Pastoral letters

 

Pastoral letter For the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

Pastoral letter announcing the Diocesan Jubilee Year Pentecost, May 27, 2012

The permanent diaconate

The Turn to Mission in the Archdiocese of Gatineau

The Turn to Mission
in the Archdiocese of Gatineau

Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Paul-André Durocher

September 2017

Introduction

In January 2016, the Council of Communities and Ministries of the AECQ1 published a document entitled “The Missionary Shift of Christian Communities.” This text was born of a meeting of Quebec bishops and their immediate collaborators, focusing on the challenge launched by Pope Francis in his exhortation “The joy of the Gospel.” What is this challenge? It consists of passing from a Church of Christendom, centred on the maintenance of Christian institutions, to a Church of mission, centred on the dynamism of the Gospel movement. Let us read Pope Francis’s words:

I dream of a “missionary option,” that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. (The Joy of the Gospel, no. 27)

 
   

As soon as January 2017, during a study day at St. Joseph Cathedral, the heads and leaders of our Christian communities examined the AECQ text with the help of Ms. Marie Chrétien of the Archdiocese of Quebec. Subsequently, our diocesan pastoral council proposed that I write a letter which would outline the main ideas of this document and apply them to our “Outaouais” reality. With the support of the members of the DPC, I propose the following reflection and courses of action that might flow from it.

A Beautiful Story in Five Movements

 

  1. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me.” (Luke 4:18) In quoting this passage from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus inaugurated his public life in Palestine. He thus accepted to dedicate his life to the mission given him by his Father.
     
  2. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!” (Mt 28:19) With these words, Jesus in turn sent his own apostles, inviting them to continue his work and to make his mission their mission. They responded with generosity, animated by the breath of the Spirit, spreading to the four corners of the globe to announce the Good News.
     
  3. The Church in New France was founded by men and women animated by the same missionary spirit. Mary of the Incarnation, Francois de Laval, Marguerite d’Youville, Jean de Brébeuf and so many others left the security of their beloved France to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, for the cause of the Gospel.
     
  4. The colonization of the Outaouais in the nineteenth century saw women and men who, with the same courage and ardour, embraced the mission of Christ. Men like Father Louis Reboul and Father John Brady accepted to uproot themselves to settle in these poorly known lands where people were exploited in isolated lumber mills, barely fertile farms and unhealthy manufacturing plants. Religious women—apostolic like Mother Bruyère’s Sisters, or contemplative like Mother Marie-Zita-de-Jésus’s Sisters—strove to support the Christian faith of their sisters and brothers in order to renew their hope and joy. In those days, they embodied the Gospel not only in their sacramental and spiritual care, but also in various services: health, education and community services.
  1. When our diocese was founded barely fifty years ago, our first bishop, Paul-Émile Charbonneau, wanted to give it the same inspiration. He dreamed of a “poor church with the poor,” capable of proclaiming the Gospel not only in words but also in deeds. He wanted a Church open to the world, committed to building a just and fraternal society.

At the time, the faithful flocked to their parish churches. We erected new parishes and built new churches to accommodate a growing Catholic population. At that time, everybody had their children baptized and sent to Catholic schools to ensure that faith would be handed on. Everyone married in the Church, came to Sunday Mass and celebrated funerals for the dead. The presence of many priests and nuns responded to our spiritual needs, while many vibrant movements helped us to understand and live our faith. And we set up helping organizations, founded soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless, opened neighbourhood homes, hosted refugees from Viet Nam, opened our wallets to support missionaries and development agencies in the Third World. The mission was healthy!

Today’s Context

Today, we must face facts: this world is disappearing. A recent survey by CROP indicates that while three quarters of Quebeckers identify themselves as Catholics, only half believe in a personal God. And of this half, a small third considers Jesus as the Son of God. In fact, only 15% of the population—including recent immigrants—adhere to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the vast majority of whom are elderly2. In fact, our parishes are mainly composed mostly of retired people, generous, for sure, and always convinced. Yet, despite their best efforts, the new generations seem to be less and less interested in the Gospel. What is more, the dwindling human and financial resources of the Church in Quebec challenge her flourishing in a society that is both secularized and pluralistic.

 
   

Faced with this reality, there are two possible reactions. The first is to focus at all costs on the institutions and ecclesial practices we have known and devote all our energies to maintaining the Church as a private, unchanging association that provides spiritual services to its members. The second is to recognize that God is calling us to leave behind our habitual ways and open new paths so that the Church might emerge as a dynamic communal movement to which we commit in order to transform the world.

Let us be clear. Though the social situation of the Church has changed, its project remains the same. Pope John Paul II articulated it well in his letter “The beginning of the third millennium”:

“To know, love and imitate Jesus so as to live Trinitarian love in him and to transform human history with him. ”

This second option requires that each of the faithful embraces the missionary spirit of Christ in the social context of contemporary Quebec. We are invited to be unsatisfied with simply being Jesus’s disciples, but to seek with all our hearts to become his apostles.

The Church’s Mission

At the beginning of the third millennium, Pope Jean-Paul II reminded us that the Church’s program has not changed, but that it must adapt itself to the conditions in which the various Christian communities find themselves. This is how he defined the program: “Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.”3

 
   

Let us take a closer look at each element of this definition.

Centred in Christ—Christian faith cannot be reduced to an ideology, a doctrine or a moral code. It is centred in a person, Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God who, in the Spirit, came among us to proclaim and inaugurate God’s reign.

Who is to be known, loved and imitated — We are created in order to live a relationship with Jesus. We learn to know him as we plumb the Scriptures, we learn to love him in personal and communal prayer, we learn to imitate him in our commitment for the justice, peace and joy of the Kingdom (see Rom 14,17).

So that in him we may live the life of the Trinity — A relationship with Jesus plunges us into the heart of the loving relationship he enjoys with the Father and the Spirit. In him, we discover God who loves us with an unconditional, infinite love, a love that gives meaning and direction to our lives, that promises forgiveness and healing in the face of failure, that gives hope and strength in the face of trial.

And with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem — The love of God for humankind is made real in the actions of men and women who concern themselves with the pain and misery of others and come to their help. The mission entrusted to us by Jesus takes flesh when we show our solidarity with all those who live at the periphery of our society and our communities and who seek welcome, understanding, comfort and belonging.

Let us remember that the Church does not exist for itself, but to be a Covenant space between God and humanity, a space where God’s love for today’s men and women can be made concrete and life-giving.

Reforming our structures

Let us rejoice in the numerous efforts already undertaken in our parishes and movements to take up this mission. Indeed, we can see all around us many beautiful initiatives to make Jesus and his Gospel known.

We recognize the many projects that enflesh the Gospel in various community services to the poor and the unloved.

To undertake a missionary shift means to multiply these initiatives and efforts so as to centre our communities on the proclamation of the Good News and its realization in our environment. We need to review all our personal and parochial activities in the light of these two questions:

  • Do our commitments and activities help others to know, love and imitate Jesus?

  • Do our commitments and activities open up paths of hope for the men and women of our world, especially the least and the poorest?

The first question is centred on the Good News we must proclaim; the second, on the Good News that must be shown forth. Indeed, proclaim the Good News bears more fruit when it shows in our lives. Back in 1975, Pope Paul VI noted: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”4 The witness of a community engaged in opening paths of hope for the least and the poorest makes its life of fellowship, liturgy and catechesis all the more credible.

In the light of these two questions, some activities may have to be abandoned and others created. Many will have to be modified and enriched to better respond to today’s challenges. Without massively rejecting past practices or present activities, let us consider certain dimensions of Christian and ecclesial life that we might have taken too much for granted.

Here are two contrasting series of challenges, both personal and communal, that we should explore together. In the left-hand column, you will recognize approaches and activities that are typical of yesterday’s and today’s Christian communities; in the right-hand column, you will discover complementary approaches and activities that, when implemented, will give our communities a more missionary stance.

 

 

Traditional approaches

More missionary approaches

A.

Ensure the catechesis of children.

Undertake the evangelization of parents.

B.

Prepare for the reception of sacraments.

Accompany after the sacraments.

C.

Speak of Gospel values.

Speak of the person of Jesus.

D.

Ensure the viability of the parish.

Build a dynamic community.

E.

Preside at large groups.

Facilitate small groups.

F.

Carefully prepare homilies and music.

Encourage a spiritual experience.

G.

Associate with those we already know.

Reach out and welcome the stranger.

H.

Convince young people of our causes.

Understand young people’s causes.

I.

Develop a Eucharistic spirituality.

Develop a spirituality of the Word.

J.

Consider the well-being of our parish.

Consider the well-being of our town or neighbourhood.

K.

Commit to prayer.

Commit to justice, peace and joy.

L.

Start up a social project.

Collaborate with community organizations.

M.

Try to bring people back to Church.

Try to bring the Gospel to people.

 
   

 

Four courses of action for our parishes

Reviewing our commitments and activities invites us to an exercise of evaluation, re-questioning, reorientation and creativity. It will not happen overnight: this is a long process. Moving from one pastoral style to another requires a sustained, focused and intentional effort over the years.

It will be necessary to be formed, to dialogue, to help each other. We will have to adjust our practices and our habits. We will have to face the resistance of those who do not understand or do not want this change. In order to do this, the DPC proposes four courses of action for the coming years.

  1. Continue to work on the four fundamental attitudes proposed by our diocesan pastoral priority. To “free the gifts” allows us to better “share the Word.” Welcoming, affirming, accompanying and inviting do not only foster volunteerism in our parish, the ground the mission on four foundational pillars. Indeed, an evangelizing parish knows how to welcome people’s questions, affirm their insights, accompany their faith pilgrimage and invite to follow Jesus.
     
  2. The diocesan team will create small group processes that will help participants to articulate and share their faith.
     
  3. The diocesan team will launch “shift workshop” training sessions offered over a three-year cycle dedicated in turn to the Word, to social commitment and to liturgy. These workshops will be open to members of our pastoral teams—priests, deacons and lay pastoral associates—and to any of the baptized-and-confirmed who, in the name of their faith, wish to commit themselves to mission. Participants will be equipped to put into place the small group processes named in the preceding paragraph.
     
  4. In order not to remain at the level of principle and nice ideas, the DPC would like the reflection presented in this pastoral letter to open onto a concrete plan of action for each of the parishes of our diocese. It would be good to make this vision your own by studying it with neighbouring parishes, identifying your own priorities and determining your own plan of action.

In Conclusion

The history of our diocesan Church is part of the great history of salvation. And this story continually invites us to return to the source: the mission that the Father entrusted to his Son, which the Son—in the power of the Spirit—handed on to his disciples, and which the disciples bequeathed to subsequent generations. The time has come to write a new chapter in this story. We will do so in communion with the universal Church and the Church in Quebec, but we will do it according to who we are, in our own way, aware of our particular reality.

The members of the DPC join with me in inviting you to hold this reflection and these courses of action in your prayer and to make them known around you. Let us adopt the personal attitudes that will enable this vision to become reality and bear fruit. Let us dream of projects and activities that will make it possible to engage in the turn to mission. Let us share our good ideas among ourselves and with the diocesan team.

Together, let us respond to the call that Pope Francis made to the Church of Quebec during the ad limina apostolorum visit of the Quebec bishops in May 2017: “Arise, go out to others, listen to them and share with them the Good News. The Spirit of Christ is with you.”

 

† Paul-André Durocher Archbishop of de Gatineau

Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec – Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec
2 An overview of this survey can be found at https://www.crop.ca/fr/blog/2017/168/. The author states that 14% of Quebec citizens believe in a personal God as taught by the Church, while another 37% create themselves a god according to their needs (a “super guardian angel”). Twenty-eight percent of the population understands the divine as an impersonal force abiding in the cosmos. Finally, 21% do not believe in any transcendent reality: only matter exists.
3 John Paul II, apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte, n. 29
4 Pope Paul VI, apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, 1975, n. 41