CCCB Hosts Forum for National Catholic Associations

Tuesday, June 25 1996

Ottawa (CCCB) – More than 15 people representing many national Catholic associations attended a weekend forum in Ottawa June 20 and 21 to share with one another and with the Bishops who they are, what their hopes and aspirations for the Church are and to reflect on the many aspects of co-responsibility within the Church.

The Forum was sponsored by the Episcopal Commission for Relations with Associations of Priests, Religious and the Laity. Four bishops attended the forum including Commission Chairman Archbishop James MacDonald of St. John’s; Bishop Jean-Guy Hamelin of Rouyn-Noranda; auxiliary Bishop Jacques Berthelet of St-Jean-Longueuil; and auxiliary Bishop Terrence Prendergast of Toronto.

Mrs. Louise Boisvert of the Conférence canadienne des Instituts séculiers et des associations de vie consacrée séculière (Canadian Conference of Secular Institutes and Associations of Consecrated Secular Life) says the Forum allowed the participants to be made aware on the often ignored fact of secular consecration.

“Too often, unfortunately, this new form of consecrated life is not talked about,” she said. “We are, nevertheless, a sign of the Church in the world. The best service we can do for this secular vocation is to speak about it. Many among the laity are searching for their place in the decision-making levels and various ministries of the Church. They often seem to forget that it is in the very heart of the world that their vocation as baptized people must be lived out. There is a lot of change needed in order to bring this about.”

Mrs. Shirley Scalletta, vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Lay Associations, which is experiencing major recruitment problems, questioned the concept of co-responsibility in the Church.

“We firmly believe that there is a real desire within the Catholic Church in Canada to find ways for the laity to participate. The way to achieve that is still unclear but the vision is there.”

While emphasizing that the laity have as much to do with the mission of the Church as the bishops, Bishop Jean-Guy Hamelin insisted on the sharing of responsibility which is better defined, he said, as co-responsibility.

“The laity is the presence of the Church in the world. This is a role they can fill better than anyone and this takes on major importance. This does not, meanwhile, minimize the responsibilities they must assume in the Church itself.”

Priests and religious communities were also represented at this Forum. Msgr. Michael Buyachok, a Ukrainian Catholic priest and president of the National Federation of Councils of Priests, an association representing 2500 priests in 42 dioceses in English Canada, said that in spite of appearances, priests were living their priesthood with joy and serenity.

“Contrary to the impression portrayed in the media, priests are doing very well. In order to exercise the spiritual works they are called to and truly be men of God, the Church must find ways of freeing priests from administrative tasks that sap their energies and take up the major part of their time.”

According to Sr. Hélène Robitaille, general-secretary of the Canadian Religious Conference, there is an openness of spirit that characterizes the religious world today.

“For too long the religious communities kept their charisms to themselves. The reality is now completely different and they now share, at the same time, their experiences and their charisms with all the people of God. The large number of groups now associated with religious communities is a faithful witness to this.”

The participants, by witnessing during the Forum to the difficulties and the successes of each of their associations, painted a real portrait of the Catholic Church in Canada. The members of the Episcopal Commission will now study the many points raised during the Forum.

“The participants must now return to their associations and report on what transpired here,” said Archbishop MacDonald. “For its part, the Commission must soon make decisions on its future orientations. This Forum was profitable for all those who took part in it. While not being perfect, it was however crowned with success. For my part, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit has not abandoned the Church. We must continue our journey knowing that the Spirit of God is with us.”