Canadian youth gather at the TAURON Arena in Krakow, Poland during World Youth Day July 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Bill Wittman

Experts weigh in on future of the Church in Canada

  • July 30, 2017

Younger, smarter, rooted in Scripture, based on tradition, more feminine, better connected with other Christians, more aware of other faiths.

These are just some of the characteristics Canadians can expect to ascribe to the Church of the not-too-distant future, according to experts from a variety of subject areas — from theology to education to ethics to architecture.

As Canada celebrates its 150th year since Confederation, this is as good a time as any to gather ourselves, take a deep breath and look ahead. What will this Church look like in another generation or two? Who are we becoming?

“It’s impossible to imagine it (the Church) not being more feminine,” said Catholic feminist and educator Martha Crean.

It isn’t just a matter of a Vatican commission looking into the historical role of female deacons, or a few high profile appointments of women. The Church is becoming more feminine because it has feminine roots, said the co-president of the deVeber Institute, a Toronto-based forum for bio-ethical research and education.

“We know in any church you go into, women generally outnumber men,” Crean said. “I don’t think this is new. I think this goes way back to the catacombs.”

Crean rejects a debate about women in the Church that begins and ends with who gets to preside at Mass.

“Feminine or masculine, it’s a question of shared authority,” she said. “Just being feminine — does that imply, necessarily, a more co-operative spirit? I don’t think so. I think it’s sometimes a shorthand for trying to talk about values that are more community-driven and are less hierarchical.”

As more administrative powers devolve into the hands of lay people, Crean believes women will exercise greater influence in Canada’s Catholic future.

The Church will also be younger, and not just in years.

Kataryna Kuzar, 25, is employed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto to co-ordinate their youth ministry program called Faith Connections, which is focused on next year’s Synod on Youth in Rome. For Kuzar, a younger Church isn’t defined by demographics. It is one that hears and encourages young people.

“It will be really young and very vibrant — and it will be different, too,” Kuzar told The Catholic Register. “The focus right now is shifting. I can see that shift and it’s very significant.”

Pope Francis talks about a Church that leads with compassion and mercy. That has tempted young people to approach the Church without fear, said Kuzar.

“Letting people know that we’re not called to be perfect — we’re called to strive for holiness,” she said. “When people understand that we’re not condemning people…. It’s a matter of approaching people with love. God loves you so much. That approach will definitely change the dynamic of the Church, and it will be young.”

As Our Lady Seat of Wisdom president Keith Cassidy watches more students join his new Catholic college in Barry’s Bay, Ont., he sees a future that has left behind false notions of a tradition opposed to modernity.

“It is more meaningful to speak of a magisterial Church, a Church which is always new and fresh because it speaks eternal truth to a changing society,” Cassidy wrote in an email to The Catholic Register. “To speak in terms of being either traditional or modern is to load the rhetorical dice. In being true to its traditions, the Church is simultaneously being more relevant to contemporary society than (it is to) the latest intellectual fads.”

Catholic education engaged with the world will make a smarter Church in the next two generations, said King’s University College president David Sylvester.

“They are getting smarter,” Sylvester said, and he’s not just talking about intelligence aired in the classroom. Smarter means students have applied what they know in the real world on service-learning trips to the Dominican Republic, Africa, Rome and the traditional Dene lands in the Northwest Territories. Sylvester describes this sort of applied, experiential learning as “an apostolic education.”

The ace in the hand of every Catholic educator is Pope Francis, according to Sylvester.

“Francis is really showing us that faith requires a real engagement with the world,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of the Church versus the world.”

Salt and light are no one’s adversaries.

next canada 150 webA Canadian girl listen attentively during a gathering at Krakow, Poland’s TAURON Arena during World Youth Day 2016 July 26, 2016. (Photo by Bill Wittman)

“Christianity can survive persecution. Whether Christianity can survive consumerism, having all these first-world riches, our affluence — that, I think, is the bigger issue,” said Jesuit retreat master Fr. Roger Yaworski. “Spiritually, a vacuum gets created. In that vacuum there will be some call for us to return to spirituality.”

The same may be true for our view of the Bible.

“I liken the Bible to the Church’s constitutional documents,” said St. Michael’s University Scripture scholar John McLaughlin. “We have to go back to them. We have to interpret them.”

He has seen a growing interest among Catholics in acquiring the tools to interpret Scripture.

“Fifty, 60 people on a Tuesday night in a church basement to hear a talk about the Bible,” said McLaughlin.

“The old myth about Catholics being forbidden to read the Bible still floats around,” he said. “I can’t prognosticate, but my hope is that it will be a foundational document, a foundational source for us.

“Vatican II talks about ... the two streams of revelation — Scripture and tradition. It’s a fundamental belief of the Catholic Church that God is revealed to us in those words. If we ever lost that we would in fact have lost our way and it would cease to be the Catholic Church.”

The Church will never stop building churches. As populations shift, each new community stakes a claim with buildings that are more than shelter. Architect Roberto Chiotti is hopeful those new buildings will be beautiful.

“We are a resurrection people. We are a hopeful community. We are all those things. So how do we become beacons of hope in a challenging world?” Chiotti asks. “That doesn’t mean trying to reclaim the glorious past. It’s hope to people who are struggling in the world.

“To me, beautiful is not beautiful unless it addresses all those other things. Good design is not good design unless it respects diversity of life on the planet, it acknowledges that every life-form and non-life-form on the planet is a unique expression of God’s creation.”

Chiotti’s church designs aim to respect the environment by taking less from it. His energy-efficient churches have won awards. They have also been the result of ordinary parishioners talking to the architects about what they aspire to as a parish.

The future Church in Canada will talk more often and more directly about how our civilization relates to the natural world, said Dennis Patrick O’Hara, director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Ecology and Theology.

Laudato Si (the 2015 papal encyclical on the environment) was a conversation changer, there’s no doubt about it,” said O’Hara, a professor of theology at St. Michael’s University. “You can see that parishes are taking up interest in ecological justice, in having a more informed understanding of our relationship with the rest of creation. Is it revolutionary? No. But it is happening.”

Indigenous people around the world have a special place in the dialogue about our natural world, says Pope Francis.

“They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners,” the Pope wrote in Laudato Si.

Dialogue and reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples can only help make the Catholic Church in Canada what God intended it to be, according to Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon. For Gordon, the Church is enriched by the dialogue and the friendship that results from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process.

“I mean Christ is the ultimate dialogue. He enters into our Mass. He abandons Himself,” Gordon said. “How does St. Paul put it? He did not cling to His equality with God but rather emptied Himself to assume the condition of a slave. So Christ has really performed the great dialogue and we all imitate Him, or try.”

Reality also demands the Church find new ways of expressing itself through ecumenical dialogue and action, said Archdiocese of Regina director of ecumenical and interfaith affairs Nicholas Jesson.

“We are no longer the majority in our community. There’s an assumption in our society now that faith is private and it’s something optional,” said Jesson. “Religious communities are increasingly identifying themselves as having views out of the mainstream. That therefore requires them to be more articulate about the reasons for their practices and convictions. That allows them to identify common ground with others.”

Catholics won’t only find allies and companions among the other Christian churches, said Archdiocese of Toronto director of interfaith and ecumenical affairs Fr. Timothy MacDonald. New relationships will help to carve out a space for all lives of faith, whether Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu.

“Because of the diversity within our own faith community, it is sort of preparing us for those positive and harmonious relationships with others in the future. A lot more co-operation on social issues will come to the fore because of it. I think that’s already begun.”

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