Ottawa archbishop shares his vision for youth

By  Vanessa Baker, Youth Speak News
  • December 7, 2007

prendergastOttawa.jpgOTTAWA - Ottawa’s new archbishop looks forward to skating on the Rideau Canal, something he’s missed doing since studying at the University of Ottawa 37 years ago.

In June, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., left his nine-year posting as archbishop of Halifax to move to the nation’s capital. He said one of the biggest differences between the two archdioceses is the population of Catholics; Ottawa has a much larger and more linguistically diverse Catholic base.

“I’m interacting with a lot of different types of parishes and youth groups,” said Prendergast. “I find there’s a lot of energy here, as there is in Halifax.”

Another difference Prendergast cites is the Catholic school system, which is not government-funded in Nova Scotia.

“We have a treasure here in Ontario in the Catholic schools,” he said, adding that he believes it gives youth a better-informed background in regards to their faith.

Prendergast looks forward to becoming more involved with the youth of Ottawa.

“So far I’ve been quite impressed with the young people here and their involvement in the church. From what I hear, the young people are very much a part of the life of the diocese.”

The archbishop sits on the board of Catholic Christian Outreach and is president of the National Evangelization Team. He also organized Steubenville Atlantic in 2007 at St. Francis Xavier University after attending a Steubenville East conference in the United States.

Although he said the response for Steubenville Atlantic was positive, he will wait before pursuing similar action in Ottawa.

“I don’t want to say because something was good for Halifax, it’s going to be good for Ottawa. I don’t want to force people to accept something I’ve had positive experiences with in the past,” he said.

His main goal for the Catholic youth of Ottawa is to encourage a greater sense of vocation.

“Each person has a call from God to serve in some way. I think today we really have to emphasize the call to marriage. I think we have to recognize the beauty of Christian marriage.”

Prendergast considers youth ministry to be one of the central aspects of his job.

“The church has given a preferential option for the young because young people were feeling distanced from the church,” said Prendergast. “I think we’ve bent over backwards to make them feel welcome. I think we’ve recognized the importance of youth ministry. I think the church is always trying to provide what the young people need.”

Prendergast said he is interested in focusing on youth not as the future of the church, but as the present of the church. He believes they have much to give and to receive from the church community.

Society has changed the role of the church in the lives of young people, he said. He sees young people who feel mocked or shunned for being religious because society promotes religion only in a private way.

“If we have a religion that’s only personal and not social, it’s a stunted religious practise,” he said. “Our freedom is not to be free of religion, it’s the freedom to practise religion. It’s something that enriches society.

“I think even with our limitations and challenges, the church has a great future.”

(Baker, 18, is a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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