2006 CCCB Plenary Assembly: Address of His Excellency the Most Reverend Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada

Sunday, October 15 2006

Dear brothers in the episcopate,

I am always pleased to meet with you, and I thank you for the opportunity to participate in the annual General Assembly of your Episcopal Conference.  Like the Apostles who returned to Jesus to share “all that they had done and all that they had taught” (Mk 6:30), so we too, in the name of the Lord, come together to share our experiences and our concerns; “our joys and our hopes” (Gaudium et Spes 1), as “faithful servants whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give to each their allowance of food at the proper time” (Mt 24:45). Or like the man in the parable who would sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he had enough to complete the task at hand (Lk 14:28).  This experience of affective and effective communion is fundamental for the mission that has been entrusted us, according to the very prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

In this same spirituality of communion, I wish to thank Archbishop Gaumond for his kind words of welcome.  I also take this occasion to thank Msgr Paquette as well as the staff of the Episcopal Conference for their spirit of collaboration with the Nunciature.

  1. Since our meeting last year, we have been able to profit greatly from the ministry of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.  The teaching that he has given us constitutes a radiant source that has astonished even those who were surprised by his election; with his gifts of synthesis, of reaching exceptional depths, in uniquely accessible language, the Holy Father presents the Catholic faith in all its beauty and identity.  Several events have punctuated this first year of his pontificate:  The Synod on the Eucharist, the Consistory, Apostolic Visits, and on several occasions, we have seen the Pope speak with different categories of persons:  priests submitted questions to the Holy Father to which he replied simply; young children, in the fresh blossoming of their First Holy Communion, also presented theirs.
  2. I would like to pause to consider three major texts of the Pope.  The first, obviously, is his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, published at the beginning of this year.  While offering to us a meditation on the theme of love, Pope Benedict plunges to the heart of this most profound reality.  He indicated so in a speech to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (January 23, 2006), in which he announced this document: “Today the word ‘love’ is so spoiled, worn out and abused that one almost fears to pronounce it.  And yet, it is a fundamental word, an expression of the primordial reality.  We cannot simply abandon it, but we must take it up again, purify it and bring it to its original splendour so that it can illumine our life and guide it on the right path.  This is the understanding that led me to choose ‘love’ as the theme of my first Encyclical.
  3. An attentive reading of the encyclical confirms the first impression: we have here a basic text that sends the baptised to the irreducible centre of Christian experience and is the foundation of their diversified engagement in the world and the Church.  An intellectual of high degree, accustomed to the most serious debates, Pope Benedict XVI  approaches here, as a Pastor, the mystery of love in its divine origin, as an essential dimension of human existence and as the most urgent aspect of Christian witness: the service of charity.  Love – charity – is able to transform not only our personal lives, but the very organisation of social structures; love gives meaning to the evolution of the world, even in its more complex elements; it has immediate and visible consequences.  Love is the heart of the evangelical Beatitudes, which from its very beginnings has constituted the thought and the social practice of the Church; as an ecumenical reference par excellence, love opens the gates of justice, reconciliation, respect for human dignity, peace and confidence in the future.  It is not only an assertion, but the presence of the Triune God in every phase of history.  One can only greet with hope a pontificate that rests so early in its beginnings, on such a rock and drinks from such a source.
  4. The second speech that I would like to recall is the one that the Holy Father addressed on December 22, 2005 to the Roman Curia, on the occasion of their exchange of Christmas greetings.  After painting a picture of the rich heritage left by Pope John Paul II, on the theological and existential plane, the Pope looked back at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne and the Synod on the Eucharist, and noted how both were united by the word ‘Adoration.’  The third part of the address underlined the fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.  He invited the making of a correct hermeneutic for interpreting this major event in the history of the contemporary Church.
  5. The Pope describes two hermeneutics at work in the interpretation of the Council:  ‘one of discontinuity and rupture, and the other of reform and renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church’.  The first can give rise to a rupture between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church; the conciliar texts are then regarded as the result of compromises, compromises that “reflect in an imperfect way, the true spirit of the Council and of its novelty.  It would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit.”  The Pope evokes on the other hand a hermeneutic of reform that had already been expressed by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI; it signals three circles of questions that had to be confronted (the relation between faith and modern sciences, the rapport between the Church and the modern State, the relationship between the Christian faith and the religions of the world).  “It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists.”  Thus, the Pope examines the Decree on Religious Liberty:  “The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Liberty, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church . . .  The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. Tm 2:2), but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the state.  The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and for the freedom to profess one’s own faith – a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God’s grace in freedom of conscience.
  6. The Holy Father touched upon this latter aspect in his speech at Regensburg, on September 12th last, in the context of his visit to the region of his birth.  With an extraordinary depth of reflection, he announced and testified to faith in a God, in whom man, his reason, and his liberty find their highest and authentic fullness.  This address reverberated through the media, and gave rise to strong reactions, in particular, within different communities: Muslim and non-Muslim.  It is surprising and painful that certain phrases in this speech were misinterpreted, as an offence to the religion of Islam.  The Holy Father himself was anxious to specify the meaning of his words, to avoid all manipulation fuelled by a superficial reading, not at all impartial and free.
  7. Whether by manipulation of some parts of the media or by political calculation, some did not understand or did not wish to understand the theme and central message of his thought.  The Pope has in reality proposed a reflection on the indispensable foundations for a true meeting of persons and cultures, a sure basis for peaceful coexistence.  He wanted to assert the value of reason and liberty, condemning the use of violence under any pretext, but especially when it is carried out in the name of God.  It saddens us to witness a media process about the Pope with the overt intention of attacking his person as well as his ministry.  I am certain that I am reflecting the feelings of the Canadian Bishops by expressing to the Holy Father our closeness and our solidarity, while we raise to the Lord our prayer for him, for the Church, and for peace between all religions and all peoples.
  8. In this context, it is promising and consoling to note that a motion, approved on October 12th last by all the members of the Senate of the Italian Parliament, stated that it was “an absolutely inappropriate interpretation of the speech, of attributing to the Pope the intention of denigrating Islam whereas a complete reading of the pontifical text reveals in an evident manner, the sincere engagement of Benedict XVI for a dialogue between cultures and religions.”  The Declaration continued by manifesting the intention of the Government to express to the Pontiff “the full solidarity of Italy after the unjust attacks and unacceptable threats which have been directed against His person, and against the institutions of the Catholic Church, and after acts of violence towards the faithful and their communities.”  Finally, this Declaration concluded by reaffirming “the right to religious liberty and to free expression, against all persecution, from a perspective of reciprocity.  By religious liberty, one understands the liberty to practice his own faith, to change one’s faith, or not to have one.
  9. This year you carried out the ad limina visit.  This experience, as a rule every five years, requires considerable work.  I was able to observe it firsthand by seeing your reports, sometimes voluminous, which the Apostolic Nunciature forwarded to Rome. The work that you accomplished with your assistants provides a vision, I would even say a true ‘visit’ of the life of your particular Churches. It is a bit like a ‘photograph’ of the present life, identifying the successes and the challenges, the old and new resources, the evolution of which can be retraced through comparison with the previous reports.  You underlined the difficulties and problems that you face in the life of your ecclesial communities.  Several among you also expressed to me their lively appreciation for the manner in which the ad limina visit took place; one noted in this respect that the Roman Congregations had a thorough knowledge of your reports; a peaceful, brotherly exchange, in a true relationship of communion, was perceived as an additional benefit.  I also recall some comments concerning the emotion of meeting with the Holy Father, a more vivid knowledge of his gentle character and his profound intelligence, a meeting with a brother who listens attentively, knowing well the life of your dioceses, in solidarity with your pastoral solicitude.
  10. During the speeches that he addressed to each regional Conference, in response to your quinquennial reports, and to the presentations of the Presidents of the regional Conferences, the Holy Father painted an overall picture of the more important aspects for the life of the Church in Canada.  He himself said so during his first meeting with the Bishops of Quebec: “With the three others groups of Bishops from your Country, I will have the occasion to continue my Reflection on important topics for the Church’s mission in Canadian society, marked by pluralism, subjectivism and increasing secularism.
  11. With the AÉCQ, the Pope commented more specifically on the central role of the Eucharistic celebration in the life of the Christian community and the essential character of the ministerial priesthood.  Consequently underlining the inalienable place of sacramentality in the life of the Church.  The culture of vocations is not possible if “the role of the ordained minister is not clearly defined and recognised.”  The Holy Father noted the signs of renewal, following World Youth Day, and also the year of the Eucharist.  Recognising the work accomplished by Religious, he invited everyone to a ‘solid ecclesial communion’.  Finally, he underlined the importance of catechesis which benefits from constantly renewed efforts.
  12. With the Bishops of the Atlantic Region, the Pope commented on the negative effects of secularism and its closure to the transcendent; the collapse of the birth rate is one of the symptoms of this.  Announcing the splendour of the truth of Christ constitutes a fundamental task, carried out in communion with the Magisterium.  In this respect, catechists exercise a major role: their ministry does not consist only in transmitting knowledge; they are able in reality to enable others to experience the active presence of the Lord, put others in contact with “a living river that links us to the origins which are ever present and which leads us to the gates of eternity.”  The Pope referred to the restructuring of parishes and dioceses: to be viewed not according to social models, but as ‘an exercise of spiritual renewal’.
  13. Next, with the Bishops of Ontario, the Holy Father recalled the foundation of the Christian life which must be a true encounter with Christ.  The evangelisation of culture requires a clear proposal of the Christian message, which cannot be reduced to mere ‘values’.  Pope Benedict XVI described the negative effects of the rupture between the Gospel and culture: in the name of ‘tolerance’ one changes and destroys the basic pillars of human history, life and marriage.  “When the Creator’s divine plan is ignored the truth of human nature is lost.”  He again underlined the unacceptable dichotomy between personal faith and the action of Catholics engaged in political life.  In the field of education, he mentioned the temptation of relativism and proposed an apostolate of ‘intellectual charity’.
  14. Finally, two weeks ago, with the Bishops of Western Canada, the Holy Father meditated on the parable of the Prodigal Son, thus commenting on various aspects of mercy, conversion, reconciliation, and restoration of broken relationships.  While talking about the loss of the sense of sin among our contemporaries, he recalled its destructive effects.  The rediscovery of the value of the Sacrament of Reconciliation can provide a precious instrument for the healing of the person.  In this context, the Pope expressed his appreciation and his encouragement for the work of reconciliation with the First Nations.
  15. It could be useful to benefit from a collection of the speeches of the Holy Father during this ad limina visit, along with the texts of the Bishops who greeted the Pope in the name of their regional Conferences.
  16. I know the efforts that your Conference has made to correct certain situations touched on by the Pope.  I remember the Message ‘To be People of Life and for Life’ that the members of your permanent Council made public in response to the Law on Assisted Human Reproduction.  I also remember the process undertaken with the Canadian Members of Parliament by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, in order to reject all new proposed legislation on assisted suicide and euthanasia.  The Church has the duty and the right to express herself on these questions; your Episcopal Conference does so with respect for the democratic institutions, and also with conviction.  Therefore, as his Representative, I desire to thank you in the name of the Holy Father and to echo his recent encouragement to you to continue your steps in this direction.
  17. As early as his first meeting with the Bishops of Quebec, the Pope mentioned the next international Eucharistic Congress in 2008.  In this respect, the team that worked ardently with His Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, had the good initiative to find a symbol, analogous to the World Youth Day Cross, that would also allow the spiritual preparation for this major event to be punctuated by the pilgrimage of this symbol to the different parts of the country.  The blessing of the Ark of the New Covenant by the Holy Father received exceptional broadcasting, thanks also to the publicised presence of little Jeremy who sang in front of the Pope.  Thus, very many people were able to see the Holy Father listening to this young boy, blessing the Ark of the Covenant, and discovered what an ad limina visit is!  I myself saw this magnificent Ark during a celebration that I presided over in July at the Youth Congress of Marie-Jeunesse, in Sherbrooke.
  18. The Committee for the Eucharistic Congress accomplished much during this year.  Already, it is possible to glimpse the radiance and spiritual richness of the Congress, which is situated perfectly as a continuation of the 11th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops last year.  The year 2008 is highly significant for Canada.  The fourth centennial for Quebec city will perhaps allow the faithful to be inspired by the motto of the province: “Je me souviens” [I remember], recalling the truly heroic beginnings of this country, as you have it so well recounted in your pastoral letter of September 14, 1999, on the 350th anniversary of the Holy Canadian Martyrs.  The rediscovery of the place occupied by the Holy Eucharist in history can make possible a new beginning for the actuality of the Eucharist and its necessity in the present.
  19. In the message that was made public at the end of the Synod, the delegates of the CCCB did not fail to recall that the Synod moved forward in the path outlined by the documents of Pope John Paul II: the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia and the Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum Domine.  One awaits the upcoming publication of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father.  All these documents will allow the universal Church, as well as the Church in Canada, to continue her reflection on the beauty and richness of the mystery of the Eucharist.  This will also constitute a stimulating resource in preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress.  To centre our attention and our prayer on the Eucharist is to rediscover the source where the Church of the Lord is born and nourished.
  20. The concern for the sufferings of humanity and the pursuit of peace are close to the heart of the Church.  In this respect, the recent conflict in the Middle East has caused the anxiety of the world, and of the entire Church.  The Pope asked Catholics to pray especially for peace in the Holy Land and the Middle East.  He invited politicians to engage in the way of reason and to seek, without ceasing, the possibilities for dialogue and agreement.  Your Episcopal Conference has also multiplied appeals to Canadian politicians to do all in their power to encourage a cease-fire, to hasten the beginning of negotiations and to give humanitarian assistance to those affected by the war.  Although very fragile, peace is now re-established; at least the noise of the weapons has stopped.  Material damages caused by this war are enormous; one especially cannot forget the loss of many lives, the pain of too many people, innocent victims of this conflict.  International assistance is necessary, especially in the field of peacekeeping.  Unfortunately, it costs a lot, also in terms of human lives, to the countries that bring such assistance.  Canada is one of these countries that must mourn the death of many young people who have sacrificed their lives for peace, especially in Afghanistan.  We remember them in our prayers, along with their families.
  21. To assist our reflection and that of all the faithful, the Church published two documents of great importance this year:  The Compendium on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and The Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church.  Your Episcopal Conference obtained from the administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See the publication and broadcasting rights of these two texts.  We should be happy that these links of collaboration have been established, and especially, that your Conference can thus contribute to assist in the broadcasting of these documents throughout Canada.  A path is thus opened and it will surely be possible to identify other areas of collaboration with the institutions of the Holy See.
  22. The work also continues for the reconfiguration of borders of certain dioceses.  As you well know, this laborious task demands a lot of precision and tact.  I thank the Bishops who are involved in this matter, for their pastoral concern to always serve more effectively the people of God.
  23. This year, the Episcopal College received new members:  The Most Reverend Gary Gordon, Bishop of Whitehorse; The Most Reverend André Gazaille and The Most Reverend Lionel Gendron, Auxiliary Bishops of Montreal; and The Most Reverend Peter Hundt, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto.  Other prelates took a well deserved retirement:  Bishop Vallée; Archbishop Bzdel; Bishop Saint-Antoine; Archbishop Sutton; Bishop Mikloshazy; and Bishop MacDonald.  Others assumed new functions:  Archbishop Huculak in Winnipeg; Archbishop Lavoie in Keewatin – Le Pas; Bishops Cadieux and Currie as Apostolic Administrators of Hearst and St. John respectively, tasks which the Holy Father entrusted to them in addition to those already assumed.  For its part, the Apostolic Nunciature is always happy to continue its work and to offer the necessary service to facilitate the dialog and the collaboration between the Holy See and the dioceses of Canada.
  24. In fact, we are united by bonds of communion, brotherhood, esteem, and personal friendship. We share the same pastoral and missionary solicitude for the growth of faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, and for the good of the People of God.  I am particularly pleased to be able to express to you my sincere affection and my sharing in your toils and hopes.  I remain united to you in prayer, invoking the light and grace of the Holy Spirit, so that the Church, united to her Lord, may be herself and fulfil the mission that He desires for her.

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