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

Sunday, September 18 2005

Dear brothers in the episcopate,

I am happy to meet with you once again on the occasion of your annual Plenary Assembly.  The different events that punctuate the ecclesial life allow me of course to meet with one or another or a few of you in your own dioceses; nevertheless, this annual meeting constitutes by itself a unique moment of grace, since it allows us to meet together, to live concretely the Episcopal communion between the bishops, and with the Holy Father.  My presence may in fact be the expression of your unity with him and, at the same time, the assurance of his proximity, his participation, and his prayer.

The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops describes the purpose of the Episcopal Conference: “The role of the Episcopal Conference has grown in importance in recent years.  In manifold and fruitful ways, the Conference contributes to the realization and development of the spirit of collegiality (affectus collegialis) among members of the same Episcopate.  Through the Conference, the Bishops fulfil certain pastoral functions jointly for the faithful of their territory. Such action corresponds to the need, particularly evident today, for Bishops to provide for the common good of particular Churches through an agreed and well coordinated policy” (n. 28).

I am particularly grateful to you for the warm and friendly welcome that I receive from you and this indicates a beautiful brotherly spirit within the Church; I look to correspond to this spirit together with my collaborators who assist in the work of the Apostolic Nunciature, desiring to accompany and support your pastoral ministry. This year, Father Robert Ryan from the Archdiocese of St. John’s joins our small team; I thank Archbishop O’Brien who has offered us the availability of one of his priests.

Dear Archbishop O’Brien, I thank you for your welcoming words.  At this time, as you are completing your mandate as President of the Episcopal Conference, I wish to express to you all my gratitude for the work that you have accomplished in the service of the Church in this country, and for the dialogue that you fostered with the Episcopal Conferences of other countries and with the Holy See.  I am cognizant of the assistance and brotherly links that you, and as well, Msgr. Paquette, General Secretary, and the staff of the Conference have maintained with the Apostolic Nunciature in a confident spirit of collaboration.

1. In this spirit of communion, I would want to recall some important events within the life of the Church in Canada that have been the object of your pastoral concern since your last Plenary Assembly in October of 2004. First of all, we cannot pass in silence without commenting upon the death on April 2nd, of the greatly mourned Pope John Paul II; he introduced the Church into the third millennium of her existence; he guided her with the spirit of the prophets and the force of the Gospel that he announced with love and passion.

Several among us, especially those who became bishops under his pontificate, keep living remembrances of their personal encounters with him. More than his luminous teaching, his indefectible engagement for the Gospel, the whole defence of life, dignity and basic human rights, his prophetic actions, his personal testimony deeply touched the hearts of the people of all races, languages and even religions.  In a special manner, during the last weeks of his existence, he proclaimed until the end (John 13.1) the value of human life, even in its last phases.

2. I want to thank you once more for the initiatives taken everywhere in the country on the occasion of the death of Pope John Paul II.  I thank, in particular, the CCCB for its various realizations in this regard: imposing banners, remembrance pictures, special prayers and available information on your website. I thank you also for the numerous testimonies and expressions of sympathy transmitted to the Nunciature, as well as for the liturgical celebrations that took place within your dioceses.

All these gestures and activities illustrate well the devotion of Catholics in Canada to the Pope and to his ministry and, I would say, even from non-Catholics.  For more than three months in fact, every day or almost, books of condolences arrived at the Nunciature, with hundreds of signatures and messages, from dioceses, parishes, schools, civil and religious authorities.

3. We followed with spiritual participation, and with a great interest, the process of the election of the successor of Peter, the new Bishop of Rome.  We express the deepest thanks to the College of Cardinals who contributed to give to the Church our new Holy Father, among them Their Eminences the Canadian Cardinals Ouellet, Turcotte and Ambrozic.

4. Pope Benedict XVI has already surprised more people by his personality and the quality of his interventions.  Thus, during this past World Youth Day, in addresses that were both deep and simple, he knew how to express his great love for Christ and called youth from all over the world to look for Jesus so as to adore him, and to place him in the centre of their lives as their Lord. We all know the devotion that the young cultivated towards Pope John Paul.  Pope Benedict has already received, in his own style, this inheritance, in a privileged affection for the young who have returned that affection to him also.

5. According to the large number of young Canadians (7,000) who participated in the World Youth Day at Cologne this past August, it is necessary to note that the Toronto World Youth Day in 2002 gave fruit that already has stimulated our hope and our ministry.  The Catholic Church in Canada has invested a lot and can count on the presence and the engagement of many young people to assure her radiance; much has been accomplished in the last years in the pastoral ministry to the young; we can only continue these efforts to ensure that the young become active subjects within the life of the Church, with their vitality and dynamism.

In this regard, events such as the Youth Forum organized by the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Quebec last February brought together 40 young women and men coming from all the dioceses of Quebec, and this year several dioceses will undertake a similar Forum.  In this respect, I think that the addresses of the Holy Father and the catechesis that a few of you gave during World Youth Day in Cologne constitute a precious resource that opens the ways of hope.

6. One discovers always the great wealth of participation and active engagement of men and women in the life and mission of the Church; this is a blessing, to witness to the flourishing of the baptismal vocation. Nevertheless, the ministry of the ordained priest remains irreplaceable; statistics reveal that the average age of priests is rather high, as well as a decrease in their number over the next years. Consequently, the fostering of vocations must be fundamental for each diocese. While visiting the seminaries, I have observed that several seminarians in the last years attribute the maturation of their vocation to the experience of participating in faith groups and, in particular, in various World Youth Days: Denver, Paris, Rome, Toronto.  Maybe there is here an advisable way for the Church.

7. Two years ago, Pope John Paul had announced that the next Synod of Bishops, to take place next month, would centre on the theme of the Eucharist.  Pope Benedict will now preside over the Synod which will also bring to a close, this year devoted to the Eucharist.

The program of your Assembly puts in relief a special attention that will be granted to the interventions of the Canadian Bishops who will be participating in the Synod. It is indeed true what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his Meditations on the Way of the Cross used in Rome this past Good Friday: “The Lord put himself back in our hands and in our hearts, so that his word can grow in us and bear fruit.”  Since the Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church, we will accompany the Synodal Fathers by our prayer to the Lord-who-is-with-us, so that, from these experiences of communion and sharing, may come abundant blessings, graces and energies for the Church.

8. Several meetings took place to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the publication of its different documents.  Last November, for example, under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, His Excellency Archbishop André Gaumond participated in a gathering to study once again the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio. Similar assemblies took place regarding Perfectae caritatisPresbyterorum ordinisNostra aetateDei verbum, etc.

These meetings did not only evoke the anniversary of the promulgation of a text, but provided the opportunity to draw again from these authentic sources of inspiration, helping the Church to follow fully her mission to the heart of the modern world, to assume “the joys and hopes, sorrows and anguish of men, of all those who suffer (Gaudium et Spes, 1) and to bring to them “Christ, light of the nations… the light that shines on the face of the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 1). The conciliar texts have a great wealth to offer us today. They are, in effect, the road that the Spirit indicates for the Church.

9. This year, the Bishops of Canada welcomed four new and young colleagues to their ranks, bishops who will bring a new energy to the Church and to the Episcopal Conference; they are presently in Rome, participating in sessions specifically organized for the Bishops of the world recently ordained. Today, they met with the Holy Father who, among other things, made reference to the Compendium of the Catechism, in the following words: “During the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, I presented to the Church the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a summary of the complete Catechism. Today, symbolically, I give each of you these two fundamental documents of the Church’s faith, that they may be a point of reference in your teaching and a sign of our communion of faith.”

On the other hand, we have received with sadness the news of the health difficulties of other colleagues, particularly Archbishop Arthé Guimond and Archbishop Raymond Roussin; we assure them of our prayer and of our wishes for their prompt recuperation.

 10. The ad limina visit is foreseen for 2006. During my last visit to Rome, the Prefecture of the Pontifical House indicated to me that the dates for the visits have been unofficially entered in the diary being prepared, in the spring (April 24 to May 7) for the Assemblée des  évêques catholiques du Québec and the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly, and in the Autumn (September 25 to October 6) for the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Western Catholic Conference.  I transmitted the new suggestions of the Atlantic and Western Conferences to Archbishop Harvey, and as soon as I have news regarding this matter, I will immediately communicate it to you.

It would be useful that the quinquennial reports be transmitted to the Nunciature at the beginning of the year in order that the different Dicasteries be able to prepare opportunely for the meetings with the Bishops.  The ad limina visit will have a special aspect this year: the Bishops of Canada will meet officially for the first time with His Holiness Pope Benedict, whom several Bishops knew when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

11. During your Assembly, you will undertake a deep reflection concerning the structures of your Conference. This is a necessary work to make these structures always more functional and more adapted to the heavy responsibility that weighs upon the Episcopal ministry.  A lot has been done already; still more remains to be carried out but the progress is good and I congratulate you.

12. For some time and particularly during the past year, you have given a lot of attention to the controversial and difficult debate on marriage.  At the national level, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada and, at the regional level, various Episcopal assemblies and diocesan bishops have made numerous interventions.

I have already transmitted to Archbishop O’Brien the congratulations and the appreciation of Cardinal Sodano as well as the heads of several Dicasteries for your courageous and clear defence of the family which is the basis of society, culture and religious patrimony of all peoples, of all times.  In keeping with your duty of pastoral care, you have participated, not without difficulty, in the public debate proper to a democratic society, not only as the voice of the Church, but as the voice of reason seeking the common good. The new legislation now requires of the Church to illuminate the faithful, and to form and accompany Christian families.

13. For many years, the Episcopal Conference has given its attention to the difficult questions concerning sexual abuse carried out by members of the clergy. Justice, truth and charity require reparation, correction, understanding and prevention with the adoption of all the necessary measures. We look forward to the day when all of this will be resolved, not only to be free from a heavy weight, but in order to invest all our energies and resources in the announcement of the Gospel.

14. Lights and shadows have always accompanied the history of the Church on account of the persons who are her members.  Obscurity comes from infidelity and sin; the light comes from holiness and grace as we well know. Pope Benedict reminded young Catholics of the parable of the net, collecting good and bad fish.

I would want to conclude my words by sharing with you the prayer that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for the 9th Station of the Way of the Cross, celebrated at the Coliseum in Rome this year:

Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side.  In your field we see more weeds than wheat.  The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion.  Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them!  It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall.  When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered.  But you will rise again.  You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up.  Save and sanctify your Church.  Save and sanctify us all.

As Bishops, together and personally, our task is to help the Lord and his Church arise, to witness that he is risen. Our ministry calls us to sow the optimism which comes from faith, in a word, hope.

15. Finally, I would like to renew my lively thanks to Archbishop O’Brien as his mandate as President comes to an end. I offer equally to Archbishop Gaumond my best wishes as he assumes this Presidency for the next two years.

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