CCCB President highlights papal visit to Canada during visit to Vatican
By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis’ “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada in July, widely hailed as an historic step forward in relations between the Church and the indigenous peoples of Canada, was at the top of the agenda during the visit of the CCCB’s leadership to the Vatican last week.
Each year, the members of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops comes to Rome for a visit with the Pope and with various Vatican Dicasteries – a moment of communion and mutual listening aimed at strengthening ties between the Church in Canada and the Universal Church.
Reports of possible unmarked graves on the land of former residential schools in Kamloops, BC, and elsewhere was a moment of crisis that provoked greater reflection on the legacy of the residential school system, said Bishop Raymond Poisson, Bishop of Saint-Jérôme and of Mont-Laurier, who serves as President of the CCCB.
Working for reconciliation
Speaking with Vatican Radio in Rome, Bishop Poisson said the Pope’s visit to Canada, and his apology on indigenous land was a kind of “seal” on the progress already made in relations between indigenous peoples and the Church. It provided an opportunity to gather together “to do something for reconciliation,” allowing Catholics and indigneous people to get to know one another better, to learn to how to speak to one another, to hear one another, and to work together in the future.
Bishop Poisson highlighted a number of concrete initiatives on the part of the Canadian Bishops with regard to indigenous peoples, including a fundraising effort to raise some 30 million dollars (CDN) to support projects in local churches and communities. The Bishops are also preparing letters to the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, as well as a general letter to all the indigenous peoples of Canada. The bishop noted, too, initiatives regarding indigenous artefacts preserved in the Vatican Museums, and efforts to open up church archives related to the residential school system.
First phase of Synod a “real success”
Another important topic for the Canadian prelates is the ongoing Synod on Synodality. Bishop Poisson noted the surprise of the Canadian bishops at the great interest aroused by the Synod, stating that the first, diocesan, stage of the global Synod was “a real success.”
“We discovered that people have a ‘taste’ to continue to meet” and to come to understand their “mission” in the Church in their own communities.
For the upcoming continental stage of the Synod, Bishop Poisson emphasized the need to encourage greater participation among the faithful, warning of the danger of “losing the flavour” provided by many voices. It is important, he said, for everyone to be represented as the Church works to discern the best way to accomplish its mission in the modern world.
Catholic education and the episcopate in Canada
Other important topics of discussion included “vocations, education, and culture.” Bishop Poisson noted the variety of education systems in the different provinces, while highlighting the role of private Catholic schools.
The Canadian Bishops also expressed concern about the Canadian episcopate, explaining that in the next five years, some twenty Canadian dioceses out of 80 will need new bishops.
Finally, Bishop Poisson took stock of the financial condition of the Church in Canada. Although the abuse crisis has taken a toll, the CCCB President recognized that Canada is not a poor country. “So we have resources,” he said, adding that the Canadian will be able to work through financial difficulties, “with humility, and with, I hope, the greatest success for the mission of Christ in our own house.”
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