Report of the CCCB President

Monday, October 25 2010

My brother Bishops, guests, and members of the staff:

Ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum.” With these words from the Gospel of Luke (2.10), according to the Vulgate translation, the angel announced the birth of Our Lord. “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.” The same formula has been adapted by the Church over the centuries for various joyful announcements. In our particular case today, perhaps I should say “gaudia magna”. There are several joys we celebrate as we begin our Plenary Assembly this year.

1. Celebrating the joys

There is the joy of the canonization of Saint Brother André, which many of us will be celebrating in a special way on Saturday with thousands of other Catholics in Montreal. There is the joy of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which officially concluded yesterday.

With respect to the canonization of Saint Brother André, I wish to thank Bishop Martin Veillette, President of the Assembly of Québec Catholic Bishops, for agreeing that the Quebec Assembly co-host with our Conference the wonderful reception that was held at the Pontifical Canadian College. I also want to take this moment to offer special congratulations to the Most Reverend André Richard, Archbishop of Moncton, and to the Most Reverend James H. MacDonald, Archbishop emeritus of Saint John’s, both members of the same religious family as Brother André, the Congregation of the Holy Cross. We owe a great thank you to the Rector of the Pontifical Canadian College, Father Éric Sylvestre, P.S.S., for his help in organizing the reception and assisting the 5,000 Canadian pilgrims who were in Rome for the canonization. We also could not have managed without the expert help of Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., President and CEO of the Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, who was our media liaison for the event. This meant his having to deal in Rome with nearly 60 media calls, requests and interviews from all over Canada.

At our celebration on Saturday, each of us who are going to Montreal will have the opportunity to congratulate and thank the representatives of St. Joseph Oratory for their efforts in highlighting the importance of the canonization of Saint Brother André. The significance of this event is also being marked at our Plenary Assembly by the release of a pastoral letter on popular piety and devotion, prepared by our Commission for Doctrine. As I have noted in my remarks at the Pontifical Canadian College, Brother André helps us all to focus on the fundamental importance of ordinary men and women in sustaining the faith of the whole Church. It seems to me most providential that Brother André is canonized while Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte is Archbishop of Montreal. Cardinal Turcotte has been a constant reminder to all of us about the importance of speaking for the ordinary person. (As an aside, I would also add that his colourful imagery is simple and direct enough that even we his fellow Bishops are able to understand!)

I also wish to say a few words about the Special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. Archbishop Thomas Collins was named to the Synod by the Holy Father as one of three Latin Rite Bishops from North America. The Synod also included our following colleagues from the Eastern Catholic Churches: the Most Reverend Yousif Habash, Eparchial Bishop for Syriac Catholics in United States and Canada; the Most Reverend Ibrahim M. Ibrahim, Melkite Catholic Eparchial Bishop of Saint-Sauveur of Montreal; the Most Reverend Joseph Khoury, Maronite Eparchial Bishop of Saint-Maron of Montreal; and the Most Reverend Manuel Batakian, Armenian Catholic Eparchial Bishop of Our Lady of Nareg in New York, whose eparchy includes both Canada and the United States.

The Synod for the Middle East holds two points of special significance for the Church in our country. First of all, it celebrated the “sui iuris” identity and witness of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The importance of the Eastern Christian heritage has long been a priority for us as Canadian Bishops. Our own history and witness as Latin Catholics have been made so much the richer and stronger because of the Eastern Catholic Churches among us. Secondly, the Synod addressed the complex situation in the Middle Eastern countries. This too has been a preoccupation of our Conference – in part, to ensure a balanced and considered approach to the various perspectives of the Middle Eastern conflicts. But equally important for us has been to find ways to encourage our Christian brothers and sisters who are living in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, while becoming more and more an endangered minority.

The concerns of the Synod very much coincide with several other related developments in our country. Following an invitation of the Holy See, the CCCB has been among the Episcopal Conferences of Europe and North America that meet annually since 1998 with the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. In addition, since 2003 Catholic dioceses in our country have benefitted from having their own national Board for CNEWA (“Catholic Near East Welfare Association”). In January this year, a number of you participated in a conference organized by the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Diocese of London to look at how our particular churches might do more to assist refugees wishing to come to our country, with special focus on Christian refugees from the Middle East.

Following my visit to the Holy Land, also this past January, the Executive Committee has agreed that we as a Conference need to ensure better planning for these opportunities, and especially better follow-up, particularly to the annual visits with our counterparts in the Holy Land. I would hope that all of you who participated in the Special Synod will bring forward suggestions on how this might be done. As part of this invitation, I also include Bishop Richard Grecco. He was the CCCB delegate at a meeting in Beirut this July, organized by Caritas Internationalis in preparation for the Special Synod on the Middle East. Following the Caritas meeting, he was able to observe a number of projects in the Holy Land which are assisted by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

2. Focusing on evangelization

In addition to these gaudia magna, I wish to underline the significance for this year’s Plenary Assembly of “evangelizare”. Evangelization will be our key theme. To speak to us on evangelization and contemporary culture, we are privileged to have the Most Reverend Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and one of the 24 Bishops whom Pope Benedict XVI recently announced will be made Cardinals. Because of his schedule, Archbishop Ravasi can only be with us on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Given the questions that we as Bishops have been asking over the past years, the Permanent Council agreed not only to invite Archbishop Ravasi, but to ask all of us to explore four related pastoral challenges that can advance or impede our efforts to evangelize. In the order they will be discussed this week, these are:

i) New bioethical questions and their impact on evangelization (we will be assisted on this by a panel with Bishop Noël Simard, Dr. André Bourque and Dr. Moira McQueen);
ii) Questions about responsible ministry, giving special attention to the issues of sexual abuse (beginning with a panel involving Archbishop Richard Smith, Bishops Paul-André Durocher and Eugène Tremblay, and Sister Nuala Kenny, S.C., M.D.);
iii) Our pastoral approach to non-practising Catholics (this will be the focus of workshop reflections following the second of Archbishop Ravasi’s presentations);
iv) The renewal of our parishes and the involvement of young adult Catholics (for this we will be assisted by another panel, this time with Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., and Bishops Richard Grecco and Gérald C. Lacroix).

Evangelization is one of those wonderful words in the Christian vocabulary that encapsulates the whole vision of the Church and its mission. When opening the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Pope John XXIII said that the Council was to safeguard the sacred heritage of Christian truth and to expound it with greater efficacy. He went on to say that if the Church is to have impact on the key spheres of human activity – personal, family and social life –, then it is essential to “keep up to date with the changing conditions of this modern world, and of modern living, for these have opened up entirely new avenues for the Catholic apostolate.” This outreach to the contemporary world has been a constant theme of the Popes since then, more recently with the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to establish the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, and now his announcement yesterday that the next Ordinary General Synod of the Assembly of Bishops will be on the new evangelization.

It is helpful for us to recall that evangelization and its related challenges have been a continuing focus of our Plenary Assembly since the beginning of the new millennium. Let me remind you of our major themes over the past 10 years:

3. Overview of the past year

Much of the work of the Permanent Council and Executive Committee over the past year has been by way of follow-up to your discussions at the last Plenary. This has involved setting up the Ad Hoc Committee on the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, as well as the Ad HocCommittee on Life and Family, and responding to their progress reports; considerations of possible implications for Canada coming from the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus; and continued reflections on the human and personnel challenges facing the Canadian Appeal Tribunal. Each of these topics is found on the agenda for your working sessions later this week.

In order to introduce a second point regarding our work over the past year, I especially wish to welcome among us today the new President of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC), Sister Mary Finlayson, R.C.S.J. Sister Finlayson is accompanied by their Director, Sister Annette Noël, S.P., whom we all have the pleasure of knowing for a number of years. I introduce our two CRC visitors at this point, because one of the ongoing preoccupations of the Permanent Council and the Executive over the past year has been to strengthen our relationship and ongoing conversations with the CRC as well as with Canadian religious institutes and societies of apostolic life. This revitalized conversation in turn has taken on a practical application. Following the tragic earthquake in Haiti this past January, our Conference invited the CRC together with Development and Peace to collaborate with us in assuring long-term coordinated assistance to that country. This assistance will include humanitarian assistance and development aid following the earthquake and now also responding to the cholera outbreak, as well as the reconstruction of the infrastructure needed by the Church in Haiti.

Our own Canadian efforts in Haiti will be assisted by two other developments. The first is the overwhelming generosity of Canadian Catholics to the joint CCODP-CCCB campaign for Haiti, by which Development and Peace raised $20 million from diocesan donations. In addition, the Episcopal Conference of Haiti recently organized a meeting in Miami with representatives from CELAM and the Episcopal Conferences of United States and Canada. This meeting, at which we were represented by former CCCB President Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien, also focused on the need for a coordinated approach to assisting Haiti in its ecclesial reconstruction efforts. The practical implications of what this might mean for the future efforts of our Conference and the CRC as well as Development and Peace will be the topic of various conversations over the coming weeks.

4. Representing the Conference

In addition to the international visits already mentioned in this report, I wish to inform you that Past President Archbishop V. James Weisgerber and Co-Treasurer Bishop Paul-André Durocher had assisted at a meeting organized in Costa Rica last October on “Challenges for Evangelization in Today’s Culture”. During March, Bishop Gerard P. Bergie represented our Conference at an International Theological Convention held in Rome on the “Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest”. In June, both Archbishop Weisgerber and I represented our Conference at the World Religions Summit of Interfaith Leaders in the G8 Countries, held in Winnipeg and organized under the auspices of the Canadian Council of Churches. Also in June, our Conference had invited Bishop Paul Lortie to participate in a Development and Peace mission being organized as part of the international observers for the elections in Burundi. However, at the last minute the trip had to be suspended because of pre-election violence and security concerns.

Earlier this month, Mr. Daniel Torchia and Ms. Alicia Ambrosio, both from Salt + Light Television, represented the CCCB at a congress organized in Rome by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to discuss “Catholic print media in a digital world”. Looking toward the immediate future, in response to an invitation from the Episcopal Conference of Vietnam, our Conference has invited Bishop Vincent Nguyen to be our official delegate to a national Synod to be held in Ho Chi Minh City next month. We are looking forward to a report from him after his trip on the situation in Vietnam.

Over the past year our Conference hosted two international meetings. During February, the members of the Executive Committee and the General Secretary participated in the Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America. Held in Montreal, this discussed the challenges and situations of priests throughout the American continent. A few weeks ago, at the end of September, the Executive, with the help of the General Secretary, hosted our annual joint meeting with our counterparts from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This meeting involved exchanges on a number of topics of mutual interest.


Before concluding, I want to make special mention of our General Secretary, Msgr. Patrick Powers, P.H. This is the first Plenary Assembly which he has helped plan. I wish to acknowledge his presence among us and his generous work on our behalf over the past year. Since he entered office, his energy, efficiency and optimism have already made their mark on our Conference. In addition, I wish to thank Msgr. Powers and all the CCCB staff who assisted in preparations for the reception following the canonization of Saint Brother André and who also collaborated, with personnel from St. Joseph’s Oratory, in preparations for the celebration in Montreal later this week. Among the CCCB staff you will note some new faces: Mrs. Nicole Boisvert, Executive Secretary to Msgr. Powers; Dr. Glenn Byer, Director of Publications; Mr. Cecil Chabot, Indigenous Affairs Advisor; and Mr. Patrick Fletcher, Theology Advisor. Welcome to each of you.

Ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum.” This message is both old and young; biblically rooted and yet contemporary; an invitation to return to our heritage, but also to renew it; an opportunity to hear it vibrate within our hearts and souls, yet also a summons to proclaim it throughout the world. Saint Brother André is not just a reminder of yesterday’s values – he is also part of our message for today. The Churches of the Middle East are not only part of our past, but also key to the challenges shaping our future.

Evangelization is not just safeguarding the heritage of the faith – it also means expounding it with greater efficacy and keeping up to date with changing conditions. To take the words of Jesus as given to us in the Gospel of Matthew (13.52), we are to bring out of our treasury what is new and old. How we are to do this, my brothers and sisters? Our Lord tells his disciples that all this prepares us for the Kingdom of heaven. I hope this Plenary Assembly assists each of us in this challenge. I pray that the Holy Spirit will open our minds and hearts to what God plans for our ongoing formation in approaches “both new and old” for announcing the Reign of God.

The Most Reverend Pierre Morissette
Bishop of Saint-Jérôme
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops