Defender of faith

  • August 31, 2011

His Eminence Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic never craved a public spotlight in life and would not have sought the widespread outpouring of affection accompanying his death. But it is entirely appropriate for the Catholic community to stop and prayerfully commemorate a life of unwavering faith and service that touched so many lives.

To those who didn’t really understand him — and, sadly, it seems there were many — Cardinal Ambrozic was the gruff, old-fashioned, uncompromising archbishop who led the archdiocese of Toronto for 16 years.  But to those he called friend or colleague, to the many poor and disadvantaged he quietly helped, to the thousands of new Canadians he welcomed with open arms, and to the champions of such causes as vocations, education, life and family, he was a wise, supportive and unfailingly kind pastor.

As head of Canada’s largest archdiocese, much of Cardinal Ambrozic’s ministry was conducted in public view. That was unavoidable. But despite the demands of his busy office, Cardinal Ambrozic quietly spent countless hours in parishes and schools, supported several lay movements and social-justice causes, and privately ministered to those on the fringes of society.  

A story elsewhere in this issue recounts how Cardinal Ambrozic, upon returning from Rome after being elevated to cardinal, made it his first official act to quietly spend time at a shelter for homeless men. A story from a previous Register issue told of an elderly woman who frequently received Communion at home from a Hamilton priest. She had asked him not to visit on Fridays because another priest often came by that day. But one Friday, being in the neighbourhood anyway, the Hamilton priest dropped in at the home and met the other priest. It was Cardinal Ambrozic. The woman had helped the Ambrozics after they had fled war-torn Yugoslavia and, decades later, the cardinal still repaid the kindness.

The media never warmed to Cardinal Ambrozic. That’s largely because an increasingly secular society and media is uncomfortable with faith in general, but also because Cardinal Ambrozic refused to bend when popular culture conflicted with his faith. Critics sometimes called him aloof and out of touch and labelled him as too conservative because he was outspoken in opposing abortion, promoting traditional marriage and defending a male priesthood. But he was unfazed.  

On fundamental matters of faith, he never worried about checking which way the wind was blowing. To him, it always blew in one direction, the true direction set 2,000 years ago. If being called a traditionalist meant remaining faithful to Catholic teaching and the apostolic tradition of the Church, Cardinal Ambrozic carried that mantle proudly.

Throughout 56 years of priesthood he was a Gibraltar of faith and stewardship. That is how he is remembered and why Catholics should be proud to follow his example.

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