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Pope urges western Canadian bishops to be close to their people

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Local bishops discuss the Holy Father's message
By Carol Glatz
Photo caption: Victoria Bishop Gary Gordon, Kamloops Bishop Joseph Nguyen, Mackenzie-Fort Smith Bishop Mark Hagemoen, Prince George Bishop Stephen Jensen, and Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon pause during their Ad Limina visit to the Vatican March 27. About two dozen bishops from western Canada made the trip to Rome.
“That’s your bishop!” a woman shouted to Seamus McKelvey of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as he leaned in for an impromptu picture with three prelates posing for a professional portrait with St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.
McKelvey was with a large group of tourists from western Canada that were crossing the large boulevard in front of St. Peter’s Square when he decided he would crash the lineup and jump right in for his own souvenir snap with Archbishops Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Richard Smith of Edmonton, and Eparch Ken Nowakowski of the Eparchy of New Westminster. It was a prize picture with the prelates dressed in their finest, fresh from a meeting with Pope Francis March 27.
The day started “in a rather spectacular way” with an early morning Mass at the crypt at the tomb of St. Peter, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour conversation with the successor of Peter, Archbishop Gagnon said.
Those two events, one after the other, would make it “a hard act to follow for the rest of the week” as the archbishop, who is president of the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops, and another two dozen bishops from western Canada, including Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, made their ad limina visits and pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican.
Archbishop Gagnon said the major concerns and issues the group brought to the table for discussion included the Catholic Church’s relationship with the indigenous people and how to minister to them in their communities. He said the decline in religious vocations means diocesan bishops “need to integrate more fully into that missionary mode” for indigenous peoples.
Archbishop Smith said the Pope spent “a lot of time talking about immigration,” reaffirming people from other lands and cultures “are a gift” that should be integrated. “Migration is a human phenomenon, don’t be afraid, trust in the Lord, welcome people,” the Pope said.
Eparch Nowakowski said the Pope reminded them to listen to young people, to understand their perspectives.
When the bishops told the Pope how young people are so bombarded with “so many anti-Gospel messages,” he showed deep concern, saying, “Please be close to your people. Accompany, be near them” so the Church can offer “the hope that comes uniquely from the Gospel.”
Archbishop Smith said the Holy Father emphasized the point when the Church listens young people, “you’re listening to reality,” and he urged them not to “confine yourselves to those in your parishes or dioceses, but reach out to those who are maybe having difficulties with the Church or don’t like the Church: Talk to them, listen to them and go forward with that.”
Archbishop Smith said the Pope “is not afraid to say he doesn’t have immediate answers” and therefore, neither should the bishop. But that does mean there is “a need for deep, sustained prayer, because the protagonist in all of this is the Holy Spirit leading us to Christ."
The only way to discern and accompany people properly, he said, is being “men of prayer, deep prayer, and listening to where the spirit is leading.”
Archbishop Gagnon said during their lengthy conversation, Pope Francis displayed “powerful” openness. “Certainly his pastoral style is such where people feel affirmed and assured there is a listening ear,” he said.
There was “a feeling like we were talking with our brother,” Eparch Nowakowski added.
Archbishop Gagnon said Pope Francis left them with a strong message of not giving up, despite the challenges. He said the Pope reaffirmed the need for “a collaborative approach, understanding where people are coming from and knowing, at the same time, clear decisions need to be taken on certain issues” that underline Church teaching.
Archbishop Smith said this approach was particularly timely at this moment in history when outlooks, technology, and culture are changing so quickly and “very often catching us all off guard.”
It shows “discernment is exactly what has to be done” for the Church “to respond with clarity with the Gospel,” he said.
Photo caption: The Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops meets Pope Francis as part of its Ad Limina Apostolorum visit to Vatican City March 27. (L’Osservatore Romano / CNA)

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