Catholic Bishops of Canada Focus on the Apostle Paul

Tuesday, September 23 2008

(CCCB-Ottawa)… As part of the special jubilee year that Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated on 28 June 2008 to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Saint Paul the Apostle, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops spent a major part of the second day of its annual Plenary Assembly reflecting on the person, thinking and texts of this second “pillar of the Church”, the other being Saint Peter the Apostle.

Two leading biblical scholars addressed the 90 Bishops present for the meeting. Following their presentations, Father Scott Lewis, S.J., from Regis College of the University of Toronto, and Father Michel Gourgues, O.P., from the Dominican University College in Ottawa, responded to comments and questions.

Father Scott Lewis, S.J., (right) with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J.

Father Lewis described the various historical perceptions there have been of Saint Paul. These views are often contradictory, he said, for Saint Paul was a “complex and at times enigmatic man” who “seldom generates a neutral response in people.” Adding that “Paul was a maverick and innovator, a man of vision and purpose,” Father Lewis explained that Paul “would not tolerate artificial boundaries to God’s saving power and love.” He had “an uncanny ability to see the big picture and to draw out implications,” the Jesuit biblical scholar said.

Father Michel Gourgues pointed out there were “grey zones” about what is known of the life of Saint Paul and how to understand the New Testament writings that bear his name. We do not know for sure what year Paul was born, what he did before his conversion nor how he died, Father Gourgues said. Noting that three Pauline pastoral letters — the First and Second Epistles to Timothy and the Epistle to Titus — appear to have been written at least in part by disciples of Paul, Father Gourgues focused especially on the second letter to Timothy. The Dominican biblical scholar said he was convinced this letter provides an authentic description of how Paul saw his own life and his apostolic mission were coming to an end.

Father Michel Gourgues, O.P., (left) with Bishop François Lapierre, P.M.É.

Later in the day, the Bishops received reports on the development work and emergency aid provided over the past year by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. One of the projects noted by Most Reverend Luc Cyr, Bishop of Valleyfield and a member for the past six years of the National Council for Development and Peace, had been in collaboration with Caritas Zambia. As a member of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Development and Peace had been able to assist more than 24,000 of the most vulnerable people in Zambia following torrential rains and flash floods. In addition, Bishop Cyr described the impact of a fall 2007 project concerning the social responsibilities of Canadian mining companies. The Development and Peace campaign had urged the Government of Canada to deliver on its commitment to act on the findings of nationwide consultations on the responsibilities of Canadian mining, oil and gas companies in their overseas operations. The Development and Peace report also indicated that over its 2007-2008 fiscal year it had invested almost $16 million in international development aid and emergency programs.

The Plenary Assembly received as well the annual report of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), including a description of its upcoming projects. Bishop Jean Gagnon, Chair of the COLF Board, reminded the Bishops present there would be a second national symposium on the theology of the body, this time to be offered in French in early November. He also indicated how COLF assists the Church in Canada in ongoing public debates about respect for life, from conception to natural death.

A third report received by the Plenary Assembly concerned the activities of the Catholic Aboriginal Council. Bishop Albert LeGatt, Bishop of Saskatoon, pointed out how his past six years as a member of the Aboriginal Council had reminded him of the great importance of individual relationships in rebuilding collaboration and trust between Aboriginal Peoples and the Church.