Decision expected soon on papal visit to Canada

  • November 19, 2007
{mosimage} OTTAWA - No decision has been made by Vatican officials on the possibility of a papal visit to Canada to attend next June's Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, Canadian church officials say.

A delegation from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) met with Pope Benedict XVI Nov. 8 told him they hoped he would participate in the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City June 15-22.

“We had a very intense conversation about the Congress,” said CCCB President Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg. “He was very clear that no decision has been made as yet.”

“We talked about the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church and the constant need of the Church to renew its faith and understanding of the Eucharist.”

The Congress coincides with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, but Weisgerber said their discussion focused mostly on the event’s international character as “broader than simply a Canadian event.”

A papal visit to the United States has been confirmed for April, but Weisgerber noted the timing revolved around when the United Nations could receive him. A final decision on the Pope’s visit to Canada is expected at the end of November or early December.

During the 20-minute visit that also included CCCB Vice President Bishop Pierre Morissette of Baie-Comeau, Que., and CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Mario Paquette, the delegation also spoke about new challenges concerning ministry to aboriginal peoples and the effects of legal changes regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

Weisgerber said he told Pope Benedict the residential schools settlement is “behind us,” and church representatives will be taking part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for in the settlement that will launch hearings early next year. They also told him that “traditionally the Oblates of Mary Immaculate were charged with the pastoral work among aboriginal peoples, but since they have very few vocations, that responsibility has fallen to diocesan churches and this is something that is very new.”

Weisgerber said the bishops' Permanent Council will discuss what form the participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will take. He expects involvement to extend well beyond the 41 Catholic entities — dioceses and religious orders — involved in the $2.2-billion settlement. Council will examine how the bishops will relate to the TRC and what form their participation will take.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is larger than the simple legal questions of who is responsible,” he said. “It is broader and has to involve all Canadians.”

In Rome, the delegation also spoke about the challenges recent changes in the law to the definition of marriage pose to the Canadian church, as well as the absence of law restricting abortion.

“The law serves as a teacher,” Weisgerber said. “When the law changes, that creates a big challenge for the churches.”

These legal changes have “changed peoples’ attitudes and the way they value these particular struggles,” he said.

Weisgerber stressed how important visits to Rome strengthen the communion between the church of Rome and the church of Canada, a “communion of truth, of faith and love.”

“That’s why we go, to help the Holy See understand who we are,” he said. “It’s very important that they know who we are, what we struggle with, what is our country like, what is our country experiencing and what is our church is experiencing. That is the only way they can know about it if we go and speak about it.

“The Pope is a marvelous host. He is the most respectful of men because he listens very intently to what you’re saying,” he said. “The Pope doesn’t tell you what to do, he listens in a very supportive way and from time to time he may suggest there’s a parallel in other things happening.”

Now that he’s back in Canada, Weisgerber is looking ahead to the Permanent Council meeting at the end of the month in Ottawa. Other items on Council agenda include a decision on Amnesty International now that it has adopted a pro-abortion policy, on revised sexual abuse guidelines and on restructuring. The number of Episcopal commissions could be cut from six to three and new committees struck that include lay experts as well as bishops.

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