To A Cold Place of People with Warm Hearts!

Reflections by +Mark Hagemoen on the first few months as Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith

Thus far my experience of the Diocese of Mackenzie- Fort Smith is one of finding in this cold place a people of warm hearts!! I have been welcomed and received enthusiastically and warmly, and people have been gracious and patient with their new bishop who comes from the lotus land area of south-western British Columbia.

The first several months in the diocese has featured getting to know the talented and dedicated diocesan staff the make up the ‘ministry team’ in service of the parishes and communities of the diocese. The early winter season has also been a time to get to know my brother Bishops through the annual retreat in early January at Westminster Abbey in Mission, B.C., and the Western Canadian Bishops Annual meeting in Victoria, B.C. in late February.

I have had several opportunities to celebrate at St. Michael’s community in Behchoko, including my first wedding. This last weekend featured my first visit to St. Joseph’s Parish in Fort Smith and St. Joseph’s community in Fort Resolution. Soon the visits to the other regions of the diocese will begin, starting in the Sahtu region.
Our Catholic schools in Yellowknife are also a great treasure in our diocese, and I have had the opportunity to visit and get to know the school communities through several visits – most recently featuring the celebration of liturgies to launch the Lenten season.

A highlight this winter has been the annual Retreat for the pastoral team of the diocese, held at Trapper’s Lake. This year the event was more of a ‘working-retreat’, in what was my first gathering of the diocesan leadership. The first few days of the gathering was devoted to retreat, while the latter part of the time together was for a
business meeting.

The retreat focused on major features of the New Evangelization for the 21st century, as reflected on by Pope Francis, and also Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. It was also an opportunity for leaders to bring forward various issues and needs of the six major communities throughout the diocese – the Tlicho, the Sahtu, the Decho, the South & North Slave, the Delta & Artic Coast, and the Athabasca regions of the diocese. The retreat revisited the major objectives of the Diocesan Synod of 1991, and also examined major features of the Church’s pastoral work as a basis to stimulate reflection and discussion about major issues and priorities for the communities in the diocese at this time. Several priorities were confirmed, including the need for further programs and support for healing, family life, addictions recovery, and youth & young adult ministry.

There is still much for me to learn and see in the vast diocese, which features so much blessing amidst the diverse communities and circumstances of this great territory and land. However, I am thankful to Almighty God for the constant blessing of encountering warm hearts in this great cold place. It is this chief feature which is for me a great source of hope and inspiration.