Address of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Pedro López Quintana, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada

Thursday, October 28 2010

Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB)

October 25, 2010

Dear brothers in the Episcopate,

It is with great joy that I find myself here today, on this first day of your Plenary Meeting. This Assembly is a particularly significant moment in the exercise of your Episcopal ministry, as you gather to respond to the many challenges facing the Church in this present time, as they have in the two-thousand-year history of the Church. It is imperative that we gather together, to share our experiences and our hopes, like the early Christian Community who were of “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32), in accordance with the prayer of Jesus himself: “May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” (John 17:21)

1. I thank His Excellency Bishop Pierre Morissette for his kind words of welcome. I also wish to thank Msgr. Patrick Powers, General Secretary, as also the Staff of the Conference for the eager cooperation they provide to the Apostolic Nunciature.

2. Since arriving in Canada last February, I have had the opportunity of meeting most of you in your regional assemblies (Quebec, Ontario, Western and Atlantic). We were able to get acquainted and engage in fraternal relations, fundamental to our respective missions. I also had the privilege of participating in some specific events in different dioceses throughout the country, thereby enabling me to discover a little of the ecclesial life across Canada.

3. Last July, with other members of the Diplomatic Corps in Canada, I visited the Canadian High Arctic. In particular, I visited Northern Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. I was impressed by the vastness and beauty of the territories through which we travelled, the difficult living conditions and, especially, the ingenuity of the people who live there. I was able to see firsthand, the difficult and challenging conditions in which we must carry out our mission. I am fully convinced of the need to look for ways not only to maintain our presence, but to make it more dynamic and active.

4. As you know, before coming here, I lived ten years in India, first as Counsellor and then as Apostolic Nuncio. Indeed, Canada is a profoundly different country: a small population and a vast territory; a harsh climate in regions and, in various places, different flora and fauna. But I am sure that my previous experience will be of great help to my mission in your country, even by way of contrast.

When I arrived here today, you were talking about the situation facing Islam. I too have experienced the reality of Islam — in India — which is different to the Islam we know in other countries, as it is Sufi Islam.  The Church in India, and I myself, have had the opportunity to enjoy a profound dialogue and deep working relations collaborating with Islam.

5. The North American context is, in many ways, profoundly similar to that of Europe, characterized by pluralism, consumerism and in some sectors religious indifferentism. This last aspect seems typical; whereas in India religion permeates almost every facet of daily life, in the Western world, society tends to relegate it to the purely private realm. Yet Christianity has indelibly marked our culture. In India, the Catholic population is around 18 million people, which is numerically higher than in Canada. Proportionately, however, it represents only 1.8 percent of the entire Indian population. But while this may seem negligible, the vitality of the Church and its presence even in a country like India is in fact, an important component of Indian life. In my humble opinion, it seems that Canadian Catholics can continue contributing significantly to the building up of their country as they have, from the beginning.

6. As representative of the Holy Father in this country, let me address some aspects of his recent Magisterium. One cannot help but be impressed by the tremendous work carried out by our Holy Father, as a glance at his schedule shows in the number of his activities:  audiences, pastoral journeys, celebrations, and documents. During the Wednesday General Audiences the Holy Father has presented portraits of female figures within the history of the Church: Saint Gertrude, Saint Matilda, Saint Hildegard and so forth.

7. The Pope, despite his age, has made this past year, a number of important apostolic journeys outside Italy: Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and, most recently, the United Kingdom. This latter journey received outstanding media coverage with a number providing in advance, exceptional opposition to the Pope and predicting a monumental failure of his visit. Yet the response of faithful Catholics and the general population was quite different from that expected: the United Kingdom welcomed the Holy Father. The pastoral visit offered, once again, an outstanding education that many have learned to appreciate and discover, excluding reductionist or sensationalist reactions. Let me note in particular the speech to politicians in Westminster Hall, and the presentation of the figure of Blessed John Henry Newman.

8. In the next month of November, the Holy Father will travel to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, in the context of the Jubilee Year of Saint James. I know that many pilgrims walk the paths leading to Santiago, and many lived a deep spiritual experience through this encounter with themselves, other pilgrims and the Word of God.

9. The Synod on the Middle East is also a deeply significant event for the life of the Church. The decline of the Christian presence in countries that have witnessed the birth of Christianity is of great concern. In his homily at the opening of the Synod, the Pope said: “In these lands the one Church of Christ is expressed in the variety of liturgical traditions, spiritual, cultural and disciplinary …. While unable to ignore the delicate and sometimes dramatic social and political situation of some countries, the Pastors of the Church in the East want to concentrate on specific aspects of their mission …. and to strengthen their Christian identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments” (October 10, 2010). It is vital that we work together in mutual respect for the different peoples that make up these countries.  In this context, dialogue with Islam is inevitable. I am pleased that this element is also included in your agenda.

10. The Holy Father also made a pioneering contribution in the creation of a new Dicastery, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, placed under the direction of Archbishop Rino Fisichella. Furthering the intuition of the Servant of God John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI remains deeply concerned about the need for a renewed evangelization among the populations of ancient Christianity (Europe and America). This office, whose constitution was presented on October 12, serves not only to educate the faithful to the urgency of this challenge, but also to offer resources in this regard.

11. The Church in Canada welcomed the canonization of Brother André on October 17. This humble religious exercises an extraordinary influence that continues to have its effects on present-day generations, as the great number of pilgrims to the Oratory so clearly illustrates. I myself will attend the Mass of Thanksgiving at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal this coming Saturday, October 30.

12. Last summer, a number of celebrations took place to mark the fourth centenary of the Baptism of Grand Chief Henri Membertou. In this regard, the Holy Father kindly sent a personal representative, His Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, then Archbishop of Quebec, and also Msgr. Luca Lorusso, Counsellor of the Apostolic Nunciature. The delegation attended the culminating celebrations that took place on Chapel Island. Personally, I was particularly pleased to be able to participate in the ceremonies that took place at Port Royal and in Halifax to mark this important anniversary.

13. The appointment of Cardinal Marc Ouellet as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America shows the confidence the Holy Father has for him. Through Cardinal Ouellet, the Church in Canada offers a fundamental contribution to the ministry of Peter.

14. Among upcoming events, I note World Youth Day 2011 which is taking place in Madrid. I know that many dioceses have undertaken preparations for these important days within the life of the Church.

15. As you know, many challenges remain. In particular, the Episcopal Sees to be provided for in Quebec; the year 2011 in fact will be marked by changes that will affect the episcopate in that province.

16. Other themes will continue to be the object of our concern: the transmission of the faith, euthanasia, the right to life and the protection of the unborn, family life, education and so forth.

17. While the Apostolic Nunciature continues its proper work of serving and strengthening the relationship and communion between the Church universal and the local Churches, I wish to reiterate my willingness to meet with you and to assist you as best I can. I want each of you to know that you will always be welcome at the Nunciature.

18. I also wish to report a change of personnel. As many of you already know, Msgr. Serge Poitras, French Secretary since May 2000, was called by Cardinal Ouellet to help the Congregation for Bishops, and I am currently looking for someone to succeed him in the service he rendered the Nunciature.

19. Finally, I wish to offer you a word of encouragement so that you will continue to proclaim the Good News tirelessly, without fear, without conditions of any kind and without compromise. Let me do so by recalling the words that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI addressed to the Bishops from the Northern and North-Western regions of Brazil during the course of their Ad Limina visit this past October 4: “At times people make this objection to us, to impose a truth, even a Gospel truth, to impose a way, even salvation, can only offend religious freedom. I would like here to repeat Pope Paul VI relevant and illuminating answer: ‘It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents- “without coercion, or dishonourable or unworthy pressure” – far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty, which is offered the choice of a way that even non-believers consider noble and uplifting…. The respectful presentation of Christ and His kingdom is more than the evangelizer’s right; it is his duty. It is likewise the right of his fellow men to receive from him the proclamation of the Good News of salvation.’ (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 80).”

Before I finish, I wish to say a word of sympathy and neighbourliness for our brother Bishop David Monroe, since he has been in hospital since Friday. I heard this morning from the Diocese of Kamloops that his situation is improving, but for the moment he cannot receive visitors because of his serious situation. While we are all together, let us remember him in brotherhood and sympathy, hoping that he will very quickly recover.