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Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops 2019

Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, S.E. Mgr. Luigi Bonazzi, to the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (Cornwall, September 23, 2019)

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

Very dear brother bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ in Canada,

I am pleased to greet you with fraternal affection, grateful as always and once more for the opportunity of spending time with you, sharing the joys and challenges that are part of our Episcopal ministry.

As on other occasions, I have to say that my first words are words of thanks.   I thank you for your fraternal friendship as brother bishops.   I thank you for the many forms of concrete help that I receive: your advice; your correspondence including the promptness with which you reply to my letters; the invitations to visit your dioceses and for the hospitality that you always extend to me.  And I thank you for the ministry you carry out in strengthening and building up the Church in Canada. 

Audience with the Holy Father and his message for the Bishops of Canada

On August 29 past, at the conclusion of my vacation, I had the joy of being received in Audience by the Holy Father.  Much to my surprise, I realized that I was expected. Pope Francis in fact, had prepared a gift bag containing several books which, once seated, he gave me straightaway.  He remembered that last year I had asked him for the gift of some of his books (duly signed by him). Recalling my desire from one year ago, He himself had prepared the gift bag in anticipation of my visit.  Truly, love knows how to anticipate; love knows how to wait:  I was deeply touched by this experience.

The Audience was a half an hour of intense dialogue – fatherly, brotherly, filial.  Knowing that in a few weeks I was going to be with you for this Plenary Assembly, I asked him if he had a word, a thought for you.  Spontaneously he told me: “That they be Pastors, Pastors with joy!”  And so I offer you this word of Pope Francis: “Be Pastors, Pastors with joy”.

The “Joy of the Gospel”, of which we are ministers (Eph 3,7; Col 1,23), requires that it must be proclaimed and witnessed by “Pastors with joy.”  Is it possible to be “Pastors with joy” when every day we are called to cope with difficulties that tire us out and that do not have simple solutions?  Yes, it is possible!  First and foremost because each one of us can say in serene confidence that he has been called by the Good Pastor:  “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last” (John 15:16).    It comes to mind in this context, the experience of Pope Benedict XVI when in the Conclave of 2005 he realized that he was on the way to being elected.  As he recalled in his book interview “Light of the World”: “…from the moment this burden weighed on me, I could only say to the Lord: ‘what are you doing with me?’  Now it is You who bear the responsibility; you must guide me!  I cannot.  If you wanted it from me, then you must help me too!  In this sense, I was, we could say, in a relationship of constant dialogue with the Lord:  if He chooses me, He must also help me” (cf. p. 20). 

This is also the experience of Pope Francis, as expressed and contained in his motto “Miserando atque eligendo”.  “I am” – says Pope Francis – “a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze.  And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.”… “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” (Interview with Pope Francis, by Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., 19th August 2013).

The voice of the Good Pastor who has reached us with his call, and his gaze on each one of us – on me and on you – a gaze which is at the same time one of mercy and one of confident election (“Miserando atque eligendo”): this is the permanent reason for the joy of the Pastor.

The joy of being a Bishop expresses itself in the joy of evangelizing.  The identity of the Church, in fact, is to evangelize.  This has been recalled anew by Pope Francis speaking recently (September 2) to the Bishops of the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: “And what is the identity of the Church? Saint Paul VI said it clearly: it is the vocation of the Church to evangelize, indeed: her identity is to evangelize.”  It is worth reading and meditating once again on the splendid Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI Evangelii Nuntiandi in which he concluded by illustrating the characteristics of every evangelizer, exhorting “whoever they may be, to pray without ceasing to the Holy Spirit with faith and fervor and to let themselves prudently be guided by Him as the decisive inspirer of their plans, their initiatives and their evangelizing activity.”  These, the evangelizers – first and foremost we the Bishops – are called to be: “Authentic Witnesses (76), Artificers of Unity (77), Servants of the Truth (78), Lovers of Love (79) with the Fervor of the Saints (80)”. 

During the Audience there was also a moment when the question was raised about my mission in Canada:   I will tell you, briefly, that Pope Francis has invited me to continue.  I welcomed with joy this decision, which manifested to me with clarity, the will of God.  I wish also to confess that never before as in these days, am I sensing that to be Apostolic Nuncio in Canada is a mission that far exceeds my abilities.  I must therefore, like Pope Francis, say to each of you:  please, do not forget to pray for me!

Expression of Appreciation for the Work of the Conference

I take this occasion to express my appreciation and gratitude to H.E. Msgr. Lionel Gendron, who is completing his term of Office as President of the CCCB. […].

My thanks go also to the outgoing Executive Committee who have served the Conference with such dedication and generosity, and since now I assure of my prayer and offer my best wishes and collaboration to the new Executive Committee that will be formed this week.

I commend the Conference for its many initiatives which are bearing much fruit for the good of the Church in Canada.  In particular I think of the work being done to support health care providers in the face of the legalization of physician assisted suicide, the ongoing work of the Bishop’s Working Group for coordinating Indigenous Initiatives and the continual effort to ensure Responsible Ministry and the protection of minors and vulnerable Adults as the Conference continues its work of implementing the 2018 Guidelines.  As I said in my address on the Feast of the Pope in June of this past year and which brought together representatives of the different levels of government, members of the diplomatic community as also from various religious denominations and the wider community:  “I am very pleased to note that the protection of minors has been a major priority of the Church in Canada since the 1980’s.  The historical engagement of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in the area of prevention remains relevant and valuable to this day.  Their recent document “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse:  A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation and Transformation” is a most valuable resource for Catholic Bishops and Religious Superiors in Canada and around the world.  It was held up as a best practice at the important meeting at the Vatican last February” (Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, Feast of the Pope).    

Initiatives of the Holy See this past year

Of that February gathering of the presidents of the episcopal conferences and religious superiors and which took place in Rome, Pope Francis did not shy away from the necessary self-confrontation that the Church must embark upon if she is to respond as he rightly noted, to the “cry of the little ones who plead for justice.”  In a manifestation of parrhesia, the Pope explained:  “In this meeting we sense the weight of the pastoral and ecclesial responsibility that obliges us to discuss together, in a synodal, frank and in-depth manner, how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity.  The Holy People of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken” (Address of Pope Francis, Vatican Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church).   It is clear that Pope Francis sees this as the way forward, this synodality and the willingness to confront the challenges facing the Church with parrhesisa.  I have no doubt that this spirit permeates your Plenary Assembly as you confront the pastoral challenges that face the Church. 

The other work dear to Pope Francis and which has implications for episcopal conferences, is the reform of the Roman Curia.  The very title of the Constitution that will implement this reform is instructive:  Praedicate Evangelium.  It reflects what Pope Francis calls the “missionary option”, one capable of transforming everything, “so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (cf. no. 27, Evangelii Gaudium).  This is both the overarching and foundational basis for every administrative institution within the Church and accords with the Church’s very nature as missionary.  Of course, among the guiding principles we note subsidiarity and decentralization, with greater responsibilities assigned to individual bishops, as well as Conferences of bishops.  As Pope Francis noted in Evangelii Gaudium: “It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory (no. 16). Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach” (no. 32).  How this will impart the work of the Conference remains to be seen, but I am confident that this Assembly – You, the Bishops of Canada, praying, thinking and acting “together” – will be capable of taking up the added responsibilities and competencies that will be entrusted to you, in the spirit of proclaiming the Gospel. 

50th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Canada

On October 15 we will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Canada in 1969. 

This anniversary offers us the occasion to reconsider and deepen the relations between the Holy See and Canada, but at the same time, to reflect upon the relationship between Canada and the Catholic Church.  Between the civil society and the religious community, in fact, there is a clear distinction of roles and of services, characterized by activities and competencies which are distinct but not distant.  A prudent and independent cooperation between the Church and the State in the pursuit of the common good of the Society (cf. Pope Francis: Meeting with the Bishops of Madagascar, 7 September 2019) remains a constant and ongoing challenge and endeavor.[1]

            In regards to the observance of the 50th anniversary, I can tell you that there is, both on the part of Canadian authorities and on the part of the Holy See, the desire and intention to have, in the period between October 2019 and October 2020, some significant celebrations, including the visit to Canada of a high authority from the Secretariat of State.   It is an event that the Apostolic Nunciature will not fail to prepare in closest collaboration with the executive of the CCCB. 

            Finally, “Pastors with joy”:  This is the word of Pope Francis for you and which I reiterate together with my fervent wish, that these days of your Plenary Assembly may be days in which is renewed and deepened within each one of you, the joy of being a Pastor!

            Thank you. 


[1] The Apostolic Letter constituting an Apostolic Nunciature in Canada puts it this way:  Whoever considers all that implied when just relations are established among peoples, when people work for peace and social tranquility, as well as for harmony among citizens, while favoring the realities of the Church, to whom greater ease is granted for the diffusion of religion, as well as promoting the goods of Nations, understands the numerous advantages that flow from this friendship, thus fostering unity of minds and, by the same token, a strong civic spirit.”