By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, July 29, 2013

Flash Mob with a Difference

I wonder if they slept. My guess: probably not much. When I and the other Bishops left the vigil at Copacabana beach Saturday evening the pilgrims were singing and dancing. When we returned the next morning they were at it again. For the sake of those who did sleep and needed some help to get going, the organizers involved everyone in the world's biggest flash mob ever. And I mean big. There were over three million (!!!) pilgrims on that beach. When is the last time you saw that many people moving in sync, united in a spirit of joy?? From where I was standing on the altar platform the view was extraordinary, beyond description.

Yet this was not the most impressive moment. What was most extraordinary of all was the transition from noise to silence. During Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the vigil, and again following both the homily and holy communion at mass, the crowd slipped into absolute silence. Although there was complete absence of sound, nevertheless the silence was not empty. It was filled with reverence, praise, adoration and love for The Lord. The lesson? Our focus is on Jesus Christ. From him, as from a wellspring, come joy, peace and unity. He alone is the world's hope, and we must allow nothing to distract us from our focus upon him. We need to find ways to carve out spaces of silence in our lives in order to listen to his word and converse with him in love.

This focus on Christ leads us out of ourselves and into the world. The theme of WYD 2013 is "Go, make disciples of all nations" (cf. Matt 28:16-20). Pope Francis took up this theme many times and encouraged not only the pilgrims but also everyone to go out to the world with the beautiful and life-giving message of the Gospel. By his words and his own actions, the Holy Father underscored the importance of going especially to our societal peripheries in order to invite them to the embrace of Christ and his Church.

WYD is a wondrous sign of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. Join with me in praying that we all not only recognize but also move with this divine impulse and announce in new and creative ways the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Oh, to Have Their Energy!

The Energizer Bunny has nothing on a World Youth Day pilgrim. Theirs is an enthusiasm that does not diminish. Anyone following WYD 2013 will have seen reports of the unnaturally inclement weather these days. Although the body gets wet, nevertheless the spirit is in no way dampened. The streets, subways, buses and so on are filled with pilgrims easily identitied not only by their distinctive T-shirts, but also - and even more so - by their singing, laughing and dancing. Of course, this reaches fever pitch in the presence of the Holy Father. They loudly proclaim themselves to be the youth of the Pope, who has quite evidently won their hearts.

But WYD is not just a story of visible emotion and fun. In fact, that is secondary for the pilgrims. Of primary importance for them is growth in faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Bishops experience this firsthand, myself included, as we give sessions of catechesis. There we meet young people who want to learn more about their faith and who come with very serious questions. What is authentic prayer? How do I find a language and method to communicate the Gospel? What must I do to lead my atheist friends to Christ? What do you suggest to help me fall more in love with Jesus? How do I make sense of the horrible suffering and anguish of so many people when the Gospel speaks of a loving God? Our pilgrims love the Lord, his Church and the gift of faith. Their deep desire is to know it better so that they can truly embrace the theme of this year's gathering: "Go, and make disciples of all nations." The Bishops here share a real admiration for our young people and are very proud of them. Without question, we are receiving far more from them than we are giving.

From the heights of the mountain called Corcovado, the famous statute of Christ looks down upon the city. The outstretched arms symbolize his universal embrace and welcoming invitation to find life in him. The pilgrims show us the joy that awaits those who accept this invitation and turn to the Lord. They are a great gift to the Church and world.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Joy in the Air

Lots of joy around these days. Real joy. Not just a superficial, transient happiness, but a joy springing from the heart. We are experiencing it in the Church, both locally and internationally.

On the weekend I met in St. Albert, a community north of Edmonton, with fellow pilgrims preparing for World Youth Days in Rio. These events are an experience of joy and its transformative power. The joy arises from the encounter with Christ in the midst of countless fellow believers. The millions of young people who have participated in World Youth Days over the years rejoice in the truth that they are not alone in their faith. They cannot help but share this with others, and this has invariably had an impact on the host city. Time and again, in the lead-up to World Youth Days, I have seen hostile, sometimes obscene, attacks launched against the Church, the Holy Father, even faith itself. By the end of World Youth Days, however, the same newspaper pages that had hosted vitriol were giving space for words of thanks and appreciation. Pilgrims were being thanked for their witness of joy, which transformed many a scowl into a smile, and gave rise to questions as to the source of the rejoicing and goodness. WYD pilgrims show us the model of effective evangelization, and the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Edmonton are ready to embrace this mission. I am very proud of them and look forward to our sharing the experience together.

Joy was in full evidence last Friday evening at St. Joseph's Basilica, where the faithful gathered in huge numbers for the ordination of two new priests: Fathers Carlos Nunez and Luan Vu. God is always faithful to his Church, and that fidelity was manifest in the provision of two new shepherds for his people. God's faithfulness is the ground of our own confidence as we respond to the divine summons. Fathers Carlos and Luan, by the example of their generous response, led and enabled by grace, invite each of us to examine our own lives to hear the call of the Lord and follow.

News from Rome expands our joy even more. The announcement has been made that two popes of recent memory will be canonized: Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. The date has not been announced, but it is expected to occur by the end of the year. What an extraordinary blessing to be living in an age which has benefited from the courageous witness and ministry of these two Successors of St. Peter! Pope John opened the way to the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, one of its key architects, gave us a clear interpretation of it as he rooted it deeply in the life not only of the Church but of the world.
Also from the Holy See we have a new encyclical, Lumem Fidei, the Light of Faith. Truly beautiful and inspiring, it is an extraordinary synthesis of what is meant by Christian faith. Particularly striking is the fact that it is the gift of two popes! As Pope Francis has explained, it was begun by Pope Benedict XVI and completed by himself. Faith is the wellspring of joy. "Christian faith," the encyclical tells us, "is ... faith in a perfect love, in its decisive power, in its ability to transform the world and to unfold its history." There is no more sure ground for authentic joy than that!

I am taking a couple weeks for holiday. The next blog post will be from WYD in Rio.