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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Communicate Hope and Trust

That’s the heart of the message issued by Pope Francis for World Communications Day of 2017. This year the event falls on May 28th, which in the liturgical calendar is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The two - hope and Ascension - are clearly linked, and touch the core of the reason why Christians have - and communicate - hope.

For a number of years now, on or near World Communications Day, our Archdiocesan Office of Communications has been hosting a media breakfast. This gives me a chance to sit down with local media professionals to discuss, first of all, the Pope’s message, as well as important local issues. Within the framework of the Pope’s message, we can understand the unparalleled opportunity that modern means of communications have to give a message of hope to our world. I see this played out particularly not only when a “good news” story is conveyed, but also when reporting sheds light on difficult and painful issues and thus provides the impetus for responsive action and positive change. In Alberta we need think only of the coverage one year ago of the Fort McMurray fire. Media both warned us of the danger and helped us to see the good that issued forth from the people as they hurried to help. From that unspeakable tragedy, the last word actually belonged to hope because of the way the story was covered by all media.

Yet the message of the Pope, even though it is directed in the first instance to media professionals, nevertheless has broad application to all of us. We know we are confronted daily by what the Holy Father strikingly refers to as a cycle of anxiety, to which we must put a stop. The antidote is hope. What opportunities do we have to offer hope to the people we encounter in our daily lives?

It is very important not to offer our response to suffering and anxiousness on the basis of some kind of naive optimism or a refusal to acknowledge the real evil that is at work in our world. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must look at our world situation squarely in the eye and offer a message of hope thoroughly imbued with realism. Only thus will it be received as credible.

The message offered by the Church throughout her existence has been - and always will be - that God’s loving purpose for humanity cannot be overcome by evil. The power of God’s mercy over sin and evil, even over death, was on full display in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension we see clearly the reason for which the Son of God became one of us and conquered death: to lead us to God. Life eternal with God is the destiny that God himself has bestowed upon us. That destiny is now a living and real hope because of what Jesus has done for us. As we pray in the liturgy, where Christ has gone we hope to follow by the power of his grace at work within us now, especially in those moments when evil and suffering appear to have the upper hand.

They never have the upper hand. The Lord’s departure to heaven does not translate into absence from this earth. As he himself promised, “… remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus remains with us, acting in the power of that same Spirit to bring to fulfillment in each of us the saving will of the Father. Therefore, have no fear; cast off anxiety. Jesus is with us. He is the reason for our hope.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Beware the Waterfall




I’m in Niagara Falls this week, leading a retreat for some of the priests of the Hamilton Diocese. I’ve been to these Falls a number of times, yet they never cease to take my breath away. Extraordinarily beautiful, awesome and … dangerous. One would not want to be carried away by the current and over the Falls!
 
One striking feature I’ve often noticed is the contrast between current and Falls; what seems to be a rather calm looking current upstream leads steadily and inexorably to the immense and life-threatening cascade. Unaware of the Falls ahead, one could easily allow oneself to be carried along by the flow of the river. Once aware of the lurking danger, however, a mighty effort of paddling upstream, against the current, would begin. At that point one would be instantly aware of just how powerful is that “gentle” stream.

As I ponder the majestic sight from this particular perspective, I find myself thinking of the questions I’ve been posing to candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation. Bishops are rather busy these days celebrating many of these liturgies. In the course of the ceremony, just prior to the anointing with sacred chrism, the candidates are invited to renew their baptismal promises. They are asked if they renounce Satan and believe in God. The questions get to the heart of our Christian life. By baptism, we are a people who give a resounding “No!” to the Evil One and to all that is contrary to God’s revelation and commandments. Motivating this “NO” is a powerful “Yes!!” to God and to all that he reveals about Himself and demands of us. Often, though, we get it backwards, and say “No” to God and to his teachings, and “Yes” to evil and to what is wrong. It is easy to happen, because the “No” to God can feel like floating gently along the stream of worldly logic, while our “Yes” to God can be experienced as a rowing against this powerful current of “everybody’s doing it” morality. Yet the flow of this “river” leads to danger. The boat needs to get turned around, and quickly.

How to do this? Well, we need to accept that this current leading to peril is too powerful to row against unaided. For this reason, God Himself gives us the help we need. He sends the Holy Spirit, identified by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel as the Spirit of Truth (cf. John 14:15-21). By the light of the Spirit we discern what is truly right from what is really wrong, and are given the grace to remain in the truth. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit actually reverses the current of our lives by uniting us to Christ, who is the Way not to death but to the Father and eternal life.
 
The Church is preparing for the great celebration of Pentecost. Let’s prepare our hearts by closely examining the current along which our lives are presently flowing. Let’s not be deceived by appearances of ease and popularity. We might very well be headed toward danger. May the Holy Sprit renew our hearts and place us in the right direction by uniting us more deeply to Christ, the river Who leads to life.
 
 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Archbishop in Kindergarten


It’s a wonder I ever passed this grade. Who knew it could be so difficult?
 
I spent Wednesday of last week visiting a few schools in Red Deer. In one of them I was taken to meet the children of the kindergarten class. There they asked if I would read to the kids a book written to tell the Easter story.

“Sure! I’d be delighted!”

So, they gave me a chair and all the children sat on the floor around me. I read the story aloud to them, and they listened with rapt attention … or, so I thought.

As I neared the end of the not-so-lengthy tome, one of the children hollered out, “Hey! Aren’t you gonna show us the pictures??!!”

Oops. Forgot I was supposed to do that. Another indignant little voice then piped up: “Start over!”

I thought to myself, “How is it possible to mess up something like reading a story to a kindergarten class?”

But I did. Total failure.

The principal and teachers were stuffing their fists down their throats to stifle the guffaws. I can well imagine that copious salt was poured into this wound of embarrassment when the kids later told Mom and Dad that the Archbishop doesn’t even know how to tell the Easter story. Not one of my finer moments.
 
Tell the story and show the pictures. As I think about it, that’s a pretty good way to explain evangelization. It is not enough simply to tell what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ. That story, as astonishing and beautiful as it is, needs to be illustrated by the “pictures” of lives that have been transformed by God’s merciful love, and those pictures need to be shown to all who listen.
 
A rather extraordinary “picture” wound its way through the streets of Edmonton last Thursday. Thousands marched in the downtown area in the annual March for Life. When we tell the Easter story, we announce the Resurrection of one who self-identifies in the Gospel as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (cf. Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jn 12: 1-12) The Easter story we tell is about life!  On Thursday we illustrated this story by the picture of the March, born of our desire to celebrate life as God’s gift and our determination to speak out in defence of all human life at every stage and in each circumstance. We showed this picture to the city by taking to its streets. Now we pray that, by God’s grace, the telling and showing will bear fruit in the conversion of hearts and the establishment of a culture of life in our land.
 
Some food for thought: What picture is formed by the way I live my life? Is it consistent with the faith I profess as a Christian? Do Gospel story and living illustration mutually reinforce one another in the “book” which is my life? Serious business. I pray that God enable me to do a lot better in my daily living than I did last Wednesday on my visit to kindergarten class.

See more pictures of my visit here on Storify.
 

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Blue Mass


On Sunday I had the great joy of gathering at St Albert parish for their annual "Blue Mass", offered in thanksgiving to God for the first responders who protect us.

The timing was right. Just this past week we commemorated the first anniversary of the Fort McMurray fire. Looking back, we were reminded not only of the enormous danger faced by the residents of that city, but also of the heroism, professionalism, competence and selfless dedication of the first responders. It was a moment when the profound respect, admiration and gratitude of the citizens of this province for the men and women willing to stand in harm's way was on full display and expressed in a variety of ways.

What was experienced at the moment of the Fort McMurray crisis can give us important insight into the message of the Gospel proclaimed on Sunday (John 10:1-10). As I reflect on all that unfolded during that tragedy, what stands out is the importance of the voice of authority: the voice that alerted to danger, the voice that called people from their homes, the voice that gave direction, the voice that diverted people away from peril, the voice that showed the way to shelter, the voice that kept the population updated, and so on. In each case, the voice was listened to and followed, because the voice was trusted. The voice of authority was spoken by one in authority and therefore was trusted to speak only that which would lead away from harm and toward security.

The Gospel passage speaks precisely of a voice of authority that can be trusted with absolute confidence, and which is therefore the voice to be followed. It speaks of the voice of Jesus Christ. Using the familiar imagery of the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for his sheep, Jesus says that his sheep know and recognize his voice and follow his direction to pastures of safety, protected from the thieves and bandits who seek only to steal and destroy. At issue here is the pasture of eternal life and unending safety in the presence of God. In the course of our earthly lives we encounter many evil voices that attack not only the body but also the soul, seducing to spiritual danger. As we listen to the voices of our first responders who seek to protect us from bodily harm, we need also to be attentive to the voice of the One Good Shepherd, Jesus, whose voice leads us to spiritual security.

And why Jesus? Why his voice and not another? In the course of the Fort McMurray rescue, the voices of authority gave direction in accordance with an overarching plan that was formulated by those who could see the whole picture and assess the entire situation. The One who sees the whole picture of our lives, the One who, indeed, can assess the entire situation of world history, the One who sees clearly where danger lies, who knows the "escape routes" that lead away from peril, is Almighty God, who loves us beyond all imagining. He has fashioned a plan of escape for us, which in more theological language we call his plan of salvation. To carry out that plan, he has sent his well-beloved Son to be the voice of authority. So, when we listen to Jesus Christ, we can have full confidence that he is shepherding us in accord with the mysterious and loving plan of our Heavenly Father. His voice is worthy of our full trust, and in following it we find safety and peace.

One final thought about the Fort McMurray event. We were all particularly impressed by the bravery and skill of the firefighters. Yet, for many days they were forced to admit that the fire was beyond their control in spite of their best efforts. Often, we find things "out of control" in our own personal lives. Things "get away from us" in spite of everything we try to do to bring order and control. This can cause great stress and heartache and bring heavy pressure to bear on family and professional relationships. At times like these it is helpful to recall that there is one who is always in control and can turn all to the good if we but consciously surrender control of our lives to him. That is Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who loves us, speaks to us, and leads us to freedom. Let's listen to his voice and follow.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Where is Emmaus?


Slightly more than twenty years ago I made my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Like any pilgrim, I wanted to visit the holy sites. Among the places I wanted to see was Emmaus, on the road to which two disciples had encountered the Risen Lord Jesus (Sunday’s Gospel - Luke 24:13-35). What stands out in my memory is having been informed that there are actually three places today which tradition identifies as the possible site of that ancient locale. In other words, unlike with many of the other holy places, the precise location of Emmaus cannot be pinpointed with certainty.
 
This fact renders “the road to Emmaus" symbolically significant for the times in which we live. It now stands for a path to an unclear destination, and thus represents the life situation of many people today. With our attention drawn to an increasing variety of banal messaging and our time spread thin over myriad demands, little focus is trained upon life’s ultimate questions, such as: Where is my life headed? What is its true meaning? By what measure do I assess the rightness of my decisions? What is real and true? Or, what is my true destination? When the answer to this is unclear, then life loses any sense of confident direction. This is precisely the “road” on which many are walking today. It is a directionless path, which leads nowhere but to the confusion and unrest that bring with them the collateral effects of anxiety and frustration and hopelessness.
 
These are precisely the sentiments that inhabited the hearts of the two disciples on the road to ancient Emmaus. It is important to observe that their road did have a clearly known destination at the end of it. Yet, they were nevertheless downcast and without hope. They thought that Jesus was dead and forever absent from their lives. When he appeared to them, sadness gave way to joy and despair yielded to hope. From this we understand that clarity of destination is to be found not in a place but in a person. Our destination is Jesus. He who came from heaven to lead us to our Father in heaven is one with the Father (cf. John 10:30). In Jesus, our lives are given true direction and meaning. In him, our restless hearts find rest (St. Augustine) and we are at peace.
 

What is more, Jesus accompanies us on our pilgrim way as he leads us to himself. The reaction of those two disciples to the presence of the Lord with them on the road tells us clearly that there is no greater joy than that which arises from knowing he is near. I particularly love the image of the “hearts burning within” the disciples as Jesus explained to them everything in Sacred Scripture that pertained to himself and his place in the accomplishment of God’s saving plan for the world. That “burning” is the hope that arises from the clarity of God-given understanding of the divine purpose centered on and achieving fulfillment in Christ Jesus. It is the joy that issues from the awareness that the Risen Lord is with us at every moment of the journey, rendering himself particularly present in the sacraments of the Church, above all in “the breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist. The “burning” at the Lord’s presence leaves despair in ashes as it ignites within us an energy that impels us out of ourselves toward others to tell what we have experienced.
 
So, let’s put an end to time wasted on unnecessary searching for direction and meaning. These are given in Christ Jesus, who draws near to us as our companion and destination. Let’s open our hearts to him, that they, too, will burn with love for our Lord and the desire to announce his presence to others.
 
Join me on the next Holy Land pilgrimage in December. Visit here.
 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Love that Heals is the Mercy that Restores

Archbishop Emeritus Lavoie and Archbishop Smith receiving gifts at St Kateri celebration Mass

On the weekend, I had the great joy of gathering with First Nations parishioners and other people of the Archdiocese to honour St. Kateri Tekakwitha. This gave us the opportunity to reflect upon her story and example. What a wonderful saint the Lord has raised up for the world in this first Native North American to be canonized!
Statue of St Kateri at the Catholic Campus

Among the many things that have been recounted of her, what has often struck me is the miraculous event of healing surrounding her death. Throughout her life, she bore on her face terrible scarring, the result of the smallpox from which she had suffered. As she lay dying, the only words she uttered repeatedly were: “Jesus, I love you.” These words gave expression to the great love she had borne throughout her life for the risen Lord; a love out of which she had turned her entire life over to him. Moments after her death, witnesses testified to the disappearance of the scars as her face was restored to its original beauty.

We may not bear external scars, but we certainly know what it is like to carry internal ones. Humanity today is deeply wounded. Psychological and emotional scars are borne by many people, the result of hurts, disappointments, betrayals, addictions, abuse, bitterness and so on. When left unaddressed, the interior wounds in the individual person fester and give rise to communal collateral damage: in the family, the civic community and even among nations. St. Kateri’s example has left us a teaching that must be heeded with great urgency: the handing over of one’s life to Christ in a relationship of love opens the heart to the healing for which every human person and our entire world is clearly longing, and that only our Risen Lord can give.
Divine Mercy Sunday at Our Lady Queen of Poland
The Kateri celebration was followed the next day by Divine Mercy Sunday. The coincidence of events is providential. It underscores what we know from experience: the divine love that heals reaches us as mercy. St. John Paul II, who established Divine Mercy Sunday, opened his great encyclical on mercy thus: “It is ‘God, who is rich in mercy’ (Eph 2:4) whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father…” (Dives in Misericordia, 1). God our Father is all-loving and most merciful. When, in Christ and out of love for Christ, we present our wounds and scars to him, he heals us by the divine mercy that restores us to the beauty that is ours as his children.

St. Kateri, pray for us. By your intercession, may we all be fully open to the gift of divine love and mercy, and thus know the joy and peace that flow from God’s gift of healing.

Read the full story on the St Kateri Celebration here.

Sister Kateri played a role in the canonization of St Kateri

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hindsight Grounding Foresight



The Easter Vigil is a liturgy of extraordinary depth and beauty. The solemn proclamation of Easter (Exsultet) unfolds beneath the flaming paschal candle and announces the Risen Christ as the light that dispels all darkness. The expanded Liturgy of the Word traces the awe-inspiring course of salvation history leading to the wondrous event of the Resurrection. The Baptismal Liturgy extends to the recipients of this sacrament the gift of new life in Christ, and welcomes them into his embrace through membership in his Mystical Body, the Church. The liturgy culminates with the sacrament of the Eucharist, in which the Risen Lord renders himself truly present in fulfillment of his promise always to be with us and as food for our journey toward the fullness of life in heaven.

I'd like to focus briefly upon the Liturgy of the Word proclaimed at the Vigil. The proclamation of the many Scripture passages is an exercise of what I like to call holy hindsight. This part of the liturgy looks back over history and sees it anew in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus. In this light, we see a history of wondrous and ineffable love. After God created the human family we abandoned him through sin. Yet he never abandoned us, but walked with us always, intervening in our history, both collective and personal, in order to draw us back to himself. When we erred, he did not turn his back on us, but worked to turn all to our good by transforming our wrong turns into right ones and our mistakes into blessings. His definitive and decisive intervention is what we celebrate at Easter. Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, after having taken to himself all of our sins and dying on the Cross, rises from the grave, triumphant over sin and death. In this way, he reverses forever the downward trajectory on which our sin had launched human history.
 
This holy hindsight announces the steadfast love and mercy of God as always present and perennially victorious over evil. In this way, the holy hindsight grounds our hopeful foresight. We cannot see all that lies before us, but we are certain that in every event and circumstance our Risen Lord will be there, in the full power of his resurrection, to love us by guiding us, correcting us, forgiving us and leading us to eternal life. It is no wonder that our Easter liturgies resound with "Alleluia!" Christ is truly Risen and with his people. We are not alone; never alone. Let this conviction banish all fear as we place our faith fully in our Risen Lord and surrender our lives to him.
 
 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Follow or Flee?



The liturgy of Palm Sunday is dramatic. Recounting events in Jerusalem in the last days of our Lord's earthly life, it traces a path from triumph to shame. Scripture recalls that crowds of people hailed him as king upon his entry into the city, but that a few days later he was left abandoned as he hung upon the Cross. 

This commemoration poses a question that we would do well to carry with us into Holy Week: follow or flee? The crowds were quite happy to follow the Lord into Jerusalem when all seemed well. They wanted to benefit from the triumphal liberation that they supposed him to be bringing. At some point, though, it became clear exactly where the Lord's particular path was leading. The shadow of the Cross began to loom very large, and the enthusiasm for Jesus quickly evaporated. They fled. 

Entering Holy Week means entering Jerusalem with him. We follow him into the city through our participation in the solemn liturgies of the coming days. The story of the crowds in Jerusalem of old raises for us today the question of just how far we are willing to go. Will we follow or will we flee? Will we go where he leads us or will we choose to forge our own path? 

Faithful following of Jesus Christ leads to the Cross. We know that. Yet we also know that the journey does not end there. This Holy Week will culminate with the joyful celebration at Easter of the Lord's resurrection from the dead. The path of Jesus leads to the fullness of life, indeed, to eternal life. This is where he is leading us. Yet his journey also makes clear that this path passes inevitably through the Cross. The path followed by the disciple of Jesus is that of self-denial, self-sacrifice, indeed death to self so as to live for God and for others.

In our age that exalts personal autonomy to the point of idolatry, any idea of self-sacrifice or abnegation, even for the sake of a greater good, is for many incomprehensible. It is, indeed, something to flee. What Jesus teaches, though, is that flight into the self leads nowhere. That path finishes in a dead end. In light of the Resurrection we see clearly that only the Cross opens our lives up to a limitless future, to an infinite horizon. It is not something shameful from which to flee in terror but a wondrous mystery to be embraced with hope.

May the grace of the Holy Week celebrations free us from fear and strengthen our faith, so that we may follow the Lord in all things and never flee from his love.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ad Limina (Final Part 5)


Well, today started off with a real treat for Bishop Greg and myself. Word had reached us through the week that a group of students from Austin O’Brien Catholic School in Edmonton would be in Rome for a couple of days. We learned that they had arranged to celebrate Mass with Fr. Michael Schumacher in one of the chapels in the crypt area below St. Peter’s Basilica. We wanted very much to see them, so we went over to the Basilica first thing and met up with them as they were finishing their celebration of the Mass. I must say, they are an ambitious group! They’re on a twelve-day adventure that began in Barcelona and passed through Venice and Orvieto (and probably a few other places that I didn’t catch) before coming to Rome. No wonder they looked so tired! Happy, but a little fatigued. It was a delight to be with them. 

 
As it turns out, this unplanned encounter set the stage beautifully for the meetings that had been planned. In our Catholic schools, we work very hard to create an environment fully permeated by the faith. The ultimate goal is to form our students as life-long disciples of Jesus, and throughout our history some of our students have heard the Lord call them to live out this baptismal call by means of a religious vocation. These were the precise themes discussed as we met, first, with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and, second, the Congregation for Catholic Education. In the former we discussed the challenge of a diminishment in religious vocations in certain areas of the world as well as the hopeful reality of an increase in others. We recalled the message of the Holy Father that we must at all times remain people of hope and never of resignation, since God is always present and at work in his Church to turn all things to the good. Therefore, we must never tire of promoting the joy, beauty and essentiality of vocations to priesthood and religious life. Our latter meeting at Catholic Education was an opportunity to affirm the great gift we have in Catholic schools and the joint responsibility shared by all believers to strengthen their identity and mission, especially in the face of the many pressures prevalent in the world today to insert into our classrooms ideologies contrary to the faith or to work against the very existence of Catholic schools. This Congregation is also responsible for Catholic universities and ecclesiastical institutes. In this respect, we spent time discussing among other things the good and challenging work of our chaplaincies, particularly where these operate in secular settings.
 
Basilica Papale San Paolo fuori le Mura
These were our final dicastery visits. We ended the day with our pilgrimage mass at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, built near the place where this great Apostle was martyred and where his bones are preserved and venerated. Here we brought to the intercession of the Saint the urgent need that emerged as a theme uniting all of our encounters and to which the Apostle dedicated himself fully: evangelization. To announce the Gospel is to proclaim to our suffering world the life and hope that only our Lord can give. It is a duty of all believers.
 
Tomorrow morning, we end formally our ad limina visit with our final mass at the Major Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Church built to the honour of Mary under her supreme title of Mother of God. There we shall entrust the needs of the whole Church, especially those of the people of our own Dioceses, to the powerful intercession of Our Lady.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
It has been a very effective and worthwhile encounter, a real experience of fraternal communion with the Holy Father and his closest collaborators. Having crossed this “threshold of the Apostles,” we now cross back again over those of our own Dioceses. It is always good to get back home, and this time we do so refreshed in the Spirit who unites and empowers us for the task entrusted to us as Successors of the Apostles at the service of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

See all more photos from Bishop Bittman here: https://goo.gl/photos/js7ueZty6MHKboX3A
 


Read the Ad Limina Blog series here.
Part 3: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017-part-3.html
Part 2: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017-part-2.html
Part 1: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017.html

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ad Limina 2017 (Part 4)

Icon of the baptism of Jesus at St Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Parish.

Pope Francis has made clear from his pontificate that, in virtue of our Baptism, we are called to be missionary disciples. By “disciple” we mean one who has come to know the truth that Jesus alone leads to life and thus follows him by allowing his teachings and promptings to inform and shape every aspect of one’s life. By “missionary” we mean that Jesus “sends” those who follow him on mission with the message of the Gospel, especially to the poor and any who live on the peripheries of our societies. 

Monument in Piazza di Spagna

I mention this because “missionary discipleship” emerged as the unifying theme of our visits today to yet more Vatican dicasteries. The first was to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, located in the Piazza di Spagna, very near the famous “Spanish steps” and next to the extraordinary monument to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, visited by the Pope every year on December 8th. This congregation, since its establishment in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, has been concerned with the missionary activity of the Church throughout the world. It oversees the work of the Church especially in Africa, Asia and parts of Oceania. Yet, as we were reminded today by the Prefect, Cardinal Filoni, the entire Church is called to be missionary. 

The missionary activity of the Church has many facets. The multiform mission of the Church is made visible in the second dicastery visited today, namely, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. This is a new department, recently created by Pope Francis by bringing together the following pre-existing Pontifical Councils: Justice and Peace; Cor Unum; for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People; and for Health Care Workers. Here we discussed the need to protect and uphold the conscience rights of our healthcare workers, particularly those who are pressured to perform activities that are contrary to their religious or moral convictions. As one official rather trenchantly put the matter, “Doctors are not executioners.” We also touched upon the situation of our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada, and the welcome, care and integration we are called to extend to immigrants in our land, especially to those recently arrived as refugees. Our country in particular was congratulated for the warm and generous welcome extended throughout our history, but especially recently, to people in need arriving at our borders. 

Since Christ died for all people of all time, the Church understands her missionary activity ordered to the fostering of deep and lasting unity among all peoples. This leads us into ecumenical dialogue, which was discussed when Bishops gathered in the afternoon at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. More broadly, the very important matter of interreligious dialogue occupied our attention when we met with the Archbishop Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In our gatherings, it has been noted that we Bishops of Canada offer a particularly wonderful and effective sign of unity in the communion we demonstrate among the Bishops of the Latin Rite and those of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. This was underscored when we met with officials of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the dicastery that oversees the relations of the Holy See with the many Catholic Churches of non-Latin Rite who are in communion with Rome. 
 
Bishop Terrio, Fr Schumacher, Archbishop Smith, and Bishop Bittman at dinner in Rome.
 

At the end of the day Bishop Greg and I, in the company of Bishop Paul Terrio, met up with one of our priests doing graduate studies here in Rome, Fr. Michael Schumacher. We took him out to dinner in Trastevere, one of my favourite areas of Rome. We found a restaurant near one of Rome’s most ancient churches dedicated to Our Lady, Santa Maria in Trastevere. Its mosaics are of breathtaking beauty. 
 
Santa Maria in Trastevere
 

Missionary disciples. As has been observed and discussed more than once this week, humanity today knows great suffering. It is incumbent upon all followers of Christ to embrace fully our call and duty to bring the Gospel to all situations as thus proclaim real hope.
 
More photos from Bishop Bittman's Ad Limina album: https://goo.gl/photos/js7ueZty6MHKboX3A
 
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Piazza di Spagna.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ad Limina 2017 (Part 3)


 
We are all called to be saints. That fundamental and universal call of all the baptized – to be holy, to be saints – was underscored by our visits today. At the Congregation for the Causes of Saints we met the Cardinal Prefect and some of his officials, who together govern this dicastery, which is responsible for guiding the process of discerning the possibility of blessedness or sainthood for candidates who are proposed to it.
 
Bishop Vital Grandin is laid in the crypt at St Albert Parish.
 
The meeting was very informative. They provided us with a list of Canadians whose 'causes' are currently under consideration by this Congregation. Of the three from Western Canada, two are connected with the Archdiocese of Edmonton: our first Bishop, Vital Grandin; and Brother Anthony Kowalczyk. Let’s continue to promote the advancement of these causes by our prayers. 
 
I happened to notice that my own name was not on the list. Must have been an oversight. Either that, or Bishop Bittman deleted it. 
 
Brother Anthony Kowalczyk's (aka Frere Antoine) grave at Mission Hill
 
Holiness, of course, is not something we can achieve on our own. That is impossible. Only God creates saints, and he continuously pours out his grace and mercy upon us in order transform us into the saints he calls us to be. The privileged place for the reception of this transformative grace of God is, of course, in the sacramental liturgies of the Church, above all in Baptism, Penance and, of course, the Eucharist. Thus, it was very appropriate that our next visit was to the Congregation dedicated to Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. There we brought to the Cardinal Prefect and his collaborators some liturgical questions that we are pondering, and received from them some very helpful suggestions and direction. 

Eucharist at St Peter's Basilica
The Eucharist cannot be celebrated without the ministry of the priest. Those called to the priesthood therefore exercise a very important role in our own ongoing sanctification. Indeed, the life and ministry of the priest was our next focus of discussion as we met with the top officials of the Congregation for Clergy. This gave us an opportunity to discuss the great gift that we find in our priests, as well as some of the many challenges they face, particularly when their ministry takes place in remote northern regions. From the responses of the Cardinal Prefect and those with him, it was clear that they took these concerns to heart and shared with us a deep appreciation for the faithful exercise of ministry exercised by the priests in our dioceses. 

At the end of the day we gathered at one of the major Basilicas visited on every ad limina visit, St. John Lateran. This is the Church of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). Just as every Bishop has his cathedral Church in his diocese (e.g. S. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton) so, too, does the Pope in his capacity as Bishop of Rome. As such, this Church is yet one more symbolic reminder of our communion as Bishops with the Successor of St. Peter. Mass was presided by Regina’s Archbishop Donald Bolen, who invited us to offer the sacrifice of the Mass for his predecessor and our good friend, the late Archbishop Daniel Bohan. 

In these many ways, the events of the day were a striking reminder of the goal of every Christian life: growth in holiness. Especially during this season of Lent may our hearts be especially open to the mercy of God, without whom such growth is impossible.
 
To view an album of the Bishop Bittman's photos from the Ad Limina visit, click here: https://goo.gl/photos/js7ueZty6MHKboX3A
 
The Apse at the Basilica of St John Lateran.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ad Limina 2017 (Part 2)


A particularly full day today, and wonderfully enriching. 

We began with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy, presided by our Ukrainian brother Bishops, who are part of our regional episcopal assembly. Gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica, we offered the liturgy at the altar of St. Basil, where the mortal remains of St. Josaphat have been placed for public veneration. Ukrainian seminarians studying in Rome, together with the Vice-Rector of the seminary, joined us and led us in their beautiful singing of the liturgy. St. Josaphat was martyred for the faith in the 1600’s, in particular for his determined and courageous promotion of unity between Eastern Rite Churches and the See of Rome. Fidelity to Christ involves sacrifice, unavoidably; such sacrifice may also extend to the offering of one’s own life. I’m sure there were many prayers ascending from our hearts during the liturgy for Christians who, even today, are being martyred for their faith. 

Throughout the day, we visited four Vatican dicasteries, where discussion was held of topics relevant to the competency of each. In the morning, we began with the Congregation for Bishops, where we discussed various dimensions of the episcopal ministry. It was a special delight for us to meet with the prefect (head) of that department, our Canadian brother Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who shared with us memories of the ministry he exercised in Western Canada, especially as rector of St. Joseph’s seminary in Edmonton. This gathering was followed by a session at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where we brought to them our assessment of the theological and philosophical issues that impact our current life of faith, and heard from Cardinal Mueller and his collaborators their own insights and questions about the situation of the Church in our country.

The afternoon and evening was entirely taken up by visits to three dicasteries. At the first, the new Secretariat for Communications, we learned of the exciting work that is being undertaken to integrate the various communications vehicles of the Holy See and their future plans. We were very impressed and encouraged by their vision and competence, and now look forward to discovering ways in which our own diocesan communications departments and networks can collaborate with this Secretariat. Then we visited the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, where the officials shared with us the various positive initiatives they have undertaken for an effective and attractive announcement of the Gospel. At that same department, which was responsible for organizing the recent Jubilee of Mercy, we spent a fair amount of time sharing with them our own many positive experiences of the way the Year of Mercy was received and celebrated in our respective dioceses. It was clear to all of us that this particular moment in the history of the Church was a special moment of grace for the People of God. 

Finally, we returned to the Apostolic Palace, where yesterday we had met with the Holy Father. On this occasion, we visited with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States (Foreign Minister). With him we discussed a number of issues that, while experienced globally, also impact our local lives: e.g. freedom of conscience and religion, human trafficking, refugees, and the persecution of Christians. 

At the end of this last session, we arranged to go out on a small terrace overlooking St. Peter’s Square and looking almost directly down upon the fa├žade of St. Peter’s Basilica. The view of the Square, Rome and the distant mountain ranges was stunning. We then were led on a visit to a special private chapel of the Holy Father within the Palace. Named the Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) chapel, it is entirely decorated with the mosaics of the celebrated artist Fr. Marko Rupnik. The beauty of this sacred space takes one’s breath away. The images give expression to the whole of salvation history, centered upon and fulfilled by Jesus Christ. One could take a whole week simply to meditate upon this artistic treasure, but we were certainly grateful for the few minutes we were able to spend there.

Our reception here in every department is warm and fraternal; a real experience of the communion of the Church. I’m looking forward to the blessings that yet await us.
 
 
Read the Ad Limina Blog series here.
 
 
 
 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ad Limina 2017 (Part 1)



The Bishops of Western and Northern Canada are here now in Rome for what is called our visit ad limina apostolorum. This means, literally, “to the threshold of the Apostles.” Bishops are required by  canon law to make a pilgrimage to the tombs in Rome of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The requirement historically is to do so every five years, but with the growing number of Bishops such frequency is not possible to maintain. The last time the Bishops of Canada made such a pilgrimage was in 2006. We do so by region, and these days it is the turn of the Bishops of Western and Northern Canada.

The visit comprises Mass not only at the tombs of the two greatest Apostles and at the two other major Roman Basilicas (St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran), but also an audience with the Holy Father and sessions at a number of dicasteries (Vatican departments) whose officials form the Roman Curia. Our pilgrimage runs from today to this coming Saturday.

So, today it started. And what a beginning!!! We began with the celebration of mass at the tomb of the Apostle Peter beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Then two hours later we were ushered into the office and library of his Successor, Pope Francis. He met with us for two and a half hours!! Before anything else, this unusually long period of time speaks volumes about his desire to learn from his brother Bishops about the situation of the Church in our part of the world and of the needs of God’s people. We were all flabbergasted by such generous availability.

There was no set agenda. The Holy Father simply left it to us to share our experiences or pose questions, and he adapted himself to our needs. We talked about many things, including the reality of migration, the lived reality of our Indigenous peoples, the hopes and pains of our young people, and the challenges of secularization. He listened carefully throughout the encounter, and offered responses, insights and his own experiences, which gave beautiful voice to his pastor’s heart. He encouraged us to stay close to our people, to accompany them with the truth and beauty of the Gospel, freely and willingly to enter into dialogue, even (and especially) with people who are far from the Church, and above all to continue to be men of deep prayer, attentive and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to serve free from fear. Seated next to him, I was able to see clearly his facial expressions as he listened and responded to what he heard from us, particularly when we spoke of hardships and suffering among our people. He truly has the heart of a shepherd and feels deeply, even from a distance, the pain of God’s people. I saw, too, his joy as he listened to the good things that God is doing for us and among us, a joy reflected in a beautiful and spontaneous sense of humour.

Of course, the Holy Father is the Pope, the one to whom, as Successor of Peter, we have pledged our obedience and who has the final word in the Church. At the same time, we were welcomed by him as brother Bishops who share a common mission, and I’m sure we each left his presence encouraged and affirmed by the encounter.

Now, for the rest of the week it is a host of meetings with his curial officials. Please keep us in prayer, and above all pray for the needs and intentions of Pope Francis. 


 
Read the Ad Limina Blog series here.
Part 3: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017-part-3.html
Part 2: http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017-part-2.html
Part 1 (this post): http://archbishopsmith.blogspot.ca/2017/03/ad-limina-2017.html