Bishop Henry tells youth they are ‘special’

By  Amy Crofts, Youth Speak News
  • October 26, 2007
{mosimage}CALGARY - The first memory I have of Bishop Frederick Henry was my Confirmation in Grade 6.  He cupped each child’s face in his hands and said, “You are special.”

Five years later, a booming voice comes from a man of small stature during the commissioning Mass for the University of Calgary Catholic Community at St. Pius X Catholic Church in mid-September. His presence is unwavering and the intensity of his unchanged message, “You are special,” lingers in the hearts of the young congregation.

In his address to the students he used simple analogies and parallels between modern day occurrences and the Gospel. He talked about the relationship between a mother and rebellious daughter putting a new spin on the parable of the prodigal son. After the mother bails her daughter out of jail, instead of scolding her, the mother gives the girl a card that reads, “This rock is 200-million years old, that is how long it will take for me to give up on you.”

This story corresponds to Henry’s message to youth. The bishop said the biggest problem they are facing is their lack of identity and self confidence.

“You have to look into the mirror and say, ‛I like the person looking back at me,’ ” he said.

He reminded young people that they are the salt of the Earth and light of the world. They are loved, they are special and they need to be true to themselves.

“With the combination of your natural gifts and the grace of God, you can take on the world,” Henry said.

The outspoken bishop, who can often be seen in newspaper headlines for his stance against same-sex marriage and legalized abortion, comes from humble beginnings. An Ontario native born in 1943, Henry is the eldest of four brothers. Family as well as religion were integral parts of his childhood. The family prayed the rosary every night after dinner, an essential duty before retiring for the evening.

There was never a decisive point at which Henry knew he wanted to join the priesthood; the calling merely appealed to him as a young altar server.

“Parish priests get all the action, they get to be at the front lines,” he said. “I would be happy as a parish priest, but God had different plans for me.”

Indeed, God had greater plans for him. He was ordained into the priesthood May 25, 1968, after graduating from St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ont., with degrees in theology and philosophy. After working as an associate pastor for two years in Windsor, Ont., Henry finished his MA in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and licentiate in theology at Gregorian University in Rome.

He returned to St. Peter’s Seminary in 1973 as an associate professor, enjoying the intimacy and the rewards of teaching. This became a launching point for Henry’s future; he was named bishop of Thunder Bay, Ont., in 1995 and seventh bishop of Calgary three years later.

While Henry is 64 years old he is still in touch with today’s youth. He is involved with the diocesan youth office, retreat team and commission, as well as youth rallies and conferences across Canada.

“The excitement of a newfound faith coupled with youthful zeal produces a dynamism that is very attractive to other youth,” Henry said of the vitality of youth ministry in peer communication.

He also credits youth ministry for supporting young people in overcoming peer pressures, teaching them how to lead, pray and understand the sacraments. It helps them “share their faith in confidence rather than fear,” he said.

Henry has welcomed the Canadian university student movement Catholic Christian Outreach to Calgary for a New Year’s Conference called Rise Up. He will give a keynote address during this year’s youth conference.

While Henry will not attend World Youth Day in Australia next summer, he supports it.

“Pilgrimage is a conversion experience, youth will return to their parishes and communities transformed and on fire with the Holy Spirit.”

(Crofts, 17, is a first-year biology student at the University of Calgary.)

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