Archbishop Richard Smith’s Full Dinner Address 2019

By | October 15, 2019


Good evening and welcome to all of you. Thank you SO MUCH for making the time to come
together and be part of this Archbishops’ Dinner. We have advertised this as inaugural. This is not a one-off; we want to do this
annually. Why? Because, to put it simply, it is what Catholics
do. We are a people who gather. The Church is a communion, and members of
that community don’t live apart from one another; they come together. Normally, of course, this “coming together”
takes place at our great family feast, the Eucharist. Tonight’s gathering is motivated by the
desire simply to get together and enjoy one another’s company and in this way give thanks
to God that we are members of this beautiful Church we call Catholic, situated in the Archdiocese
of Edmonton. So, we are calling tonight’s dinner a “grateful
gathering.” And we do have much for which to be grateful. In my remarks to you this evening, I’d like
to share with you the many reasons I am grateful for this local Church; and there are many! As I do, I invite you to give some thought
to this as well. For what are you grateful? What do you see as God’s blessings being
poured out upon you and your brothers and sisters here in the Archdiocese, whether in
your families, your parishes, in our schools, hospitals, social services, ecclesial movements
and so on. Tonight is one occasion to give thanks, but
it cannot be the only one. It needs to be daily. For myself, I’ll share with you my reasons
for gratitude by taking a look at our past, present and future. In each context, motives for giving thanks
to God are many indeed. Last week I attended the annual plenary meeting
of Canada’s Bishops in Cornwall Ontario, a town situated along the beautiful St. Lawrence
River. It is about one hour from Montreal. As I walked one day along that river I found
myself thinking that it was from Montreal and that region that men and women missionaries
set out to come West, traveling great distances along the St. Lawrence and overland as well. Their travel conditions were slightly more
trying than the cramped quarters of today’s airliners! Moreover, they did not know exactly where
they would end up, what conditions they would find when they got there, where they would
have any kind of residence and what resources would be at their disposal. Tonight we look out from the Edmonton Convention
Centre upon a vibrant and growing city, knowing we have an extraordinary wealth of resources
at our fingertips for the furtherance of the Church’s mission. The missionaries before us would have set
their gaze upon a vast and undeveloped landscape, with little for resources other than what
they were able to bring with them. Yet, even though in one sense they had nothing,
in another they had everything. Their resource was their faith, their absolute
trust in the Providence of Almighty God. This faith furnished them with the conviction
that, if God had sent them to preach the Gospel and establish the Church in this region, then
He would surely provide whatever they needed as it was needed. The depth of their faith and the heroism with
which they applied their labours to the tasks at hand are breathtaking. And their faith was not misplaced. Through the tireless efforts of Bishop Grandin,
Father Lacombe, Father Leduc and other great Oblates for whom many towns in this province
have been named; and because of the selfless dedication of communities of religious women,
caring for people in very demanding circumstances, the foundations of the Church in Western Canada
were laid. From the seeds of faith they planted in the
soil of people’s hearts grew our parishes, schools, hospitals and agencies of social
outreach. It is not only the Church that recognizes
and gives thanks for the missionaries who gave us our foundations. Our province has recognized their contribution
to the common good of the whole population with a beautiful bronze statue of a nun situated
on the grounds of our provincial legislature. I’d like to focus upon one particular feature
of that statue. On the Sister’s face you can detect what
I understand was actually a flaw in the bronze as it set, but which providentially recapitulates
in symbol the motivation behind all the heroic good work accomplished by our missionary sisters
and priests. That flaw actually appears as a tear on the
cheek of the Sister. It is a tear of profound compassion. It gives expression to the heart’s reaction
to the suffering that our forebears would have encountered among the people they were
sent to serve. It also expresses the heart’s resolve to
respond to that hardship with the love of Christ. That tear explains something to me that I
have long intuited about this Archdiocese. From the time of my arrival here I realized
that I had come to what is among the most dynamic dioceses in the country. The tear explains it. This is a local Church founded by missionaries,
and it has remained a missionary community. There is a desire to serve, to address the
many problems we face with the truth and hope of the Gospel. When challenges are before us, we don’t
wring our hands in despair, but ask how are we going to respond. The reason is that tear; the tear on the face
of the Sister actually resides deep in the hearts of the people of this Archdiocese. I want to highlight this, because our dinner
this evening is taking place at the beginning of what Pope Francis is designating as Extraordinary
Mission Month. Its theme is “Baptized and Sent.” This is a major emphasis of the Holy Father. He wants us to accept and own the fact that,
by virtue of our Baptism, we are sent; we are missionary. We are a missionary people, we are a missionary
Church. So our memory of our missionary ancestors
is not only a grateful retrospective; it is also a reminder of who we are as baptized
followers of Jesus Christ. We are a people permanently on mission. Which brings me from the past to the present. In our day I see many reasons to be grateful
to God for all that the people of this Archdiocese are doing, daily, to live out their missionary
call. We are extraordinarily blessed here in the
Archdiocese. Let me spell that out a bit for you. We have in the Archdiocese of Edmonton 124
parishes and missions, served by 153 priests, in at least 14 different languages. It is a cosmopolitan Church now, in which
the universal Church is on visible and vibrant display. I have just about completed a round of pastoral
visits to all the parishes. In the course of the visit I celebrate Eucharist,
have a town hall with parishioners, and meet with pastoral staff and pastoral council and
sometimes other groups. And I eat. Lots of good cooks in this Archdiocese! It is very edifying to see the good work being
done by clergy and faithful. Of course, we are not without our challenges,
both temporal and pastoral. We are not without our concerns and worries,
pertaining not only to our families and the local parish but also to society generally
and the global Church. But among those I meet the faith is strong. We know that at the end of the day this is
the Lord’s Church, he is firmly established by the Father as its Head, he does not abandon
us, he is with us, and he knows what he is doing. This is the faith that animated our missionary
ancestors; it is the faith that I am encountering in many of our people today. In the accompaniment of parishes and outreach
to our society, the Archbishop of Edmonton has long been supported by an extraordinary
group of disciples at what we now call our Pastoral and Administration Offices. Their dedication to the Lord, his Gospel and
to his Church is wonderful. Their ministry includes a very wide breadth
of pastoral and temporal services, which together show very clearly the embrace by these good
men and women of the missionary task incumbent upon us in virtue of our Baptism. I am deeply grateful for them and proud of
their good work. Mission is also what animates our schools. In this Archdiocese we have ten school districts
and over two hundred Catholic schools, educating more than 86,000 students. I am slowly but surely getting to visit all
of those schools as well. I meet with administrators and teachers and
with the students also, of course. That is a joy! The heart of the mission we exercise in our
schools was brought home to me early one morning visiting one of our elementary inner-city
schools here in Edmonton. I was walking through the hall as the children
arrived. As I approached one corner, a boy that I later
learned was in grade four was coming from another direction. He saw me, stopped short, his jaw dropped
and he shouted: “Oh my God! You’re actually real!” I thought about that afterward. What we do in our schools is teach them that
Jesus is real. He is not just a picture they might see at
the entrance or a figure carved on the crucifix on the classroom wall. He is real person, who wants to be really
encountered, and who therefore is really proclaimed in our schools through the permeation of the
faith in all curricular and extra-curricular activity. Sure, we have challenges, but from my personal
visits to the schools I can say that I am very proud of the work our teachers, administrators
and staff do to teach our kids, witness before them and make sure that our schools live up
to their Catholic identity. Our educational mission also embraces post-secondary
institutions. Nearly 100 years ago, Archbishop O’Leary,
in close collaboration with the President of the University of Alberta, founded St.
Joseph’s College. It is still going strong, in the capable care
of the Basilian Fathers and governed by an exceptionally capable board. Now, in these days when even the word “faith”
is anathema in many university settings, St. Joseph’s College offers a place where faith
can not only be discussed but also where students are helped to grow in it. Fifty years ago Archbishop Jordan founded
Newman Theological College, a place where seminarians and lay students alike are prepared
for ministry in the Church. As the College celebrates this year its golden
jubilee, it also rejoices in the canonization next week of the great theologian after whom
it is named: John Henry Cardinal Newman. Two expressions associated with Cardinal Newman
express well the origin and the direction of what we could call intellectual mission. His motto was cor ad cor loquitor, heart speaks
to heart. From the depths of personal encounter with
the living God, heart speaking to heart, the call to discipleship and mission arises. His epitaph was Ex Umbris et Imaginibus in
Veritatem: From Shadows and Images into Truth. The human being needs truth. Moral relativism, banal chatter and the tyranny
of the tweet are keeping people in the shadows. We all need the light of truth, which is the
Gospel. The College named after this great theologian
is dedicated to sending its graduates out to preach it. We are grateful to God for these two wonderful
colleges and justifiably proud of the ministry they exercise. Speaking of proud, that’s how I feel also
when I think of our Catholic hospitals and healthcare institutions. The Covenant family – Covenant Health, Covenant
Care and Covenant Living – comprises one of Canada’s largest Catholic health care
providers. Today, our Catholic health care teams (numbering
over 15,000 people) welcome one in five babies born in Alberta and care for one in ten people
who seek emergency care. Operating many of the province’s hospices
and seniors care centres, our Catholic organizations offer compassionate care to thousands of elderly
seniors and individuals nearing end of life. I am privileged to sit on the operational
board of Covenant Health and thus am an eye-witness to the extraordinary skill and dedication
with which our Catholic hospitals are both governed and administered. I also chair the board of the sponsor organization,
Catholic Health of Alberta, which has responsibility for ensuring that Covenant remains always
faithful to its Catholic identity. And on this point in particular the Archdiocese
has every reason to be proud of our hospitals. You know that over the last few years, since
the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, there has been tremendous pressure from media
and other organizations to have these immoral procedures take place in our hospitals. From the outset, Covenant has been crystal
clear that the answer is, and always will be, a resounding No. We are Catholic, we make no apology for it,
and will simply not tolerate anything that runs counter to our Catholic mission and identity. Covenant has also been taking the lead in
helping other Catholic healthcare facilities in this country remain faithful to their identity,
not only on this issue but also in other respects. By the way, next week is Catholic Healthcare
Week, celebrated across Canada. Be sure to offer a prayer of thanks for our
healthcare institutions. One cannot speak of the missionary nature
of this Archdiocese without having Catholic Social Services come instantly to mind. CSS is Alberta’s largest multi-function
social service agency, and one of the largest social service agencies in the country. It serves more than 20,000 vulnerable Albertans
every year. Here, too, I do site visits, and here, too,
I find that tear on the face of the Sister showing up on my own. Just think of the many women in a situation
of crisis pregnancy who find companionship and support at the Gianna Centre; or of young
children with their moms who have fled abusive home environments and who find refuge in one
of CSS’s shelters; or of young people needing help to deal with FASD or street youth who
receive residential, or outreach, support through the Safe House program; or of refugee
families who for the first time in a long, long while feel safe in our welcome centres,
or of homeless persons recently housed by the city’s efforts and now surrounded with
support from CSS’s Welcome Home programme – all of these situations of suffering cannot
fail to break the heart. And yet at the same time the heart gives thanks
to God that the 1800 staff and 500 volunteers of CSS are there for them as a sign of hope. Their hearts, too, must break, but in spite
of that, or perhaps precisely because of that, they are there for the people they serve, and I am very grateful. We all are. The Archdiocese continues to be blessed with
the presence and ministry of religious women and men. We have 27 communities of religious sisters,
whose members serve in a variety of roles, from teaching at a Catholic school or college,
to operating a daycare, to providing pastoral assistance in a parish, to offering spiritual
direction and leading retreats, and to praying daily for all of us. Twelve communities of men religious serve
us as pastors, chaplains and teachers. Consecrated women and men have long been associated
with the missionary work of the Church. I am grateful that they embrace the missionary
call here in our Archdiocese. There is so much more that can be said about
the present. Think of the wonderful associations of lay
people that shape the life of this local Church: CWL (which began here in Edmonton!), Knights
of Columbus, Couples for Christ, Engaged Encounter, Retrouvaille, Teams of Our Lady, the League
of Mary, Families of Nazareth – nearly 30 in all. This is yet another sign of the vibrancy for
mission with which God has blessed our Archdiocese. Together these form a wonderful force for
good. United with the extraordinary good that is
happening through our parishes and institutions, we have every reason to look forward to God
accomplishing great things in our future. So, let’s talk now about that future that
lies before us. As point of reference I draw your attention
to the chapel doors of St. Joseph Seminary. We see in artistic design a rendition of the
Gospel of Luke, chapter five, which recounts Jesus calling his first disciples to cast
out into deep waters and put down their nets for a catch. Here’s the background: In 2001 St. John
Paul II issued a letter to the Church called Novo Millennio Ineunte, “As the New Millennium
Dawns”. He was setting out his vision for the mission
of the Church as she entered this new era of history. That mission, he said, is captured in the
command of Christ: Duc in altum! Put out into the deep! Now, St. Joseph’s seminary was among the
first seminaries to be built in the new millennium. So, when the designers asked what I wanted
depicted on the doors of the chapel, I didn’t hesitate. Men preparing for priesthood are being made
ready for the great adventure of evangelizing, or of putting out into the deep waters of
our day with the truth, beauty and joy of the Gospel. The Archdiocese now has sixteen seminarians
discerning their call from the Lord – the highest number we’ve had in a long time,
and all are from our own parishes! We thank God for this blessing and continue
to pray that God pour out upon us an even greater abundance of vocations to priesthood
and consecrated life. But, of course, the call to put out into the
deep is incumbent not only upon our priests. It comes to all of us who form part of this
Church dedicated to mission. This means that we need to identify the deep
waters of our day and ask how we can best launch out into them. Allow me to share with you some key initiatives
that will enable us to do just that. The first is what we are calling the Mission
Collaboration Initiative. Under this endeavour we are bringing together
not only representatives of our Catholic parishes and institutions but also Catholic experts
from a variety of fields. The goal is two-fold: first, to engage in
careful environmental scanning of what is unfolding in the deep waters of media, politics,
popular culture, law, art, science, technology, social sciences and so on; and second, to
discern how best either to respond to what is happening or even proactively participate
in the shaping of society’s response to new developments (just think, for example
of Artificial Intelligence) from the point of view of the Gospel. The second initiative comprises efforts toward
a renewed relationship with the Indigenous peoples of the Archdiocese. We are deeply honoured to have with us this
evening many chiefs, elders and leaders from the First Nations present in this Archdiocese
and the Metis Nation of Alberta. Walking together with the Indigenous peoples
is a major priority for the Bishops of Canada, and it is something that has come to occupy
a special place in my own heart. Central to everything we do in this regard
will be the lifting up and promotion of the gifts that the Indigenous peoples have to
share with the rest of society. They have much to teach us about how we in
Canadian society can learn to live together and respect one another. Reverence for the Creator, respecting the
land as God’s gift, listening with patience to the stories of the other; these have become
lost to Western culture and we need to learn them again. The Indigenous peoples can show us the way. Finally, the call to put out into the deep
cannot ignore youth culture. Our young people are our greatest treasure. Here I bring one especially important initiative
to your attention: the revitalization of our camps. Camp ministry has had a long and cherished
history here in the Archdiocese. Due to declining revenues and a weakened – at
times dangerous – infrastructure, I placed camp operations on a moratorium until we could
figure out what needs to be done. Surveys of stakeholders demonstrated to me
a very lively interest in the ongoing use of our camps, since they have played a truly
life-shaping and at times life-changing role in the lives of young people who have participated
in their programming. (You will get a look at some of these testimonies
in the next video.) We formed a few committees at the Archdiocese
to propose to me a business plan for the renewal of the camps. The plan envisions an eventual return over
the next few years to the full use of both camps, and a timeline of what needs to happen
when and at what cost will be presented to the Archdiocese by the end of October. The fulfilment of the plan will be entirely
dependent upon any funds that we are able to raise from donors. This is why we have chosen to designate at
this dinner our Archdiocesan camps as the charity to which we invite any donation you
may wish to make, either this evening or at a later date. I’ll conclude tonight by sharing with you
a moment that impacted me greatly when I first became a Bishop, and which has since helped
shape my own thoughts around the missionary activity of the Church. That moment was a question posed to me when
I was one month old as a Bishop, and the venue was World Youth Days in Toronto. This was my first experience of these enormous
gatherings, and what I noticed was the way in which the hundreds of thousands of young
delegates gathered there were grappling with the deep questions of life. At a certain moment a young couple approached
me and asked if I were a Bishop. When I confirmed I was they said they wanted
to ask me a question. I thought, “Just ordained a Bishop and already
I have an opportunity to make a profound difference in the life of some young people!” So, I eagerly asked them what their question
was. “That purple thing you wear on your head;
how do you get it to stay on?!” As you might have guessed, that wasn’t the
moment of greatest impact, except perhaps on my pride. What struck me was another question. This one was posed to all the participants
by Saint John Paul II during a prayer vigil the evening before the closing mass. Reflecting upon the vast changes sweeping
across cultures and nations, he asked this question: “on what foundations, on what
certainties should we build our lives and the life of the community to which we belong?” Then he gave the answer: “Christ alone is
the cornerstone on which it is possible solidly to build one’s existence. Only Christ – known, contemplated and loved
– is the faithful friend who never lets us down, who becomes our travelling companion,
and whose words warm our hearts.” A century and a half ago, the first missionaries
came to our land and laid down the foundations of both Church and society. Now we, the missionaries of today, are also
called to foundational work, namely, to recover the moral foundations that ground our lives
as individuals, families and province, and underpin them with real hope. For that to happen, what is asked of us is
both simple and challenging: we must become fully what we are, we must be Catholic. This means a joyful proclamation in word and
deed of Jesus Christ as the only secure cornerstone of life – Jesus Christ known, contemplated
and loved – and a full embrace of our call in him to be holy, to be a communion and to
be missionary. By being fully the Catholics that God has
called and made us to be, we who have received a beautiful missionary legacy will make one
of our own to hand on to future generations. It is a beautiful thing to be a Catholic. It is especially beautiful to live out that
Catholic identity here in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Thank you for all that you do in service to
the Lord and the mission he has given to the Church. God bless you all!

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