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

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thoughts on Synod 2015

Now that the synod on the vocation and mission of the family has drawn to a close, I had the opportunity Sunday afternoon to head out for one of my favourite walks in Rome - up and over the Janiculum Hill and then into and around Doria Pamphili park. On Sunday afternoons these places are favoured haunts of Roman families. As I walked I saw family after family doing what families love to do together: taking a stroll, playing and running with the kids, having a picnic on the grass, etc. Each of these families will have their own stories of joys and difficulties, happiness and sorrow. It is precisely for them - and for all families - that Pope Francis called Bishops together for the synod. He wants the Church to draw near to families, to listen to them and accompany them, especially when they find themselves in difficulty or in some manner estranged from the Church. He asked the Bishops to share with him their thoughts on how best to do this.

Indeed, if there is one word which marked the synod deliberations it would be "accompaniment." How do we walk with the families of today? That is a challenging question, given the variety of experiences that mark family life in our world today. That variety was on full display at the synod. Perhaps the most fascinating dimension of the event for me was meeting and hearing from people from every country on the planet. Yet, in spite of this diversity, what I witnessed was a remarkable unity among all present, a oneness fashioned by the common desire to proclaim the beauty of the family as authored by God, to understand anew its vocation and mission today, and to draw near to any in difficulty with the light and hope of the Gospel of our Lord.

You might be surprised to hear me speak of unity, given some of the media coverage of the synod. The schedule of meetings was such that I was not able to follow everything said by the many media organizations present. From the little I could follow, I often found myself wondering what synod they were talking about. There were reports of raucous debate and infighting among Bishops, from which one might have thought we were throwing tomatoes at one another in the synod hall. I also heard suggestions of plots to undermine the work and hopes of the Pope, orchestrated by Bishops who were against him. Gracious! Reminded me of a DaVinci novel. Of course, there were different ideas expressed with regard to how we best reach out to and accompany our people, and naturally I didn't always agree with what I heard, just as others would not have thought my ideas had much merit. Yet this should come as a surprise to no one. It is how we discern together, and the final document represents a remarkably broad consensus. We have now presented it to Pope Francis for his discernment, and we trust in the wisdom of his judgement. When Bishops gather it is cum Petro et sub Petro, that is to say, in communion with the Successor of Peter and in obedience to his leadership. This was very much in evidence and at work throughout the synod proceedings.

All in all, a very good experience. Now we head back home, and I'm really looking forward to getting back to Edmonton. Let's continue to pray for our families, especially any who are struggling. May the Church draw near in order to to lead them to a new encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Only in Him do we find the reason for our hope.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Church of Martyrs

The Synod administration gave us a day off today, so I took advantage of the free time to visit a Church in Rome I've long wanted to see. On an island in the middle of the Tiber River here in Rome stands a 1000 year old Church built by the German Emperor Otto III to house the remains of St. Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles and after whom the Church is named, and of St. Adalbert, killed for the faith in Poland in 997.

Yet what I discovered there astonished and moved me deeply.

In 1999, as part of the preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000, St. John Paul II created a commission to study the life and mission of the martyrs of the 20th century. The commission did its work in this Basilica of St. Bartholomew for two years, collecting dossiers and relics from around the world. John Paul II wanted the memory of these contemporary martyrs perpetuated in some visible fashion. As a result, each of the small chapels along the sides of the Basilica's interior is now dedicated to the 20th century martyrs from one of the world's continents. It was extremely moving to visit each chapel and read about the martyrs honoured there: martyrs under Nazism and Communism, victims of religious persecution, many killed for resisting pressure to deny the faith and so on. It is a striking reminder that martyrdom for the faith is not something of the distant past. Neither did it end with the close of the 20th century. It is happening now.

This has been one of the things that has impressed me the most during this synod assembly. Bishops and other delegates are gathered from every country on the planet. Many come directly from situations of present persecution. Pope Francis does not tire of reminding the world of the fact that Christians in many parts of the world today are being persecuted and killed, often brutally, for the simple fact of being a Christian.

To any like myself who live in so-called "developed" Western society, this gives pause. If we claim to be Christian, are we willing to proclaim the fact? In doing so we may not suffer martyrdom, but we might very well find ourselves shunned, ridiculed or verbally attacked. How precious is my faith to me? To what degree do I allow it to shape my patterns of thought, speech and action?

For the martyrs of yesterday and today, the faith meant everything, because Jesus meant everything to them. May their witness inspire us to embrace anew and ever more deeply the joy of life in Christ and encourage us to proclaim and live it with boldness.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holiness in the Everyday

With God's help, we can do this. It is possible to become saints. In fact, it must be possible, because it is to holiness that God calls us, and He pours out upon us His Love, mercy, strength and forgiveness to make it happen. We just need to say yes, and cooperate with the changes He wills to bring about in our lives.

These are the thoughts that were going through my mind as I participated in the Mass of Canonization of four new saints by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica. Entered in the canon of the Church's saints were: St. Vincent Grossi, a simple and humble parish priest from Italy, who dedicated himself without fanfare to the care of his people, especially the young; St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, a nun who cared for the children of the poor and the sick; and Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin, the parents of Ste. Therese of Lisieux, who created by their love a Christian home for their children.

What struck me about each of them is the simplicity, humility and "ordinariness" of their everyday lives. They attracted no attention, and certainly didn't seek it. I'm sure they would not have thought of themselves as in any way heroic. They simply sought, day in and day out, to be faithful to their duties and to live in a communion of love with Jesus and in accord with his teachings.
When a person is canonized, he or she is held up to the universal Church as a model to imitate. Well, we can each do this, with God's help. We imitate these new saints by consciously striving, in the little ordinary events of every day, to be faithful to Christ.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Roman Thanksgiving

The Synod of Bishops has me here in Rome when Canadians mark Thanksgiving. There's not much hope of finding a good turkey dinner here, but I have found many reasons to give thanks to God for his goodness.

Normally my thoughts at Thanksgiving turn first to family. This year is no different. In fact, my gratitude deepens as I participate in this Synod, dedicated to the gift of family. Time and again the Bishops speak of God as the author of family, whose plan for humanity was revealed from the beginning in the creation of man and woman, called together by the difference and complementarity of their sexes and commanded to be fruitful and multiply. We Bishops are giving thanks to God for the many families throughout the world who live this call with fidelity and joy. We also lift up to the tender mercy of God those families that struggle in different ways because of the variety of pressures they face. God remains near. He who sent his Son into a family (cf. Pope Francis at the Vigil during the World Meeting of Families) wills to stand at the centre of ours as the unique source of hope and peace.

The Synod is also a wonderful experience of family at the spiritual and ecclesial level. Our meetings are marked by exchanges among people from a wide range of countries and cultures. At meal times I chat with Bishops from every continent. In our working groups we have lay people with us who share their stories of family experiences from a host of different perspectives. Very rich. Yet the differences do not cloud but enhance the unity we share as members of the Church of Christ. We are, indeed, one family, and I give thanks to God for this opportunity to witness the working of his Holy Spirit to fashion from the many a family united in its love for Christ and the desire to share that love with the world.

The ancient Psalmist summed up beautifully many years ago the fundamental reason for our Thanksgiving: "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever!" (Psalm 118:1)

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Photo  from Vatican Radio
Well, it has finally begun. Yesterday the Synod on the Family 2015 was inaugurated with solemn mass at St. Peter's Basilica, presided by the Holy Father. All Synod Fathers concelebrated, including yours truly. Providentially, the Gospel for the Mass gave us the teaching of Jesus on marriage.

Reflecting upon this passage, the Holy Father gave us clear and strong marching orders as we enter into synod. The Church, he reminded us, must at all times be faithful to the words of Jesus, her divine Master, and reach out to all families with the truth and charity of his Gospel. The Pope, it seems to me, could not have chosen a more timely topic when he called for a Synod on the Family. In fact, this is the second in two years on this subject! Marriage is beautiful, authored by God from the beginning as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman, whose mutual love is fruitful in the procreation of new human life. Yet families today face a bewildering range of new ideas pertaining to marriage and human sexuality, and live in the context of new and increasing threats to the dignity of human life. The pressures on family life are enormous, and often cause great stress. We Bishops want to offer clarity, hope and encouragement, and this will be the aim of our time together.

I'm looking forward to the discussions. Pope Francis has called for open and fraternal dialogue among the Bishops. Since this is my first experience of a Synod, I'm interested to see how the process and procedures will allow for this. It should be fascinating and enlightening. After all, the nearly 300 Bishops participating in this ecclesial gathering represent every continent of the world. I look forward, for example, to hearing what my Brother Bishops from Africa bring to the discussion. Their experience is quite different from that of the North American culture from which I shall speak. And think, too, of what the Bishops of the Middle East might say, given the tremendous heartache suffered by their families trapped in terrible violence or forced to become refugees. These are just a couple of examples pointing to what I believe will be very rich discussions.

I join with other Bishops, but we all know the chief protagonist here is the Holy Spirit, whose mission is to remind us of the teachings of Jesus Christ and thus lead us into all truth. Please pray for all of us, that we might clearly discern the Spirit's promptings as we formulate recommendations to our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis.