The Church in rural Canada can be a place for Communion among people of the common faith, says Archbishop Paul-André Durocher.

The Church in rural Canada can be a place for Communion among people of the common faith, says Archbishop Paul-André Durocher.

December 16, 2013

Just days before Pope Francis laid out his dream for a missionary Church in all parts of the world, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher put forward his own hopes for the new evangelization in Canada.

At a Mexico City conference on the new evangelization, where more than 80 Western Hemisphere bishops came to discuss the "continental mission," Durocher outlined four broad challenges which amount to a manifesto for an evangelizing Church in Canada.

Durocher's priorities are aboriginal Canadians, rural communities, keeping up with the growth of cities and reconnecting with French Canada.

At a Nov. 27 meeting of the CCCB's plenary council, the bishops decided to make Durocher's four challenges the focus of their 2014 plenary meeting.

Each of the challenges evokes a specific response, Durocher said in his Nov. 19 address at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The key to the Church's relationship with aboriginal Canadians is "reconciliation."

In rural Canada Catholics must foster "communion." In large cities where people live anonymous, disconnected lives, the answer is "relationship." In Quebec the Church seeks "renewal."

The idea of a continental mission began with the 2007 meeting in Aparacida, Brazil of the bishops' conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Aparacida document was largely written by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) and many of its themes reappear in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

The Church in North America has to become more aware of the continental mission, Durocher said in Mexico.

Reconciliation with the colonized, impoverished and marginalized native people of Canada isn't impossible, even given the Church's role in running residential schools, Durocher said.

"The great gift the aboriginal people bring to our country is their natural spirituality and openness to the transcendent," he said.

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher

Even as rural communities are taxing Church resources, with fewer priests spread thin over larger and larger areas, the Church can fill a need for "the communion which opens us to the common faith shared by all members of the Church," he said.

Durocher envisions the Church in small towns and rural areas as a place for alliances and movements to come together.

"In French, we have an expression: 'L'espirit de clocher,' the spirit of the bell tower, which speaks to this tendency to turn in on ourselves and cut ourselves off from the other in an unproductive climate of pride and autonomy," he said. "L'espirit de clocher is not 'l'Espirit du Christ,' the spirit of Christ."

Cities are a pastoral challenge given their enormous diversity, fuelled by immigration from every part of the world, said Durocher.

"This influx is changing the face of Catholicism in Canada, at least in the urban centres," he said.

"In the city, there are so many currents and trends, so many lifestyles and schools of thought, that only a living relationship with Christ and commitment to a community of faith can allow one to maintain the faith, to grow the faith."


In Quebec, the Church is learning how to contribute to a secular society.

"We are discovering a new sense of our place within the broad society in Quebec, and of the gifts and vision we can bring to this people," said Durocher.

"We are moving beyond the patrimony of buildings and statues, into a new sense of the patrimony of the Spirit which we have received and which we must nurture and pass on to future generations."

For any of this to succeed, it will depend more on lay people than on the hierarchy, Durocher said.