Canada: Imam invited to Catholic Bishops Conference

Rèsumè : Between October 15 and 19, the Catholic bishops of Canada met for their annual plenary assembly in Cornwall (Ontario). Around eighty bishop took part in the assembly, a group of invited observers, priests, members of Catholic organizations and Christian denominations also participated…

Between October 15 and 19, the Catholic bishops of Canada met for their annual plenary assembly in Cornwall (Ontario). Around eighty bishop took part in the assembly, a group of invited observers, priests, members of Catholic organizations and Christian denominations also participated. In a press release it was explained that in order to fuel the discussion and reflection, the participants had identified some major ecclesial challenges which were the object of workshops: evangelization and education in the faith; the public presence of the Church in society; native Catholics from the north and from the cities; the reality of Catholics arising from immigration. The fruits of these exchanges will serve as a basis for work by the episcopal commissions over the course of the next few years.

On October 16, Mgr. James Weisgerber, archbishop of Winnipeg, was elected president of the Bishops Conference. He succeeds Mgr. André Gaumond, archbishop of Sherbrook, for a mandate of two years, which will come into effect as from the end of the assembly.

The Catholic bishops, accustomed to invite a non-Catholic representative, proposed for the first time a member of the Muslim community to address them at the opening of the second day.

In his speech, the imam Zijad Delic, director general of the Canadian Islamic Congress, insisted on the many similarities which exist between the two major religions, including that which consists in the sharing of a common heritage of faith in one God. He invited religious men to be disciples of reconciliation and understanding in these times of globalization. “As members of the human family, and of course, as believers,” he stated, “Muslims and Catholics have an obligation to commit themselves to the common good, justice and solidarity.” Taking up the words of Pope John Paul II, taken from his message on the occasion of the World Day of Peace in 2002, the imam Delic pointed out that the Muslim and Catholic communities must promote forgiveness. “This is an essential element of our relationship, as much now as in the future, as John Paul II proposed. No peace without justice. No justice without mercy.” And he ended on the importance of openness, which may be expressed in “an open door, an open hand, an open heart, an open mind and even an open creed.”

On October 17, the bishops tackled the subject of the New Evangelization. Mgr. Claude Champagne, O.M.I., auxiliary bishop of Halifax and apostolic administrator of Halifax and Yarmouth, pointed out that the New Evangelization is not the proclamation of a new Gospel, but much more a New Evangelization by way of its agents, its methods and its fervor. It is aimed at those who do not yet know Jesus-Christ (i.e. recent immigrants), to members of Christian communities and to “the baptized who have lost their sense of the living faith and who go so far as no longer considering themselves members of the Church, leading a life far removed from Christ and His Gospel.” “The evangelists are sent to be ‘symbols’ of this God who comes as Jesus Christ, making visible that which He is doing in our world. We are therefore summoned to all of the values of the Kingdom of God already found in the very mission of Jesus: dialogue, promotion of humanity, commitment to justice and peace, education and care of the sick, aid for the poor and the youth, liberty, forgiveness, love and respect for others.” In fact, the commitment to justice constitutes an element of this New Evangelization, and our world has “much more need of witnesses than of masters, of experience than of doctrine, of living and actions, than of theories. It is not really about reclaiming people in order to make the Church larger, but helping them to start out on the road towards the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”

The situation in Afghanistan and the role of Canada in this region was also on the agenda. Also the preparatory work for the International Eucharistic Congress was presented, which will take place in Quebec in June 2008.

Speaking from the microphone of Radio Vatican, Mgr. Gaumond stated that “the Canadian church is today faced with the same problems which other national churches encounter, and certainly in the West. It is all a question of young people and their integration and participation, and the interest of young people in what is not only ecclesial, but what is of the spiritual order, something other than what is happening at this moment. This is a big challenge. There are very few young people at our celebrations. A few more when there is a commitment to issues such as ecology, care of the poor, but very little as regards the expression of their faith and the confessional aspect of life in the Church. This is a major challenge.

“Another concerns the attitudes to be nurtured with regard to secularization, which is massive, which is enticing, which touches us from every side, and touches us even within our life in the Church. For example, parishes are being regrouped because of fewer resources, and these new groupings need to be named, but people have difficulty in retaining Christian references. One does not say, for example, St. John’s Unit, but Living Water Unit. For me this is a symptom of the intrusive and powerful nature of secularization.

“We are very attentive and very open; we remain always closely tied to the Church in France especially and also that of Belgium, which do not seem to have found a remedy for what is a truly universal problem in our society, this major advance of secularization. With the danger of going to the other end of the spectrum and falling into a kind of right-wing rigorism.” (Sources: CECC / RadioVatican)