Andrew Bennett was interviewed by CCO president Jeff Lockert as part of its annual RiseUp young adult conference. Photo courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach

Diplomat tells students to live religious freedom boldly

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • January 6, 2016

MONTREAL - The greatest threat to religious freedom in Canada is silence, Canada’s ambassador for Religious Freedom told more than 700 university students attending the Rise Up conference in Montreal.

Andrew Bennett’s role as a diplomat, he said, has been to promote religious freedom openly as a central part of Canadian foreign policy, and “to speak out as boldly as possible, to recognize the inherent dignity of each human being.”

“I am called not only to see those being persecuted, but to see their persecutors,” he told the conference, hosted by Catholic Christian Outreach, a Canadian university student movement.

Bennett became Canada’s first Ambassador for Religious Freedom three years ago, but with the recent change in government the future of his position has not been determined. A teacher at Augustine College in Ottawa, where he is Professor of the History of Christianity, Bennett is also a sub deacon and cantor at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian-Catholic Shrine.

During a question and answer period he told his audience that religious freedom is more than “simply the freedom to go to Mass on Sunday.”

“It is about answering the existential question, ‘Who am I?’ It’s about discovering who we are in relationship to others.

“Interfaith dialogue requires you to be honest about what you believe. You are not being truthful if you do not say what you truly believe. And when you have the conversation with various religious communities, do it in a loving and open way, with charity, always with charity.”

He said Christians in Canada have not gone out of their way to affirm their faith.

“We have not been speaking out,” he said. “We want to ghettoize ourselves to feel safe. We need to take confidence in the witness of those who have come before us. We need to have confidence in who we are, not just in the private sphere, but in the public sphere. As Catholics, being baptized, we must engage the world in a sacramental way.

“If you can be open about your faith, that will draw others to you.”

The theme of the five-day conference — Made for Greatness — was inspired by Pope Benedict’s observation that “Man is made for greatness, but his heart is too small for the greatness which is intended, so it needs to be stretched.”

The conference, which attracted participants from across Canada, received an inspirational address from John Stevens, the manager of pastoral life and new evangelization for the Archdiocese of Halifax.

“Greatness means being pointed in the right direction,” he told the students. “We are God’s handiwork, we are made by God, are we moving in the right direction? When you are not looking in the right direction, you miss out, no matter where you are now.”

Stevens warned the crowd not to slip into spiritual paralysis by waiting for great things to happen.

“Small choices add up to great things,” he said.

Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine reminded the delegates that Montreal was founded in 1642 by young people who were on a mission much like theirs. He encouraged them to take inspiration from the conference and “to spread Christianity all across Canada.”

The RiseUp young adult movement started at the University of Saskatchewan 27 years ago when André and Angèle Regnier began a charismatic group for Catholics. It has expanded to 13 universities across the country.

The 2016 conference will be held in Vancouver.

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