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Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops 2016

Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr Luigi Bonazzi

Cornwall, September 26, 2016

 

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

Dear Brothers, Bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ in Canada,

                It is a great joy to be with you.  I consider it a great honor to address you on this first day of your Plenary Assembly.  This past September 2nd, I was received in Audience by Pope Francis.  He knows that I am meeting with you:  I bring you his greetings, his esteem and his affection. 

Having now the opportunity of spending time with you, the Bishops of Canada, my first sentiment and wish is to thank you.  Yes, I have many reasons to thank you:  I thank you for the support of your prayer, which I endeavor to reciprocate daily.  I thank you for your esteem that I perceive and that moves me.  I thank you for the many forms of concrete help that I receive:  your counsel; your letters by which you respond diligently to my many letters; your invitations to visit and so be able to know your dioceses; your requests for assistance that allow me to make as my own your pastoral concerns and to unite myself with you in those concerns.  Yes, with you I feel myself at home.  I can truly say:  you are my home.  

Many events, during the past year, have called forth the attention and response of your Episcopal Conference.  May I recall them by way of a brief synthesis:

 

1.            The transfer of jurisdiction of the former six missionary dioceses from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to the Congregation for Bishops on January 25, 2016, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  I acknowledge gratefully the efforts that the CCCB has undertaken to provide the necessary support to those dioceses.

2.            The legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Church’s multi-faceted and committed response and ongoing efforts to renew and strengthen relationships with our brothers and sisters of the diverse aboriginal groups throughout Canada.

3.            The arrival of Syrian refugees and the Church’s active and solicitous Christian response to the same at diocesan and parochial levels.  Thank you to the dioceses, parishes and organizations who have sponsored refugee families, often after much hard work and sacrifice.

4.            The most unfortunate legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and the Church’s ongoing pastoral response to the complex issues that arise from such a decision, as also the impact of transgender ideology and how it has affected our Christian communities and educational institutions. Many thanks to all of you who wrote pastoral letters and who have addressed these issues forthrightly and compassionately.

5.            The Year of Mercy and its impact upon the Church in Canada and for that matter, the wider society. I trust that this year of grace has been for your respective dioceses and communities a fruitful time and that the effects of the Jubilee will continue long after its conclusion. 

6.            I would like to thank the different instances of the Conference beginning with the Presidency, the Executive Committee, the Permanent Council, and the various Commissions and Committees.  Similarly, I would like to express appreciation for the fruitful collaboration of the Secretariat of the Conference including the former Secretary General, Msgr. Patrick Powers and the new Secretary General, Msgr. Frank Leo as well as the generous and dedicated service of the staff of the Conference (laity, religious and clergy). 

Entering now into a more personal sharing of the thoughts and solicitude that I carry in my heart, as representative among you of Pope Francis, but also as a Pastor among Pastors, I would like to offer you four brief considerations:  1) on the value of your Plenary Assembly; 2) on “pastoral ministry kneeling”; 3) on “reform”; 4) on three verbs to continue. 

 

1. The Value of the Plenary.  What is a “Plenary Assembly of Bishops?”  I like to see it as a renewed “experience of the Cenacle”, namely of that place where Pentecost happens, where the Holy Spirit creates and renews the Church.  Therefore, not a formal and protocolled event so to speak.  You come from all parts of Canada, or better, you are gathered from all the regions of Canada to open yourselves to the dynamic action of the Spirit who – as the true expert not only of the “depths of God” (1Cor 2:10), but also of the human heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7; Dominum et vivificantem, no. 67). ) – can make you capable of intercepting the needs of your people and so render yourselves new and creative in your pastoral ministry. 

Be certain, dear brother bishops, that it is the Spirit of the Risen Lord who has called you together.  He, present among you, will surprise you.  Through your works, through your personal meetings or in small groups, through your conversations maybe not foreseen but always aroused by Him, the Spirit will be able to enrich you with a new light, give you a new idea, capture your attention on a new initiative… so in order to make you capable to give not old answers, but new answers to the new questions that the present time sets before the Church and her Pastors. 

I wish that each one of you will leave from this Plenary Assembly enriched by the “new spark” that the Holy Spirit has prepared for you, to console you and to make your ministry as Pastors fruitful. Never forgetting that new ideas, new solutions, are not found in manuals, but are the fruit of a communitarian discernment that demands patience and sometimes, suffering.  It is our daily Easter:  the encounter and the embrace of the cross.

  2. “Pastoral Ministry kneeling” On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Priesthood of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis gave this testimony:  “Every time I read the works of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, it becomes increasingly clear that he has done and is doing ‘theology on his knees’:  on his knees because, before being a great theologian and teacher of the faith, one can see a man who truly believes, who truly prays, a man who embodies holiness, a man of peace, a man of God.  And so he embodies the exemplary heart of the priesthood:  That deep rootedness in God, without which all the organizational capacity and all the supposed intellectual superiority, all the money and power are useless…  Benedict doesn’t forget that prayer is the first task of the bishop (At 6, 4)” (Prefazione al Primo volume della collana “Joseph Ratzinger. Testi scelti”, Ed. Cantagalli, 2016). 

 I thought that if it is essential to do “theology kneeling” it is not less essential to do pastoral ministry “kneeling.”  Pastoral Ministry kneeling: that is, remaining in prayer before God to receive from him the programme, to listen to what the Lord will say to me, knowing that he himself, who has called us to undertake the arduous and enthusiastic journey of apostolic ministry, will not fail to show us the way.  Precisely because we have been called by Him, we can dare to remind the Lord:  “The responsibility is yours.  You must guide me!  I am not able.  If you wanted me, you must also help me!” (cf. Benedict XVI, Luce del mondo, p. 18).

Kneeling before God, but also kneeling before each brother and sister as “servants of God” present in every human being.  “When we uproot ourselves as pastors from our people, we become lost”, Pope Francis warns us.  “It is the faithful Holy People of God to whom as pastors we are continually called to look, protect, accompany, support and serve…A shepherd cannot conceive of himself without his flock, whom he is called to serve. The pastor is pastor of a people, and he serves this people from within. Many times he goes ahead to lead the way, at other times he retraces his steps lest anyone be left behind, and, not infrequently, he stands in the middle to know the pulse of the people.” (cf. Letter to Card. Ouellet, March 19, 2016).

“Pastoral Ministry kneeling” is necessary especially in times where we seem not to catch anything (cf. Luke 5:5), in moments when the sea is rough and the wind is contrary, when it seems that the Lord is asleep.  We have to remember – especially in these moments – that on the barque of the Church there is the Lord, that the barque of the Church is not mine, nor ours, but is the Lord’s.  And the Lord will not allow it to sink.  It is the Lord who guides it and who asks for this goal:  our collaboration, humble but also full and generous.

3. “Reform”. Not only “reform of the Roman Curia” but “reform” of the Church”, to bring the Church at all levels and in all her expressions, to conform herself personally and communally, to her original form who is Christ.  Jesus Christ and his Gospel are “the form” of the Church.   It is, after all, to recover and embody the concise and profound description of the mystery of the Church which we find in the incipt of Lumen gentium:  “The Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”. 

In the light of this definition that the Second Vatican Council gave of the Church, Pope Francis sees in “synodality” one of the fundamental points of the “reform” of the Church.  In his speech of October 17, 2015, on the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops Pope Francis affirmed:  “Church and Synod are synonymous” because the Church is nothing other than “the journeying together” of the People of God along the paths of history towards the encounter with the Risen Jesus who is coming.  And this means: 1) that in the Church, “as in an overturned pyramid the top is at the foot of the base”; 2) that “the only authority” is that of Jesus and this is “the authority of service”; 3) that a synodal Church is a listening Church: “listening to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us”. 

In the same speech Pope Francis insisted: “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the Third Millennium.” Pope Francis sees in the exercise of synodality, at all levels, the primary criterion to verify the reform of the Catholic Church and of her “pastoral conversion.”   It falls to us to draw out the consequences of the same in the exercise of our episcopal ministry: in the relationships among us bishops, with the priests, with the multiple expressions of consecrated life, and with the holy People of God. 

 4.  “3 verbs to continue”.  They are three verbs of “movement” that trace an ideal path.  Pope Francis delivered them to the Cardinals in his homily at the Holy Mass celebrated after his election to the Chair of Peter, on March 14, 2014, in the Sistine Chapel.  I remind you of them so as to leave them with you:  “Journeying, Building, Professing”. 

Pope Francis concluded the homily in this way:  “All of us, after these days of grace (for us during these days of grace of the Plenary Assembly, and then always) will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory:  Christ crucified.  And in this way, the Church will go forward.”

Yes, truly so:  May the Lord help us to move forward together, embracing the Lord crucified and risen, knowing that we are embraced by him.  “And in this way, the Church will go forward.”   

 

Thank you again for your generous service, and for your kind attention.