at this link
We thank you for your continued patience and we especially appreciate your diligence (and continued diligence) in keeping people safe in the midst of this pandemic.
Please encourage everyone to get vaccinated at the first opportunity. While the decision to be vaccinated is a personal decision, the vaccines are morally acceptable for Catholics and importantly medically safe and highly effective at saving lives and preventing serious illness.

Peace,

Fr. Jim Hentges
with the Parish Pastoral Council and Parish Finance Council

Archbishop’s Easter Message

Christ is Risen! Happy Easter, everyone!

(Video available here)

When Jesus first called his disciples, he invited them to leave their homes, the security of their lives, to follow him. And when, after the devastation of his death, they found the stone rolled away, when they found the tomb empty, when the Risen Lord came walking alongside of them, when he showed them his wounded hands and side, their world turned upside down once again. Soon filled with the Holy Spirit, they were sent, with joy, in an entirely new way beyond the bounds of the familiar.

Easter 2021

Over the years, I have had a recurring dream. Until a few days ago, I had not thought of this dream as being connected to Easter. Whenever I have had this dream, I have been deeply stirred by it. It comes in two forms. In the first, I am a little child, wondering around in our farmyard, and decide to leave the yard, and to venture out into the field, beyond the safety of the yard. And I find a place there, not too far away, a grove of trees with tall wild prairie grasses, a place of shelter, not far from the farmyard, but a place where I am welcomed, a place where people have dwelt, a beautiful, inviting place.

The other variant of the dream is connected with our little country church of St. Elizabeth=s, a few hundred metres from our farmyard. In the dream, this time as an adult, I go out beyond the church yard, past the cemetery, over the slightly more hilly prairies there, and find an old home, a building to explore, a place of discovery.

At one point after having these recurring dreams, I drove out to the home of my early childhood, and to our little country parish, and wondered around, looking for some trace of either of these places, but found none, only beautiful open prairie. The dreams are, strangely, of a treasure hidden in those fields, a treasure connected with the past, as though the land carried its own memories that we can=t quite access. Above all, there are of a treasure that we find by leaving the security of home, by leaving the church building and bringing whatever we have received and learned and become, into dialogue and active engagement with the world around us.

To be baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, to live with a paschal faith, is to be a part of a community that is summoned to go into places of struggle, of suffering, of darkness, and to be – above all by our actions – a witness to life. It is to be a community, as St. Paul describes for the Corinthians, that is “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

The pandemic has been difficult for us as society, and it has been difficult for us as church. We have had to learn new ways to build up the community, new ways to reach out to others, new ways to evangelize. We have been dragged out of our comfort zones. We=ve been displaced, and summoned to find a new place in the family of things. Now on this 2nd Easter of the pandemic, having had a year bracketed by two seasons of Lent for something new to gestate within us, I think the Risen Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is speaking a word to us.

Just as surely as the first crew of disciples, fishermen, tax collectors, and what all, went forth into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit, just as surely as these fields behind me – which are now looking rather barren – will soon be a place of growth and beauty and fruitfulness, so too is the Holy Spirit doing something new in us. Any new way will need to be faithful to the wisdom of the past, but that doesn’t mean just repeating things the way they have always been. Jesus told his disciples that those trained for the kingdom are “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52).

That discernment is upon us now in the church. Some aspects of it seem fairly clear. Faithful to the Lord himself, we need to listen deeply to those who are hurt and wounded in our midst, and in a special way to those whose wounds we as church have caused. We need to learn how to accompany in a truly compassionate Christ-like way. We need to be centred on mission. Moulded by the death and resurrection of Christ, we need to engage the world around us, not with anger, not from a perspective of power, but with a spirit of dialogue, a humble willingness to learn, a readiness to inspire, with convictions about the worth and dignity of life to uphold, praying at all times to be led by the Spirit of the Risen Lord.

As in my old recurring dreams, in the world outside our comfort zones we will find human life, with all its suffering and brokenness, its blessings and joys, its varied history and its promise, it=s beauty and struggles, its wonder and mystery. Christian discipleship is an adventure, initiated by a God at work in the created world, the paschal work of undoing the power of death, transforming the created order by self-giving redeeming love. Let us embrace it anew.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.

Again, Happy Easter!

Yours in Christ,

+ Donald Bolen
Archbishop of Regina

Archbishop’s Good Friday Message 2021

 

Holy Thursday and Good Friday take us to bleak places, places of great angst. A garden where grief is felt and betrayal happens, a trial where disciples run away, a death verdict, a painful walk to the place of death, a burden too heavy to carry.

Over the years I have had the privilege of walking with a number of people who carry unbearably heavy burdens, and have experienced unspeakable darkness. They sometimes ask, how can they keep going, where are they to find hope, where is God in the midst of their trials, how can they continue to believe?

There are times when words don’t help much, or at all. Superficial responses only add to the pain. Sometimes all you can do is be there, opening yourself to the pain by walking alongside, being with people in it. You hold the hope by being there, and by not giving up, not abandoning people. You accompany by being there with them in the desolate places, knowing that they are also sacred places. People who are deeply wounded will tell you, that kindness helps, it helps to heal.

In the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies, we learn that this is God’s way. At the heart of what we as faith community remember of the night before Jesus died is a meal, a paschal meal which is all about brokenness. Bread is broken anticipating the breaking of Jesus’ body. Jesus surrenders his life to be broken because we are wounded, broken. God’s response to the great wounds of humanity is to be there with us in the pain. A friend who carries very heavy burdens said to me recently, it matters to her that on the cross, Jesus prays, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” She asked, don’t interpret that away as Jesus just praying a line from Psalm 22. He knew abandonment. He knew that depth of darkness that hope struggles to find.

It matters that the resurrection happens in the heart of darkness. A divine response that doesn’t know the depths of human pain can’t reach the depths of human pain. And as we live these days of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, I invite you to resist jumping ahead to the resurrection. Theologian Paul Tillich notes that we lose something key when we “become insensitive to the infinite tension which is implied in the words of the Apostles’ Creed: ‘suffered… was crucified, dead, and buried…, rose again from the dead.’ We already know, when we hear the first words, what the ending will be: ‘rose again;’ and for many people it is no more than the inevitable ‘happy ending’.” We lose the understanding that God in Jesus knew pain, abandonment and death, and was buried in the earth.

Let the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies teach us something about accompanying others in pain, and not running away. Let them teach us about actions that can bring healing when words can’t. I love words, but words have their limits and their place. For some of us, there is a constant temptation to come up with an answer, a reason, an explanation that somehow is going to make it better. I don’t know if anyone beneath the cross of Christ called out to him that it was going to be ok. Walking with others is more important than our explanation of why it’s OK. I don’t think it helps to give the crucified Christ, or our crucified brothers and sisters, all the reasons there are to continue to hope. Hope needs to be incarnated in presence. Jesus’ mother Mary and disciple John were there. Others brought spices, and prepared a tomb, did what they could, being there.

The most powerful messages that come through the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies are in fact wordless: washing the feet of others. Bread broken, anticipating a body broken. The veneration of the cross. Lying prostrate at the start of the Good Friday liturgy. When God, author of the created order and the human condition, is crucified and buried, lying prostrate in silence speaks more articulately than words.

May these liturgies be an encouragement and invitation to each of us to have the courage to stay with others in those places of pain. God walks with us for the duration, even when the situations we are in are not fixable. Let us do likewise for each other. The Jesuit Ignacio Ellacuria, assassinated in El Salvador because of his solidarity with the poor, put it this way: nothing is more important than the exercise of mercy toward a ‘crucified people.’

Lord, our prayer today is a mostly silent prayer before your cross. May we see you in our crucified brothers and sisters. May we show you mercy there. In our hours of darkness, may others be signs of your presence to us when we can no longer carry the weight or the hope ourselves. May our hearts and minds be ever more open to and bearers of your great mercy. Through Christ, Our Crucified and Risen Lord, Amen.

Yours in Christ,

+ Donald Bolen Archbishop of Regina

Open letter to all those who have been wounded by the effects of clergy sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Regina

Good Friday, 2021

As I write to you today, I am mindful of the agony resulting from the scourge of clergy sexual abuse that was perpetrated on each and every victim. The parallels between the crucifixion of Jesus that we remember today are mirrored by the desecration of body, mind and soul of victims. We can never stop saying we are sorry, but that is not enough; we must take action to bring about change, transparency and accountability.

Over the last four years we have listened to, walked with, and began to really understand who our best teachers are: it is you, the victims. Thank you for showing us a way forward. Thank you for your courage in sharing the pain and torment that is your individual lived experience, your truth. Thank you for showing and reminding us that we must do better.

Early in my tenure as Archbishop, a core working group was established. The mandate of the Core Working Group, with direct input from victims, is to have an open transparent and accountable process to discern the overall direction of the archdiocese in responding to the legacy of clergy sexual abuse and in taking action to prevent further abuse from occurring. The Core Working Group works in the drafting, implementation and oversight of the Clergy Sexual Abuse Policy, and reviews this policy on a semi-annual basis with the possibility of updating it. They also review other policies which relate to clergy sexual abuse and its prevention. The Core Working Group oversees education and formation initiatives on the life-long consequences of clergy sexual abuse, on accompaniment of victims, and on the recognition and prevention of potentially abusive behaviour. None of these initiatives are undertaken without consultation from victims.

Thanks to significant input from victims, we have been able to look at where and how to move forward. Prior to Covid, prayer services were being held in every deanery and in many parishes. Every service had at least one victim as part of the writing process. The aim was to have at least one victim present at each prayer service. These services provided an opportunity for the larger church to hear your anguish.

In addition to the prayer services, education has become a key component in working toward transparency and accountability. Each educational event has presented the voice of a victim, allowing non-victims to hear in often painful ways the truth of how clergy sexual abuse affects people. Education will be an ongoing process and victims’ voices will not be silenced, but rather celebrated for their courage in bringing clergy sexual abuse into the light.

Each time we ask a victim to help us, we recognize that their wounds are reopened. Your sharing has helped us to ask the question, who is helping victims to heal their wounds, walking with them, accompanying them? The response was twofold: counselling and accompaniment.

Once again, we asked victims to help us. Even in your hurt and pain you have answered the call. Thanks to a recommendation from a victim, a trauma counsellor, trained in childhood sexual abuse, is available to work with all victims of clergy sexual abuse, with no charge to you and no need to report to the diocese. Again at the recommendation of a victim, we have begun a series of accompaniment workshops (the next is on April 11th) for people to learn how to walk with victims. The burden that each victim carries is heavy: it is time for others to help carry that burden that was so unfairly placed on you.

Finally, in January 2021, the Archdiocese took a bold step by creating a new position that is staffed by a victim, specifically to provide services and advocacy for victims as well as to work closely with my office and others to ensure we continue to move forward toward transparency and accountability. If you as a victim would have any questions, concerns or requests, or would like information about accompaniment workshops, prayer services or educational events, please feel free to contact Pamela Walsh at victimserviceadvocacy@gmail.com or the Delegate, Fr. Brad Fahlman, at enquiry@archregina.sk.ca.

Two years ago, a way of the cross was prepared that gave voice to the experience of victims who have been nailed to the cross by abuse, presenting in the first person the voice of the victim. This Good Friday permit me to share with you this brief excerpt:

I too, want to be taken down from the cross of my pain. I do not want to be kept fastened to the cross as the church continues its lies, deceit, and cover-up. I want to be free from the clutches of despair and the torment to stop. How can I be freed from this cross? I can’t do it alone. I need support. I need a church that cares, risks being honest with itself and is accountable. Although my trust has been shattered and all hope lost, I want to be able to grieve for the parts of me that died the day the abuse started. I also grieve for those victims who remain nailed to their cross.

We do not want you to be nailed to the cross, but rather, we want you among us so we can accompany you and walk together. As the darkness is upon us today, let the light of Easter bring transformation as Christ rises from the tomb and love and life prevail over hate and death. Through that light, let us recognize ever more deeply that victims are not to be blamed but to be listened to, and let all people of the Archdiocese open their hearts and minds to a new way of walking with you in hope.

Sincerely yours,

✠Donald J. Bolen Archbishop of Regina

Easter Message from the Anglican, Lutheran, and Catholic bishops serving the Regina area,

April 1, 2021

Blessings to all in Saskatchewan. While many people in our province are preparing to celebrate our second Easter weekend under pandemic restrictions, as the Anglican, Lutheran, and Catholic bishops serving the Regina area, we want to offer a word of blessing, a word of caution, and a word of hope.

Christ is the Word of blessing who speaks to the world his promise that life will triumph over death. The whole world is suffering from a virus that has killed millions, paralyzed our society, and left an invisible toll in the form of mental and physical health issues, domestic abuse, and isolation from our families and friends. To this world of suffering, Christ joins his own suffering. Sharing in our struggles, he transforms even death into redemption.

As we celebrate this holiest time in our year, we are drawn to family and friends, but we must remain cautious. Now is not the time to expand our social interactions. We call upon all people in the Regina region to stay within their household bubbles over the next weeks. Find electronic ways to stay connected with friends and family, join in virtual worship, work at home if possible, do not travel within the province or elsewhere, limit shopping to the essentials, use curbside pickup or delivery wherever possible, wear a mask, sanitize your hands frequently, and seriously consider getting the vaccine when that becomes possible for you.

Over the past year, we have worked hard with public health officials and other faith leaders to develop effective protocols for faith communities. We support these and other measures to stop the spread of the virus in our population. We support efforts to reduce general movement within society and to limit the occasions for transmission. In our homes, workplaces, and churches, please follow all public health orders and recommendations.

To this, we offer a word of sincere thanks and gratitude to leaders, health workers, carers, counsellors, emergency responders, aid agencies, restaurateurs, teachers, delivery and personnel drivers, farmers and cleaners. Your combined sacrifice is deeply appreciated. Thank you.

And, we offer a word of hope. In the mystery of Easter, Christ turns death into life. We do not know how God is working through our pandemic suffering, but our faith proclaims that God will find good amongst the pain and will take the ashes of our long Lenten journey and turn them into new life. Christ dies on Good Friday, but he rises again on the third day. This is the mystery of Easter, which we live as people of faith.

May you all enjoy the blessings of Easter and stay healthy.

Bishop Bryan Bayda
Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon

Archbishop Donald Bolen
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina

Bishop Robert Hardwick Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle

Bishop Sid Haugen
Saskatchewan Synod,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

Archbishop’s Weekly Lenten Message – Week 6

Warm greetings in the Lord.

A short time before this video message was filmed, our Premier announced that further restrictions are being imposed on Regina and surrounding area because of the recent spike in cases of a Covid variant. Regina residents may not expand their household bubble, and all indoor gatherings are restricted to immediate household members only. Restaurants and licensed establishments must close for in-person dining. Many event venues and non-essential indoor locations are temporarily closed. Travel is not recommended in or out of the Regina area unless absolutely necessary. If you live in Regina, now is not the time to go to visit family who live outside of the city. The press release noted that if we undergo these restrictions for 2 to 4 weeks, it could turn the situation around quickly.

Places of worship for Regina and area, however, remain at the current capacity level, which is capped at 30 persons. I join many in expressing profound gratitude that at a time of significant restrictions, places of worship in Regina and area have not been further restricted. It is an acknowledgment that we offer something that is essential to the well-being of many in our society. Faith leaders argued strongly that worship services, with very rare exceptions, have not been places where the virus has spread, and that we have been diligent in taking all the precautionary steps asked of us. With the gift that we have not been shut down – as many other public places have been – comes the responsibility and obligation to be exceedingly careful over the coming days.

It is an extraordinary situation we find ourselves in as a society. Earlier today I had the opportunity to have a conversation with an infectious disease physician, who wanted to speak to me about the current medical crisis in Regina. The large and exponentially rising number of cases of the Covid variant in the city has caused incredible stress on the health system here. The variant spreads more quickly, is more dangerous, than the original strain, and the risk of the situation getting further out of hand is real, potentially resulting in many more cases, many more deaths. At the same time, efforts to provide a vaccine have accelerated in the area, and access to a vaccine is proceeding much more quickly than anticipated. In this race between the virus variant and the vaccine, it is clearly time for decisive action.

All of this is playing out for us, as Christian community, at the holiest time of the year. It feels brutal that we are at a critical juncture in dealing with this pandemic precisely in Holy Week, for the second year in a row. But suffering and brutal experience are right at home in Holy Week. We are about to celebrate Palm Sunday, a liturgy which begins with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; but that joy soon dissipates and turns into the procession to calvary, where the Lord is taunted, beaten, crowned with thorns, and crucified. Palm Sunday takes us from promise to pain, as the one who came to bring life is put to death. The deeper narrative, of course, is of a love which gives of itself fully, and this death will not have the last word.

I was recently reminded of a theological reflection which noted, there are some who say, ‘things are always getting worse in the world’ – as the saying goes, ‘we are going to hell in a handbasket’ – and others note that ‘things are always getting better,’ though it is a bumpy road. It is easy enough for both schools of thought to find ample evidence to back their arguments. A deeper truth is that these two trajectories are not opposed, that things can indeed get better and worse at the same time. And they do. Indeed they are.

In the Palm Sunday liturgy, we hear of an incredible darkness, as the Word through whom all things came to being was silenced, put to death, buried in a tomb. But as St. Paul notes, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. An incredible grace is also in evidence, a love which knows no bounds. Love and death are caught in a great showdown. Palm Sunday leaves us there.

Our pandemic also has us in a showdown, as the rampant spread of a Covid variant is confronted by our best communal efforts to protect the vulnerable and to defeat a virus that can bring death.

Friends, in this drama unfolding in our midst, just as in the drama that we are drawn into in the Palm Sunday liturgy and in Holy Week, we are not passive bystanders. We’re all called to participate in this drama, in this struggle between life and death. Let me suggest three ways in which we can do so.

Firstly, we can take all the precautions that we are asked to take. While parishes have not been vectors of the virus spreading, we need to be especially vigilant now. We do well to take seriously the travel advisory issued for Regina and area communities. Outside of Regina, in other parts of the Archdiocese, we need to be very cautious as well, as we enter into Holy Week with an easing of restrictions; it’s not a time to ease up on our attentiveness to detail.

Secondly, we can enter deeply into the celebrations of the coming days, whether in person or virtually. These celebrations take us to the heart of our faith. In accompanying the Lord to the cross and ultimately to the resurrection, we can find a wellspring of hope and joy that is very deep, because it is born out of the worst that human life can bring, and proclaims that life and love have the last word.

Finally, tomorrow, Thursday, we celebrate the great Feast of the Annunciation, centred upon Mary’s faith-filled response to the Angel Gabriel: “let it be done unto me according to thy word.” Mary’s yes opens the door to God’s desire to come and dwell in our midst. Let us ponder and emulate Mary’s openness to the will of God and her embrace of the mystery of God’s great desire to come into our midst. Let us accept the invitation and do our part in God’s great dream of transforming and redeeming the world from within, be walking with us, dying and rising for us.

Let’s close with a prayer that brings together some of the strands in this meandering meditation:

Lord Jesus, you came among us to bring life. In your suffering and death, you revealed a boundless love. In your resurrection you plant the seeds of a hope within us which can withstand darkness and pain. Be with us now in this time of pandemic. Protect us, watch over all our medical professionals, and all who are doing all they can to accompany those who are suffering and to prevent the further spread of the virus. Give us courage as we face our own struggles, frustrations and darkness at this time. May we always know your Risen presence. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. Help us to offer our fiat, to say to you with our whole hearts and our whole lives, “let it be done unto me according to thy will.” Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Watch full message HERE

Archbishop’s Message for 4th Week of Lent

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina, and all viewers,

Warm greetings in the Lord. This coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, marks the middle of Lent, and is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. Laetare means ‘rejoice’, and the tradition of a day of rejoicing in the middle of Lent is an old one. The opening antiphon sets the tone, drawing on passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, as it proclaims, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning…”

I was part way through preparation for this message when the news broke yesterday that restrictions on faith communities are easing up as of March 19, and we will be returning to 30% capacity, up to 150 persons, as long as all the other protective measures are kept. That is definitely cause for rejoicing. March 19th is the Feast of St Joseph, and on this Year of St Joseph, we will have additional reason to celebrate.

Tomorrow, that is Thursday March 11th, we will be marking one year of the pandemic in Saskatchewan. A vigil is be held virtually ( https://www.covidvigil.ca/ ), with the title, ‘Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope’. As society and as church, we can use a boost in terms of hope. The joy quotient was getting pretty low out there. When Lent rolled around this year, more than one person said to me, we started Lent a year ago and it’s like it’s never left. The challenges, experienced on so many levels, have left many feeling rather raw, and our communal and individual wounds and tensions have been in full display.  The level of frustration and grumpiness has been higher in recent days than I can ever remember. Yesterday’s announcement means that many more people will be able to take part, in person, in Holy Week and Easter celebrations. For this we give great thanks.

But the joy and hope which Easter bring are meant to resonate at a much deeper level than the good news of easing restrictions. Even as tensions around covid start to ease, we know well that human life in general, and life in the Year of Our Lord 2021 in particular, is marked by a seemingly endless set of challenges and tensions.

Years ago I came across a quote from Pope Paul VI, from 1975, late in his papacy, when the tensions surrounding the Encyclical Humanae Vitae were in full bloom, and the Pope was being seen as indecisive and trapped. In that context, Pope Paul wrote down these words: “What is my state of mind? Am I Hamlet or Don Quixote? On the left?  On the right? I don’t feel I have been properly understood.  My feelings are ‘Superabundo Gaudio’, I am full of consolation, overcome with joy, throughout every tribulation.” Superabundo Gaudio, overflowing with joy. He is quoting St Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 7:4), who was also writing in the context of significant tensions. 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, how do we find our way to that place, a place where we carry a deep internal joy despite the brokenness of our world and the stresses within ourselves? That is a very good Lenten question.

In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, we hear about Nicodemus, an influential Jewish leader who comes to Jesus at night, under the cover of darkness, searching for understanding. Nicodemus is obviously attracted by Jesus’s ministry and teachings, as he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” But he is also puzzled. I think we can understand him as a person who is struggling to believe. He is a helpful person for us to accompany, for many of us can relate to that struggle. Jesus speaks to him about the need to be born from above, to be born of water and Spirit. He shares with Nicodemus that he will be lifted up, foreshadowing his death on the cross, and speaks these beautiful words that we know well: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). 

We don’t hear how Nicodemus reacted, but we do hear of him again later, speaking in the Sanhedrin for the need for a fair trial, and then present after Jesus’ death on the cross, providing spices for the burial as was the custom.

I encourage you, and myself, let’s go to Jesus as Nicodemus did. Let us present him with our questions, our struggles, our wounds. Jesus told Nicodemus that light had come into the world, a light which exposes our darkness, and we might add, brings healing, and renewal. Jesus’ words didn’t likely answer all of Nicodemus’s questions, but the conversation led him to accompany Jesus on the road that led to his death and ultimately to his resurrection. The Lord extends that same invitation to us. He allows us to live in the tensions of the present moment, in the incompleteness of our lives, but to do so with hope. And to see things in a paschal way.

I have a poster near my desk these days which reads: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” It takes faith and trust to see things that way when we’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or buried.

We are living in this time between Winter and Spring. Many of us have the experience that when we leave work, we now drive home in the sun. The days are getting longer. We yearn for more light, and we know it is coming. The earth is still frozen, but it is starting to give way to warmer days. That is a good Lenten metaphor. The light is coming into the world. Three weeks from now we will gather, or watch on livestream, as we light the paschal candle in the darkness and proclaim the victory of life over death. Let us trust that light and go to the Lord in order that God’s light might find its way into all the corners of our hearts and our lives that need to be touched by its healing rays.

As we listen to the splendid hymn “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” let’s pray with the help of the first and last verses:

Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

 

Watch video Message HERE

Development and Peace – Caritas Canada

Dear Pastors, Deacons, and the Lay Faithful of Saskatchewan and Keewatin Le-Pas.

I pray this letter finds you well in these trying times. For those I might not have met, my name is Priva Hang’andu, and I am the Development and Peace animator for our region. Due to the current pandemic and more limited resources, we have not sent the package of materials as we usually do to each parish. As such, I want to briefly introduce to you our Lenten campaign, Share Love, Share Lent inspired by Pope Francis’s new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, provide you with live links to our materials and some of our new initiatives this year. Please hold the “control” button on your computer, moving your mouse at the same time to the link you want to open, and then click your mouse on that link to see the content.

In Solidarity, in Christ,

Priva Hang’andu.

Pandemic Update

We were alerted on Tuesday that a person who attended the Mass here on Friday February 26th tested positive for covid-19. As requested by Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), I submitted the list of those who attended the Mass along with contact telephone numbers. I also submitted information regarding our masking policies, seating situation, PPE, hand hygiene, disinfecting etc.

After reviewing this case, SHA informed us that no one was in “close contact” (according to the health guidelines definition) with the person who tested positive. As a result, there is no need for anyone to self-isolate and there is no need to shut down. However, SHA strongly encourages everyone here to self-monitor for symptoms and if symptoms should develop then one should get tested and self-isolate at that time. Details on this are found at: saskatchewan.ca/COVID19

SHA also commended us on our covid-19 protocol – and it also made their investigation of this case go smoothly. I think this experience confirms our diligent efforts to disinfect and follow health safety guidelines in our parish. Let’s continue to do so: mask and social distance at all times within the church, and always be considerate in caring for one another. And then we can continue to praise and give thanks to the Lord.

Finally, as SHA has advised everyone, especially those who attended the Mass on February 26th, please self-monitor! SHA also indicated that if you have any symptoms, please get tested, seek medical help if need be, and of course self-isolate at home. But for now, just self-monitor.

Peace,

Fr. Jim Hentges

Archbishop’s Weekly Message for 3rd Sunday of Lent

Dear friends in Christ in the Archdiocese of Regina, and all listeners, warm greetings. We are now two weeks into Lent, and the church extends a word to us, to persevere in opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit on this Lenten journey.

This coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we will hear St. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple. And at the end of the Gospel reading, there’s a sentence that jumped out at me this year – in part because I was working with a different translation of the Bible. It’s interesting how different translations can bring new insights and allow us to hear new things in the text. The translation I’m used to working with, the NRSV on which our lectionary is based, leads us to understand that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of those who were critical of his actions, when it says that he “needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” But the NAB makes the statement more general: Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”

The Lord knows the human heart. God knows us, knows us well, knows us better than we know ourselves. As the wonderful Psalm 139 proclaims:

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.
For it was you who created my innermost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.

There is great consolation in this. God knows our wounds, the ones that are deepest within us; knows our deepest desires, the ones that motivate us most profoundly; knows our gifts, our joys, our sins, our brokenness, our dreams. I sometimes pray these words from William Wordsworth, celebrating the human condition authored and loved by God:

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

But God also knows that the human heart needs work, our hearts need work, need transformation and renewal. Jesus doesn’t go into our hearts as he went into the temple, throwing out everything that doesn’t belong there, but the Holy Spirit would like to have a go at uncluttering the temple of our hearts. I think it is the Holy Spirit that whispers to me each Lent that old Chinese proverb, ‘if you do not change directions, you are likely to end up where you are heading.’

After Jesus had cleansed the temple, those present asked him for a sign to show what authority he had to go into the temple and throw out the money changers. They are in effect saying give us a sign that allows us to believe in you. He responds enigmatically, mysteriously, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is asked for a sign, he says the only sign he will give them is the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of the whale.

What sign do we look for that would allow us to trust more deeply that God is lovingly present in our lives? What sign would ease our doubts and lift our fears? As it was for the disciples who followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, so to for us – the ultimate sign Jesus gives a paschal sign. It’s about dying and rising. It is the lived sign of being willing to give himself completely in love, unto death. And the revelation that death is not the last word for God, that after three days, Jesus is raised from the dead. The full revelation of God in Jesus’ dying and rising addresses directly the deepest questions that arise from our human experience, questions about suffering and injustice and death.

In this coming Sunday’s second reading, St. Paul says that while others seek signs and look for wisdom, “we proclaim Christ crucified,” which will seem foolish, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

This coming Friday, March 5, is the World Day of Prayer, and its theme this year is ‘Build on a Strong Foundation.’ When we pray, we may look for specific outcomes that seem good to us. I believe that God does answer our prayers, but not by allowing us to bypass suffering and death. God draws us into the paschal experience that life is stronger than death, that God can bring life from the ashes of our brokenness. On the cross, Jesus entered into the place of greatest vulnerability. And God invites us too into places of great vulnerability, not to abandon us, but to reveal to us what resurrection might look like in the face of our deepest wounds and brokenness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit into your lives anew this Lent, asking the Spirit to cleanse our hearts and lead us to a deeper trust in God and in the life God gives us. Join me in praying, if you will, this prayer of Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

God bless!

Watch the video message HERE

Greetings from Archbishop Don for the 2nd Week of Lent

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ in the Archdiocese, and all tuning in for this message for the second week of Lent, warm greetings.

Thankfully, our polar vortex is behind us now. The word Lent comes from the old English word ‘Lenten’, which means Spring. In this province Spring comes slowly, and that serves as a good metaphor for Lent, and the slow transformation of ourselves into people of the Kingdom. In the early church, the desert fathers and mothers went to live in the wilderness in order to open themselves completely to the transformative grace of God in their lives. They called the desert the furnace of transformation. That’s also a good image for Lent.

We view Lent, among other things, as a time of sacrifice, and we prayerfully ponder what we are going to give up for Lent. That is good and right, but the readings from the second Sunday of Lent put the whole question of sacrifice into a larger framework. And they also give us a window into the transformation that God desires for us.

The first reading for this coming Sunday, from the book of Genesis, tells the story of Abraham bringing Isaac up the mountain, where he has been asked to sacrifice his son. A few chapters earlier in the Book of Genesis, we hear the beautiful account of God bringing Abraham outside at night and asking him to look up at the sky and count the stars if he can – which of course he can’t – and then says, so shall your descendants be. Abraham’s wife Sarah was without child. When the whole thing seemed pretty much hopeless, Abraham being 100 years old and Sarah 90, Sarah bore a child. And they called him Isaac, which means laughter, because they were so taken by surprise. So Isaac was not only Sarah and Abraham’s beloved child, he was also the visible sign, the testimony that God’s promise would hold true. There would be no descendants without Isaac.

Of course God intervenes, Isaac is saved, and Abraham is praised for his trust, and God provides an offering for the sacrifice. The story in its origins was probably intended to show, among other things, that the God of Abraham did not desire the child sacrifice practiced by some neighbouring religions. I once had the opportunity to hear an inter-faith discussion about this passage, as it is of great importance to Jews and Muslims as well as to Christians. The different schools of interpretation of this story make for a fascinating conversation.

But for us on this second Sunday of Lent, the Abraham and Isaac story is linked to two other readings. In today’s Gospel, we hear Mark’s account of the transfiguration. Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, and he has been telling them that he is going to be put to death, and that he will rise again. They are bewildered and frightened. Then he takes three of them, Peter, James and John, up the mountain. Like the first reading, it’s on the mountain that something new is being revealed about God. For a brief moment, the disciples see Jesus in dazzling light, speaking with the great prophets of the past, Moses and Elijah. Here is the one they have been following, now seen as the fulfillment of their deepest hopes. They hear the voice of God saying ‘this is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Peter wants to hold on to the experience, wants to build tents for them, wants it to last. It doesn’t last. But it gives them a glimpse of what is to come, and perhaps the strength to live through the passion and crucifixion of Jesus without losing all hope.

In the second reading, one of the most important passages of the entire New Testament, St Paul, with the story of the sacrifice of Isaac in mind, and above all with the death and resurrection of Christ in mind, writes to the Romans and asks rhetorically, if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Paul will go on to offer us two great litanies to communicate how nothing can get in the way of God’s love for us revealed in Jesus Christ.

Let’s go back to where we started to the question of sacrifice, and the matter of our transformation. In the history of religion, there are numerous stories of people offering sacrifices to God that bring reconciliation and God’s blessing. But the Christian vision is different. God is the key actor. On the cross, God is the one who offers God’s own self, in the person of Jesus, to heal the broken relationship. As we pray at Mass, Christ became “the Priest, the Altar and the Lamb of sacrifice.” It’s not ultimately about what we sacrifice in order to win God’s pleasure, it’s about embracing the wonderful gift of God’s own self, and being transformed by that.

The transformation that the season promises is a paschal transformation. God draws us into his dying and rising, and invites us to live in the freedom of those who in turn can spend ourselves at the service of others, because we are loved by a boundless unimaginable love.

Friends, please join me in praying the Peace Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, who grasped at a very deep level the change that God desires for us:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in self-forgetting that we find,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life.

Video Message found here

Opinion: Churches working to help in COVID-19 fight, but need common sense from government

Opinion: Churches working to help in COVID-19 fight, but need common sense from government

by Brett Salkeld, PhD, theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina.

It is difficult for religious communities to push common sense while following safety protocols that are anything but, writes Brett Salkeld.

To any person who goes to church Sunday morning these days after shopping Saturday afternoon, the dramatic difference between the safety protocols observed at the grocery store or pharmacy and those observed at the church is jarring. There have been times when I have gotten home from the store thinking, if I get COVID, I’m pretty sure that trip was where I got it.

The feeling I have at church is precisely the opposite. We are so meticulously safe, so masked, so distanced, so disinfected that it seems highly unlikely anyone could contract the virus from attending the service while we adhere to best practices.

When I go to church, large sections of my small local parish are roped off. With only 30 people allowed to attend, we are able to appropriately distance in a fraction of our building. My heart breaks to watch our pastor having to turn people away at the door due to some confusion about sign-ups and capacity while there are dozens of empty pews sitting unused.

Last spring, after leading with a hard-cap policy as regards the number of people permitted in places of worship, the Government of Saskatchewan met with faith leaders and subsequently adopted a very reasonable policy based on percentage of building capacity. Small country churches that rarely accommodate more than 30 people on a given Sunday are not the same thing as large city congregations whose buildings often hold more than 1,000. Having the same limit apply to both these scenarios made no sense, and the government was correct to adjust policy accordingly.

But in mid-December, the government reverted to its original policy without explanation or consultation. Since that time, faith leaders across the province have been pushing, unsuccessfully, for a return to a percentage of capacity policy, one commensurate with what businesses are currently allowed.

Many have remarked upon the value of religion for society, especially in times of crisis. When people are lonely or afraid or looking for answers, the wisdom and the community of our religious traditions can be a lifesaver. What has not been as widely noted is the role of most religions in protecting people from extremism, polarization and conspiracy theories.

On top of the viral pandemic, we are also facing a virtual pandemic, one consisting of online misinformation and moral panic. And this second pandemic is amplifying the death count of the first. It is a genuine threat to public health, to say nothing of political stability and our capacity to live together as communities.

In the face of what some have called an “infodemic,” a good chunk of our work at the Archdiocese of Regina these days is to direct our people to reliable sources, to encourage best practices with respect to public health — not only in our parishes, but in the wider world — and to reassure people of the basic wisdom of public health measures. This is largely a thankless task, one that earns us charges of failing in our duty to defend the Church against government, which is imagined to be using the pandemic as a pretext to strip believers of their rights and freedoms.

The best strategies for promoting public health have recognized the need to work with and not against religious communities. After all, we share the same goal of protecting our communities, especially the vulnerable, from disease and death. But the current policy of the Saskatchewan government puts religious authorities in a very awkward position.

Churches are required to enforce inconsistent protocols on behalf of the government that give those in our communities who are already suspicious of the government’s motives all the evidence they need to not trust public health measures — not to mention more motivation to pursue ever wilder and more conspiratorial claims on social media. The anxiety and distress this leads to is itself becoming a public health crisis, to say nothing of the fact that such people are often highly suspicious of any vaccination campaign to end the pandemic.

It is time for the government to recognize that, not only are the current restrictions on places of worship inconsistent, but that such inconsistency is itself a threat to public health. It is increasingly difficult for religious communities to encourage common sense while they are required to follow and enforce safety protocols that are anything but.

Brett Salkeld is the theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina.