Today I had the chance to meet with a group of priests who will soon be heading off as pilgrims to the Holy Land. This is an initiative that began some years ago as a way to help nurture the ministry and spirituality of priests. In particular, the idea was to help make the gospel [...]
Today I had the chance to meet with a group of priests who will soon be heading off as pilgrims to the Holy Land. This is an initiative that began some years ago as a way to help nurture the ministry and spirituality of priests. In particular, the idea was to help make the gospel come alive for these ministers who have such a key role (particularly in their preaching) in making make the gospel come alive for others. I was the first organizer of these pilgrimages when they began in 2009, going on the first one myself, and it is still one of my tasks now that I am a diocesan bishop, as I remain the Director of our training department.
This meeting prior to leaving is my favourite part of the organization of the pilgrimage. There is a lot of paperwork, etc., involved in getting a trip like this going, so getting together with the guys as they prepare gives me the chance to have a human contact with the participants. For most of them they have never been to the Holy Land — indeed, some have never travelled at all — so they are naturally curious if not a bit anxious. After all, the Middle East is still a conflict zone, and they don’t know what to expect.
The travel tips necessary for a successful trip range from the commonplace (bring along a photocopy of your passport so that if the original is lost or stolen it will be easier to have it replaced) to the seemingly-silly-but-very-practical (always keep change handy in case you need to go to the bathroom, as they charge in some places for the use of public toilets). Most importantly, it is important to remember that we are in another country, and we can’t just bring along our cultural expectations with us.
I’m hoping that this trip will be an eye-opening and soul-opening experience for these brother priests, as it was for me.
Today I had the chance to visit the parish of Madonna di Pompei, an Italian parish located on Sauvé just west of Saint-Michel. I was not there for the whole weekend, but rather simply to celebrate the 11:15 am English mass. My visit was for personal reasons, as part of the pilgrimage of churches I [...]
Today I had the chance to visit the parish of Madonna di Pompei, an Italian parish located on Sauvé just west of Saint-Michel. I was not there for the whole weekend, but rather simply to celebrate the 11:15 am English mass. My visit was for personal reasons, as part of the pilgrimage of churches I started after being ordained as a bishop. You see, while I was preparing to be ordained, I really felt the Lord put on my heart a desire to visit those parishes and communities that had been part of my faith and vocational journey. As it turns out, Pompei parish was one such community, where I had been assigned as a seminarian in my last semester at the seminary.
No one remembered me, of course, from those days back in 2000, but that’s perfectly understandable given the little time I actually spent there. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have remembered anyone myself. I did remember, though, the wonderful hospitality that I used to receive back then, and which had not changed. After mass I headed over to the parish rectory and shared a delicious lunch with several of the brother priests living there, and we had a good time teasing each other and joking around. Many thanks to Father Pierangelo Paternieri, the pastor of the parish (and a colleague at the Archdiocese) for his welcome.
This whole experience reminded me of the trip I took to Italy over 15 years ago, when I studied Italian in Florence for a month. It was a total immersion in the Italian language and culture, and I loved it. I have only been back once since then, and only for a few days. I miss that experience, and I hope I’ll have the chance to live it again someday.
Today I had the pleasure of hosting the board of directors of the Pillars Trust Fund for their annual strategic planning meeting. Pillars Trust has been a… um… pillar of the English-speaking Catholic Community since its inception, so I was happy to welcome the Board to the meeting room in my residence at the Cathedral. [...]
Today I had the pleasure of hosting the board of directors of the Pillars Trust Fund for their annual strategic planning meeting. Pillars Trust has been a… um… pillar of the English-speaking Catholic Community since its inception, so I was happy to welcome the Board to the meeting room in my residence at the Cathedral. I was not present at the meeting to discuss the finer points of budgets and fundraising, but to share in the discussion by presenting my vision of where I saw things going in the English-speaking sector of the Catholic Church of Montreal. After all, I will (godwilling) be in active episcopal ministry for the next 34 years — I might as well take a long view.
At present, one of our strategic challenges is to establish a comprehensive communications strategy for the English Catholic sector. We have been blessed for years with the excellent journalism found in the Catholic Times, our autonomous English Catholic monthly, but as we all know the media world is currently in rapid flux. How will we respond to that as an English Catholic community? How can we take advantage of the opportunities the new environment offers?
I must confess, as a bishop I sometimes feel a bit flummoxed by these challenges. This is not because I don’t have a vision of how things might look — indeed, I do — but I think it is important that there continue to be a Catholic journalistic voice that does not directly depend on the hierarchy. The key balance, as I see it, is something that is “autonomous but loyal”. This kind of activity is proper to the lay vocation, and thanks to that may even sometimes possess a freedom and credibility (thanks to it being “unofficial”) that a more “official” organ of the diocese might not have. This very autonomy, however, prevents me in some ways from doing very much about the precarious situation English Catholic media currently finds itself in. I know there are some people who would love to see the “English bishop” ride to the rescue of our local Catholic media (the Catholic Times being the prime example of a possible beneficiary of such action), but I don’t see how I can do that without running roughshod over the very same autonomy enjoyed by the Catholic Times, the Pillars Trust Fund, or other groups. I just don’t see that as something healthy for the long run.
Still, the bottom line is that societies develop by means of a grand conversation the people of that society engage in with each other, particularly through instruments of social communication. We as Catholics need to be part of that conversation, and I do think that, as bishop, my job will be to stimulate the Catholic community to find ways to give itself the tools to succeed.
I had a chance this evening to attend the annual Friendship Dinner of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute here in Montreal. Founded by Turkish Muslims, this Institute seeks to promote good relations between people of different religions and cultures. Among their many activities are these special dinners means to encourage friendship between people from varied backgrounds. [...]
I had a chance this evening to attend the annual Friendship Dinner of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute here in Montreal. Founded by Turkish Muslims, this Institute seeks to promote good relations between people of different religions and cultures. Among their many activities are these special dinners means to encourage friendship between people from varied backgrounds.
One thing I appreciate about the IDI is their constant attempt to get religious leaders involved in their work. To be honest, the Executive Director in Montreal, Mr. Fehmi Kala (a go-getter if you’ve ever met one) has been after me to attend an IDI event from before I was ever a bishop. Now that I do have this leadership role, I figured it was now time to step into this part of the job.
There were many speakers throughout the evening (including, interestingly, lots of politicians). When my turn came to offer a few words I didn’t want to just mouth a few general platitudes about how we should all just get along. Instead, I spoke about the positive role religious institutions can play in intercultural dialogue. The simple fact is that people coming to Canada as immigrants need a place to “land” where they don’t feel completely cut off from their roots. Very often, the do so through a religious institution, be it a church, temple, mosque, or whatever. They meet people who understand them, and who perhaps have already succeeded in adjusting to the local reality. I know this was the case for many members of my family, coming to Canada from Germany after the Second World War: the German parish in Ottawa wasn’t just a place to pray once a week, it was a lively social reality that helped people keep their connection with where they were from.
I also pointed out that religious believers can also help in the inter-religious dimension of this cross-cultural encounter. True, religion does divide people, in the sense that if one is a member of religion X it likely means one is not a member of religion Y. That being said, the simple fact of being a religious believer itself is already an important point in common. I have often found myself in conversation with religious believers from various backgrounds, and in the process I have discovered that I often had a lot more to talk about with my faithful believing Muslim interlocutor than I did with even a fellow Christian who was a lot fuzzier about his faith. The religious experience itself, as well as the experience of personal commitment to a religion, was a powerful common bond.
In my view, the best definition of the Catholic participation in the dialogue process can be found in the encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI (my hero in this area). Dialogue, of course, can be a tricky thing — you don’t want to lose your own specific identity in the process. At one point during the dinner I actually got out my smartphone and looked up the encyclical again, especially part III, which explains what the Catholic Church means by dialogue. My favourite paragraphs are 81 and 82, which read:
81. Dialogue, therefore, is a recognized method of the apostolate. It is a way of making spiritual contact. It should however have the following characteristics:
1) Clarity before all else; the dialogue demands that what is said should be intelligible. We can think of it as a kind of thought transfusion. It is an invitation to the exercise and development of the highest spiritual and mental powers a man possesses. This fact alone would suffice to make such dialogue rank among the greatest manifestations of human activity and culture. In order to satisfy this first requirement, all of us who feel the spur of the apostolate should examine closely the kind of speech we use. Is it easy to understand? Can it be grasped by ordinary people? Is it current idiom?
2) Our dialogue must be accompanied by that meekness which Christ bade us learn from Himself: “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” It would indeed be a disgrace if our dialogue were marked by arrogance, the use of bared words or offensive bitterness. What gives it its authority is the fact that it affirms the truth, shares with others the gifts of charity, is itself an example of virtue, avoids peremptory language, makes no demands. It is peaceful, has no use for extreme methods, is patient under contradiction and inclines towards generosity.
3) Confidence is also necessary; confidence not only in the power of one’s own words, but also in the good will of both parties to the dialogue. Hence dialogue promotes intimacy and friendship on both sides. It unites them in a mutual adherence to the Good, and thus excludes all self-seeking.
4) Finally, the prudence of a teacher who is most careful to make allowances for the psychological and moral circumstances of his hearer, particularly if he is a child, unprepared, suspicious or hostile. The person who speaks is always at pains to learn the sensitivities of his audience, and if reason demands it, he adapts himself and the manner of his presentation to the susceptibilities and the degree of intelligence of his hearers.
82. In a dialogue conducted with this kind of foresight, truth is wedded to charity and understanding to love.
I think the world could learn a lot from this mode of dialogue the Pope proposed.
As I concluded my remarks, I saw a lot of people nodding. Some had crosses around their necks, while others had turbans or hijabs on their heads. I’m grateful for the positive reception for these remarks, of course, but the point is not just to say them, but to live them. Broad-based inter-religious dialogue is really in its infancy, and there will be many pitfalls ahead. That said, I honestly believe that the rewards will be even greater.
Today I had the pleasure of hosting some visitors from NET Ministries Canada, among them being Joe Vogel, the Executive Director. They came because they wanted to understand the Quebec milieu a bit better. We discussed a great many elements of Quebec history and culture, and among those subjects was the Quebec reality surrounding charitable [...]
Today I had the pleasure of hosting some visitors from NET Ministries Canada, among them being Joe Vogel, the Executive Director. They came because they wanted to understand the Quebec milieu a bit better. We discussed a great many elements of Quebec history and culture, and among those subjects was the Quebec reality surrounding charitable giving. Simply put, statistics regularly demonstrate that Quebecers rank quite poorly as donors to charity. This table from Statistics Canada shows it quite clearly: the median donation in 2010 was merely $130, well behind the next lowest (Northwest Territories) at $290.
People from outside Quebec sometimes shake their heads at these numbers, wondering how the people here can be so cold. I often get a bit defensive when these sorts of attitudes are expressed, because while I am an English-speaking Quebecer this has always been my home and I’m proud to be from here. Those who get to know the Quebecois culture discover that the people are actually quite kind and warm and willing to help. So what is really going on with these sorts of statistics? While they do demonstrate the challenge charities in Quebec face, I am not sure these numbers tell the whole story.
An important element of Quebecois culture is its strong sense of solidarity, a strong sense of “US”. French Quebecers in particular are raised with a strong sense of common responsibility for the preservation and advancement of the French language and culture. Yes, there is also a sense of individualism and autonomy as well, as in the rest of North America, but all things being equal it has less of an impact here. For example, there is no conservative political movement in Quebec to really speak of. Yes, there are people who are more traditionally-minded, but conservative ideology, which generally favours the state getting out of the way of private initiative (charitable or otherwise) just doesn’t have a lot of traction here.
I have come to see that this collective mentality helps explain things like patterns of charitable giving. It is as though people say to themselves, “Given that charitable services are actually offered for the benefit of everyone, it wouldn’t be fair if only some people give to charity while others don’t.” Charitable donations tend, therefore, to be lower. That being said, it seems to me to be no coincidence that Quebecers are also the most highly taxed population in North America — and that they are generally OK with that, as long as the state provides services from those tax dollars. Again, it is as though people say to themselves, “If I give to charity, and my neighbour doesn’t, that isn’t fair. But as we both have to pay taxes, it is a better mechanism to collect the monies necessary for support to the poor, to education, and to social services.”
I first hit on this notion back during the 2007 provincial election, when the finance minister at the time tabled a pre-election budget that included important tax cuts for individuals. Pre-election budgets normally contain goodies meant to boost the governing party in the polls, but this case their poll numbers actually went down! The general criticism boiled down to this: “We don’t want tax cuts, we want better social services.” So while I don’t have the sociological studies to prove it, I don’t think it should be a surprise to discover that Quebecers give less to charity — because, in general, there is an unspoken belief that one’s social responsibility has already been taken care of through taxation.
Of course, this sort of model of collective generosity can leave certain areas out in the cold, such as — you guessed it — the area of religious giving. The principle of separation of Church and State as often interpreted here in Quebec typically means that no religious institution can get any government money — even if that money is destined for non-denominational services like the relief of poverty. Interestingly, I also have met many Quebecers coming from an opposite perspective, i.e. who erroneously believe that the churches receive direct funding for their operations from the government. Even if they don’t make this mistake, though, I often hear the opinion voiced that the fact that churches don’t pay taxes is a form of subsidy anyway. There is some truth to that, of course, particularly coming from a model where taxes are not just a revenue-generating mechanism for the State but a form of solidarity among citizens. Still, not having to pay taxes does not pay the heating bill in the winter, or put food on the table.
The charitable giving statistics therefore only tell half the truth. Yes, Quebecers give less to charities, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t living their responsibility of social solidarity in other ways. Whether the State is really the best and most efficient vehicle to produce the fruits of that solidarity is another question (I have my doubts, as do many others). As well, we can certainly always be challenged to become ever-more generous people. Finally, we will need to eventually face the elephant in the room, namely the question: “What positive role does religion play in society?” There are plenty of people out there making the case that religion as such does not, in fact, play any kind of positive role at all (or even makes things worse). I, as a religious believer, need to have an articulate answer to this question. And I, as a religious leader, need to help people provide that answer, for the sake of the healthy development of this society which I truly love.
Back in November I posted about the first meeting I hosted of the Ad hoc sub-committee for missions of the AECQ. Since then the members of our sub-committee have been working like busy beavers, trying to develop a model of leadership that will help priests coming from foreign lands make an effective contribution here in [...]
One idea that has been kicked around is the creation of a foundation for student priests. Foreign priests could come and work in parishes, accumulating some of their earnings in the foundation. Then, when they shift to full-time studies, or when a brother priest from the same diocese comes to study, the same foundation could offer scholarships. Benefactors could contribute as well. Organizing things this way would also encourage students priests to finish their studies on time, and protect them from undue pressures.
At any rate, our work is not yet done, although there has been considerable progress. I am hoping that our third meeting, when it comes, will also be our last, and an updated policy will then be ready to be presented for approval by the assembly of bishops. After that will come the implementation, when documents are supposed to become part of real life. I’m looking forward to it.
One element of my episcopal ministry I have not yet experienced is confirmation season. Yes, I have done confirmations before, but confirmation season is that experience on a grand scale. Normally confirmations are celebrated in a period roughly corresponding to that of the Easter season — in my case, it looks like it will start [...]
One element of my episcopal ministry I have not yet experienced is confirmation season. Yes, I have done confirmations before, but confirmation season is that experience on a grand scale. Normally confirmations are celebrated in a period roughly corresponding to that of the Easter season — in my case, it looks like it will start on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, and go until mid-June (well past Pentecost). Pretty much every weekend I will be in a different parish, and in some cases I will be in 2 or 3 parishes for celebrations on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. Whew!
Developing the confirmation schedule is a bit of a headache — I never knew it was so involved. The parishes send in their requests for dates and times in the late fall to their respective episcopal vicars, who then try and develop a schedule out of those requests. In itself this isn’t so bad, except that in my case, as a bishop and as the episcopal vicar for the English-speaking faithful, I have to wait as well for the requests coming from outside my area of immediate responsibility. There are many ethnic parishes, for example, that use English as their language of catechism, and so want an English confirmation service.
Unfortunately, the challenges of this process can cause delays in getting back to parishes, something I am not comfortable with as it makes it hard for parishes (and particularly, for families) to plan for these special events. I’m already thinking of how this system can be improved for next year. Perhaps I can block out some dates and times in my agenda, and post the availabilities on the web. Parishes could then choose from what’s there, and see right away what is taken and what is left.
This past week much of the Christian world has been celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This evening here in Montreal we had the annual major gathering at Saint Joseph’s Oratory, organized by a local association of Christians from the Middle East (particularly Catholic and Orthodox). Yours truly was present, helping to represent [...]
This past week much of the Christian world has been celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This evening here in Montreal we had the annual major gathering at Saint Joseph’s Oratory, organized by a local association of Christians from the Middle East (particularly Catholic and Orthodox). Yours truly was present, helping to represent the Roman Catholic Archdiocese (Latin Rite). When the ceremony was over, there were several photos taken in the sacristy. This is me with a group of Coptic Orthodox clerics and faithful:
This past week I’ve been undertaking a pastoral visit to Saint Edmund of Canterbury parish. I’ve already lived this experience once, at Corpus Christi parish (which you can read about here, here and here). I am presently preparing my follow-up report from that first visitation, but as Corpus Christi and Saint Edmund of Canterbury are [...]
This past week I’ve been undertaking a pastoral visit to Saint Edmund of Canterbury parish. I’ve already lived this experience once, at Corpus Christi parish (which you can read about here, here and here). I am presently preparing my follow-up report from that first visitation, but as Corpus Christi and Saint Edmund of Canterbury are neighbouring parishes with the same pastor, I thought it would make sense to accept the pastor’s invitation to also visit this second place.
I first arrived at the parish last weekend (January 14-15), and presided and preached at all the masses. There was also a parish gathering after the Sunday masses, and a ball hockey tournament organized by some of the youth. And yes, it was cold out there… see this photo of a deacon, a priest, and a bishop chillin’ outside (quite literally).
I spent most of the week meeting with parishioners as well as parish groups, trying to get a sense of the life of the place. This is clearly a very active parish, for I did not have enough time to see everyone I hoped. Still, I think I was able to get an overall perspective. I was also able to take some time to chat with each member of the pastoral team, to see their point of view. Finally, there was a parish social event (a pasta supper) the final Saturday. It gave me a chance to mingle with some of the families and hear their stories, as well as get to know some of the youth group.
The final step of this week of visitation was the chance to preside and preach the Sunday masses once again. Here is the homily I preached:
After some prayer and reflection, I will return to the parish at some point to present my observations — my contribution, as a bishop, to the life of that community. I’m looking forward to it.
Montreal has a new priest! Many congratulations to Father Jason Piper, ordained January 20, 2012. He has been appointed as parochial vicar at Saint Patrick parish in downtown Montreal, where he was doing his stage. A fact I just realised: he will be our first priest to be ordained since the new translation of the [...]
Montreal has a new priest! Many congratulations to Father Jason Piper, ordained January 20, 2012. He has been appointed as parochial vicar at Saint Patrick parish in downtown Montreal, where he was doing his stage. A fact I just realised: he will be our first priest to be ordained since the new translation of the liturgy was introduced last December. May he always do so with joy, conviction and reverence.
The following is the text of the homily preached by Cardinal Turcotte:
My dear brothers and sisters,
It is with great joy that we gather together this evening to give thanks to God for the gift we are about to witness this evening. This gift is, first of all, the gift our brother Jason Piper makes of himself to God and to the Church, the gift of his very life. Jason is already a deacon, a man of service, but through this next step in the sacrament of Holy Orders his life of service will receive a new and permanent dimension. In becoming a priest of God, Jason will be conformed in a special way to the triple ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our high priest, our prophet, and our king in heaven. Jason, through this sacrament this evening, you are accepting to let this triple ministry be the pattern for the whole of your life, a pattern we see in the three readings we heard proclaimed this evening.
In the gospel passage we heard, from the gospel of John, Jesus shares with his apostles his own power to forgive sins. He does this after wishing them peace. This is not a coincidence. Sin is the enemy of peace. As every sin is a form of selfishness, the choice of sin is always contrary to justice and friendship with God and our neighbour. As well, when we choose to go against our conscience it also harms our own inner peace. Jason, when Jesus offered his peace to his disciples, he was not just blessing them. That peace was part of the mission he gave to the apostles when he sent them forth. You, as a priest, must carry on this mission of peace. You will be entrusted with the celebration of the sacraments, which are the most powerful instruments of peace and unity that the world has ever known. That being said, the power of the sacraments extends far beyond the moment of celebration. As much as you must celebrate the sacraments with dignity, your role, as a priest, will also to be to help people take the grace of the sacraments and apply it in their daily lives. In this way, every Christian will himself become a sacrament and instrument of peace in our society and culture. You will help them live this calling.
In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks about his preaching ministry. In his day, preachers often presented their subjects using complex arguments and fancy speaking styles. Saint Paul chose instead to focus on his message, keeping it simple, to the point, and centred on Christ. As a deacon, Jason, you have already had the chance to preach regularly, and I am told that this is somewhat of your own style too. DO NOT CHANGE! At the same time, though, Saint Paul definitely tried throughout his life to deepen his understanding of the Gospel, and to discover its richness. You must do the same, for your own sake, and for the sake of the people you will serve. This journey is at the heart of the prophetic dimension of priestly ministry. It is what turns you from being a mere public speaker to being a preacher of the word. The point is not to appear clever, but to come to an understanding of the Gospel which will allow you to share it with the simple strength that comes from the Holy Spirit. Do your part to grow in the Gospel always, and the Spirit will supply the rest. You will then be preaching with the power that comes from God.
Finally, my dear Jason, there is the part you will share in the ministry of Christ our king, the pastor of God’s flock. The simple fact of celebrating the sacraments and sharing the Gospel means that people will automatically look to you for leadership. This final responsibility can sometimes seem to be the most overwhelming. It is the duty that calls us priests most frequently out of our comfort zone. But the first reading, from the book of Sirach, helps us to understand why this is so important. This reading speaks of the sending of the Word of God into the world, to become Jesus, the Word made flesh. Jesus was sent for all human beings, of course, but he was sent TO a particular people: as the reading says, his Father commanded him “among my chosen, put down your roots”. Jason, as a priest, your ministry will have a universal dimension to be sure. You must be a priest for all. Within that, however, you will also be a priest TO a particular people: this diocese, and the parish communities you will be asked to serve. It is too easy to want to serve humanity, but then forget the actual human beings before us. Pastoral charity means that we must accept to grow out of our usual comfort zone. I think, though, Jason, you will also discover that this love of a priest for his people goes both ways. In my experience, the people of God WANT to love their priests. This is a great consolation. Always serve the people with kindness, and they will return that love with great generosity.
My dear Jason, the Church of Montreal, and indeed throughout the world, now faces the challenge of the New Evangelization. Our world needs Christ, and as a priest you will be able to literally place him in the palms of people’s hands. I therefore encourage you to put this New Evangelization, which comes from the Holy Spirit, at the heart of your priestly ministry and life. Help people to see how faith makes a difference. Share the enthusiasm you have for the Gospel with others. And always remember to live your own faith in joy and in hope, staying close to Christ no matter what comes. You will truly be a shepherd after the Father’s heart.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.