Assemblée Plénaire des Evêques Catholiques du Canada 2018

  • Posted by Chirayil Thomas
  • On septembre 26, 2018

Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, H.E. Mgr. Luigi Bonazzi
To the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
(Cornwall, September 24, 2018)


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

Once again, I am pleased to greet you with fraternal affection, ever grateful for the opportunity of spending time with you and sharing the joys and challenges that are part of the Episcopal ministry, as you carry out the many duties and responsibilities that flow from your Episcopal office. I particularly greet the new Bishops who are sitting in your Assembly for the first time. Welcome!

En regardant votre Assemblé, je me souviens du passage de la Lettre aux Galates (Gal. 2, 1-2) où l’apôtre Paul raconte qu’il était monté à Jérusalem pour rencontrer les Apôtres et leur exposer l’évangile qu’il proclamait parmi les nations car il « ne voulait pas risquer de courir ou d’avoir couru pour rien ». Je crois que les jours de votre Assemblée Plénière sont un moment spécial, un kairos, où l’Esprit Saint vous rassemble et vous donne une occasion unique « d’écouter sa voie » : précisément pour éviter le risque de ‘courir pour rien’.

« Comment fait-on pour connaître et suivre l’Esprit Saint?  – se demande Pape François, qui nous répond – En pratiquant le discernement communautaire. C’est-à-dire en se réunissant en assemblée autour de Jésus ressuscité, le Seigneur et Maître, pour écouter ce que l’Esprit nous dit aujourd’hui en tant que communauté chrétienne (cf. Ap 2, 7) et pour découvrir ensemble, dans cette atmosphère, l’appel que Dieu nous fait entendre dans la situation historique où nous nous trouvons à vivre l’Évangile » (Rencontre avec la Communauté du Mouvement des Focolari, Loppiano, 10 mai 2018).

You are marking the 75th Anniversary of the Conference. I take this occasion to thank all who have helped in any way over the years, with a grateful remembrance of deceased bishop members as also deceased staff who have served the Conference with generosity and dedication.   The Conference predated the Second Vatican Council of course, but it was instrumental in ensuring that the Decrees of the Council were implemented across Canada, and through the resources of its various offices, was able to assist the bishops in their respective dioceses.  We only have to think of the work of liturgical and catechetical renewal – a work that continues to this day.

The historical context refers not only to past events but to the needs that arise at the present time in which we find ourselves.  Among them:

– the continued work of ensuring the protection of minors with the timely release of the new CCCB document as national guidelines for the implementation of diocesan protocols;
– the continuing work of strengthening relations with Indigenous Peoples. I congratulate the Conference on the 20th anniversary of the founding of the ‘Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council’;
– the publication of a French edition of the Ratio formationis sacerdotalis nationalis and the valuable statements relating to the 50th anniversary of that prophetic encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, and a resource ‘On Human Love’ treating Amoris Laetitia, to name a few.

These of course relate to the Church ad intra although they also have profound consequences beyond.  There have also been difficult moments in the wider community and for which the leadership and response of the Conference is much appreciated.  We think back on the year since our last gathering and among those difficult moments:

– the loss of life as also the widespread suffering the result of the tragic bus accident near Humboldt (SK);
– the violent shootings and deaths in Toronto;
– the moral and social problems arising from the legalization of cannabis for recreational use;
– and those natural calamities that uproot and cause so much suffering – as in the wildfires in British Columbia and other regions of Western Canada (and speaking of natural disasters we remember in prayer all who have been affected by the tornado in Ottawa and Gatineau on Friday past).

I thank the Conference for the good work that is carried out on behalf of the bishops and under their direction and guidance.  I likewise thank the Secretariat of the Conference for being the helpful conduit for transmitting the documentation and correspondence of the Holy See to the bishops of Canada.  I value their collaboration.

But of course, in this moment we cannot but focus on the recent tragedies especially as relating to clerical and episcopal misconduct that are in everyone’s mind and the source of so much suffering and distress.  We in Canada have had our share of the same and at all times and with great vigilance it is necessary to address them honestly and forthrightly.

Dans ce contexte, je voudrais avec vous tourner le regard vers cette ‘Œuvre de Dieu’, confiée aux mains des hommes, qui est l’Église, la «vigne du Seigneur». Cette vigne, dans laquelle nous avons été appelés à être les ouvriers – chacun de nous, je pense, aimerait pouvoir dire avec le pape Benoît qu’il est «un simple et humble ouvrier dans la vigne du Seigneur», cette Vigne – en raison des graves scandales récemment venus à la lumière et desquels déjà dans le Chemin de Croix du Vendredi saint 2005, dans les derniers jours de Jean-Paul II, dans la méditation de la neuvième station où on contemple Jésus qui tombe pour la troisième fois, le cardinal Ratzinger avec dit avec douleur : « Que de souillures dans l’Église, et particulièrement parmi ceux qui, dans le sacerdoce, devraient lui appartenir totalement ! » – peut apparaître aujourd’hui dans la condition désolée décrite par le prophète Isaïe : comme un lieu où on ne rencontre pas des bons raisins, mais du raisin âpre, un lieu où poussent « ronces et épines » (cf. Isaïe 5,2.6).

Ce visage de l’Église nous fait souffrir mais, en même temps, nous pousse intérieurement à l’aimer davantage, à en prendre soin avec la même passion avec laquelle son Fondateur, le Christ Jésus, l’a aimée, « il s’est livré lui-même pour elle, afin de la rendre sainte en la purifiant … (pour qu’elle soit) resplendissante, sans tâche » (Eph 5, 25-27).

In thinking about the Church, whenever – as in recent times – the temptation of despair knocks at the door, I feel comforted and strongly encouraged by the prophetic words with which St. John Paul II invited the Church to cross the threshold of the third millennium. In the Incipit of the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, signed on January 6, 2001, at the conclusion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope Wojtyla saw the Church not in a situation of light and success, but at the dawn of a day following a night marked by failure, in which Peter and his companions had fished without result: the nets had remained empty. Precisely in this context, sounds the unexpected and urgent word of Jesus to Simon, and in Simon, to all of us: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch”.  And the unexpected, the unforeseen is its result: “they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing” (cf. Luke 5:4-8). What made the “miraculous catch”, copious and amazing, was the faith of Peter: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets”.

In that Apostolic Letter St. John Paul II assures the Church that even in the Third Millennium, the Crucified and Risen Lord will always know how to surprise the Church with new “miraculous catches” to the extent that the Church will live with perseverance a twofold and inseparable fidelity:

  1. a) The first fidelity is to her Founder by “Starting afresh from Christ” (see NMI 29-41). I quote in this regard, the words of Pope John Paul II that often come to my mind: “What must we do?” (Acts 2,37). We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula.No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you! It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program’. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem” (NMI 29).

We know how much Pope Francis insists on the primacy of prayer in the life of a bishop. A few days ago, to a group of bishops he said: “In the first place, prayer. I like to pose this question to each bishop, “How many hours a day do you pray?” (Speech to the Bishops of the Mission Territories, September 8, 2018).

  1. b) La deuxième fidélité est envers « le monde » : « Car Dieu a tellement aimé le monde qu’il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne se perde pas, mais obtienne la vie éternelle» (Jn 3,16). Cette deuxième fidélité nous appelle à être ‘Témoins de l’amour’, parce que « Si nous avons vraiment contemplé le visage du Christ, chers Frères et Sœurs, nos programmes pastoraux ne pourront pas ne pas s’inspirer du ‘commandement nouveau’ qu’il nous a donné: ‘Comme je vous ai aimés, vous aussi aimez‑vous les uns les autres ‘ » (Jn 13,34). Ceci demande d’assumer et de « programmer un engagement résolu, au niveau de l’Église universelle et des Églises particulières: celui de la communion (koinonia), qui incarne et manifeste l’essence même du mystère de l’Église (NMI 42). D’ici le mandat missionnaire : « Faire de l’Église la maison et l’école de la communion : tel est le grand défi qui se présente à nous dans le millénaire qui commence, si nous voulons être fidèles au dessein de Dieu et répondre aussi aux attentes profondes du monde » (NMI 43).

Qu’est-ce que cela signifie en pratique ? Le Pape Wojtyla répond en invitant à «promouvoir une spiritualité de communion», de laquelle il offre une description détaillé en indiquant, en même temps,  des objectifs très spécifiques, y compris les deux suivants qui nous concernent particulièrement :

  1. « le nouveau siècle devra nous voir engagés plus que jamais à valoriser et à développer les domaines et les moyens qui, selon les grandes orientations du Concile Vatican II, servent à assurer et à garantir la communion. Comment ne pas penser, avant tout, à ces services spécifiques de la communion que sont le ministère pétrinien et, en étroite relation avec lui, la collégialité épiscopale ? Il s’agit de réalités qui ont leur fondement et leur consistance dans le dessein même du Christ sur l’Église, mais qui, en raison de cela, ont continuellement besoin d’une vérification qui en assure l’authentique inspiration évangélique» (NMI 44);
  2. « Les lieux de la communion doivent être entretenus et étendus jour après jour, à tout niveau, dans le tissu de la vie de chaque Église. La communion doit ici clairement apparaître dans les relations entre les Évêques, les prêtres et les diacres, entre les Pasteurs et le peuple de Dieu tout entier, entre le clergé et les religieux, entre les associations et les mouvements ecclésiaux» (NMI 45).

Dear Brothers: the crisis that today is affecting large sectors of the Church manifests itself with many – and sometimes contradictory – pastoral and cultural faces, but I believe that at its root is a crisis of communion. It is a crisis that denotes a ‘lack of unity’: in the soul, in the heart and in the behavior of many believers.  For this reason, before referring to the insufficiency of contents and methods in our pastoral activity, I think that we should refer, first of all, to a deficit of ‘Church-spirituality’.

In the years of my ministry as priest and bishop, I have become increasingly convinced that communion is weak not because there are serious problems; but there are serious problems because the communion is weak (la communion est faible non pas parce qu’il y a de problèmes sérieux ; mais il y a de sérieux problèmes parce que la communion est faible).

Allow me to make a comparison: a body is considered healthy not because it does not contain bacteria that threaten it, but because it has antibodies that allow the body to neutralize them. If a local church possessed abundant reserves of communion, it would also be able to overcome the difficulties it encounters (from within or from the persecutions of the world): indeed, it would have the tools to ‘burn’ them in charity, making of them ‘fuel’ for its mission.

We should, then, emphasize a second consideration: it is not enough for there to be communion, it must be a communion ‘adequate’ to the time and the task one is called to perform. If the heart that circulates the blood in a child’s body was still of the same size, it would not be enough to ensure good circulation in the body of an adult and, this deficiency would lead to serious dysfunctions. In this case, if one wanted to solve the problems, one should take care of the heart, to make it proportional to the state of the subject, rather than limiting oneself to intervening to only treat the ‘symptoms’.

At this point, I would like to point out three key areas in which, as bishops, we are called to verify and reinforce the ‘level’ of communion:

1) Tout d’abord notre expérience de Collégialité épiscopale, rassemblée autour du Saint-Père et scellée par la formule «in omnibus cum Petro et sub Petro».

Comme successeurs des apôtres nous sommes envoyés par le Seigneur à annoncer l’Évangile à tous les peuples (cf. Mt 28,20); cet engagement se polarise ensuite dans un mandat ‘local’. Par conséquence, pour un évêque la première tension missionnaire est la sollicitude pour toutes les Églises, à vivre sous la direction du Pape et en communion avec les autres évêques. Poussé par cette ‘âme catholique’, c’est-à-dire grande ouverte à tous les peuples, l’évêque doit prendre soin du diocèse qui lui est confié : il est essentiel, par conséquent, que, dans son souci pour son église ‘particulière’, il assure toujours la perspective ‘universelle’.

Vivre dans cette synergie fraternelle de la pensée et de l’intention signifie être pleinement alignés sur la trajectoire de la volonté de Dieu. En effet, comme l’a souligné Saint Jean-Paul II dans la Lettre Encyclique Ut unum sint, «croire au Christ signifie vouloir l’unité ; vouloir l’unité signifie vouloir l’Église ; vouloir l’Église signifie vouloir la communion de grâce qui correspond au dessein du Père de toute éternité» (n. 9).

 Parmi nous, Évêques du Canada, dans nos conférences épiscopales régionales et dans cette conférence qui nous rassemble tous, cette fraternité apostolique est-elle toujours affective et effective ?

En s’adressant récemment à des évêques des territoires de mission, le Pape François a esquissé avec ces mots le trait fondamental de l’Évêque qui fait de lui un « homme de communion » : « L’évêque ne peut pas avoir tous les dons, l’ensemble des charismes — certains croient les avoir, les pauvres! — mais il est appelé à avoir le charisme de l’ensemble, c’est-à-dire à garder unis, à cimenter la communion. C’est d’union que l’Église a besoin, non pas de solistes hors du chœur ou de guerriers de batailles personnelles. Le pasteur rassemble: évêque pour ses fidèles, il est chrétien avec ses fidèles » (Discours aux évêques des territoires de mission, 8 septembre 2018).

2) Another key area: the communion within the diocesan Presbyterium, necessary so that the ministry of priests may be suitable for building the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Today, precisely because of the painful wounds and the tears that it experiences, the Church, and in particular, We her pastors (the bishops with the priests), are particularly called to show, by our being and our work, the intrinsically communitarian nature of the ordained ministry.

Precisely because it is at the service of the Church which is communion, the priesthood to which Christ calls us and to which he configures us is, by its very nature, ‘communal’. Pastores Dabo Vobis (an authentic Magna Carta on the formation of priests in the present circumstances -1992) says without any shadow of ambiguity: “The ordained ministry has a radical “communitarian form” and can only be carried out as “a collective work” (n.17).

For this reason, being part of the presbyteral community is a question of vocation and of the identity of the priest. No more no less. The Second Vatican Council says this clearly:

“Priests by virtue of their ordination to the priesthood are united among themselves in an intimate sacramental brotherhood. In individual dioceses, priests form one priesthood under their own bishop. Even though priests are assigned to different duties, nevertheless they carry on one priestly ministry for men” (Presbyterorum ordinis, 8).

 From here the principle : “To live in unity in the presbyterium is more important than letting myself be absorbed by my work alone.”  And again : “Unity among the priests with the bishop and among themselves is not something added from the outside to the nature of their service, but expresses its essence inasmuch as it is the care of Christ the priest for the people gathered in the unity of the Blessed Trinity” (PDV, no. 74).

When last June 14, I was invited to speak to the priests of Ottawa on the occasion of the Day of the Sanctification of the Clergy, a priest stood up and said, “These things should have been heard at the seminary!

As we well know, the relational identity of the priest who is inscribed in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is not something automatic or acquired once and for all. Therefore, we must constantly educate ourselves in the experience and practice of communion. For this reason, the Congregation for Clergy asks that the aspirants of the Sacred Order live this experience during the years of formation at the Seminary. In the new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis we read :  “The seminarian is called to ‘go out of himself’, to make his way in Christ, to the Father and towards others”(n. 29). And again: “Formation comes about every day through interpersonal relationships, moments of exchange and discussion which result in the development of that ‘fertile soil’, in which a vocation matures concretely” (n. 50).    

The particularity of the priest, and therefore of each presbyteral candidate, is precisely this dynamic of ‘going out of oneself’ which is also the appropriate manner in which to educate oneself to live, with the help of grace, chastity, poverty and obedience. Therefore, in our ministry as bishops, we must give priority to promoting and preserving the communion of our respective diocesan presbyterates.

3) Dans la perspective de la communion, doit être aussi soigneusement vérifié le degré de co-responsabilité avec lequel la participation des laïcs à la vie et à la mission de nos Églises est promue.

 Je me limite à rappeler deux exhortations de la Christifideles Laici :
– «La formation des fidèles laïcs doit se situer parmi les priorités du diocèse et trouver sa place dans les programmes d’action pastorale, de sorte que tous les efforts de la communauté (prêtres, laïcs, religieux) convergent à cette fin» (ChL n. 57);
– « La découverte et la réalisation de leur vocation et leur mission personnelles comportent, pour les fidèles laïcs, l’exigence d’une formation à la vie dans l’unité, dont ils portent la marque dans leur être même de membres de l’Église et de citoyens de la société humaine » (ChL, n. 59).
Dans nos diocèses, existent-t-il des réelles et authentique “écoles de communion” pour les laïcs? Qui forme les formateurs? La réponse est décisive: en effet, si le sens de l’Église est précaire et non motivé, nous risquons d’avoir des laïcs indifférents ou qui pêchent  de protagonisme ou qui se limitent à être de simples exécutants, vivant une pauvre relation pastorale, minoritaire et peu fructueuse.


“Walking together”: we as bishops, with our priests, with the people of God: this is precisely the exhortation that Pope Francis addressed to the Italian Bishops on the occasion of their Plenary Assembly in 2017: “To walk together is the constitutive way of the Church; the figure that enables us to interpret reality with the eyes and heart of God; the condition for following the Lord Jesus and being servants of life in this wounded time. The breath and the pace of the Synod show what we are, and the dynamism of communion that animates our decisions. Only from this perspective can we truly renew our pastoral ministry and adapt it to the mission of the Church in today’s world; only in this way can we address the complexity of this time, thankful for the journey accomplished thus far, and determined to continue it with parrhesia” (Greeting at the Opening of the 70th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Rome, May 22, 2017).

This ‘walking together’, however, could risk remaining only a pious wish if, invoking the grace of the Lord and the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother and Model, we do not enter into a daily ‘spiritual apprenticeship’, both personal and communal, that is to say, lived together.

This ‘spiritual apprenticeship’ – and I quote once again what I shared with you at the end of last year’s address from a dear friend to me, Mgr. Giuseppe Petrocchi, Archbishop of L’Aquila (Italy), recently named Cardinal by Pope Francis – must involve learning how:

“To be disciples, before being masters;
to listen, in order to speak with authority;
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 oneself the last, in order to answer the call to become first;
to let oneself be pruned, in order to exercise the art of formation;
to exercise the practice of unity, so as to promote communion;
to pass through death, so as to enter the Risen Life”.

May the Holy Spirit enrich your 2018 Plenary Assembly with abundant fruit. Thank you!