2001 Plenary Assembly
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

My confreres and friends:

As I begin this report outlining the events in the life of our Conference since this same occasion last year, many images come to me. One that is striking is that which occurred when, after last year’s Plenary Assembly, the Vice President and the General Secretary accompanied me on the annual visit to the Roman dicasteries. As is the custom, we had a private audience with the Holy Father. He listened with attentive professionalism until the conversation touched on World Youth Day 2002. His eyes lit up. A sparkle came into his voice. This indeed was a subject close to his heart. And what a project it has grown to be!

This past June, the Executive and Permanent Council met in the national offices of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. We could see firsthand the hive of activity as some 40 staff and volunteers strive to bring about the greatest single project that the Church in Canada has undertaken. But it has had wonderful help. In particular, I want to mention the moral and financial assistance of the federal, provincial and municipal governments. We can only laud the fine cooperation that exists among the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto, and the Episcopal Committee mandated by you to oversee the venture – its chairman Bishop Anthony Meagher together with Bishop François Lapierre, PMÉ, Archbishop Thomas Collins and Bishop James Wingle. Moreover, great credit is due to the tireless work of the national director, Father Thomas Rosica, CSB.

While this nearly round the clock activity is going on in Toronto, and while host dioceses from coast to coast are preparing to receive youth pilgrims, there are two other significant spiritual ventures going on. As we speak, the World Youth Day Cross is moving across our country, engaging young and old in every diocese, and indicating better than any report or sermon what is essential in this enterprise: the encounter with the living Christ. At the same time, a second spiritual adventure is with us. Again across our land, the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux are touching hearts and souls, waking up dormant prayer habits and opening the eyes of countless ordinary men and women to see the wonder of faith and to experience the joy of living with God. Through divine providence, our Church is living the old monastic teaching: ora et labora.

It was a sad day for our Conference when the news came that the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Paolo Romeo, was moving on to become the Apostolic Nuncio to Italy. During his two years in Canada he made a lasting impression, energetically travelling the length and breadth of our vast country and making friends wherever he went. In his short stay, he did much for us, and our thanks go out to him. But the Church always provides, and in his stead we now have Archbishop Luigi Ventura, bringing great experience and proven skills to serve the Church in Canada. As I have already indicated to him, we welcome him as our brother and pray that he will feel very much at home with us.

There is much to be thankful for over the past year, and I will be speaking about a host of positive achievements in just a few minutes. First, however, I want to speak about some of our difficult moments. Among these were the ongoing discussions concerning the nature and indeed existence of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and the Commission internationale francophone pour les traductions et la liturgie (CIFTL). With respect to ICEL, I was asked by the Presidents of the other English-speaking Conferences to assume somewhat of a leadership role. Unfortunately, these two “mixed commissions” are an unresolved issue that I bequeath to my successor. Germane to this question were, and still are, the protracted discussions with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments concerning a long list of projected liturgical texts that are awaiting recognitio. The implications of this matter touch upon some of the financial questions we will be discussing later in this Assembly.

Another stress and worry came about concerning questions surrounding the former Indian Residential Schools and how this impacts on a number of dioceses and religious orders, as well as on organizations among the other denominations. New initiative by the federal government was welcome but it has necessitated much study and coordination, which in turn has indirectly affected the Conference as well. A response to government proposals is being formulated and taken forward by a Catholic task group which was initiated by the episcopal and religious corporations finding themselves in litigation. I particularly wish to thank Archbishop James Weisgerber for his efforts in this. While the structure of the Catholic Church dictates this decentralized approach, I am sure I speak for all of you when I say our prayers and fraternal solidarity are with the task group.

This cannot be otherwise, since our Conference has continuously and energetically espoused the renewal of a partnership with the First Nations. I wish to single out at this time an Aboriginal representative who is present among us from our very own Council for Reconciliation, Solidarity and Communion with Aboriginal Peoples. Welcome, and may your presence here in our Assembly mark a tangible step in renewing our partnership, which we pray will result in a fuller understanding of the Good News for all, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples alike. Another significant development in this partnership has been the support given by our Conference to the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative on Aboriginal land rights. I was happy to be able to help promote this in my Pentecost statement this spring, and I thank the many who commented favourably as a result. It is heartening to hear that the signature campaign is progressing well. Also, this year for the first time, thanks to the collaboration of the Commission for the Evangelization of Peoples as well as both Sectoral Commissions for Christian Education and also our advisory office for Native issues, the Conference this October will be sponsoring a catechetical symposium, bringing together a wide variety of individuals from Canada and the United States to study and discuss the transmission of the faith among Aboriginal Peoples.

As I said previously, this year has brought much for which we can be thankful. One outstanding gift was the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, outlining a veritable blueprint for the years to come. I look forward to the reflections that we will be hearing on this later today from Cardinals Jean-Claude Turcotte and Aloysius Ambrozic. As well, I hope the spirit of this document will prevail in the working of the Synod of Bishops that will take place next month. Later during this Plenary Assembly, we will hear the draft interventions of our delegates who have been at work over the past two years. They did not take their task lightly and we owe them our thanks. I also want to thank the two theologians serving as resource persons with our delegates and who are making significant academic sacrifices to accompany them to Rome: Professor Margaret O’Gara of Saint Michael’s College, Toronto, and Professor Gilles Routhier of Laval University, Quebec.

Two significant liturgical documents were issued this past year, the tertia editio typica of the Roman Missal – although we are still awaiting the definitive Latin text – and the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. The former will be the object of a review here during our Plenary Assembly, and later you will be asked to approve a request for adaptations as well as a proposal for indults. Whatever may be our individual views on various details of either document, one should rejoice that they will afford us, in each of our dioceses, an important opportunity to focus on how liturgical celebrations are to be to the glory of the Trinity and for the sanctification of the People of God. I hope pastors will use this occasion to renew their own love for the liturgy and thereby further the renewal of their own Christian communities.

Along this same line, the French Sector Episcopal Commission for Liturgy has almost completed its lengthy work on a hymnal which it hopes will soon be published and on sale. The Commission is also looking at a possible reorganization of its Office national de liturgie which could better assist in providing liturgical resources for all of French-speaking Canada.

For the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs, it has been an especially active period. Last year I mentioned the work being done to restructure the various ecumenical social justice coalitions whose names and acronyms almost became household words. The restructuring now complete, the new organization is known as Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiative, with yet another acronym, CEJI. Social Affairs director Joe Gunn as well as the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) played a major role in bringing about this transformation.

Other instances of collaboration involving the Social Affairs Office, CCODP and our ecumenical partners involved the participation by Bishop Jean Gagnon in a visit to Mexico to get a firsthand look at the plight of those on the “short end of the free trade stick”, as well as the participation by Bishop Donald Thériault in an ecumenical observer mission to Sudan. In addition, the Social Affairs Commission produced several timely comments on various issues of the day, among which in particular was its Open Letter to Parliamentarians: The Common Good or Exclusion -- A Choice for Canadians. This has been especially well received and resulted in meetings between the Commission and two federal caucuses. I also want to single out the seminal statement issued in the name of the Permanent Council on the occasion of the Summit of the Americas that was held in Quebec City, and I wish to thank Archbishop Maurice Couture for his expert handling of the news conference when the statement was released. The excellent cooperation for this event between the CCCB and the Archdiocese of Quebec will long serve as a model for future occasions.

The year also marked a major change at CCODP. Executive Director Fabien Lebeouf retired, leaving a rich legacy. Again, I thank him for his hard work and for the solid cooperation he helped forge with our Conference. His successor, Mr. Robert Letendre, is well in the saddle and brings vision as well as understanding to the task. Another change with CCODP is that Bishop Fred Henry is finishing his term on its National Council; to him, our thanks for the wisdom and dedication he invested in serving as CCCB representative.

Among ecumenical developments, a significant step toward Christian unity took place this July when the Anglican Church of Canada entered into full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada. As well, the Commission for Ecumenism, conscious of the multifaith context in which we live, will be asking your approval for a name change. This would mean that while its main focus will be Christian unity, its name will change as appropriate when dealing with interfaith or Jewish relations. Once again our staff was honoured by the invitation to Sister Donna Geernaert, SC, director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, to serve on three Vatican delegations: with the World Council of Churches, with the World Federation of Reformed Churches, and with the International Jewish Christian Liaison Committee.

The General Secretariat’s legal and policy advisor, Jennifer Leddy, marshalled several successful ventures over the last year. Of particular importance was our intervention with the Supreme Court of Canada in the Trinity Western case. The judgment was an important victory for religious freedom in Canada and continued Catholic involvement in education. Another situation being actively monitored is a major review at the federal level of the Voluntary Sector and its implications for all religious organizations as recognized charities. Our legal and policy advisor serves on one of the major panels that is part of this review. Also, work is underway on a question the members highlighted at last year’s Plenary Assembly: various church models for corporate ownership in Canada.

Theology in Canada, and I dare say in the entire world, lost a valuable “family member” this past year with the death of Father Jean-Marie Tillard, OP. A scant few months before, he had been among the five theologians who met with our delegates to the upcoming Synod. He left an insight that the delegates plan to take with them to Rome: the bishop as the witness of God’s visitation. In Father Tillard, God provided us with an enthusiastic and creative son of Saint Dominic who will be long missed by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.

In other developments, the Episcopal Commission for Theology welcomed Father Richard Côté, OMI, as staff theologian and tested his mettle immediately with work on the Army of Mary and also on ecclesial movements. The Episcopal Commission for the Evangelization of Peoples and the director of the Evangelization Office Adèle Bolduc collaborated with both Canadian Pontifical Mission Societies in organizing a successful mission congress. As well, the mandates of both national directors of the two Pontifical Mission Societies were reconfirmed: Sister Leona Spencer, CSJ, and Father Roger Bédard.

Both Episcopal Commissions for Christian Education are commencing a new chapter. You will be asked in this Plenary Assembly to review their mandates in light of contemporary challenges and opportunities in faith education. Other catechetical developments include Christ and Culture, a just-off-the-press Grade 10 resource from the National Office of Religious Education (NORE) that promises to be a cutting-edge venture. Also in collaboration with the CCCB Publications Service, a sound market study is currently guiding the eventual renewal of the entire program of NORE catechetical resources. The year 2001 also saw the implementation of a service contract with the Office de catéchèse du Québec (OCQ) which opens up new opportunities for the French Sector Commission for Christian Education. Two further examples of innovative cooperation will start bearing fruit over the coming months when the Publications Service releases an English-language adaptation of an OCQ resource on Church volunteers, and together with the Assembly of Quebec Bishops the English adaptation of Proclamer l’Évangile dans la culture d’aujourd’hui.  

The Executive Committee pursued its normal work over this last year, including the now annual Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America, which took place this time in Clearwater, Florida. The prime topic was migration, but also on the agenda was the major upcoming Washington meeting in January 2002 on the “humanization of globalization”. As well, earlier this week in Toronto, the Executive had planned to have its annual meeting with our counterparts from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops but the recent tragic events in that country made it necessary to cancel the meeting.

One final reference with respect to other recent developments: I also wish to note that Mr. Gérald Baril recently retired from our Conference as French-language Associate General Secretary, and Mr. Michel Lalonde as Chief of Administration. To both, our sincere thanks for their collaboration and service. In a few moments, you will have the opportunity to ratify the appointment of the new French-language Associate General Secretary, Mr. Benoît Bariteau, but in anticipation of your vote I do at least wish to welcome him.
As I conclude the mandate you entrusted to me two years ago as your President, I want first of all to say how grateful I am to have had such an experience – and how happy I am the mantle will be passed on to someone else in just a few days!

As bishops, we all have day jobs, often enough turning into night jobs as well, which are very time and energy consuming. While cherishing our Episcopal Conference, in the rush of demands it is not often our highest priority. Being part of the Executive Committee provides an insight into the rich variety that is involved in the work of the Conference. It puts one in touch with an aspect of Church, which is at once a source of “fear and trembling” as well as of hope and joy. One can say the seas are choppy and good navigation is required. Or if you prefer another image, we are always in need of “fancy stick handling”. From what has already been said, you have a good idea of the kinds of challenges to which I am referring. I will simply mention one more: the still open discussion on the Canadian Ordinances for applying the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae to the contemporary realities of our Catholic colleges and universities. I ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit send a wordsmithing muse to help Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, as he formulates a possible new draft.

However, we will survive all of these matters, and the better for it. Indeed, there is every reason to see a brilliant future for the Church everywhere in Canada. World Youth Day, the Vocations Congress, the visit of the relics of Saint Thérèse and the 2001 Canadian Mission Congress, as well as the 10th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and the 2003 Mission Congress for America: these will all make their mark. We have but to remember the valiant pioneers who first proclaimed the Good News in our land, including the founder of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, Bishop Mykyta Budka, whom the Holy Father a few months ago beatified as a martyr for the faith;  Marie-Anne Blondin, foundress of the Sisters of Saint Anne, also beatified earlier this year; and the foundress of the Sisters of Providence, Émilie Tavernier Gamelin, to be beatified this October. Even with the most primitive methods of communication and travel, and against the greatest of odds, the founders of our Church accomplished wonders.

In my first words to you when I was elected President, I mentioned the need for us bishops to care for one another. We are brothers in the apostolic mission of Jesus Christ. As we walk in growing unity and understanding, may we never forget the Lord continues to send us his Holy Spirit. That is no mean gift!

In conclusion, permit me to remind you of the words of Saint Paul at the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians:
May the God of peace make you perfect and holy;
and may you be kept safe and blameless,
spirit, soul and body,
for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God has called you and he will not fail you.

Most Reverend Gerald Wiesner, OMI
Bishop of Prince George
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

20 September 2001