Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Week of Ordinations of Bishops

Before I was appointed to the Archdiocese of Regina, I was an Auxiliary Bishop in Toronto. This month two new Auxiliary Bishops were ordained for that Archdiocese. The first was Bishop William McGrattan who was rector of St. Peter's Seminary in London at the time of his appointment as bishop.

Bishop McGrattan has been described as a wonderful, visionary leader. I have had the pleasure of meeting him during a retreat I had gave at St. Peter's a couple of years ago. I know that he will be a fine assett to the Archdiocese of Toronto. And I am sure that he will enjoy his ministry there. I certainly have good memories of my time there and of the very fine priests, religious and lay people I met and worked with there. Bishop McGrattan was ordained as bishop in the Cathedral in London, ON.

And the second Ordination took place the day after Bishop McGrattan's. The ordination of Vincent Nguyen was an historic one. For Bishop Nguyen is the first Asian bishop to be ordained in Candada. His story is a fascinating one, telling of his leaving Vietnam on a fishing boat with his uncle's family as one of the "Boat People" at the age of sixteen.

I met him during my time in Toronto. One of my duties as Auxiliary Bishop was the Pastoral Mission Fund, a generous agency of the Archdiocese of Toronto which distributes close to a million and a half dollars each year to struggling dioceses and instutions around the world. Fr. Vincent sat on the Board with me and helped us see that the donations given were in fact going to the right places. I was impressed by his efficiency and clear thinking. So I was very pleased to hear that he was to be ordained as an Auxiliary Bishop for his diocese.

There was a very large number of people who attended the ordination along with almost as many priests and a good number of bishops some of whom are seen here before the Mass of Ordination was to begin.

Before the Mass of Ordination began, the Insignia of the Bishop, the miter and the bishop's ring were blessed. Here Archbishop Collins says the prayer of blessing.

As the Bishops process into St. Michael's Cathedral, you can see that the ground in Toronto looks a bit different from the ground I left in Regina, which had a good cover of snow on it.

Archbishop Collins was the Principal Consecrating Bishop is seen here in the centre. On the far left is Bishop Peter Hunt, Auxiliary Bishop of the Northern Region of the Archdiocese which was my old stomping grounds. Next to him is Bishop John Boissoneau who looks after the Western Region. Then next to Archbishop Collins is the new Auxiliary, Bishop McGrattan and on the far right, the newly ordained Bishop Vincent Nguyen.

Here with the new bishop are some pretty proud and happy Vietnamese priests who concelebrated the Mass. Indeed there was a great crowd of proud and happy Vietnamese people both in the cathedral and standing outside. It was a very special day for them.

And here I get to stand with the two of them. It was a beautiful celebration of that solemn celebration of the Ordination of a Bishop. St. Michael's Cathedral is a grand and historic building and the music sung by St. Michael's Choir School members was memorable in its beauty.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Refugee Sponsorship and the Bishops

Recently I was in Toronto to attend the Ordination of Vincent Nguyen as Auxiliary Bisho of Toronto. Earlier in the day I attended a special convening of Bishops to conincide with the First National Ctholic Conference on Refugee Sponsorship. The purpose of meeting was to discuss refugee sponsorship in the Catholic Church and in particular how we might address the crisis that our Iraqui Christian brothers and sisters are currently experiencing.

As Christians we have always understood the need to be attentive to people who are forced to flee their homes because of war and persecution to find a place of refuge. For good reason, for Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus were refugees in Egypt.

Present at the meeting was the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I had the opportunity to speak with him before the meeting began. Of interest to people here is that the Minister is a graduate of the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox.

The Conference was sponsored by the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) a Papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support and hosted jointly by the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Diocese of London. Speakers seated at the table were Martin Mark from the Office of Refugees for the Archdiocese of Toronto, Fr. Tim Hanley, John McGrath, Chancellor of Temporal Affairs of the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Hon. Jason Kenney, Archbishop Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto and Carl Hetu of CNEWA.

Archbishop Collins spoke of the time of the first bishop of Toronto, Bishop Power, when 40,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Toronto, at that time a city with a population of 20,000 people. They were stricken with typhoid fever and thousands died including Bishop Power who contracted the disease while caring for them. Most recently, the new Auxiliary Bishop for Toronto who was ordained that day, Bishop Vincent Nguyen, fled Vietnam at the age of sixteen as one of the Boat People seeking refuge in Canada. While our goal must be to help people stay in their own country and strengthen them, we must also welcome those who cannot stay

The Hon. Jason Kennedy said that Canada accepts the largest number of refugees from Iraq and the Middle East thanks to the work done by such Catholic agencies as the Archdioces of Toronto. He said that the Church is seen as a parther in this work of welcoming refugees. Canada has welcomed over a million refugees since World War II. Each year 100,000 refugees are settled throughout the world out of a total of a million and a half primarily by twenty developped countries. While the preference is to have people return to a stabilized country, Canada accepts 10,000 to 12,000 refugees who cannot return to their home country because of grave risk. Of these three to four thousand come to Canada through private sponsorship.
I am very pleased and proud that people and parishes in our Archdiocese have been part of this private sponsorship. The great advantage of private sponsorship is the personal care that is give to these people whose lives have been disrupted or shattered. This is a care that government sponsored refugees are not always able to receive. In private sponsorship, the refugees are met at the airport, taken to their home, helped to buy clothing and made sure that they have the necessities of life.
3800 refugees from Iraq have been settled in Canada, most of them are Catholics driven from their homes and country because of their Christian faith. It is especially important for the Church to look at ways to help bring these people to settlement in Canada. There are more people seeking settlement in Canada than the government is able to receive and process. Thus the urgent need for private sponsorship.
The Archdiocese of Regina took part in the National Conference on Refugee Sponsorship through its director of the diocese's Social Justice Office, Bert Pitzel.

Seen here from left to right: Carl H├ętu, National Secretary for CNEWA Canada; Gilbert Iyamuremye, Director of the Office of Refugees for the Diocese of London, and Martin Mark, Office fo Refugeews for the archdiocese of Toronto.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Special Retreat in the Mountains

Earlier this month, the Bishops of Western Canada took part in their annual retreat at the Benedictine Abbey in Mission BC. We were very privileged indeed to have with us Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop Emeritus of the diocese of Westminster in London, England.

It was a wonderful setting for these few days of prayer, silence and reflection. I had left Regina in the morning where the temperature was -36 Celsius. When I arrived at Westminster Abbey it was 4 or 5 above zero - and stayed that way for all our time there. The grass was green and the holly bushes were beautiful.
Christians have endowed the holly bush with much symbolism. Its perennially green leaves remind us of the gift of immortal life which Christ gives us. The sharp-toothed edge of the holly leaf reminds Christians of the crown of thorns with which the soldiers mocked Our Lord during His Passion. They laughingly hailed Him as king, never realizing that He is, indeed, King of the universe. As a Christmas symbol, the red holly berry represents Christ's blood, shed for all people out of love for them.

There are some pretty big and impressive trees on the Abbey property. Very beautiful with the moss and vines which climb them. If God's gift of nature on earth is so beautiful, how beautiful indeed must be the beauty of God who created all of this and who is reflected in its majesty.

The Abbey sits high above the Fraser River Valley with the majestic Rockies in the background.

The subject of Cardinal Cormac's "musings", as he called them, for our Retreat was "How can we sing to the Lord on alien soil." (Psalm 137) During the reflections he led us on a contemplation of the different "alien soils" which populate our lives, not the least of which are our own failings and weaknesses. He quoted the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart: "Stand firm and do not flee from you wilderness." We must rather face our weaknesses with trust in God for "Perseverance is the little sister of hope."

Another patch of "alien soil" is our world which has "divorced sex from love, love from commitment, marriage from children and the children from the resonsibility of their care." We live in a world which has "thousands of possibilities but no where to go."
What do we have to give in the face of this strange and wonderful world which we inhabit? We have the beauty of our Liturgy given to us in the great Ecumenical Council, Vatican II. We have a great sense of welcome and kindness shown to all, and we have the gift of the family, particularly the Church as family, our good Catholic families and the families of small faith groups that gather together in their 3's and 4's and read the Gospel and discuss the conditions of their lives in its context.

The Cardinal reminded us that Bernard of Clairvaux said that a Bishop should be "nec nemis sanctus, nec nemis sanis, nec nemis sapiens" (Not too holy, not too healthy and not too smart.) Mmm.
I will add only a few of his words on ecumenism, which is a challenging field and activity in our modern church. His Eminence recalled the words of Vatican II in its Decree on Ecumenism: "The can be no ecumenism without conversion of heart, newness of attitude and unstinted love." How very true and how very difficult. He spoke of the three enemies of ecumenism: Suspicion, Inertia and Impatience.

Bishop Gerry Wiesner of Prince George, BC, expressed the thanks of the bishops to Cardinal Cormac, emphasizing that hehad not only shared his insights and experiences in what he said to us but also that he shared of himself with us.

It was an excellent retreat for the bishops. I am grateful to this generous leader in our Church for giving us the gift of his time in spending four days with us. He has worked on many Vatican commissions and committees and still does so in his retirement. It was a delight to share in his vision of the Church and of our ministry and as well his personal experiences.

And here we are, the attendees at the Western Bishops Retreat for 2010.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Recognition of Models of Stewardship by the Presentation of Papal Awards

On January 5th, in conjunction with the Centennial Celebrations of the Archdiocese of Regina, fifteen of the faithful of the Archdiocese were presented with awards granted by Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of outstanding service to our Diocesan Church. These members of our diocesan church have exhibited model examples of Stewardship, sharing their gifts, talents and time in service to Christ and His Church.

We are especially grateful to the Holy Father for his kindness and generosity to our diocese in granting these awards of the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For the Church and the Pope) and the Medal Benemerenti (To a well deserving persion.)

The ceremony was carried out during the Liturgy of Evening Prayer. I will share with you my homily that evening and some pictures of those who received these honours that evening:

Sr. Bernadette Feist, OSU, E&P

Sr. Winnifred Brown RNDM, E&P

Sr. Florence Leduc CSC, MB
My dear sisters and brothers: we come together this evening to celebrate the liturgy of the Church and to honour members of our diocesan church for their example of generous service to Christ’s Community of faith. This service has been given in the spirit of true Stewardship, for they have shared the gifts that God has given to them for the benefit of us all.

Vivian Bosch, E&P
Because this offering of Evening Prayer is part of the Liturgy of the Church, it is a prayer of immense value and sacredness. While our personal prayers that conclude each day bring us into an intimate exchange with God, the Liturgy of the Hours is more than our private prayer. It is the prayer of the whole Church. And because it is the prayer of the Church it is the prayer of Christ. And so this evening we pray with Christ as he offers hymns and psalms of praise to his Father.

Penny Malone, MB
As you well know, are in the process of celebrating the Centennial of our Archdiocese this year. And as part of this very special celebration of our Church’s life and history, we have felt that it would be important to recognize those people among us who are special examples of the faith and service upon which our diocesan church was built and which has sustained us for the first century of our existence.

Wendelin Herle MB

As we give recognition to these few people this evening, we recognize the generosity of the many, many people who give of themselves so that the work of Jesus Christ may continue in our diocesan church. And we recognize as well all of those people who have gone before us for a hundred years, whose gift of themselves to the work of God in our world has brought our Archdiocese through a century of living out the Catholic faith.

Mary Holash BM
The reading of God’s Word from the letter of St. Paul to Titus has some helpful words for us as we recognize tonight the good works that people do in our diocesan church. St. Paul writes: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

Henry Laboida MB

Richard Turchenek, MB

There is no human deed that we can do which would enable us to say to God, “I have done this, now you must give me salvation.” No human deed has that worth or value. No human deed has the power to give us eternal life. Therefore God in his goodness and loving kindness towards us gives us the gift of Salvation because God is merciful and God loves us.

Robert Waldegger, MB

If our good deeds do not bring about our salvation, then why does Paul say we must insist on this teaching so that those who believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works, which Paul says are excellent things and are profitable to everyone?

Gordon Stopanski, MB

We who are disciples of Jesus because of our baptism and confirmation, do good deeds to show our gratitude to God for his love, his forgiveness, his mercy and his presence in each of our lives. Do you remember the sinful woman in Luke’s Gospel who washed Jesus feet with her tears? Jesus said of her: “I tell you, her sins which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”

Art Vanderzalm, MB

And that is why we strive to do good deeds: it is the way we show our love for God who has saved us. In this Christmas season we recall once again how Jesus by his birth in Bethlehem became Emmanuel, a name that means “God with Us.” God’s presence in each of our lives is God’s gift of love to us. That gift strengthens us in times of difficulty, it gives us hope and consolation, it shines light into those dark times in life and it gives us hope for our future. And so we do good deeds to show our gratitude and to show our love for God because we recognize all that God has done for us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Velma Harrison, E&P

Lorne Harasen, E&P

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he said to his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the Earth.” The followers of Jesus have taken up the challenge of this mission given to them by Jesus through the centuries.
People in our own diocesan church also have taken up that mission to be witnesses of Jesus to all around them. They have shown that witness by their generosity to God in the things that they do. They’ve done it for a hundred years as a diocesan church. And they continue to do so today.

Ron Kruzeniski, E&P

This evening we confer two special honours granted by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI: the Benemerenti Medal, instituted by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832 and granted to those who have been recognized as being “well deserving persons” as a mark of recognition for long and exceptional service to the Catholic Church.
Vince Morrison, E&P

And secondly the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice, instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, bestowed to lay people and clergy who have given zealous and outstanding service to the Church.

We are grateful to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI for accepting our recommendations for these honours and bestowing them on those who will now receive them this evening.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 1, 2010 "Life and Salvation through Mary's Son, Jesus Christ"

It has been a tradition in Regina for the Archbishop to hold a Levee on New Year's Day. A Levee is simply a reception in which all the people of the Archdiocese are welcome to come to the Cathedral Hall, meet and exchange greetings with the Archbishop, have a light lunch, and enjoy one another's company. I enjoy the Levee. I meet some wonderful people and it's a real plealure to watch as they stay for a while and chat with each other and share some snacks. The Church is essentially a community of people bonded by our baptism into one people. We have a tough time with community these days. I think particularly so in families who because of the pressures of the times have few opportunities even to eat together any more. The Levee reminds us of the joys of our links to one another.

On hand with me was Fr. Arthur Vandendriessche, one of the priests who were awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice and the Bene Merenti medals this year in recognition of exceptional dedication and work for the Diocesan Church.

Also on hand was our newest and oldest Monsignor, Msgr Mike Hogan who celebrated his 66th anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood this past year. Msgr Hogan was Vicar General for the Archdiocese for a number of years and served the Church as Diocesan Administrator as well. I noticed that it was a great pleasure for people to meet these generous priests and give them their congratulations.

Also Deacon Barry Wood and his wife Shiela were on hand. Deacon Barry came to work for the Archdiocese this year as Financial Officer.

And some other priests came along as well, including Fr. Norm Marcotte who retired this year as Pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Regina.

There were lots of people of all ages who came and shared in this special event. Msgr Ken Miller, the former Vicar General of the Archdiocese, was with me to welcome and introduce people to me. Msgr Miller, who also has served the diocesan church on many levels seems to know just about everybody around!

I will let you see some of the many people who came on New Year's Day and certainly brightened my day. In between the pictures I will share with you my reflection on the importance of the Feast of Mary the Mother of God, which is our Liturgical Celebration on January 1st.

I was asked once: “Why is New Year’s Day a Holy Day of Obligation?” I had to reply that New Year’s Day wasn’t a holy day of obligation. However the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God on January 1 was. I wasn’t trying to be smart with this honest question. But I did want to draw attention to why we come to Mass today and why it is a holy day of Obligation.

Today, in Church language, is the Octave Day of Christmas, the eighth day since Christmas Day. But again the question: What is so special about this day? Well, let me give a little illustration. This past summer my mother celebrated a big birthday; she turned 90. Her birthday is on July 11th and we had a party for her with all her family there. But then when I was home with her, we had a special meal for her birthday at another time.

And at different times people dropped by to give congratulations and these included little celebrations. My mother doesn’t like a fuss, so one birthday celebration would have been more than enough for her, but it ended up that she had a number of birthday celebrations, spread over many days. The importance of that birthday couldn’t be acknowledged by her family and friends just in one day. It needed more time.

That is the way it is in the Church with very special celebrations. At Christmas we celebrate God’s decision to be born into our world as a human child, as one of us. As St. Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians, the Son of God had to empty himself of all the glory of God in order to be born into our human race. This is an act of intense love by God for us.

The Church finds that to celebrate this in one day is not adequate. And so the Church celebrates Christmas Day for eight days. In the life and the prayer of the Church, Christmas Day begins on December 25th and ends on January 1st. Today we God’s people conclude the celebration of Christmas Day by reflecting on Mary, who in giving birth to Jesus has become the Mother of God.

Once again Mary, as mothers are known to do, puts her finger on our chin and turns our face so that we are looking at Jesus her son, her son who is God. She reminds us, in this sacred and divine liturgy of her feast, “He was called Jesus, the name that was given by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The name “Jesus” was understood to mean “God Saves.” Jesus then is the Saviour. Jesus, the Son of Mary and the Son of God is the one who saves us. The one who saves you and me.

When the angel said to the shepherds in that dark Christmas night illuminated by heavenly light: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” the angel was addressing those words to every person in the world, to each of us here, to you and to me. A saviour is born to you and to me.

What does that mean for us? Let us look at the words of the Gospel again: St. Luke writes that, having received the message of the birth of a Saviour from the angels; the shepherds immediately go to Bethlehem. They say “Let us go and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

When I listen to these words I immediately think of the beginning of John’s Gospel where John the Baptist watches Jesus as he walks by one day. John says to his disciples who were with him: “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” One of those disciples, Andrew, and another immediately set out after Jesus. Like the shepherds on their way to Bethlehem, Andrew and his friends set out to go and see who this Lamb of God is.

In a sense this is what we do in our lives as disciples of Jesus, for that is who we, the baptized members of the Church, are. We too, like the Shepherds, like the disciples of John, are told things about Jesus by our parents and grandparents, by our priests, by reading the Word of God in the Bible. And we too set out in different ways to go and see what it is all about.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus turned to the two and said to them “what are you looking for?” Now that is a very big question, isn’t it. It is one of the great “life questions.” “What are you looking for in your life?” Jesus says to us. What is it that you really want? The shepherds went looking for a Saviour and found a baby lying in a manger. Andrew and his friend went looking for a Saviour, and found Jesus. This feast today puts that question to us: ”What are you looking for in your life?” That makes me ask myself: “What am I looking for in my life?” If I am looking for a Saviour, what is it that I need to be saved from?

The Gospel sheds light on some of the answers to those questions. The first words spoken by the Angels announcing the birth of the Saviour were: “Do not be afraid.” These are words that Jesus repeated over and over again as he spoke to people who came to listen to him. “Do not be afraid.” What I fear is what I need to be saved from.

We do not like to admit our fears. Yet, fear is one of those big things in life, is it not? We worry and fret about many things: about sickness, about the health of those we love, we fear sorrow, we fear loss, we fear pain and we fear coming face to face with death. It is easy for fear to possess us. Fear can be a great darkness for many of us as we live our life. Fear can even enslave us.

But this feast of the mother whose son is God tells us that we are no longer slaves to anything. For, because of Jesus’ birth, we have been made God’s sons and daughters. A light has shone into the darkness of our fears and has strengthened us. That light is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, the one who Saves us.

St. Paul tells us that because we have been made sons and daughters of God, we are heirs to the treasure of God. When the shepherds came to Bethlehem, they saw a child, a newborn baby. They saw innocence and peace; they saw love. And they saw new life. They saw the treasure of God: an innocence that overcomes guilt and cunningness and deceit. They saw peace that overcomes violence, injustice and oppression. They saw love that overcomes division, strife and hatred. And they saw a life that would overcome death.

Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. We do that too as we celebrate the Birth of the Saviour. And we pray that God will be gracious to us and bless us in the New Year that lies ahead. We pray that, like the shepherds, may we make known to those around us what we have been told about this Child whose birth we celebrate. We pray that God may bless us with the strength and courage to make known to the nations of the world, the saving power of God’s great love. For this is a power that has freed us from darkness and a love that has filled our lives with a brightness and hope which will last for all eternity.
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Many thanks go out to the ladies at the Cathedral who hosted the reception, poured tea and coffee and were so welcoming to people. And many thanks as well the the Knights of Columbus who made it easy for people to come and exchange greetings with their Archbishop and added dignity to the afternoon. And my thanks as well to the Bishop Elect of Saskatoon, Donald Bolen, our past Vicar General, for coming and being there for the people of our diocesan Church. We all wish him well and warmly congratulate him on his appointment by the Holy Father to the Diocese of Saskatoon.