This past week the Canadian Bishops met in a Plenary Session at the Navcan Centre in Cornwall, Ontario. As you can see from this little picture of the courtyard, it's a very pleasant place to hold a meeting. Many of the windows look out on the St. Lawrence River as it runs through Cornwall and at this time of year the trees are changing into the many colours that are common here in central Canada.
The Bishops meet, as members of the Conference, from Monday morning until Friday at noon to deal with issues that come to the fore in the Roman Catholic Dioceses in Canada. These meetings allow the Bishops to hear expert speakers on pertinent topics, to listen to each other's opinions on matters in the Church and to approve or reject statements that come from the Permanent Council of the Conference and which may be issued publicly.
In this picture from left to right are Fr. Bill Burke, national director of the Liturgy Office of the Conference of Bishops for the English sector, Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, Bishop James Wingle of St. Catharines, Bishop Murray Chatelaine from Yellowknife and Auxilliary Bishop elect Brian Dunn of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
During the Plenary Assembly there were two major international events which took place this year to be reviewed: the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City and the World Youth Day events in Sydney, Australia, in which a large number of Canadian youth participated. Both were seen to be immensely successful events with positive results for the faith in Canada.
Grand Chief Phil Fontaine spoke to the Bishops in a moving manner in which he recalled the long relationship that the Catholic Church has with the native people of Canada. It is a relationship marked by ups and downs and, recently, deep felt difficulties, challenges and indeed broken spirits because of the residential school experience. Following the apology by the Prime Minister in June of this year, which was a momentous occassion, the Grand Chier said this is also an opportunity now to look to the future and called upon the Catholic Church to walk with the First Nations People in order to build a future of growth and advancement for them. He told the Bishops that the Church has a significant role to play in building something better than what has gone on before. This will require openess, big hearts, forgiveness, trust and confidence.
He stated that the greatest obstacle to be overcome is the poverty that marks the First Nations People and held out a hand to the Catholic Church in invitation to use its influence to help overcome that poverty and foster education which will help greatly build the future of the First Nations people. He told the Bishops that the First Nations People did not look to the Church for its money but rather it influence, experience and commitment for good. He said to the Bishops: "You understand more than any who we are and where we want to take our community."
He said to the Bishops that "we need to figure out how we can work together on this journey. We need to walk together to rebuild this historic relationship." His words were welcomed with strong and sustained applause by the Bishops. It was a moving and monumental moment.
This year has been proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as the year of St. Paul. Two theologians: Rev. Scott Lewis, S.J. and Rev. Michedl Gourgues, O.P. each made a presentation on St. Paul to the Bishops.
Seen here are Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, OMI of Keewatin LePas and Eparchical Bishop emeritus Michael Wiwchar CSsR of Saskatoon who were sitting next to me during the Assembly. There were lots of reports from different Commissions, committes and activities. Another highlight of the Assembly was a presentation made and panel discussion led by Rabbi Leigh Lerner, Senior Rabbi at Temple Emmanu-El-Beth Sholomon in Montreal and Sister Eileen Schullere, O.S.U. Chairperson of the Christian Jewish Consultation and a CCCB representative on this commitee. This discussion dealt with present day successes and recent challenges that have arisen towards the strengthening of relatioship between the Church and the Jewish Community. This too was a vital and challenging presentation which received a warm response from the Bishops.
Here we see Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse and Bishop James Wingle of St. Catharines discussing some business in the courtyard of the Conference centre.
They were joined by Cardinal Marc Ouellette, Archbishop of Quebec who will soon be on his way to exercise an imporant function of leadership as principal "Relator" in the upcoming Synod of Bishops which will discuss the place of the Word of God in the Church. We wish His Eminence well in this challenging task and we know that he will do us proud as the Primate of the Church in Canada.