Archbishop Richard Smith
SAINTE-ADÈLE, QUE. – Canada's Catholic bishops have responded to Pope Francis' call to minister to those on the periphery of society, while making efforts to ensure the Church herself is not marginalized.
"In virtue of our Gospel mandate, the Church willingly goes to people on the margins to affirm their dignity and foster their full inclusion in society," Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith told the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 23.
Smith, the CCCB president, said this year's plenary assembly "will be largely shaped" by Pope Francis' call to consider those on the margins.
"Yet as we go to the edge, many seek to keep us there, even push us over," he said.
"The trends we see are worrying, yes, but hardly surprising," Smith told the more than 80 bishops from across Canada.
Smith said he visited Ukraine in August when the Greek Catholic Church marked the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of the Kiyvan-Rus with the consecration of a new cathedral.
"For generations, the Greek Catholic Church in that land lived not just in the peripheries but was actually forced underground," he said. The recent event he attended was made possible by the "power of faithful witness."
The example of Ukrainian Catholics "can serve as an inspiration to us in Canada," Smith said. "In admittedly different circumstances, the Church is needing to confront in our own country pressures seeking to relegate us to the margins."
The current debate in Quebec over the proposed Charter of Quebec values is one of the most recent manifestations of tensions in the relationship of religion and state.
The proposed charter would ban public sector workers from wearing any religious signs or attire, except for discreet pieces of jewelry. It would, however, allow the crucifix to remain in the National Assembly.
"The political parties have good intentions to leave the crucifix in the national assembly as a vestige of Quebec's cultural and historical patrimony," CCCB vice-president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher said in his homily at the plenary's opening Eucharist.
But for believers, the crucifix is much more than a reminder of the past, Durocher said. It is a living symbol of the call which we live, and even more of the One who lives in us.
Jacques Cartier planted a cross the first time he landed on what would eventually become Canadian soil, he said. Our mission is to replant the cross on Canadian soil all the days of our life.
Smith recalled the excitement in Rome when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony after being elected Pope, taking the name Francis.
He also spoke of the lightning bolt when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from office.
"In Pope Benedict XVI both Church and world were blessed with a wonderfully gifted teacher, who in every letter, speech, message and homily of his Petrine ministry explained the faith in a manner at once intelligible and attractive."
Smith's two-year term as president of the CCCB will conclude at the end of the current assembly.