OTTAWA (CCN) — As Catholics mark the Year of Consecrated Life, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops looks to a future of hope for Canadian religious.
Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher released a message Jan. 29 examining in a Canadian context Pope Francis’ apostolic letter last November announcing the Year of Consecrated Life.
“So much of our country was shaped by those living the consecrated life,” he said. “Our first teachers, health caregivers and social workers were men and women who dedicated their lives through poverty, chastity and obedience, in order to serve the community of faith and all men and women, no matter their faith or ethnicity. Their witness, lives and service were shaped and purified by the consecrated life.”
In Pope Francis’ call to “look on the past with gratitude,” Durocher said: “Here in Canada, we can look with pride at the remarkable saints who lived consecrated life in New France — Saint Marie of the Incarnation, Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, Saint Marguerite d’Youville, for example — founding new communities or adapting older ones to respond to the needs of the people they lived with, both native Canadians and immigrant Europeans.”
“They were followed by many others who responded to the needs they identified with diverse charisms that flourished in various apostolic endeavours, people such as Saint Brother André, Blessed Émilie Gamelin who founded the Sisters of Providence, Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin, founder of the Sisters of Saint Anne, and others.”
In the pope’s invitation to “live the present with passion,” the archbishop acknowledged that many traditional religious communities are shrinking in size and members are aging.
“Yet I marvel at the energy I find when I visit convents that still open their doors to refugees and to the poor, and when I meet elderly as well as younger religious men and women who go out each day to parishes, community centres and meeting halls in service and in love,” he said. “I rejoice in the shoots that are springing forth as new forms of consecrated life find expression in Canada: young men and women are committing themselves to following Christ more closely in small, highly intentional communities; others are consecrating themselves according to specific charisms; all are finding creative ways to live the Gospel in today’s world.”
“Finally, Pope Francis calls us to embrace the future with hope,” the archbishop said. “Hope is a virtue, an inner strength that consecrated men and women bring to desperate situations because their eyes are fixed on Christ, even as they look lovingly upon this world.”
The CCCB president echoed Pope Francis’ five invitations: “to be living witnesses to the joy of the Gospel”; “to be prophetic”; “to create communion”; “to go to the peripheries”; and “to seek God’s will.”
“Our Canadian society, so often focused on material well-being and immediate gratification, needs to discover the source of deep, lasting joy, a joy that is contagious and life-giving,” he said.
He stressed the need for the prophetic witness consecrated life can bring, their openness to building communion and their ministry on the peripheries in serving the poor.
“As a country, we need consecrated men and women to help us understand what God wants of us,” Durocher said. “Whether the issue be violence, family breakdown, ecological crises, or racial injustice; whether the goal be respect for life, restorative justice, sustainable development, or a better future for our Aboriginal peoples; whether the challenge be local, national or international in scope: in all these and more, consecrated men and women, because of their particular charism and commitment, can help us all respond in Gospel ways, in more human ways, to the challenges that confront us.”
In Ottawa, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast marked the Feb. 2 World Day of Consecrated Life with a special mass Jan. 31 to honour men and women religious who serve in the diocese.
“We follow others who have left some big footprints,” said Prendergast, who is a member of the Society of Jesus. “Here in Canada, we are blessed with the powerful example of holy and heroic men and women. St. Jean de Brébeuf and four of his blessed companions navigated the Ottawa River on the way to and from Huronia and portaged nearby.”
“Our first bishop, Msgr. Guigues, was sent to us by a saint, the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, St. Eugene de Mazenod,” he said. “Not to be outdone, the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa were led by intrepid and saintly Elisabeth Bruyère, the servant of God whose cause we need to foster in our devotional life.”
“The sainted Brother André also travelled in these parts to bring consolation and peace as he encouraged devotion to St. Joseph,” he said. “These consecrated persons are typical of the holiness we have experienced.”
The archbishop also referred to Pope Francis’ November apostolic letter. “It is by radiating ‘the joy and beauty of living the Gospel’ that we can ‘wake up the world,’ by our prophetic challenge to society.”
“This involves being on the side of the poor and powerless, because we are not beholden to earthly authorities,” he said. “We are free and, therefore, available to be with the neediest. Our response should be to discern what God asks of us.”