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Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops 2017

Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Luigi Bonazzi

To the Plenary Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Canada

(Cornwall, September 25, 2017)

 

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

Dear Brothers Bishops of the Church of Christ Jesus that is in Canada:

Once again, I am pleased to greet you with fraternal affection, grateful as always for the opportunity of spending time with you and of sharing both the joys and challenges that are a part of the episcopal ministry as you carry out the many duties and responsibilities that come with your office. I greet in a special way the new Bishops who for the first time sit in your Plenary Assembly. Welcome!

Seeing this gathering, I am reminded of the passage in the Letter to the Galatians, (Gal 2: 1-2) where the Apostle Paul relates that he went to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles and to expose the gospel which he preached “not to risk,” he writes, “to run or have run in vain.” I believe that these days of the Plenary Assembly are a special moment, a kairos, where the Holy Spirit gathers you, allows you to meet one another, and offers you an opportunity to grow in communion: to avoid the risk of “running in vain”.

As you may imagine, there would be many things to share and comment upon with you, but the first and most important, for me, is to tell you: Thank you!  I thank you for your love, which I seek to reciprocate, asking the Lord to help me, every day, to learn how to love and serve you better.  As I have said on another occasion: “With you I feel myself at home.  Yes, I can truly say: ‘You are my home’.”

 

I. Appreciation to Outgoing President and to the Staff of the Conference

I thank Bishop Crosby, who completes his term of office as President of the Conference and for his close collaboration these past two years as also during the years he served as Vice-President.  I greet his successor, Msgr. Gendron, and I pledge him my continued support as also the support of the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature as he takes up his new responsibilities.

Likewise, I thank the General Secretariat of the CCCB and also, of the Regional Assemblies, for their help and for their agile and fruitful collaboration with the Apostolic Nunciature and I commend them for all that they do to assist the bishops to carry out their most important mission as Pastors of the Church of God in Canada.

 

II. The Work of the Conference

Regarding the work of the Conference this past year, I would like to acknowledge a number of undertakings – some ongoing while others are the consequence of new challenges.  Some of these address the relationship of the Church to the wider society and include very momentous social and moral concerns; others address internal matters related to the ecclesial life and ecclesiastical discipline.

a) The Church and Society

In this 150th anniversary of Confederation we are, as one bishop has put it, revisiting our history and learning anew and from a broader perspective, the importance of correcting past injustices. I commend the Bishops for the ongoing work of strengthening and renewing relationships with Indigenous Peoples and thereby pursuing the process of truth, healing and reconciliation, and all that this implies.

Likewise, with the legalization of assisted suicide, the Conference has made respectful and compelling representations to civil authorities to urge provision for the protection of conscience as also ensuring access to palliative care.

More recently, the response to those who have been impacted by natural calamities (the extensive flooding in Ontario and Quebec this past spring, and the forest fires that have ravaged British Columbia this past summer), and social calamities (the epidemic of drug addiction and the serious opioid crisis).

b) Within the Church

In order to contribute to the preparation and ongoing formation of those in the priestly and diaconal orders, I am pleased to note the recent publication of the first National Directory for the Ministry, Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons as also the publication of the latest Ratio Formationis Sacerdotalis Nationalis for French Canada as also one pending for English Canada.

I commend the Conference for the continuing efforts to ensure support for the northern dioceses of Canada formerly under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

I am pleased that you have chosen to gather as a Conference at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame, in the nation’s capital, to consecrate Canada to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  May this consecration make our hearts aflame with that love that shines forth from the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of Jesus.

These but to name a few, of your extensive activities and initiatives as a Conference of Bishops this past year.  And of course, there are the many praiseworthy initiatives undertaken by your regional Assemblies with studies, documents and statements that have enriched the Catholic Church in all of Canada…the Holy Spirit (who is always at work wherever these is communion) is generous with his gifts!

 

III.  The Legacy of the Ad limina Visits

Surely the most significant event this year for you, the Bishops of Canada, was the ad Limina Visits that led each of your four regional assemblies to the See of Peter (Petri Sedem).

With you, I would like to “make a remembrance” of the Ad Limina Visit. Note that I say: “make a remembrance” and not simply “to remember”. To remember is to set in motion our thoughts in order to evoke an event of the past; an event that remains a prisoner of history and its limits. To “make remembrance” constitutes a truly “theological” act, by which the Holy Spirit actualizes, here and now, the grace he has offered us in the past. This is possible because the events, inhabited by God, are “eternalized”:  Therefore they are removed from the wear and tear of history and sealed “forever” by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that for all, this was a moment of grace, a moment which you will keep as a living, tangible and unforgettable memory.  Allow me to share with you what the President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec (AECQ), Msgr. Paul Lortie, Bishop of Mont-Laurier, had to say.   These remarks relate more particularly to the bishops of Quebec, but I believe that this reflects an experience shared by all. I quote: “In all respects, this pastoral visit was a great success in experiencing a real dialogue and deep communion between the local Churches and the See of Peter, between the dioceses and the Roman Curia and between all the bishops of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec.”  Commenting on the three-hour “special” meeting that the bishops of the AECQ had with Pope Francis and with representatives of several dicasteries, Bishop Lortie described them as “frank, friendly meetings, imbued with mutual respect and the search for the truth.”

Msgr. Lortie wrote to me: “At the end of this exchange, Pope Francis expressed to us words of encouragement, inviting us to courage and audacity in our own dioceses, and he used concrete and inspiring expressions: ‘Church of Québec, arise! Move forward and listen! Do not forget that the risen Lord is always with us!’ At the end of this first memorable meeting, I expressed the following sentiments: a new breath for our Assembly; a formidable encounter within a climate of listening, sharing, simplicity in truth.”

This “new breath”, founded on the certainty that the Lord is always with us, and that he precedes us day after day in the Galilee of our ministry (cf. Matt. 28: 7), is certainly a gift to each of your Regional Assemblies and to each of you personally.  Let us ask the Holy Spirit to watch over this gift and renew it within each of you.  I also believe that after the Ad limina visit, each of you felt himself personally sustained by the esteem and prayer of Pope Francis.

It remains true – and we are witnesses to this each day – that the Church is marked by many weaknesses and fragilities, for the simple reason that we who are the Church are weak and fragile. For this reason, “The Church always needs to be reformed, repaired”.

But, however weak it may be, the Church has a very reliable guide given to her by Christ. Commenting on the “confession of Peter” at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Mt 16: 15-19), Pope Francis recently said: “Peter…is not a great stone; he is a small stone, but taken up by Jesus, he becomes the centre of communion”(Angelus, August 27, 2017). Without any wish for triumphalism, but with a peaceful realism, we can say:  “What other society has at this time a guide as authoritative and as recognized as Pope Francis?”  He is indeed a gift to us all from the Lord!

This “charism of Peter” is inseparable from the “apostolic charism”. The Church is, as we know, “apostolic”; it is founded on the Apostles and their leader, Peter, and on their successors, the bishops in union with the successor of Peter. The Second Vatican Council teaches us that “in the person of bishops assisted by priests, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, supreme pontiff, who is present among believers” (LG 21). I like to think that one particular grace of the Ad limina visit has been the renewal in every one of you, the bishops of Canada, of the awareness of the “gift” that you are: you allow Christ to continue teaching, governing and sanctifying his Church.  As Pope Francis explained in a homily he gave at the ordination of two new bishops: “In the bishop surrounded by his priests, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, is present in your midst. For it is Christ who, through the ministry of the bishop, continues to preach the Gospel of salvation and to sanctify believers by means of the sacraments of faith. It is Christ who, through the paternal role of the bishop, draws new members to his body which is the Church. It is Christ who, in the wisdom and prudence of the bishop, guides the People of God along their pilgrimage here on earth until at last they reach eternal bliss. The Pope concluded:  Christ who preaches, Christ who creates the Church, who nourishes the Church, Christ who guides: this is the bishop.” (Pope Francis, Homily of 19 March 2016).

I think it’s important to be always accompanied by this awareness.  Are we up to the task? Are we capable? If we look at ourselves, if we look at our human capacities, the answer is certainly: no! But Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd who called us, is himself well aware that we are radically inadequate. He knows perfectly well that we are poor sinners. That is why he said to Peter and to the Twelve – and he is also saying to us, “Come with me.  I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17). “I will make you,” Jesus said. (poiēo). This verb indicates the creative action of God, the action of Jesus who performs the works of the Father. It is the efficacious word that brings about what it says.  It is not Peter and his companions who by themselves become fishers of men: it is Jesus who makes them fishers of men by his own power. And it will be a slow and progressive work: “I will make you become”. This is a formation that Jesus will accomplish day after day, living with his disciples, sharing with them, showing them the works that he himself is doing.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini used to say to his young priests two or three years ordained:  “Know that you are not yet priests, and that you will have to go through many trials to internalize the things you learned about the priesthood.” I believe that to a certain extent, this observation applies also to us bishops. Without a doubt, we are indeed bishops by our Ordination, but it is also true that we are always in the process of becoming bishop, that every day we learn, we must learn – in order to allow to grow within us, the stature of Christ the Good Shepherd, from whom we must learn each and every day the wise search for the unum necessarium: the salus animarum “, the salvation of souls (cf. Address of Pope Francis to the participants in the training course for bishops on matrimonial proceedings organized by the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota 17-19 November 2016).

One should be able to say of our Episcopal ministry, that is to say, of the stature within us of Jesus the Good Shepherd, that this ministry “grows in wisdom, stature and grace, before God and before men” (cf. Lk 2,51-52). It is only by the grace of God (cf. 2 Cor. 12: 9), and by entering, not occasionally, but permanently, into an indispensable “spiritual apprenticeship”, both personal and collective, that is to say, lived “together”, that we can achieve this goal.

This “spiritual apprenticeship” includes – and I quote here a dear friend to me, Mgr. Giuseppe Petrocchi, Archbishop of L’Aquila – learning how:

“To be disciples, before being masters;
to listen, in order to speak with authority;
to live as sons and brothers, before becoming husbands and fathers;
to love without measure, to build up the Church as an evangelical family;
to obey, so as to acquire the capacity for governing;
to serve, in order to witness to the true freedom;
to live poor, in order to administer temporal goods wisely;
to make themselves the last, in order to answer the call to become first;
to allow themselves to be pruned, in order to exercise the art of formation;
to training themselves in the practice of unity, so as to promote communion;
to pass through death, so as to enter the Risen Life. ”

 

Dear Brother Bishops:  on other occasions, I have reminded you of a phrase which is dear to me: “The Bishop walks through his Diocese in the shoes of his priests.”  From this perspective, re-echoing the words of Pope Francis, I remind you how important it is to be and to remain close to your priests, with a brotherly and paternal love.  The neighbor, the first neighbor of a bishop are indeed his presbyters (cf. Homily of 19 March 2016).

IV. Conclusion

I would also like to say to you – while concluding my address –  and this with deep conviction, that the bishop’s first neighbor is also each of his brother bishops.  Let us support one another. Let us commit ourselves to cultivating and growing among ourselves the episcopal fraternity. Let us help each other to remain in that “spiritual apprenticeship” that will enable Jesus, in and through us, to continue, as Good Shepherd, to serve this land that is yours in Canada. Let us pray for each other, remembering the very special grace of intercession that has been entrusted to us as bishops.

May the Virgin Mary, who in Nazareth accompanied the growth of her Son Jesus, keep and bless you and your particular Churches. I wish you a very beautiful, fruitful and productive Plenary Assembly and assure you of my prayer. And please do not forget to pray for me.

Thank you!