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Mercy must remain church’s focus: Lacroix

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News


Saint Paul University awarded Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix an honorary doctorate Nov. 4, recognizing his ministry of conveying the mercy of God. He is shown here with Chancellor Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa and Rector Chantal Beauvais. (Photo: Sylvain Marier, courtesy Saint Paul University)

OTTAWA (CCN) — Mercy is not merely a project for one year, but the way the church continues to reveal the loving face of God in Jesus Christ, says Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Primate of Canada.

In a speech at Saint Paul University Nov. 4 after receiving an honorary doctorate, the Archbishop of Quebec said he hoped the fruits of the Jubilee Year of Mercy would continue to inspire the faithful to spread the Good News.

The Archbishop of Quebec said he committed himself to working with his brothers and sisters to “open the doors of the Good News that frees hearts from the anguish of doubt and fights illusions that lead to dead ends.”

He outlined the need for God’s mercy in a world beset with the horrors of genocide, terrorism and war. Quebec has not escaped the “powerful wave of secularization that swept the West” and transformed a traditionally believing society, he said. The narcissistic vision that maintains the importance of autonomy and individualism makes it difficult to present the history of salvation since our creation in the image of God.

Can we speak of mercy without an awareness of a deep need to go beyond the limits of this narrow, selfish “self” that may be secretly suffering and aspiring to the kindness of a higher power? he asked.

It is urgent to remind our Christian communities — and even the outskirts of our teeming, noisy cities where the joy of the Gospel has not dispelled the torpor of indifference, that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy,” he said.

Lacroix urged Christians to move beyond their comfort zone to “reach out to people wherever they are,” whether in geographical or ideological peripheries, and do so with the confidence instilled at Pentecost, without fear.

“I am convinced our forces to achieve the mission do not reside in our ecclesial structures, in new parish groupings, and in majestic churches with steeples pointing to the sky to which people no longer look,” he said in French. The spreading of the Good News and the transmission of faith is “no longer the responsibility of public institutions,” especially when it comes to sharing it with young people. Success can no longer be measured in the number of baptisms or the size of crowds at religious celebrations.

“We need to invent new paradigms for the transmission of an enlightened and life-giving faith,” he said. “The door is wide open to innovation projects, renewal and consolidation and I am delighted to see the enthusiasm for the mission among the priests and deacons, consecrated persons in the variety of charisms of the committed laity all ages and all backgrounds.”

Lacroix spoke of the millions of people who have crossed through Holy Doors established in dioceses around the world during the jubilee year who have “tasted through prayer God’s mercy.”

“In all cases and all situations, the Lord reached out, listened and touched the heart,” he said. “Prayer meets our human mercy of hunger and love. His power is endless as the love that nourishes eternal.”

Any new paradigms will require our taking responsibility to personally enter through the “holiest door” — that of prayer, he said. It is through prayer we encounter the God who is both wholly Other yet completely present. It is through prayer we unite our hearts and minds with the love of God the Father, and the face of his mercy, Jesus Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, he said.

Prayer is a place of adoration, worship, dialogue and humility as we express our needs, he said. It is the “cry, breath and energy of the Spirit” that propels us “into the joy of the mission toward our brothers and sisters wherever they are.”

The cardinal’s keynote address crowned a symposium on Being a Church of Mercy Nov. 4 - 5 to mark the closing of the jubilee year that ends officially Nov. 20.

Lacroix shared that God’s mercy has been a theme of his life as a priest. He recounted how in his early 20s he had embarked on a career as a graphic artist, but as a consecrated lay member of Pius X Secular Institute, he felt called to take a missionary trip to Colombia at the age of 25.

Lacroix took six-month leave from work to visit a friend who was working in Popayan at a medical clinic in a poverty-stricken area. One day a man arrived out of breath at the clinic asking for someone to come help his child who needed urgent care. His friend was busy treating a man with gangrene on his legs, so he went with the man to his unfurnished hut, to find the mother lying on a dirty floor holding the ill three-month-old child in her arms. The baby’s father said it was useless to take him to the hospital as they had already been refused for lack of funds. Instead, he asked Lacroix to baptize the infant.

Lacroix ran in search of a priest and medical help but found all doors closed. A secretary challenged him: “Why don’t you baptize the child yourself?” After an explanation on how to proceed, he ran back to the hut and baptized little Henri. Then after a sleepless night, he returned to the hut to urge them to seek medical care, only to find the family was gone. He never found out what happened to him, but said Henri would be 34 years old now if he lived.

After many more sleepless nights, borne of witnessing the misery of so many people like Henri’s family, he heard another voice calling to him, as if God was saying, “You see, I need a father for my children. I need you.”

He answered that call and soon began preparation for the priesthood, and was finally ordained in 1988. After two years ministering in Canada, he was sent again to Colombia to work as a missionary.

Lacroix spoke of how Pope Francis in his writings, his words and his actions inspires and guides him, especially in his call for pastors to dwell closely with their people and take on the smell of the sheep, and to exhibit the tenderness, compassion closeness of the Good Shepherd, especially those who suffer.

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