Aboriginal Questions Central for First Day of Plenary Assembly of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Friday, September 22 2017

One of the three recipients of the Benemerenti Pontifical Medal, Judge Graydon Nicholas, together with CCCB President Archbishop V. James Weisgerber (right) and the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Ventura.

(Ottawa-CCCB)… Relations between the Catholic Church and Canadian Aboriginal communities were the focus for the opening day of the annual meeting of Catholic Bishops from across Canada. Their meeting will continue until this Friday at the Nav Canada Centre in Cornwall, Ontario, with about 90 Bishops in attendance.

In his opening report on the activities over the past year, Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, already signaled that Aboriginal questions would be a key element of the meeting.

“One of the major aspects about the history of the evangelization of our country is our partnership with the Aboriginal Peoples,” Archbishop Weisgerber stated. “As part of the story of the Paschal Mystery, it too is a history marked by both glory and tears, deeds of generosity and betrayal, the dawning of new light and continuing shadows of darkness. Most of all, it is part of the constant reminder, in the words of Paul, that we are to be ambassadors for Christ and witnesses of reconciliation,” he said, citing Saint Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (chapter 5, verses18 and 20).

Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

The call for reconciliation, after recent years in settling difficult issues from the former Indian Residential Schools, was also highlighted by Mr. Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who spoke to the Bishops just before noon. In a 30-minute address, Chief Fontaine insisted a number of times on the need for rebuilding the relationship between the Catholic Church in Canada with Native Peoples.

“I don’t want to look at the hurts of the past,” he said. “I want to recommit ourselves and to talk about the future. So much in the past was also good and healthy, and we can build on this and learn.” At the same time, he acknowledged, “this will be a difficult journey, because too many Canadians do not believe in us, the Aboriginal Peoples.”

At the end of the day, three Aboriginal Canadians were awarded the Benemerenti Pontifical Medal by the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, in acknowledgement of the work of the Council for Reconciliation, Solidarity and Communion with Aboriginal Peoples. The three members of First Nations communities who were honoured were Mrs Nicole O’Bomsawin from Quebec, Mrs Shirley Leon from British Columbia, and Judge Graydon Nicholas from New Brunswick, who were among the first members to be named by the CCCB to the Aboriginal Council after it was launched 10 years ago.

Canadian Bishops involved in preparations for the next Synod of Bishops on the Word of God: from left to right, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J.; Cardinal Marc Ouellet; Archbishop Anthony Mancini (substitute delegate); Bishop Raymond St-Gelais; Bishop Louis Dicaire (substitute delegate); Bishop Ronald P. Fabbro, C.S.B.; Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak, O.S.B.M.; and Bishop Luc Bouchard.

Other items on the opening day of the Plenary included a review by the Bishops of Canada of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Quebec City earlier this year. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City and head of the organizing committee, said he is convinced there will be a positive impact on all the Church in Canada because of the Eucharistic Congress.  How could it be otherwise, he asked, given the unfathomable riches of the Eucharist? Cardinal Ouellet also proposed a number of ways how the experience of the Congress in Quebec City could assist Canadian dioceses and parishes to continue living the faith experience of the Congress.

A major part of the afternoon of the opening day of the Plenary was also devoted to preparations for the Synod of Bishops on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, which will meet 5-26 October in Rome. The members of the Plenary Assembly shared their observations and suggestions with the six Canadian Bishops who will be participating in the Synod.