Stella Messina was among the 240 faithful who attended the first diocesan-wide parish mission, which was hosted by Transfiguration March 17-19. What did she think?

Although Stella Messina has been in Transfiguration of Our Lord Parish for almost 30 years, she had never attended one of its parish missions; that changed last week.

Messina was among the 240 faithful who attended the first diocesan-wide parish mission, which was hosted by Transfiguration March 17-19. What did she think? "I left wanting to know more," Messina replied readily during a telephone interview.

On the two evenings she attended, the mother of two adult children did recognize some fellow parishioners, but the church was primarily filled with faithful from more than 15 English-sector and cultural-community parishes. Two parishes - St. John Brébeuf in LaSalle and St. Edmund of Canterbury in Beaconsfield - rented a bus, with funding from Pillars Trust, to transport their parishioners to the Cartierville venue.  

Bishop Thomas Dowd preached the three-day Lenten mission, delivering an hour-long presentation each evening, followed by a question-and-answer session. The three themes were: Creation and Covenants, Why Jesus Christ? and Finding God's Love and Mercy.

Focus on Fundamentals

The auxiliary bishop focused on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. On the first evening, he highlighted the recurring theme underpinning all the books of the Bible: namely, covenant - specifically God's covenant with humanity. The key element of this covenant, simply stated, is: God is love. It doesn't sound astonishing because the phrase is used so often, but it makes a world of difference.

Bishop Thomas Dowd"He's not just a loving God or a God who loves," the bishop underlined, "he is love itself; his essence is love, and that makes all the difference."

Drawing upon seemingly unrelated cultural references - such as the TV program What Not To Wear and fairy tales of love potions - the bishop brought the dramatic details of Salvation History and of the various covenants ­- made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David - into clear focus.

In his third talk, the bishop stressed that the time from the Resurrection until Jesus comes again is a period of great mercy. He urged his listeners to seize the opportunity this presents.

"I really identified with what Bishop Dowd shared and the questions that people raised," Stella Messina recalled. She was particularly struck by the bishop's reference to the Second Letter of Peter. "It put things together for me," she said. "It describes the way of life when you follow Christ. ... Our hearts are no longer hardened by life's experiences."

The bishop pointed out that, in the process of ongoing conversion and mercy, "the Lord is not just present in our hearts but is also creating, acting creatively within us as well," she said.

Why Diocesan-Wide Approach?

Although some of the sessions ran late, "people appeared to be glued to their seats," Fr. Gérard Martineau, pastor of St. John Brébeuf, said the day following the mission.

The main organizer, Martineau had proposed the idea of a diocesan-wide mission to the English-sector priests back in the fall. "We rush around to find a good preacher every Lent and have small numbers attending," he said. "That's what inspired me to propose a diocesan event." Along with the teams at Transfiguration and Brébeuf parishes, Frs. Gerald Westphal and Jack Kennedy helped him to organize the mission.

The feedback Martineau has received is very positive. "The bishop is a great presenter and being in a church that is somewhat full is also stimulating in itself," he noted.

Should the pastors decide to support a similar diocesan-wide mission next year, Martineau would be willing to take it on and would like to see the number of attendees double.