Address of His Excellency Most Reverend Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio, to the CCCB Plenary AssemblyMonday, October 27 2003
First of all, I wish to express my joy to meet with you, brothers Bishops of Canada, gathered for your annual Plenary Assembly. I desire also to express my gratitude for the welcome you gave me at the beginning of your meeting and for the fraternal encounter that will take place in a few moments. I would like also to echo the cordial and brotherly greetings that the Holy Father addressed to the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops present this past 16 October in Rome, the day of the 25th anniversary of his election, on the occasion of the signing and promulgation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, the text of which you already know. In this circumstance, the Pope said: “Venerable Brothers, may my affection reach out to the entire Episcopal College, which reflects the universality and unity of the pilgrim People of God in the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 22). I extend my greeting to all the particular Churches and their members: priests, deacons, consecrated persons and lay faithful.”
1. I know that this Apostolic Exhortation will be read, deeply studied and reflected on during your Assembly. While presenting this imposing document of 200 pages, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, synthesized it in four key words: “hope, service, mission and communion”. By way of introduction, allow me briefly to underline these four thematic paths.
The Bishop is called to be a prophet, witness and servant of hope. The hope for which he must give reason is centred on Christ; to Christ, he must be a faithful servant, a vigilant sentinel, a courageous prophet, and a credible witness, in order to revive faith and charity in an historical context which has seen the downfall of many human hopes.
While evoking the threefold task of teaching, sanctifying and governing, the Holy Father equally underlines the Bishop’s task of evangelization, and the authorized and authentic service he must offer as teacher of the faith and herald of the Word.
With confidence and apostolic courage, the Bishop is called to announce to the world Jesus Christ, the Saviour of humanity. As a missionary of the Gospel, he must unmask false anthropologies, recover values contaminated by ideologies, discern and proclaim the truth. In this context, he is to work for justice and peace and, in dialogue with world religions, to promote the globalization of charity.
The Holy Father also emphasizes the collegial dimension of the Episcopate, one of the cardinal points of Vatican II, which finds in Pastores Gregis its mature fruit. This collegial character finds its depth in the being of every Bishop and belongs to the structure of the Church as desired by Christ. It shatters an individualistic conception of the Episcopal ministry by affirming that the Bishop is never alone, for he is always in hierarchical communion with his brothers in the Episcopate and the Successor of Saint Peter.
This collegiality is described in its affective dimension – affirmed for instance by the Synod of Bishops, the Episcopal Conferences, the Roman Curia, and through missionary collaboration – and its effective dimension – in the ecumenical Councils and the joint action of the Bishops, in union with the Pope.
Related to Episcopal collegiality is the communion of the Churches (n. 55-65); communion also expresses itself at the local level by the Bishop in hierarchical relation with the Roman Pontiff and in the Episcopal brotherhood. In this regard, the importance and utility of the Episcopal Conference is obvious; the revitalization of ecclesiastical provinces and of the role of the Metropolitan is also desirable for common pastoral work among dioceses. One should again propose to improve relations of solidarity between young dioceses and those of an ancient tradition, through twinning and through the communication of experience, pastoral agents and economic assistance.
I take this opportunity to reflect on the Apostolic Exhortation in order to underline by my presence, at the beginning of your Plenary Assembly, this dimension of affective communion with the Holy Father, illustrated still more during his Jubilee anniversary. After two years among you, I know, and I could say I feel, this deep link that unites the Canadian Bishops among themselves and with the Holy Father.
2. I take advantage of this circumstance to thank you in his name for the numerous expressions of affection and loyalty, which were sent to him for the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate. You also had the sensitivity to change the date of your Assembly in order to encourage participation in the festivities in Rome, which were extended for the Consistory in which the Most Reverend Marc Ouellet became a member of the College of Cardinals; I warmly congratulate him.
3. On Sunday, 19 October, I celebrated a solemn Mass in the Cathedral of Ottawa, bearing in my prayer all the dioceses of Canada, remembering the numerous expressions of fondness toward the Holy Father, witnessed on the occasion of visits and meetings which I had in various ecclesial communities since my arrival in this country.
4. Today, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the President of your Conference, His Excellency the Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, for the kind words which he has addressed to me. I thank him from my heart for the intelligent and luminous, wise and dynamic service that as President he has given to the Bishops and to the Church of Canada. I consider it a blessing to have had him at my side during these first two years of my mission, an elder brother with whom I could frankly, freely and confidently share the same desire to better serve this local Church, in union with the Apostolic See. I renew to him my gratitude for the work accomplished during his mandate, in the certitude that the same spirit of collaboration animates also his successor, His Excellency the Most Reverend Brendan O’Brien; I offer him my most sincere congratulations and my best wishes in his new role as President of your Conference.
5. I follow, as much as possible, the life of your Churches through the coverage provided by diocesan publications. I note the considerable work and generous involvement of the different members comprising ecclesial life, in situations which are not always easy, with a pastoral staff decreasing in numbers. I admire the enthusiasm of the ministers and the faithful who desire to witness to the Gospel.
6. I now would like to speak about certain points of Canadian ecclesial life which, without exhausting all activities and apostolic engagement, nevertheless deserve special attention. It is consoling to note how the spirit of Pastores Gregis, which I tried to describe above, is to a large degree already present in the Bishops of this local Church.
7. First of all, I return to World Youth Day 2002 and the benefits that it has produced in the lives of young people and the Church. I know the burden undertaken by the dioceses and I wish to congratulate you for the amazing work of eradicating so quickly the substantial World Youth Day debt. You faced unprecedented difficulties in organizing this World Youth Day and you found the strength to solve an extraordinary problem. This outlay of money is not a failure, but an investment of witness and hope in the future of the young people of this country.
8. On another issue of great concern – the Government decision to move toward changing the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex unions – you provided strong leadership to your people. The documents you produced, especially the one by the Permanent Council, were both strong and incisive and did much to enlighten public opinion. The Holy See, which I kept informed concerning this issue, was very pleased by the nature of your interventions, always placing Church doctrine in a sensible and clear light and showing the relevance of the Magisterium and the teachings of the Holy Father.
9. On the matter of the Northern dioceses, I am happy to note that specific pastoral planning relating to the entire region is underway. These vast regions of your country must be seen as a special challenge for all the dioceses in Southern Canada. Financial and personnel support should be organized, not as a response to an emergency, but rather as an ongoing policy of Church life. In my view, this matter should be seen as a priority, if we do not wish to be surprised by an emergency. The Apostolic Nunciature and the Holy See, in conjunction with the Bishops concerned, are happy to collaborate in seeking new answers to new situations.
10. The Vocations Congress held in Montreal last year provides another area of challenge, and must be used to provide for this essential aspect of the life of the Church. The new evangelization so dear to the heart of the Holy Father risks being a static reality if the human resources needed to bring sacraments to the People of God are insufficient. The generosity of young people was in evidence during the World Youth Day in Toronto and such evidence is also found among the young people in your dioceses. They need to be fortified with courage suited to their idealism.
11. You have established a National Episcopal Committee to draw up long-range plans for Youth and for Vocations. This is most important. I hope that the necessary mechanisms will be established so that your leadership in these areas will be effective. There is no doubt that the fundamental projects for ministry to young people and the fostering of vocations occur at the diocesan level. However, experience shows that such endeavours require specialized resources and training facilities. Ongoing leadership at the Conference level and at the regional level may well be needed. I express my wish that the plans of your Committee would be received with suitable support.
12. In the area of policies to address abuse of minors by ordained ministers, your Conference has been at the forefront. Indeed, in the early ’90s you were one of the first Episcopal Conferences to publish guidelines which still stand up today. However in a very significant step, you have decided to revisit the subject and have established a Task Force with a mandate to provide all Bishops with the resources they need to establish diocesan environments where the safety of all vulnerable individuals is assured. In this matter we all benefit from transparency and healthy accountability; without a doubt, the manner in which you are dealing with the issue deserves sincere appreciation.
13. Your President, Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V., has been particularly vigorous in bringing to the attention of the Government in Ottawa a number of issues about which the Holy See has deep concerns, specifically in matters of life and peace. I am thinking in particular about the Holy Land, the conflict in Iraq and the many problems with globalization and human cloning. The support and action of the Conference have been deeply appreciated. I witnessed some of the expertise that you bring to international issues when I attended the Meeting of the Bishops of America, which the Conference hosted in Quebec City early this year. Your presentations around the themes of culture and globalization were seminal in nature and they moved the understanding of the subject forward significantly.
14. Another matter wherein you have done important work through your Episcopal Commissions and your Executive Committee relates to the renewal of the two mixed international liturgical commissions serving your Conference, ICEL and CIFTL. Canadian collaboration in both areas has been very valuable. Similarly, you continue your work regarding the recognition of several liturgical documents. Your expertise in these matters is precious, in the required dialogue between the local Church and the Roman dicasteries.
15. At a time when the number of ordained ministers is low, there is the danger of forgetting the continuous imperative to strive for ongoing formation. It is important to encourage your priests to continue their studies and provide them with opportunities for sabbatical studies and renewal, as much as possible. The challenge of modern life calls for ordained ministers who can teach Church doctrine and respond to the need for the evangelization of all people. Also in this matter, a clear vision of the future is necessary for justifying a temporary sacrifice now.
16. Related to this last consideration is the desired presence of Canadians in the Curial offices in Rome. Your particular insights would be very useful for the whole universal Church; such a contribution would also help in the perception of the local Church in its link with the entire Church. I have no power of decision as you know, but be assured that in this matter I am a convinced advocate.
17. May I also share with you a personal concern. Of the many tasks that an Apostolic Nuncio has to accomplish, one of the most important is the work regarding the appointment of Bishops. Good Episcopal candidates are a gift of God but he asks for our human collaboration in preparing them, as you must realize from your own personal experience. The eye of the Bishop who is thinking of the future leadership of the Church should provide talented priests – through well thought-out assignments and differing responsibilities – with the experience that will help prepare good men in the Apostolic succession.
18. At this point, I am pleased to note that the call of the Holy Father in his Post-Synodal Exhortation for the globalization of charity has already been heard by your Conference. I refer here in particular to the fraternal relationship and solidarity with the Bishops and Church of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, exemplified by the recent visit to Canada of a delegation from the Congo National Episcopal Conference. They asked for Canada’s support in healing the wounds of a long and dreadful civil war and building ways to a final peace. As they said in their presentation, “the Catholic Church has opted to mobilize the people in support of free and democratic elections, …convinced that the fundamental root in the crises lies in the absence of the rule of law. The Church also expects to become involved in the process of reconciliation and in the struggle against impunity … of those who pillaged the resources of the Congo.”
19. Finally, the Church in Canada has its particular contribution to offer to the universal Church. In a world where divergence and conflict are quasi-normal, you have helped to make your multiculturalism and your bilingualism a source of mutual enrichment, which is unity in freedom, charity in diversity, plurality in fidelity.
20. I began my intervention by remembering the definition of a Bishop that the Holy Father has given: prophet, witness, servant of hope. In the same spirit, I would like to conclude my remarks with some words from a ceremony marking a Bishop’s taking possession of a diocese last June: “We must ‘give reason for our hope’ (1 Peter 3.15); we must be witnesses of hope. The Gospel reminds and assures us of this hope: in the field that is the world grow both goodness and evil, but only at the end will the weeds be thrown into the fire.”
21. “The Kingdom of God,” Jesus said to his disciples, “is already among you” (Luke 17.21). The Kingdom is the seed hidden in history, which leavens it like yeast and brings it to fulfillment. We are called to wait with vigilance, and to toil in the fields, as Saint James tells us in his letter: “Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5.7-8).