Ouellet holds out hope Pope will attend congress

  • December 4, 2007

{mosimage}OTTAWA - Cardinal Marc Ouellet returned to Canada from Rome Nov. 29 with no final answer on whether Pope Benedict XVI will attend the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress next June in Quebec City.

“I am still praying and hoping and asking people for prayer because it would be a great blessing to welcome the Holy Father with his charism,” said Ouellet.

“We need his word, his wonderful word, here in Quebec City on this occasion. It would be an extraordinary support to the effort of the church to re-centre its activity and its faith in the Holy Eucharist, which is so important."

How does the Quebec archbishop deal with the suspense?

“I tell you, it is not easy,” Ouellet said in an interview from Quebec City Dec. 3. “I don’t know his answer. I really don’t know. And I don’t know exactly when he will make it public and in exactly which form.”

Ouellet planned to meet with his organizing committee soon to find out how much lead time is necessary to prepare for a papal visit. He had said previously an answer would be needed before Christmas.

“Do we really need an answer six months ahead of time or can we wait a little more?” he said, noting he did not want to push too hard in Rome and get a negative answer. “I prefer to let them have more time.”

The Pope told him he is still reflecting on his decision. Ouellet believes the main obstacle is the impact of intercontinental trips on the 80-year-old Pope’s stamina, especially since he is going to New York and Washington in April and to Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day in July.

While Ouellet finds the suspense difficult, he is undaunted, even cheerful, despite weeks of negative media attention. The first wave followed his Oct. 30 brief to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission studying reasonable accommodation of religious minorities in Quebec. His subsequent open letter of apology to Quebeckers for the sins of some church officials prior to 1960 provoked even more negative attention.

Ouellet acknowledged the reaction was “huge,” but said it is an indication “the religious dimension of our culture is still alive and still very important.”

He described his Bouchard-Taylor intervention as a “wake up call for Catholics.” In it, he blamed the collapse of Catholicism, one of the pillars of Quebec society and identity, for Quebeckers unease with minorities, high suicide rates, plummeting marriage rates and miniscule birth rate.

“I realized there was a sort of void of leadership, in a way, so I took a strong stance, and I had strong reactions,” he said. “So I came back with a completely different intervention.”

That intervention apologized for anti-Semitism, racism, indifference towards First Nations and negative treatment of women and homosexuals. It asked whether excessive authoritarianism contributed to Catholicism’s collapse.

To Ouellet, the reaction had a “therapeutical value” that has continued the debate.

“So the operation is successful so to speak, I hope it will bring us further.”

Ouellet said the intervention and the subsequent apology were not improvised. For two years, the planners of the Congress have been looking at ways to include a dimension of repentance. For several months, a committee has been examining specifics. The reaction following his Bouchard-Taylor brief indicated to him the time was right.

Though he did consult with some other bishops, he did not involve the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops (AECQ). He said the AECQ had agreed last September each bishop could intervene personally before the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. He had mentioned informally acts of repentance to the AECQ.

“I think personally that it is probably very difficult to get to a sort of consensus on such a gesture,” he said. “Yeah, it could have been better with the whole group of bishops but it could have ended up in nothing.”

Ouellet said he did not talk to the Pope specifically about the apology reaction when he met with him in Rome Nov. 26.

“I didn’t have time to expose the whole situation but certainly his coming would help to reverse the secularist trend, you know, in our culture.

“I talked to him about the Eucharistic Congress and about his coming and our desire that he would come. That was the main subject.”

He said many Quebeckers seem to recognize the negative reaction was over the top. He believes coverage is turning around to become more positive. Le Soleil, the Quebec daily newspaper, reported that most letters to the editor reflect positively on his interventions. Le Devoir carried an op ed Dec. 3 by a young Catholic couple defending him.

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