Also from Canada, we want to share this excerpt from an article by Ramon Gonzalez on Bishop Denis Croteau of the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese, Western Catholic Herald, 9/24/2007:
...One of the biggest challenges for Croteau is that he has never had enough priests to minister to the nearly 20,000 Catholics in the diocese. So how has he managed? With the help of some volunteer priests from the South and a lot of help from the laity.
In the mid-1990s Croteau made a national case out of the fact he only had a half-dozen aging priests to cover Mackenzie, the world's largest diocese geographically with 1.5 million square km and 40 parishes and missions. He got a few priests from the South and some dioceses committed themselves to man certain parishes.
But it was never enough, so at one point he divided the diocese in five regions and appointed a priest in each region. Some regions have seven or eight missions so the priest goes one Sunday here, the other Sunday there. When the priest is not there, the lay people run the service.
When Croteau came north in 1960 the diocese had 62 priests, but that number declined steadily over the years.
After his plea for help, he reached 10 priests, then eight. Today he has seven, including two diocesan priests he recently ordained, a former Anglican pastor and a priest from Nigeria.
Educating the laity in the art of running parishes and missions on their own has always been one of Croteau's main priorities. To make it happen, he built a spirituality centre 11 km out of Yellowknife called Trappers Lake soon after he became a bishop. The goal is to give Christian formation and discover possible leaders.
"So we have given sessions of all kinds in the last 20 years, I would say - in Bible, in leadership, in liturgy, in Church music and in healing," Croteau said.
"The diocese has spent a lot of money and a lot of effort trying to develop the religious leadership among the native people. That's been the big challenge."
As a result of Croteau's efforts, today in Mackenzie, lay people are basically in charge, leading services, giving Communion, marrying and burying people.
The diocese is said to have a list of almost 20 people, mostly women, who can perform weddings, funerals and Baptisms. They serve communities such as Norman Wells, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence, Deline, Tulita and Fort Good Hope.
"I think his main contribution to the Church in the North has been educating the people, the church workers," Loomis said. "He is always updating us."
One reason native people don't line up to become priests is the celibacy requirement. "In the native culture family is extremely important and to sacrifice family is not very easy for the native people to do," Croteau said. "So I don't think we'll ever get a big number of native vocations."...