Addresses, Speeches, Homilies 1984

Celebration in the Cathedral

SEPTEMBER 13, 1984

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Praised be Jesus Christ! I give thanks to God for allowing me to come and visit this province of New Brunswick which is celebrating this year its second centenary. With joy I greet the Church of God in Moncton, the metropolitan see, and it’s Archbishop, the Most Reverend Donat Chiasson. I also greet Saint John, the oldest diocese, established in 1842, with the Most Reverend Arthur Gilbert; the diocese of Bathurst with the Most Reverend Edgar Godin; and that of Edmundston with the Most Reverend Gérard Dionne. I greet those who have come from other provinces of Canada and even from the United States because they are neighbours or because their ancestors came from Acadia.

The Lord is in the midst of us who are gathered in his name. We who have put our faith in the risen Christ have been given the task to reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord and to be transformed by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Co 3:18). It is as if we were seeing Jesus “ut videntes Jesum”, according to the beautiful motto of this diocese. And it is Mary, who, through the Holy Spirit, has given us the Saviour Jesus. It is she who leads us to him.

This cathedral reminds us of the role of Mary in the Church. The Acadians have always had a great devotion for Mary, their mother in heaven.

In 1881, at their first national congress, they chose her as their patron saint under the title of Our Lady of the Assumption, and they adopted August 15th as their national feast-day. They even founded the Society of the “Assumption”. And so the star of Mary shines bright on their flag with its French and papal colours and the “Ave Maris Stella” rings out like a national anthem. The first Acadian parish here, in Moncton, was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption and it is on the site of its chapel that the first Archbishop of Moncton, Most Reverend Arthur Mélanson had this Cathedral built and inaugurated in 1940.

Dear brothers and sisters, how your century-old devotion to Mary fills me with joy! I am sure that you fully intend to be faithful to it, to intensify it, along the lines which Vatican II suggested at the end of the Constitution on the Church. Our Lady of the Assumption is truly “the sign of assured hope and consolation for the people of God in pilgrimage on earth” (Lumen Gentium, No. 68). And I think that she has already allowed this deeply-rooted faith of the Acadian people to weather all storms.

The Church which welcomes here today the pope is the magnificent outcome of a laborious beginning of a tormented history, in which we admire your ancestors’ tenacity.

It was here, in 1604, that the first French colony in America was founded. In this region of Acadia, thanks to the zeal of many groups of missionaries, the Catholic faith took deep root among the population and among all the Amerindians of the maritime provinces, who have shown since then a marvelous fidelity. Yes, despite the trials of deportation and even the threat of annihilation because of political vicissitudes, the Acadians remained faithful to their faith, faithful to their culture, faithful to their land to which they continuously strove to return, in the greatest poverty deprived of the ministry of their priests, of the means of education and of political rights. For a time, lay people saw to prayer meetings and sustained the faith, until a few priests and religious could come to exercise their apostolate among them. Since then, during the past hundred years, the Acadian people have been able to lift up their heads again and the Catholic faith has flourished. I am thinking, among other things of the many profoundly Christian families, of the numerous vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life. How could one forget that a place not far from here, Memramcook, was the cradle of the Congregation founded by Blessed Sister Marie-Léonie? Cultural growth took place too as the French-speaking university and the means of social communication bear witness.

At the beginning of this century, the Acadians came to Rome in the person of Father François-Michel Richard to see my predecessor, Pope Pius X, to bear witness to their heroic history and to explain their need for an Acadian bishop. The saintly pope, so devoted to the mystery of the eucharist, gave them a gold chalice as a pledge of his concern and of his promise. Today, it is the Bishop of Rome who comes to you. He gives thanks for the fidelity and strength of your faith through trials that remind him of those of his own country in the course of the centuries, and of those which are known today by our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith, harassed for their cultural and national attachments in which their faith is deeply rooted. It is not without emotion that I will celebrate Mass with the chalice given by Saint Pius X. All this suffering will be united in it with the blood of Christ in the hope that it will be transfigured into the glorious life of the Lord.

But the Church here does not limit herself to the people of Acadian origin. She embraces all those who, united to the Successor of Peter, share the same Catholic faith; and she invites them to live as brothers and sisters, respectful of their different spiritual anc [sp] cultural riches, and joined together in the same mission of evangelizing this contemporary world. Other waves of immigrants, in fact, particularly from Ireland, came to join them during about the last century and a half. The vitality of the Church in New Brunswick owes them much, and I greet with affection these English-speaking families.

I likewise greet all our brothers and sisters of this region who originally came from other countries, from other cultures and from other Christian confessions. They too place their faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour; they participate in one and the same Baptism; and they are called to the same charity, without yet being able to share the same Eucharist because full unity in the faith has not yet been reached. As I said in Switzerland, in another context, to our Protestant brothers and sisters: “The purification of the memory is an important element of ecumenical progress”. It is necessary for us “to entrust the past without reticence to the mercy of God and, in all liberty, to strain forward to the future in order to make it more conformed to his will”. God wills that his own people should have a single heart and soul and welcome the salvation of which he always gives us the grace (cf. Discourse at Kehrsatz, June 14, 1984, No. 2).

May the Holy Spirit guide us on this arduous but necessary road of ecumenical efforts in order that we may constantly go towards full unity! God wants us to be faithful to the authenticity of our faith, to our culture, to our history, to our land, with respect for others, and also, in fraternal love, in real solidarity in the face of the present human needs, and in the sincere search for his Truth.

Dear brothers and sisters: we shall meet again this afternoon for the Eucharistic celebration, on a site of natural beauty which is part of the charm of this area. But let us look again at this beautiful Cathedral of granite.  It is the house of God, built with care by your forefathers as a sign of the divine presence, visible from afar, and in witness of their own gratitude to Mary. It is the eminently fitting place for the Eucharistic assembly, around the Bishop; and in the person of the Bishop assisted by his priests, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, who is present in the midst of the faithful (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 21). This Cathedral is also the place for the personal reconciliation of sinners with God. It is permanently the house of prayer, community prayer and also the silent prayer of adoration.

It is, at the same time, the symbol of the Church which is in Moncton, built of living stones, of you yourselves who are its members. Each of you has your place here, your specific role according to ordination, vocation or charism: you, the bishops, priests and deacons, who are ordained to represent Christ the Head in the service of the community; you, the religious, brothers and sisters, who are consecrated to give to the world an appreciation of the Kingdom of God, present and to come, in its radical evangelical character; and all of you, the baptized and confirmed laity; you, the Christian families, the incarnation of love; you, fathers and mothers in charge of your families; you, the members of movements of spirituality; and so many of you here who represent the youth; you who are engaged in the service of the liturgy, of catechetics, of charity, of the sick, of the aged, or of those on the margin of society; you, the educators, and those of you in charge of culture and the media; you, the laity of Catholic action movements or of professional associations of fishermen, farmers or workers.

The one universal Church, is necessarily present in this particular Church. And I myself – whom Christ has asked, as he asked Peter, to be the shepherd of the “sheep” and of the “lambs”, and to confirm my brethren in the faith – come to strengthen each one of you in your mission. We shall meditate this afternoon on the ecclesial community.

The only foundation of our Church is Jesus Christ. The mortar that binds its stones is the love that comes from his Holy Spirit. The sign it must give to all passers-by is a witness of the theological virtues, virtues which derive from God and which consist in believing unconditionally in Christ, in hoping in the very depth of our trials, in loving without limits. We are a pilgrim people, making our way towards a fulness [sp] that surpasses our earthly horizons. And Mary is our star in this turbulent sea.

AVE MARIS STELLA (Hail, Star of the Sea!)

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada