Canadian bishops attend their 2019 annual plenary meeting in Cornwall, Ontario. This year's assembly began virtually Sept. 21. CNS photo/courtesy Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Canadian bishops' plenary adapts to the times

  • September 23, 2020

OTTAWA -- The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a challenging learning experience for the Catholic Church in Canada, and that continued when the first-ever online Plenary Assembly of Canada’s bishops began Sept. 21 as bishops from across the nation gathered in front of their computers to get down to business.

“We are only meeting for two hours a day so we have to pack a lot of things into that,” Calgary Bishop William McGrattan said during an opening day briefing broadcast online by Salt + Light TV.

There were a number of adaptations made to the normal schedule, including Archbishop Richard Gagnon’s president’s report being held until later in the week. But the plenary plowed ahead, with Gagnon delivering the traditional “Message to the Holy Father.”

“Holy Father, know that we will hold you in sincere prayer throughout this week as we meet in plenary. We humbly ask that you bestow your paternal and apostolic blessing upon our fraternal assembly and the work that lies before it,” said Gagnon’s message, which also laid out some of the key issues to be discussed.

Among the issues on the bishops’ agenda are: the protection of minors and vulnerable adults; family and life-related matters; reconciliation and relationship-building with Indigenous Peoples; formation for and within the presbyterate; charitable and development initiatives in the Global South through Development and Peace; the impact of the COVID-19 reality upon faith communities; and proposed federal legislation concerning ethical matters and Catholic social teaching, Gagnon said.

“These topics, and many others, will occupy our time and prayer during this plenary meeting, where we gather as shepherds who strive to accompany our wounded world into the abundant life of Jesus Christ.”

The first day of the meeting also included a presentation by Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, who delivered greetings on behalf of Pope Francis.

McGrattan said Bonazzi’s message about how the pandemic and the disruptions it has caused in the ability of the Church to engage with its flock has provided an opportunity for leaders in the Church and parishioners as well to “reflect on what we are being called to.” He said that message is being taken to heart by Canada’s bishops.

“It has offered some challenges, but also some opportunities,” McGrattan said.

McGrattan said that while the new normal of going online for this year’s plenary can get confusing at times, especially when there are matters that require a vote, just like the Church as a whole has had to adapt to technology for services he expects the bishops will adapt as well during the weeklong virtual gathering that was to conclude Sept. 25.

“I expect it will go more smoothly as we proceed,” he said.

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