Vatican City, May. 11, 2006 (Catholic News Agency) — In a meeting earlier today with a first group of bishops from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI had strong words regarding the state of the Church in that country, stressing the need for increased devotion to the Eucharist, stronger priestly formation, and greater outreach to young people. The prelates, from Quebec, have just completed their "ad limina" visit.
The Holy Father began his address by chiding Canadian society, calling it marked by "pluralism, subjectivism and increasing secularization." In this light, he said he was grateful for the visit as it allowed him the opportunity to reflect on the Church's mission in that country.
Recalling that in 2008, Quebec City will celebrate the fourth centenary of its foundation and, simultaneously host the International Eucharistic Congress, Benedict called on the city to "rediscover... the place the Eucharist must occupy in the life of the Church."
This was a particular point of concern for the Pope who highlighted "the notable drop in religious practice over the last few years," and "the lack of young people at Eucharistic assemblies," cited in the bishops'own reports.
Benedict told them that "the faithful must be convinced of the vital importance of regular participation in Sunday Mass, that their faith may grow and find coherent expression."
He said, in fact, that "the Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life, unites and conforms us to the Son of God. It also builds the Church, strengthening her in her unity as the Body of Christ. No Christian community can be built up if it does not have its root and its core in the celebration of the Eucharist."
The Holy Father also lamented a national drop in the number of priests "which at times," he said, "makes it impossible to celebrate Sunday Mass in certain places," but stressed his particular worry over "the place occupied by sacramentality in the life of the Church... The requirements of pastoral organization must not compromise authentic ecclesiology."
He said that "the central role of the priest — who 'in persona Christi capitis', teaches, sanctifies and rules the community — must not be diminished."
He also expressed his gratefulness for the generous and important role of the laity, but pointed out that it "must never obscure the absolutely irreplaceable ministry of priests in the life of the Church. Consequently, priestly ministry cannot be entrusted to others without effectively prejudicing the very authenticity of the Church's being."
"Moreover," he asked, "how will young men want to become priests if the role of ordained ministry is not clearly defined and recognized? "
Despite these problems, the Pope affirmed that "the thirst for renewal perceptible in the faithful is a sign of hope," referring to the "positive impact" which 2002's World Youth Day, held in Toronto, had on young Canadians. That occasion, he said, awoke a fresh interest in Eucharistic adoration.
Benedict continued, saying that "if, as John Paul II wrote, Christianity in our time must distinguish itself above all for'the art of prayer,'how can we not feel a renewed need to dwell in spiritual conversation... before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? "
He then thanked Canada's consecrated communities for the "apostolic and spiritual commitment of their members," highlighting how "consecrated life is a gift of God benefiting the entire Church and serving life in the world."
However, the Pope urged, it must take place in a context of "solid ecclesial communion," where consecrated men and women "work ever more closely with pastors, welcoming and spreading Church doctrine in all its integrity."
He told the bishops that "you, as well as the whole Christian community, have a primordial duty to transmit the call of the Lord fearlessly, to awaken vocations, and to accompany young people along the path of discernment and commitment, in the joy of celibacy."
"In this spirit," he said, "you must take care over the catechesis of children and young people." In closing, he likewise invited the Catholic community in Quebec "to pay renewed attention to its adherence to the truth of Church teaching on theology and morals, two inseparable aspects of being a Christian in the world."