Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island, and chaplain at Newman House at Kingston, Ont.’s Queen’s University.

The following is adapted from a homily preached by Fr. de Souza at a Mass for the 10th anniversary of his ordination, on July 20, 2012.

KRAKOW, POLAND - In this historic chapel of the residence of the archbishops of Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz has now fashioned a fitting shrine to its most famous resident, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.

The new reredos imaginatively includes the churches linked to the life of Blessed John Paul II — his baptismal church in Wadowice; the sanctuary of the Queen of Poland at Czestochowa; the Mariacki church of Krakow’s heart; Our Lady of Fatima, the protectress of the pope’s life; the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the destination of his epic Jubilee pilgrimage; Wawel, his seat as successor of St. Stanislaus; the Vatican basilica, his Roman home as the successor of St. Peter; and the shrine of Divine Mercy, the mystery of which, as Cardinal Ratzinger said in his funeral homily, was the key to John Paul’s entire teaching, and the shrine of which the late pope consecrated on his farewell visit to this, his beloved Krakow, in 2002.

That was 10 years ago next month. A few weeks before he returned to Krakow to consecrate the shrine of Divine Mercy, Blessed John Paul II was in Canada for Toronto’s World Youth Day. As part of those events, I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ in Kingston, 10 years ago today. And a few weeks before that I came to Krakow to rejoin for a few days the seminar which first brought me to this city in 1994. During those days I came to pray in this chapel, the very chapel where Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest on All Saints Day 1946.

I prayed then for the gift of the priesthood that awaited me; I return today to give thanks to the mercy of God for 10 years of priestly life. I return with my own parents, who made of our home a domestic church where the One greater than the temple found a place to dwell. After God Himself, to them belongs the gratitude of the Church for my priestly vocation and whatever fruit there has been from these 10 years of work in the Lord’s vineyard.

I come today also with George Weigel, and in him is represented the Krakow seminar that was for me a decisive step on the path to the priesthood. To him God gave the great mission of explaining to the world who John Paul II is, and George knew that this extraordinary Christian disciple had to be explained “from the inside” not from the “outside.” In this chapel one now sees, behind the altar, the churches of Karol Wojtyla’s life, but in the tabernacle one beholds the mystery that is the window to understanding him from the inside.

It was in this house that the young Karol Wojtyla would come to know Adam Sapieha, the prince archbishop, who, George Weigel tells us in Witness to Hope, “would be his model of Church leadership for more than half a century.” Archbishop Sapieha, made a cardinal after the war, was the great defender of the Church and the people during the long night of the occupation. He courageously opened a clandestine seminary in this residence, and the young men would often come to serve the archbishop’s Mass here.

Karol Wojtyla came, as did another young man, Jerzy Zachuta. In April 1944, Jerzy was killed by the Gestapo. Later that year, Wojtyla and the others would move into this house, it being too dangerous to live outside in their own city. For Jerzy Zachuta his vocation finished almost as soon as it started. The Lord had a different plan for Karol Wojtyla.

“For some time I thought about the possibility of becoming a Carmelite,” John Paul would write in 1996. “My uncertainties were resolved by Archbishop Cardinal Sapieha, who — in his usual manner — said briefly: ‘You should first of all finish what you started.’ And that is what I did.”

It was an unusual answer, because finishing what he started meant, among other things, not becoming a Carmelite. Yet the unbroken prince archbishop spoke more providently than he knew; Karol Wojtyla would not finish what he started until he had done what the other great Polish cardinal of the 20th century, Stefan Wyszynski, prophesied, namely to lead the Church across the threshold of hope into the third Christian millennium.

Finish what you have started. The Christian life might be summed up as just that — finish well what God has begun in you at baptism. It can summarize the great Christian pilgrimage through history. What my parents have done, what I and my brother and sisters must do, is to continue what has been lived by so many generations of faithful Catholics in our family. I carry in my heart today in particular the witness of my late grandmothers; I offered my first Mass for them 10 years ago, and I offer this Mass for them today.

We do not know the finish. We walk by faith and trust in God. Yet I do know this, that the past 10 years have been a blessing beyond measure, that I cannot imagine another life that would have brought me more joy — or allowed me to have more fun! — than the great adventure of being a Catholic priest in the third millennium.

I am a Catholic priest. That declaration is a sombre one to make in Krakow, as the image of St. Maximilian Kolbe in the church across the street reminds us. The Lord has not asked of me hardship, or even difficulty. He has granted me instead a full measure, pressed down and overflowing, the hundredfold return, and as yet without persecutions. Perhaps they will come; perhaps they will not. We do not know how we will finish.

On July 20, 2002, the Most Reverend Francis John Spence, archbishop of Kingston, took my hands in his and said to me: “May God who has begun this good work in you now bring it to fulfilment.”

We might translate that into the history of this chapel: You must finish what you have started. Amen.

On the Fourth of July, the Catholic Church in the United States turned toward Washington, not for the fireworks, nor for a windy speech from the president, but for the conclusion of what the American bishops declared to be a Fortnight for Freedom.

I followed it rather more closely than most, since I was appointed last year a consultant to the American bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Alarmed at encroachments on religious liberty at home, and escalating violence against Christians abroad, the ad hoc committee of senior bishops proposed a special fortnight of prayer, fasting, catechesis and public action in defense of religious liberty. Summoning forth “all the energies the Catholic community can muster,” the fortnight was a dramatic appeal to Americans — both Catholic and otherwise — to realize that their “first, most cherished liberty” is under sustained and serious attack.

CALGARY - Four new priests were ordained here on the Feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, a most grace-filled day for the diocese of Calgary in its centenary year. It was a blessing for me to be on hand to witness some family friends ordained, and then later to join in the joy of a First Mass at my home parish of St. Bonaventure.

Priestly ordinations are rather fewer than we need these days, so to have four young men is remarkable, all the more so as they all came from local parishes. Their vocation stories are a combination of old patterns and new ones. Two went almost straight from high school, the others after some time working. Their vocations were nourished in Catholic families and inspired by good priests. As is common today, World Youth Day had a significant impact too.

I was a little embarrassed watching the coverage of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin. Not because of anything that went on in Ireland, but rather because of my original attitude toward the congress being held there at all. Yet watching the pilgrims from around the world gathering in Dublin, I saw that their gestures of sympathy and solidarity were better than an attitude of ostracism and punishment.

When it was announced in 2008 at Quebec City that the 2012 IEC would be in Dublin, I was rather dismayed. I understood that sometimes a local Church in distress can be buoyed by such an international event — after all, that was the logic of having the IEC in Quebec City to begin with, to administer an emergency transfusion to the anemic local Church. Yet Dublin struck me as a step too far. After all, it would be hard to find any place where spectacular incompetence had brought the Church into greater crisis than in Ireland. And Irish society as a whole, led by its government, was hardly better.

WHITEHORSE, YT - Last week I wrote about my impressions of the Yukon on my first trip to Canada’s north. In many ways it is altogether different from anything I have previously encountered in Canada’s cities, or even in my parish on Wolfe Island. At the same time the Yukon raises questions that the Church in all of Canada must face.

It is frankly astonishing that anyone lives in some of these remote communities, where a summer visitor is impressed by the natural beauty but year-round residents have to cope with isolation and lack of services, to say nothing of the severe cold and oppressive darkness of the punishing winter. To imagine living up here in the early 20th century, before roads and four-wheel drive trucks and propane gas heating and food preservatives is mindboggling, especially given that an overland trek of several weeks would deliver one into the Okanagan, one of the loveliest climates anywhere in the world.

WHITEHORSE, YUKON - On my first visit to Canada’s territories, and the farthest north I have ever travelled on the globe, I was even more curious than I usually am, and asked a lot of questions of those who were kind enough to meet me. One word kept being repeated in almost every answer: “capacity.” The bishop of Whitehorse explained the importance of it, the premier of the Yukon emphasized it, a young couple raised it in relation to housing, an aboriginal shop-owner mentioned it in terms of suppliers — even the receptionist at the local newspaper spoke of it in terms of the newsroom.

There is a new archbishop in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. That might not strike you as big news, but it is. The last time Lagos had a new archbishop was in 1973. Cardinal Anthony Okugie, now 76, retired in May after an astonishing 39 years as archbishop. His successor, Archbishop Alfred Martins, is already 52, so likely will only serve for about 25 years or so.

In the four decades since Cardinal Okugie was appointed, Nigerian Catholicism has come to the forefront of the universal Church. Nigeria’s explosive growth, its sending of missionary priests to the dying Churches of Europe and North America, and its face to face confrontation with militant Islam all have lessons to teach Catholics the world over.

ROME - Pentecost is a feast of unity, as the gift of the Holy Spirit makes possible the unity that the Lord Jesus desires for His Church. To preserve the unity of the Church is one of the first duties of the pastor. The flock is to be brought into the one sheepfold. Yet that remains a very difficult and delicate task. Two current examples, much discussed in Rome these days, point to different approaches.

Consider first the Anglicans. For the better part of 40 years there have been significant numbers of Anglicans looking Romeward, particularly after the unilateral decision in the Anglican Communion in the 1970s to ordain women, something never done by either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Many thought that such a unilateral rupture of common sacramental practice meant a definitive abandonment of the ecumenical path by the Anglican Communion, and therefore some measure should be adopted by Rome to make it easier for Anglicans to become Catholic while preserving something of their ecclesial communities and liturgical heritage. The Holy See took rather a different view. While provision was made for individual Anglican clergy, and individual Anglican lay people could always become Catholic in the normal fashion, there was no provision for groups to enter full communion together.

BETHLEHEM - Ten years ago, for 40 days in April and May 2002, the Church of the Nativity was occupied by armed gunmen. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were outside, the Palestinian armed forces inside, and the Christian world fervently tried not to take offence.

It was a shameful episode, both in its substance and in the reaction to it, a sad signal at the beginning of this century that the persecution of Christians would proceed apace.

ROME - Much of the recent news from Rome deals with matters that, though important, will have minimal effect on the life of the Church as a whole. The negotiations with the Society of St. Pius X, the admission of former Anglicans to full communion, even the doctrinal assessment of one of the leadership associations of American women religious — all of these items are at the margins, rather than the centre, of the universal Church. The Society of St. Pius X has a significant presence in only a few countries, the former Anglicans in even fewer and the congregational leadership subject to doctrinal assessment represents an aging and rapidly diminishing component of American religious life.

Yet one recent piece of news is potentially of great significance for the daily life of the Church throughout the world. The Holy See announced last week reformed statutes for Caritas Internationalis, the global umbrella group of various Catholic development agencies.