Report of the President: 2000 Plenary Meeting

Wednesday, October 11 2000

My confreres and friends:

I would like to say at the outset, to borrow from Charles Dickens, the past year has been the best of times and the worst of times. Recalling the image I brought to your attention at our last Plenary Meeting, that of geese flying in formation, during this past year we encountered turbulence. However, I believe the Lord’s merciful Spirit has allowed equilibrium to be maintained.

The year has been most significant in the Church’s relationship with Aboriginal Peoples. In November a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Assembly of First Nations. Over recent months the perennial residential school issue appears to be actually moving toward solution with an apparent willingness by the federal government to assume its proper responsibility in this matter. Also, the General Secretary’s Staff Committee on Aboriginal Issues began contact with the United States Tekakwitha Conference to explore possible sharing in the development of catechetical resources better adapted to the needs of Aboriginal Catholics.

In conjunction with the various ecumenical partners that constitute the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, we have embarked on a difficult yet most necessary undertaking. A nation wide campaign to educate the Canadian people about Aboriginal land claims was launched in September. Hopefully, the ensuing petition will be successful. May I suggest that in the first place we ourselves must be convinced of the rightfulness of land claims by Native Peoples.

As a Conference we made great strides in the follow-up to the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America. In February we hosted a successful meeting of the Bishops of America in Vancouver where serious study was given to the international debt issue. The meeting also established an on-going communication network between the CCCB, the United States Episcopal Conference and CELAM. Our Co-Treasurer Bishop Brendan O’Brien and Social Affairs Director Mr Joe Gunn are the CCCB representatives.

Also with respect to follow-up, the Episcopal Commission for Relations with Associations of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Laity produced a magnificent study text on the Apostolic Exhortation. In other related developments, our Conference was represented at the 500th anniversary of evangelization in Brazil by the Primate of Canada, Archbishop Maurice Couture, and Bishop O’Brien. More recently, by an overwhelming majority you voted in a consultation by mail to support the cause for beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador.

We were also represented at a planning meeting for the next Missionary Congress of America, to be held in Guatemala in 2003. This preparatory meeting, in Quito, Ecuador, was attended by the Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Evangelization of Peoples, Bishop Colin Campbell; the director of the Office for Evangelization, Mme Adèle Bolduc; and the directors of the two Canadian Pontifical Mission Societies. The organizing committee for the Congress will meet in February, at which our delegates will be Bishop Gilles Lussier and Adèle Bolduc.

An event that will mark our Church for many years occurred in Rome this summer when His Holiness Pope John Paul II announced that World Youth Day 2002 will be celebrated in Canada and specifically in Toronto. The Episcopal Advisory Committee charged with the responsibility of organizing World Youth Day 2002 has already set up the basis of the needed structure, and we will hear more about this during the current Plenary Meeting. I would particularly like to thank the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic; the chairman of the Episcopal Advisory Committee, Bishop Anthony Meagher; and the national director for World Youth Day 2002, Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, for the “mega-work” undertaken thus far.

Significant steps were also taken this past year in the area of ecumenism and interfaith relations. Elsewhere in our proceedings I will comment more fully on the important Anglican-Roman Catholic consultation in Mississauga in May. As well, the Conference tomorrow will be releasing a statement on Catholic relations with the Jewish community.

As many of you know, a characteristic particular to ecumenism in Canada is the phenomenon of the inter-Church social justice coalitions. You will recall we had a presentation on these last year. Partly motivated by financial considerations, a major overhaul of these coalitions is currently in progress. Helping to shape this new reality are our Social Affairs and Ecumenism staff who are working in cooperation with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP).

The vigour of the ecumenical movement in Canada is such that, while some found the language somewhat blunt in a few recent texts from the Holy See – I am thinking particularly of Dominus Iesus and the note on “Sister Churches” – our ecumenical partners thought of this as part of our internal family discourse. I thank them, and our ecumenical observers who are present with us for this Plenary, for their discernment.

I spoke at the outset of my remarks about turbulence. We experienced something this year which graphically reminded us that we are living in a period of major transition, what some would refer to as a paradigm change. So much of the reality around us presents opportunities that are at the same time difficult and wonderful. A recent issue of the magazine National Geographic contains a sentence that illustrates the changes at work. An immigrant woman is quoted as saying, “They would always ask me, ‘Where do you come from?’ and now they say, ‘You have an accent; isn’t that cool!'”

As President, there are times when one is called on to make statements, especially when a matter affects more than one region. The World March of Women was such an issue. At the same time as I thank the many who supported the decision that was taken with the Executive Committee, I assure my brother bishops who had other views that we respect their differing prudential judgement on how best to apply the principles that we all hold so dear. May the Lord help us learn well the lessons coming from this experience! In a world fraught with ambiguity, we must strive ever more diligently to communicate with each other and maintain authentic unity.

Before mentioning several Conference achievements, I would especially like to thank the Lord for the excellent work done by all of you, my brother bishops, in your various dioceses, and also by our priests, who because of diminishing numbers are often asked to do almost the impossible. I also thank the Lord for deacons and pastoral ministers serving in many capacities, and for all the lay men and women who are courageously carrying out their many responsibilities in the world. My thanks to the Lord, of course, includes the myriad tasks undertaken by consecrated women and men, who are rebuilding their communities even as they minister to others. I would also be remiss if I did not thank the Lord for the continuing generosity of the Knights of Columbus who allow the CCCB to do much of its work.

Jubilee Year initiatives are taking place in all our dioceses. At the same time, the Conference is participating in a number of Jubilee Year celebrations in Rome:

Bishop Matthew Ustrzycki and Father Gilbert Chabot represented our Conference at the 47th International Eucharistic Conference in June.

Our delegates to the September Jubilee of the Elderly were Sister Cécile Bérubé and Sister Diane Albert, both Sisters of Charity of Ottawa.

Former CCCB President Bishop Jean-Guy Hamelin led a delegation of about a dozen Canadian bishops at the Jubilee of Bishops earlier this October.

At the World Youth Day celebrations this year in Rome was a sizeable contingent of Canadian bishops together with a staff component from the CCCB. Looking after the interest of some 4000 young Canadians were Associate General Secretary Gérald Baril; Jonas Abromaitis, who holds the youth portfolio in the National Office of Religious Education; and Sylvain Salvas, our director of French-language communications.

Our Conference will also be represented at several remaining Jubilee events in Rome:

As we speak, the Third World Meeting of Families is under way; our delegates are Dr Marlene Ann and Mr George Smadu, from the Archdiocese of Regina, and Mme Hélène Lebeouf and M. Jean Plamondon of the Archdiocese of Gatineau-Hull.

The Jubilee of Catechists will be celebrated in Rome, December 9-10. Bishop Paul Marchand, SMM, chairman of the French Sector Commission for Religious Education, and Joanne Chafe, acting director of the National Office of Religious Education, will be attending from the CCCB.

The Conference continues to monitor the changing legal situation in Canada and its impact on the implementation of Church teaching. As part of the Catholic Group for Health, Justice and Life on June 14 we intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Latimer case. As well, the CCCB is intervening in the Western Trinity case that will be heard on November 9 by the Supreme Court of Canada.

As customary, the Vice President and General Secretary accompanied me to Rome shortly after the 1999 Plenary Meeting for our annual discussions with various dicasteries. A misunderstanding with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in part over the time for our meeting, was a harbinger of further communications problems during the course of the year. I will not sugar the pill. In order to have an English-language Lectionary that achieves what the Bishops of Canada have indicated they want it to be will require strong action and courageous collaboration in the year to come.

Germane to this question is the whole matter of developments with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and its relations with the Congregation for Divine Worship. This controversy led to a special meeting in Washington, DC, of the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences participating in ICEL. It is my hope that the revised ICEL Constitution will lead to a growing spirit of cooperation between the Congregation and the Episcopal Conferences which participate in ICEL.

Our agenda for the next two years is already replete with several major undertakings. By far the most important for the Church in this new century is the Synod of Bishops to take place in Rome next October. By the way, this has necessitated changing the dates for our next Plenary Meeting to September. Our designated, but not yet official, delegates have been at work, and they will be reviewing this with us in the current Plenary Meeting.

A project that I am sure will be of great spiritual value to the Church in Canada will be the peregrination of the Relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux throughout Canada during 2001. A special thanks to all the members of the committee helping to plan this event, including Associate General Secretary Gérald Baril for his organizing skills.

The organization of World Youth Day 2002 has already been mentioned. In the spring of the same year will be the North American Vocations Congress in Montreal. Father Raymond Lafontaine, from the Archdiocese of Montreal, is giving great staff support to the three bishops advising this Congress. The two Canadian episcopal advisors, Bishops Richard Grecco and André Rivest, will be speaking to you later about the Congress.

This past year included several changes that affect us all. Our overall staffing structure moved from two General Secretaries to one. Father Émilius Goulet, PSS, left to become Rector of the Canadian College in Rome where he continues to be a wonderful help to the Bishops of Canada.

This is the final Plenary Meeting for our well-esteemed theologian, Father Gilles Langevin, SJ. He will be leaving shortly for retirement, but he will go knowing that he leaves a lasting legacy here at the Conference. We pray that God grant him good health and many happy consolations.

Also, this was the final year for Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See Mr. Fernand Tanguay. Later during our meeting I will be introducing a motion to thank our former Assistant General Secretary. At this point, on behalf of all our Conference, I wish to convey our greetings to Canada’s new Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Wilfrid Guy Licari, originally from Montreal.

As I conclude, I would like once again to speak about the need for our caring about one another. As bishops, we have an awesome ministry, one that brings wonderful consolations but also one that requires our fullest input. The difficulties and problems can become overwhelming. In our dioceses, as you well know, “the buck stops” on our desks. May we always remember that we are brothers! We need to keep reaching out to one another, both when we ourselves are in need and also when we perceive one of our brothers in need.

Some of you may have read about Omri Jadah. On August 5, he was finishing a picnic with his cousin at the Sea of Galilee when he spotted a six-year-old boy in danger of drowning. Omri swam out, and towed the boy to safety; however, he himself was carried by the current back out to sea. After two days in a coma he died. Omri was Palestinian; the boy he saved was Jewish. Omri’s funeral was attended by 7,000 people. Throughout Israel his heroism was acclaimed. The mother of George, the little boy who was saved, herself a Russian Jew, made her first visit to an Arab village for the funeral. She noted, “We’re joined together by this.”

I have told you about Omri Jadah for two reasons. First, it is good for us to be reminded that the Lord’s teaching about the power of sacrifice and love continues to be verified. Secondly, we are forcefully reminded by the daily news that ancient hatreds remain very alive in the Holy Land. In a sense, all of this provides a picture of what we face every day: wonderful glimpses of God’s presence and, at the same time, the thundering presence of human sinfulness. May we all be able to hear beyond this thunder and perceive God’s presence. Let us never forget that the Lord walks with us.

+ Most Reverend Gerald Wiesner, OMI
Bishop of Prince George
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops