The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World

smaller text tool iconmedium text tool iconlarger text tool icon
Report on the CCCB Forum with National Associations
June 2-3, 2000


For the fifth consecutive year, The Episcopal Commission for Relations with Associations of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Laity hosted a Forum with national Catholic associations. The General Objectives of the Forum are: 1) to discuss and make recommendations on a topic that is a priority for the Commission; and 2) to enable the associations to have some time to share their concerns and activities with the Commission and with one another. The Commission has found the Forum to be an effective vehicle for fulfilling its mandate to assure dialogue between the CCCB and national associations.

The Forum took place at the CCCB offices on June 3-4, 2000 on the theme of next Synod of Bishops - The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.

Seventeen associations attended the Forum (six bilingual, five French-language and six English-language). They were: Association of Catholic Universities and Colleges of Canada, Association of Ministries Programs, Association des Scouts du Canada, Canadian Association of Knights of Columbus, Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry/Canadian Catholic Students Association, Canadian Catholic School Trustees' Association, Catholic Health Association of Canada, Catholic Women's League of Canada, Conférence canadienne des instituts séculiers, Conseil canadien francophone de la pastorale des vocations, Foi et lumière, National Federation of Presbyteral Councils, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Catholic Organization for Life and Family, The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Ukrainian Catholic Council of Canada, and La Vie Montante.

Information sharing

Prior to the meeting, each association had provided a one page description of itself which was circulated to all the participants. On Friday evening, each association was given five minutes to develop the description.

While there was a lot of diversity among the various associations there were a number of commonalities, including: the need for leadership training and formation of the laity, the fact that a number of groups were involved in supporting others, the sense that all ministry begins with the baptismal call, the need to challenge and involve young people, the importance of spirituality, the ever-present problem of finances, the necessity of being engaged in the world, and above all dedication and generosity of spirit.

Warm-up for the Theme

In order to set the context for Saturday's discussion of the theme, Bishop Stefan  Soroka, who is an alternative delegate to the Synod, did an overview of the nature of a Synod. Some of the points that he made are:

  1. The Synod of Bishops was established by Pope Paul VI at the end of Vatican II as a means of continuing the close collaboration between the Pope and Bishops of the entire world.
  2. The function of the Synod of Bishops is to discuss matters and make recommendations on questions touching the internal life of the Church and its action in the world. It is directly subject to the Holy Father; consultative not deliberative.
  3. Participants include a) Patriarchs, major Archbishops and Metropolitans outside the Patriarchates of the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rites; b) bishops elected by the national Episcopal Conferences, according to a formula based on number of members; c) bishops elected by the National Episcopal Conferences of several nations for those nations which do not have their own national conference; d) ten religious to represent clerical religious institutes elected by the Roman Union of Superiors General and e) the Cardinals in charge of various offices of the Roman curia. The Pope may also appoint up to fifteen percent of the membership and these appointees may include bishops, lay people, religious and other experts.
  4. Synods may be Ordinary such as the next Synod on Bishops or Extraordinary such as the one held in 1969 on the collegiality of the bishops or they may be Regional such as the recent Synods for the Church in America, Europe, Africa, Oceania and Asia.
  5. The Holy Father assigns a topic for each Synod of Bishops. A document, called a Lineamenta, is prepared by the permanent general secretariat of the synod in Rome. It begins the Synodal journey by calling for thoughtful discussion, prayerful reflection and meditation on the assigned topic. The results of consultations done in Canada and around the World are sent to Rome by Episcopal Conferences and form the basis of the Working Document for the Synod.
  6. At the Synod each Bishop delegate has the right to make an eight minute intervention and the discussion continues in workshops. The delegates make their interventions in light of consultations held in advance of the Synod including this Forum. In this way the preparations for the Synod involve the whole Church.
  7. The next Synod on Bishops celebrates episcopal communion, tying together and bringing to a conclusion a recent series of Synods beginning in 1987 with the vocation and mission of the laity, followed by the formation of priests in 1990 and consecrated life in 1994.
  8. The Synodal process is an awesome and privileged journey that we all share, one that has significant implications for the Church in Canada and for the entire Church.

THEME DAY: THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS - The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.

Participants spent a whole day discussing in Plenary and small groups topics and questions from the Lineamenta on the Mission of the Bishop, the Ministry of the Bishop, the Relationship of the Bishop with the People of God in his diocese, his preaching ministry, spirituality and sources of hope. The day concluded with suggestions for interventions by the Canadian delegates at the Synod. The following is a summary of the presentations made and discussions.

The Mission of the Bishop

Three participants, Dr. Richard Haughian from the Catholic Health Association of Canada, Fr. Marc-André Lafrenière from the Conférence canadienne des instituts séculiers, and Archbishop Roger Ébacher from the Archdiocese of Gatineau-Hull made short presentations on three questions.

What prevailing idea do people have of the mission of the Bishop?

Each of the presenters canvassed people within and outside their milieu to obtain a snapshot of people's perception of the mission of the bishop. It was clear that most people do not know the theology of the mission of the bishop and that their images and reality do not respond to their expectations. The following are some of the impressions and expectations people have of the mission of the bishop.

  1. The bishop is an administrator, distant from his people and away from the diocese too much.
  2. The bishop is an authority figure, the head of the local church, part of the church hierarchy. For some, he is merely a branch plant manager of the multi-national Catholic Church, representing and transmitting the wishes and teachings of the Pope.
  3. The bishop is the spiritual leader, a man of God, a man of prayer, the chief pastor. He promotes hope, and opens the heart and soul to recognize the multiple forms of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The bishop needs to be able to discern the signs of the time and bring hope where there is fear and anguish.
  4. The bishop is the defender of the faith, and the institution, someone who will speak out.
  5. The bishop performs certain functions e.g. administers the sacraments, visits parishes, controls funds, assigns priests, makes decisions, formulates pastoral plans.
  6. The bishop supports teams of lay people and priests, open to new ideas and encouraging those who are weak but well intentioned.
  7. The bishop delegates tasks and expects results.
  8. The bishop is present and open to his people in the family, the workplace, the school and leisure activities. He should be close to his people.
  9. The bishop is seen in the media and should be there more often, giving his opinion when asked, a dignitary.
  10. The bishop is the pastor to the poor. Full of hope and life, he is able to welcome those who feel marginalized because of their personal lifestyle or circumstances.
  11. For some very pious people, the bishop is almost a God from whom one can demand miracles and healings. He represents the sacred, the mysterious but one can confide in him and have confidence in him.
  12. Some people desire (but do not find) a bishop who is a leader who will be with them in various social struggles. Others regard the bishop as a kind of social animator responsible for the equitable sharing of society's goods and for supporting and encouraging volunteers. He is seen as a man of influence who could attract financial aid, support and the media.
  13. The bishop is seen as a gatherer, capable of energizing Christians and giving them direction.
  14. In some intellectual circles in Québec, there is a very negative view of the mission of the bishop as continuing "the grand darkness" and systematically blocking progress and the spiritual well-being of the people. In their view the bishops are there to conserve their power over an infantile population, deprived of the enlightenment of science.
  15. The media also plays a role in projecting an image of the mission of the bishop. Some television programs portray very outdated pompous images. It is also difficult for a bishop to present fully and pastorally Church teaching on controversial moral questions in quick television interviews. While the bishop is seen on television celebrating mass, it is usually on grand occasions which are at times politicised. Rarely, do we see the bishop in his role as a simple pastor. Perhaps it is as much the fault of the bishop as the media; bishops need to find meaningful, dynamic and positive ways to be present to a democratic society that is searching for values, signposts and hope.
The above impressions indicate a gap between the documents of the Church, including the Lineamenta for the Synod, and the perceptions of the people in the Church. Much of the faithful's view of the mission of the bishop is influenced by the culture which values highly the individual, diversity and personal autonomy. Distrusting authority, people don't want to be told how to live their spirituality or what to believe. For many, especially in Québec, the quest for spirituality takes place apart from religious institutions. Religion is reduced to a feeling and people want to feel better. The teachings of the bishops offer hope in the future while we live in a culture of constant change, immediate gratification, ready to wear, and disposable goods.

Is the bishop also responsible for the mission to all the world?

Some of the points made in the presentations and ensuing discussion were:

  1. Reactions of most people canvased were - the bishop can't be responsible for the mission for all the world since it is impossible to be all things to all people.
  2. Some were surprised by the question since the teaching of Vatican II has emphasized the local Church. The bishop needs to be in his diocese more and seen more.
  3. While the Lineamenta outlines the bishop's responsibility for the mission to all the world, the presenters felt that this was poorly understood by the people who assume that the bishop belongs only to one diocese.
One of the presenters felt that this aspect of the bishop's mission should be emphasized more, especially given the window the media gives us to the whole world. The link of the local churches, in all of their diversity, to the universal church should be highlighted. This would include the responsibility of the bishop to be the shepherd to his people, creatively exploring new forms of mission, in communion with the entire People of God so as to be better able to respond to the needs of our time.

A second presenter agreed that there needed to be more education about this aspect of the bishop's mission but was of the view that this mission should be secondary to his responsibilities in the diocese, given that the bishops are already overburdened.

How could the bishop involve his diocese in the mission to all the world?

Some of the points made in the presentations and ensuing discussion were:

  1. Some dioceses have links with dioceses in the third world.
  2. Financial contributions are made through Development and Peace, and the Jubilee campaign to forgive the debts of the poorest countries.
  3. Justice, peace and hope provide a global vision and help people make the links; justice is key - there should be less emphasis on the Church and more on the world.
  4. All Christians and not just the bishop are called to this mission through their baptism. We should not develop a theology apart from the whole Church.
  5. The bishop involves the diocese in his mission of discovering the Glory of God in the heart of the world each time that he creates communion and fosters love and solidarity by promoting human life and dignity, the equality of men and women, the preferential option for the poor etc.
The Ministry of the Bishop

In small groups the participants discussed a number of questions relating to the ministry of the bishop. The following are some of the points made in the discussions.

What challenges do the socio-cultural elements in society pose to the ministry of the bishop, in particular to proclaiming the Gospel?

  1. Society believes that it doesn't need the Gospel - individualism, consumerism, indifference, distrust of institutions.
  2. In a society that values pluralism and democracy, the Church is seen as one voice among many.
  3. Mass media has anti religious bias.
  4. It is difficult to be in community in the midst of rampant individualism.
  5. People involved in the Church have great expectations of their bishops.
  6. There is a gulf between Church documents and the reality of peoples lives. If we want to be credible in the "marketplace of the new spirituality", we will have to touch people personally and have something to say to their everyday concerns.
  7. Our culture, while very open to the world and differences, seems shallow and lacking in meaning and long term vision, partly because the fast pace of modern life leaves people with little time for reflection.
  8. There seems little room for religion in the new forms of spirituality.
  9. Technological, social and cultural changes require a new ecclesiology and new role of the bishop; the present Church structures don't fit the world of today.
How do the bishops respond to these challenges?
  1. The bishop sometimes makes the mistake of trying to be all things to all people which means that the message is not always consistent.
  2. Both the bishop and laity need to get out of their individual "boxes". The bishop should not try to do everything and the laity should not expect him to do so. If the laity were given and assumed more responsibility, he would be free to be the pastor, not just the administrator or person in authority. While there are many talented lay people available, there is also an urgent need for more adult faith education, given that the religious orders are in the process of handing over their health and educational institutions. The whole Church, not just the bishop, should be the messenger of hope.
  3. The bishop needs to be a man of vision, rooted in the ecclesiology of communion of Vatican II, whose ministry is directed to accompanying and guiding his people in discovering the profound meaning of human existence. He should be more available to the people and not just at Confirmation or other formal occasions.
  4. From the perspective of some young people, the ministry of bishops seems very rigid, structured, hierarchial and insensitive to diversity which is unappealing to youth. The challenge is to respond to complex social and moral questions in ways that are both principled and compassionate, to speak the truth with love.
What circumstances favour proclaiming the Gospel?
  1. The hunger for spirituality, authenticity, accountability and community; the authentic witness of people like Jean Vanier and Mother Teresa are well captured by the media.
  2. An approach that acknowledges that we can learn from the world, that the Spirit is working there, that while the world poses many challenges, it also offers many possibilities.
  3. People are more open to being touched by the Gospel in those difficult or painful times when they are more in touch with their interior life. We need to find more poetic, more imaginative, more creative, more affective ways of reaching them.
  4. We need to do things differently - use the media (good example, the parish mission on Vision T.V.).
  5. Being strong positive faithful witnesses.
How do people react to the teaching of the bishop concerning questions of faith and morals? Is there a distinction made between the teaching of the bishop and the Pope?
  1. Generally, people are more open to teaching on questions of faith than on morality. On questions of sexual morality, some people listen but make up their own minds, others follow the teaching and some wonder if the bishops are Catholic enough, if they are in accord with the Pope.
  2. There is a tension between proclaiming and applying the teaching.
  3. A teaching is more respected if it is incarnated, if there is a sense that the bishops are with the people in their daily struggles.
  4. Papal teaching is ignored by many in the larger society but some do respect it.
  5. It is difficult for women in the Church, particularly for mothers trying to pass on the faith to their children.
The Relationship of the Bishop with the People of God in his Diocese

Four participants, Ms. Vivian Bosch and Ms. Lorette Noble of the Catholic Women's League of Canada, Fr. Jean-Guy Charron, SV of La Vie Montante, and Fr. Anthony Daniels of the National Federation of Presbyteral Councils, made short presentations on the relationship of the bishop with the People of God in his Diocese. Bishop Clément Fecteau from the Diocese of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière responded. What follows is a summary of the presentations and discussion.

What do you think is most needed, most significant in the Bishop's relationship with clergy, laity, and members of institutes of consecrated life in his diocese? What should be the bishop's primary concerns?

  1. The bishop should establish a pastoral council, presided over by him, in which clergy, laity and members of institutes of consecrated life can participate. There must be a pastoral plan, a common goal or direction for the diocese to work toward as a family. Through baptism, all people receive the responsibility for mission and service and need to be accepted and invited to work in the vineyard.
  2. The bishop needs to listen to the people to know the needs of his diocese. He is present to his people as one who serves, called to be a good shepherd, to know his sheep and for his sheep to know him. He needs to listen to his people and their needs for his diocesan family to act and grow as one viable body.
  3. Facilities, services and personnel should be provided to meet the spiritual needs of the people of the diocese.
  4. "Relationship" implies connection, ongoing contact and dialogue. The simplest way to achieve this is through visibility and effective communication so that the people know who the bishop is and what he stands for and he knows them. In this way he becomes a real, tangible messenger of hope. After all, Jesus was visible and engaged in human conversation and acts of service. He is the best example of teacher, sanctifier and pastor. The bishop needs to make more effective use of the electronic media and ensure more diffusion of pastoral letters and make more informal pastoral visits.
  5. The bishop's relationship with his priests is key to the success of pastoral initiatives. If the bishop takes time to listen to his priests and cultivates an atmosphere of trust and respect, the possibilities are endless. A sincere interest in the spiritual, intellectual and material welfare of the priests is very important.   The bishop should love his priests, to want what is good for them because they minister in his name. The priest needs to know that he has a strong connection with the bishop, that he is a genuine collaborator. For the bishop to know the strengths and weaknesses of his priests, and be able to help them in their difficulties he has to love them. If the priest feels genuinely cared for, he will be confident of being judged fairly when complaints are made.
  6. The active presence of the laity is required for the ongoing renewal of the Church. Supporting and encouraging lay people to receive further training in their faith is very important in the building up of the Church. There should be a facility for lay formation in every diocese. Catechists should be adequately prepared for their task as teacher and witness to their faith. Family life must also be considered an important ministry since it is through the family that our society and Church is formed.  Laity should be called not only to leadership positions in the parish and institutions but also to use their baptismal gifts to be the presence of Christ for their neighbour and to serve the common good. We need to celebrate people living ordinary lives in extraordinary ways for the sake of the Kingdom. The laity need support in assuming their responsibilities in the family, at work, in politics, in the media.
  7. Efforts should be made to understand the charism of members of institutes of consecrated life, to know what are their gifts, what were their dreams when they joined and how are they living them out. Their charisms should be woven into the dioceses so that there is a deep sense of hospitality and recognition of "where would we be without them!" There must be close collaboration between the bishop and consecrated persons.
  8. Bishops themselves should be men of prayer, who know Jesus, who know that they are loved by Jesus and accept the responsibility that Jesus has given to them. It is through prayer that one develops the sense of hospitality, respect, and vision that leads to hope. Are we really committed to evangelization? In what ways can the whole Church deepen the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. Are we too preoccupied with matters of finance and organization? How can we reach those who still love the Church but no longer attend because of their lifestyle or difficulties with various teachings?
If I Were a Bishop

Three participants put themselves in the shoes of a bishop to make a presentation on his sources of spiritual strength(Diane Dupras, Catholic Organization for Life and Family), sources of hope(Rick Benson, Catholic Campus Ministry) and preaching ministry(Fabien Leboeuf, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace). Bishop Brendan O'Brien from the Diocese of Pembroke responded. The following is a summary of the presentations and discussion.

If I were a bishop I would find spiritual strength in...

(Please note that this was a very symbolic presentation that is difficult to translate into words. It underlines that in the spirituality of the bishop it is important not only to have ideas but also imagery to help in difficult circumstances.)

  1. The fact that I am created and supported by God and redeemed by the living Jesus Christ. God touches my heart, gives me the memory of my heart and the Holy Spirit helps me to understand everything. (Jn 14:26)
  2. That fact that God is Father and I am the prodigal son. I always long for my father's house and because I am a prodigal son myself I can be a good father to those who trust in me.
  3. The fact that God has given me two things - a) the chain on my cross that always draws me to him in prayer and b) wood because my God burns all wood. (Lk 12: 49 - "I have come to bring fire to the earth..")
  4. The fact that God has woven into my life, a net of prayer. ("I will make you fish for people..." Mk 1:17). He will always maintain a fire on which burns the wood of the cross.
If I were a bishop my sources of hope would be....
  1. The revitalization of spirituality in our culture and the renewed thirst for meaningful ritual and traditions.
  2. Young people are connecting to this search for spirituality through the entertainment industry and other pop culture forms of communication. This has lead some of them to ask questions about the mystical traditions and rituals in the Church.
  3. There is a marked increase in the attention paid to spirituality in the workplace. Many large companies in the United States have hired chaplains.
  4. A number of Canadian universities have requested chaplains to be on their campus to help in community building and to look after the spiritual needs of their community. This recognition of spirituality can open the door to dialogue about religion.
  5. There is a renewed interest in traditions and rituals such as the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian Exercises, the Taize prayer, the use of icons and other images.
  6. Ecumenical and multi-faith understanding are growing more and more, especially among the young.
  7. An important source of hope are the many committed Christians who are witnessing to their faith day in and day out.
  8. The question was posed as to whether this new interest in spirituality would really lead to religion and faith, given the prevailing subjectivity and individualism.
If I were a bishop, preaching in the context of contemporary culture would require...
  1. Preaching is essential to the role of the bishop. It requires courage, energy and self confidence because words can influence lives and directions forever.
  2. The bishop needs to speak to the world.
  3. The culture regards the Church as having four dimensions; as a cultural good, as a social service, as a proposer of moral values, and as a place for rites of passage.
  4. In a post Christian society which wants to consume the Gospel as a good but not receive it, we need to proclaim the Good News as an encounter with the living Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God, the creator of life, a revelation of who I am to myself as a son or daughter of God. We must announce a God who strives for our personal and collective freedom in a joint project with us.
  5. People should not become involved out of a sense of moral duty but rather because they are participating in God's creative work. Poverty is counter creative. Social justice is a process by which human dignity is reestablished and we share in God's creative work.
  6. Today's society is looking for alternatives. The bishop, as the servant of hope, must help to identify where God is and possible alternatives.
Possible Interventions at the Synod

Participants identified the following topics as possible interventions at the Synod

  1. Today's Culture - "Projet de société"
  2. Episcopal Collegiality - inculturation of the faith
  3. Role of Episcopal Conferences
  4. Local Poverty - inner city parishes
  5. Communicating God's Word in today's culture
  6. Empowering the Bishop to be a Pastor and not just an Administrator
  7. The ecclesiology of the Church as Communion
  8. Reaffirmation of the Bishop as the defender of the poor
  9. Gratitude for the Bishop and his ministry
  10. Collaboration with other groups in society to achieve common goals
  11. The crisis of faith education in our communities
  12. The spirituality of the Bishop
  13. The relationship and collaboration of the Bishop with the People of God in his Diocese
  14. Using the mass media as a resource
  15. Evangelization in today's world
Elements for Interventions

In small group discussions, participants suggested elements that could be included in some of the proposed interventions.

Faith Education

  1. Religious communities are passing on the sponsorship of their institutions to lay people who are very educated and talented in their field but have very little faith formation. There will soon be a crisis in the identity and leadership of Catholic institutions. Who is going to carry on the mission and values of the healing ministry of Jesus? In some ways, the laity are like the "pioneers" of the religious communities who went out into unchartered territory with nothing but a love for Jesus and a passion for their mission. The harder it was, the more dedicated they became. But it is a different world today.
  2. There is a great need for formation in the parishes but lots of questions about the qualifications of catechists, the right approach, and how to attract people who are already over busy.
  3. There are great possibilities for education with parents who come for sacramental preparation of their children. Connections need to be made between their faith and experience.
  4. Many people only come to Church for rites of passage. As a result, there are fewer and fewer people qualified to assist with sacramental preparation and other areas of faith formation. There is a serious question as to what is being passed on in the parish and in the schools. What are the teachers teaching and what do they believe? Perhaps a survey should be done to have a better idea of the nature and extent of a perceived crisis in faith formation.
  5. The media has to be more effectively used in faith formation.
Evangelization in Today's World
  1. It is necessary to focus on new ways of evangelizing and to explore, share and evaluate new models of evangelization. Evangelization must be an integral component of all present and future pastoral plans and projects and there must be a willingness to stick to a programme even in the face of adversity.
  2. Any plan for evangelization must be supported by a strong desire to evangelize and a mechanism that will facilitate sharing of the faith.
  3. Evangelization must take place in our own milieu. We must revise our ecclesiology, promote inculturation, and have the flexibility to follow a pastoral approach of accompaniment.
  4. In any plan for evangelization, the bishop must favour a spirit of collaboration among all people and organizations in the diocese.
  5. If we are to evangelize to the world today, we must have a love for the Church and those entrusted to us as well as a spirit of hospitality and welcome.
Local Poverty especially inner city parishes
  1. bishop as an agent of social change
  2. bishop as a defender of the poor
  3. collaboration with other groups
Communicating God's Word in Today's Culture
  1. use ideas in Québec Bishops pastoral "Proposer la foi dans la culture du Québec d'aujourd'hui".
  2. encourage theological reflection on the role of the Church in light of current radical social-cultural changes
  3. include attitude of the bishop, style of life
  4. note what has already been done - i.e. General Directory of Catechesis
Empowering the Bishop to be a Pastor and not just an Administrator
  1. encourage his pastoral role
  2. need more reflection on concept of bishop as pastor
  3. education of the laity
  4. is always a tension between administrative and pastoral functions - need a balance
  5. can be an administrator and a visionary
  6. could bishops not delegate more, particularly confirmation
  7. many Catholics resist change - what type of Church do we want?
The Ecclesiology of the Church as Communion
  1. encourage bishops to collaborate and empower members of the diverse communities in the diocese as equal partners in the Church's ministry
Suggestions for Next Year's Topic

Participants were asked if they would be interested in having a Forum on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. After a full discussion, it was clear that they would prefer any Forum on vocations to have a broader perspective, including other vocations such as marriage or health care ministry. The possibility of a Forum on youth was raised but considered unlikely, given the ages of most people representing associations. The Episcopal Commission will make a decision about the topic in the next few months.

September 11, 2000

Last Updated on Friday, January 16 2009  
The Holy See
Canadian Centre for Ecumenism
Catholic Organization for Life and Family
Salt + Light
wydcanada en quicklink DP EN Quick   

ResponsibleMinistry EN
Amoris Laetitia Reflection Guide
wydcanada en logo
Euthanasia EN


On January 13th 2010, Most Reverend Vincent Nguyen became Canada’s first Catholic Bishop of East Asian descent. He is the great-grandson of a Vietnamese Martyr.