Dear Brothers and Sisters who have dedicated yourselves through the consecrated life,
In his Apostolic Letter of last November, marking the beginning of this special Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis presented a broad vision for consecrated men and women and, indeed, for all the Church as we embark on this 14-month celebration. I would like to echo some of his comments from a specifically Canadian perspective.
Pope Francis calls us to look on the past with gratitude, particularly as we remember the extraordinary men and women who gave birth to new forms of consecrated life, and to those hundreds and thousands who, following them, adapted these forms to new social and ecclesial realities. Here in Canada, we can look with pride at the remarkable saints who lived consecrated life in New France – Saint Marie of the Incarnation, Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, Saint Marguerite d'Youville, for example – founding new communities or adapting older ones to respond to the needs of the people they lived with, both Native Canadians and immigrant Europeans. They were followed by many others who responded to the needs they identified with diverse charisms that flourished in various apostolic endeavours, people such as Saint Brother André, Blessed Émilie Gamelin who founded the Sisters of Providence, Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin, founder of the Sisters of Saint Anne, and others. So much of our country was shaped by those living the consecrated life. Our first teachers, health-care givers and social workers were men and women who dedicated their lives through poverty, chastity and obedience, in order to serve the community of faith and all men and women, no matter their faith or ethnicity. Their witness, lives, and service were shaped and purified by the consecrated life.
Our Pope invites us to live the present with passion. We cannot hide the fact that many of the traditional, established religious communities in Canada find their numbers dwindling and their members getting older. Yet I marvel at the energy I find when I visit convents that still open their doors to refugees and to the poor, and when I meet elderly as well as younger religious men and women who go out each day to parishes, community centres and meeting halls in service and in love. I rejoice in the shoots that are springing forth as new forms of consecrated life find expression in Canada: young men and women are committing themselves to following Christ more closely in small, highly intentional communities; others are consecrating themselves according to specific charisms; all are finding creative ways to live the Gospel in today's world.
Finally, Pope Francis calls us to embrace the future with hope. Hope is a virtue, an inner strength that consecrated men and women bring to desperate situations because their eyes are fixed on Christ, even as they look lovingly upon this world. It is in that context that I echo the Pope's five invitations:
1. To be living witnesses to the joy of the Gospel. Our Canadian society, so often focused on material well-being and immediate gratification, needs to discover the source of deep, lasting joy, a joy that is contagious and life-giving.
2. To be prophetic. The 50 years since Vatican II have seen consecrated Canadians adopt a prophetic stance in the Church and throughout our country. As the Pope acknowledges, this is not an easy charism to express, but it is one which we continue to need in today's society. Consecrated men and women can help us all "create 'alternate spaces', where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive."
3. To create communion. By their own lives, lived in brotherhood and sisterhood, open to each person they meet, consecrated women and men invite us all to reach beyond the loneliness that marks so many of our lives and to strive for open, grace-filled relationships that build communion.
4. To go to the peripheries. Consecrated persons can lead the Church in Canada in "welcoming refugees, drawing near to the poor, and finding creative ways to catechise, to proclaim the Gospel and to teach others how to pray."
5. To seek God's will. As a country, we need consecrated men and women to help us understand what God wants of us. Whether the issue be violence, family breakdown, ecological crises, or racial injustice; whether the goal be respect for life, restorative justice, sustainable development, or a better future for our Aboriginal Peoples; whether the challenge be local, national or international in scope: in all these and more, consecrated men and women, because of their particular charism and commitment, can help us all respond in Gospel ways, in more human ways, to the challenges that confront us.
Rooted in prayer, fed by the Word, refreshed by the liturgy, strengthened in community, consecrated men and women have been, are now, and will be a gift to the whole Church in Canada and, indeed, to all of Canadian society. May this Year of Consecrated Life help us all remember, celebrate and renew this most precious gift.
On behalf of my brother Bishops, and in the name of all the faithful of our country, I thank all of those who today are living the consecrated life so generously and joyfully. You are an inspiration and a help to us in following Our Lord. Just as Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon, recognized the saving presence of God in Jesus when he was presented in the Temple, so too our eyes are opened and we too marvel when we recognize in you his countenance and presence among us.
+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
29 January 2015