The Papacy Part III: The Church in Quebec

By Father John Walsh on March 11, 2013


Attention has been riveted on Rome since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  The possible election of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a native of Quebec, may even distract Quebecers from the reality of the Church of Quebec which was recently addressed by the Assembly of the Bishops of Quebec.  The title of their letter to Catholics in Quebec is entitled, Catholics in a Pluralist Quebec (January 2013).  It serves as a reminder that the Catholic Church is essentially a grass-roots church.  The Church is built upon the lived experience of faith expressed in local ecclesial communities, commonly known as parishes.  The Bishops state:  Throughout the history of the Church, and still today, many forms of community life have developed according to the needs and characteristics of each age, society, and culture such as rural and urban communities, new movements, religious congregations and others … For most of us, the Christian community is the parish … it is increasingly a community to which one chooses to belong, where people are baptized, hear the Word of God , receive the sacraments and celebrate the Lord’s Day every week …  young people (and the not-so-young) can give meaning to their live based on the Gospel, and can find motivation and support to become concretely involved, in word and deed, on behalf of peace, justice and the protection of the environment, as well as on behalf of respect for life and for the dignity of persons.   The Bishops then quote Vatican II from Gaudium et spes, the first paragraph: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the women and men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ,  Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. Elsewhere, not quoted by the Bishops, Vatican II reminds us in Lumen Gentium (no 12) that, The whole of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (1 John 2:20; 27) cannot err in matters of belief.  This characteristic is shown in the supernatural impulse of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when they manifest a consensus of faith and morals.  

cardinal_oullet.jpgThus, it is the challenge of Christian Catholics to forge a new identity in a multi-faith world, which conclusively means that believers and non believers share a common responsibility to express their own identity in the same context.  The Bishops explain that the context is one of “dramatic” change begun with a transformation of mentalities and one in which secularization led to an unprecedented moment in history when many no longer “turn to religion as a guide to the conduct of their lives.”  The Bishops see that there must be “a determined involvement in ecumenical collaboration and interreligious dialogue, which are essential elements in the life and mission of the Church.  The Bishops state that Catholics are yeast in society, leaving many to opt for discreet expressions of presence and witness.  It is a revolution of a new and pioneering pluralism, one without borders.  However, there is also a militant ideology that strongly opposes religion and its place in the public square.  We are living the consequences when religion is reduced to a private matter, considered backward and outmoded, a justification of patriarchal and discriminatory power structures and a source of division and hatred.  At the same time, new movements and new communities are emerging at the heart of the Church.  Yet, the question of religion cannot be battened down.  Religious freedom is best described in the Gospel and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) as a fundamental right.  The assessment of the Bishops: New gestures, symbols and practices unfamiliar to Quebec society are now joining the 

existing manifestations and symbol of the Christian Faith.  This presents a welcome challenge to create an open and hospitable public square, where the values and beliefs of everyone can be expressed in mutual respect.  Though this is a challenge it is an opportunity to grow as a community and to blaze a trail that other societies, led by the example of Quebecers can follow.

The one critique I bring to the discussion is that the letter was not sufficiently self-critical of the Church and how it participated in the distancing of religion and faith in everyday life, and how the challenges and opportunities they bring to the fore were not addressed to the institutional Church.  Will the next Pope, wherever he comes from, whatever his theological proclivities, decentralize the church restating the leadership of the church in a college of bishops, who, in turn, would be challenged to listen to the grass-roots of the local ecclesial church and enter in an honest dialogue and debate so that the Church will be a living expression of the whole of The People of God?



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