Message of Welcome to the 2015 Plenary Assembly by the President of the CCCBMonday, September 14 2015
Dear brother Bishops and special guests,
Welcome to the 2015 Plenary Assembly! It gives me personal pleasure to welcome you (back!) to Cornwall, Ontario, where the CCCB held its Plenary sessions from 1999 to 2011. I trust the renovated facilities and the pleasant, open grounds next to the beautiful Saint Lawrence River will be conducive to fraternal life and a fruitful meeting.
We will have the occasion to follow the Saint. Lawrence down to Montreal this week where we will gather at Saint Joseph’s Oratory with consecrated men and women and lay members of the Church to mark the Year of Consecrated Life. There, we will offer a Mass of Thanksgiving and entrust to God the future shape of this essential charism for the Church in Canada.
Another moment of celebration during our Plenary will give us occasion to mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, and in particular the publication of Nostra Aetate, its Declaration on relations with non-Christian religions. The CCCB recently issued a text specifically on dialogue with Muslims. During this Plenary, we will also take time to reflect on our dialogue with Jews, our “older brothers” in the faith, and also with Hindus.
Gaudium et Spes was also published 50 years ago, and its chapter on family life continues to echo across the years, particularly as we engage further with the creative process of the double meeting of the Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis. As our delegates prepare to travel to Rome in October, we will take time to listen to their proposed interventions and reflect with them on our hopes for this most important event in our Church’s life.
Looking not down but across the Saint Lawrence, we see the Island of Akwesasne, where a thriving Mohawk community lives. This proximity underscores the importance of the time we will consecrate to the recent conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the publication of its Calls to Action. Though the CCCB was not involved in running residential schools, we recognize this moment as a true kairos in which the future relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the rest of Canada needs to be rearticulated and founded anew. We will take time to reflect together on the impact of this Commission and on the ways we, as a Conference, can help implement its Calls to Action.
Traditional native spirituality emphasizes respect for Creation. Pope Francis’ own concern for creation has taken shape in his remarkable encyclical, Laudato Si’. Though the limited time we have together will not allow us to explore his letter, I know we all take to heart this new development of the Church’s social doctrine as we learn to understand the interplay between physical and human ecology. This is a papal document which calls for ongoing study and implementation, a challenge for the CCCB in the years to come.
We will have time, however, to focus on another of our Pope’s continuing concerns: to create safe environments in the Church and to improve our response when problems are brought to our attention. We share the Pope’s concern: this explains our decision to review the seminal document From Pain to Hope, published by the CCCB already 23 years ago. We will receive an interim report from the ad hoc committee to which this task was entrusted and share our insights as we gather our best practices into a guide for all our diocesan Churches.
If this latter development is for us a cause of hope, the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down the articles in the Criminal Code that prohibited active euthanasia and assisted suicide is for us a deep cause of worry and concern. The millennial wisdom of the Church compels us to see in this decision a radical shift that can inflect our society in a direction that disparages old age, disease and disability. We will take time to seek together how best to respond to the challenges this decision raises not only for Christians but for all Canadian citizens.
Finally, among the many reports concerning the inner life of our Conference and its many Commissions, committees and working groups, we will be invited to endorse a change in the way we collectively finance the CCCB, a change that is meant to foster a greater sense of justice and partnership for all the members of our Conference.
We have a busy week ahead of us. All the more reason to invoke the blessings of God, Father, Son and Spirit, as we undertake to respond together to the mission of bringing the Joy of the Gospel to our marvelous, frustrating, hurting, hopeful world.
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops