Pope Benedict XVI presents a red biretta to Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto at the Vatican Feb. 18. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Collins’ elevation to College of Cardinals highlights 2012

  • December 31, 2012

Every year is a collection of beginnings. In 2012 we began to pray a new English translation of the Mass. We began to call Toronto’s Archbishop Thomas Collins Cardinal Collins.

We began to invest our prayers and hopes in St. (not Blessed) Kateri Tekakwitha. We began to fear for the people and particularly the Christians of Syria. We began to recall the Second Vatican Council in a new way for this Year of Faith.

But most of every year is filled with struggles that span lifetimes and are passed on from generation to generation. This year Canadians again took up the debate about abortion as they learned more about sex-selection by abortion. At the other end of life we wondered, who should pull the plug — doctor or family?

As Collins received his red hat Feb. 18, there was more to it than another honour in his remarkable ecclesial career. There are good reasons why a College of Cardinals without the archbishop of Toronto has become unthinkable.

In elevating Collins, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that Toronto is important to the whole Church. It is not important simply because Toronto is a paragon of everything urban, modern and secular. This city and its Catholics also welcome immigrants and refugees from every corner of the globe, speaking every language, practising every religion, carrying with them their hopes and struggles for a life of meaning.

By May Pope Benedict XVI was praying for the dead of Syria and condemning Syrian leaders who are willing to substitute murder for politics. The massacre in Houla killed 108 and opened the world’s eyes to the cost of militarized politics in the Middle East — a cost borne disproportionately by minorities, especially Christians.

Though Syrian Christians have been clear that they have not been targeted in this conflict, they are a minority surrounded by men with guns. When Benedict XVI went to Lebanon in September to encourage Middle Eastern Christians he became for their sake a champion of civil, democratic politics.

“Human liberty is always a shared reality,” he said.

In 2012 the world became increasingly aware of how Christians suffer when religious freedom is compromised, but it wasn’t just an issue in far-off places.

“Please consider the implications for all when legislation is enacted that overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community, and intrudes on its freedom to act in a way that is in accord with its principles of conscience,” Collins said in May as he pleaded with Ontario legislators to allow Catholic schools to come up with their own solutions to bullying.

But in a clash of freedoms, the Ontario legislature ruled that students have the freedom to impose a name of their choosing on the school. This year, Catholic schools with Gay Straight Alliances were born.

But it was an historic coming together between Canada’s First Nations and the Church which made for better prayers. On Oct. 21 Kateri Tekakwitha was declared a saint, protectress of Canada, a patron of youth and entrusted to her “the renewal of the faith in the First Nations and in all of North America.” More than 2,000 pilgrims and nearly 20 Canadian bishops were at the Vatican to begin a new relationship with native Canadians based on St. Kateri’s guidance and protection.

The recent history of life debates in Canada has been one of fear and silence. Christians who plead for the life of the unborn have been told they are misogynists who wish to punish poor and vulnerable women. Politicians have declared the absence of law a settled issue. This year, that didn’t work.

In Ottawa, Conservative backbencher Stephen Woodworth spent much of the year trying to persuade Parliament to study the question of when life begins. His Motion-312 was condemned as a backdoor attempt to recriminalize abortion. Despite Woodworth’s denials, the motion went down to defeat in September.

But Woodworth’s motion was almost immediately followed by fellow Conservative Mark Warawa’s Motion-408 to condemn gender-selective abortion. It began with an April Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial suggesting Canadian women born in South Korea and India were giving birth to unusually high numbers of boys, and that doctors and hospitals should withhold information about the gender of a fetus from women. The fate of Warawa’s motion has not been decided.

Perhaps less polarized but equally wrenching has been the 2012 debate about physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, palliative care and the dignity of the dying.

Hassan Rasouli’s case was argued before the Supreme Court of Canada Dec. 10. Doctors at Sunnybrook Hospital are keeping the man once diagnosed as suffering a permanent vegetative state and later as minimally conscious alive with round the-clock medical intervention. Doctors argue that what they are doing is not medicine and they should be allowed to stop.

Rasouli’s Iranian Muslim family says all life, even minimally conscious life, is precious and they cannot in conscience allow him to die.

So whose call is it — the doctors or the family’s? The Supreme Court’s answer may shape the debate in 2013.

But Canada’s top judges won’t be allowed to rest on end-oflife questions. In June British Columbia judge Lynn Smith ruled the law against assisted suicide violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case has gone to the B.C. Court of Appeal and will almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

“It’s how we treat dying people that will tell us the ethical tone of society,” McGill University law professor and bioethicist Margaret Somerville told the deVeber Institute in November.

If the history of one year can be so complex, so difficult, how do we face life? With faith, says the Holy Father.

The first question Pope Benedict XVI received on his new @pontifex Twitter account was, “How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?”

His answer: “By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what He tells you in the Gospel and looking for Him in those in need.”

Benedict called for a Year of Faith to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The Catholic response to history — whether the history of 1962 or of 2012 — is faith. Faith grounds us in the present by knowing the past and trusting in the future. This Year of Faith extends to Oct. 11, 2013, but faith itself is never ending.

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