New President of Canadian Episcopate on Key Concerns

Archbishop Brendan O’Brien Wants to Build on World Youth Day

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ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland, NOV. 13, 2003 ( The new president of the Canadian episcopal conference, Archbishop Brendan O’Brien, says he wants to follow up on World Youth Day 2002 and the congress on vocations.

The archbishop of St. John’s, who was elected leader of the conference on Oct. 28, shared with ZENIT what he sees as the Canadian bishops’ key concerns.

Q: What unique perspective will you bring to the position of president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops?

Archbishop O’Brien: I don’t know if it is unique, but since my ordination as a bishop in 1987 I have served in three of the four pastoral regions of the country: Ontario, Quebec and now Atlantic Canada. The only regional episcopal assembly of which I have not been a member is the Western Catholic Conference.

Perhaps during my term of office I will have opportunities to become more knowledgeable about the northern and western part of our Church and our country.

Q: What are the chief concerns of the CCCB?

Archbishop O’Brien: The major concerns at the present are to assure a follow-up to two major events that took place in our country — World Youth Day 2002 and the Continental Congress on Vocations.

We need to make sure that the momentum that these events provided is carried forward. While much of this will be done at the diocesan and regional levels, there is a role also for the CCCB.

Another project that is of high priority is the establishment of a task force to review the document, «From Pain to Hope,» which deals with our pastoral response to child sexual abuse. The original report was published in 1992. We are looking at what we might learn from the experience of the last decade that could improve our response to this troubling social problem.

The CCCB is also actively involved in a number of issues that are being debated in our Parliament. Among these are the legalization of same-sex unions and Bill C-13, concerning reproductive technologies.

Q: What has Pope John Paul II’s recent apostolic exhortation, «Pastores Gregis,» contributed to the Canadian bishops’ understanding of their role?

Archbishop O’Brien: We have just begun our study of this document. I would say that the Holy Father’s reflection on the call to holiness — and in particular the emphasis on how the bishop attains holiness not alongside his ministry but through that ministry — is something for us to ponder. Much of the apostolic exhortation then goes on to spell out what this ministry entails and how it should be lived.

The emphasis on the bishop as one who brings hope is also an important perspective as well as the insistence on how he is to be a promoter of a spirituality of communion.

The section on communion between the bishops and the Churches at the local level and the final chapter concerning the bishop and the challenges of the present are parts of the apostolic exhortation that need to be examined in the context of our situation in Canada.

I think that this document can be of great help as an encouragement in our day-to-day life as bishops as well as a reminder of the need to develop the collegial dimension of our ministry.

Q: What have been the highlights of your last two years serving as vice president of the CCCB?

Archbishop O’Brien: I would have to say that World Youth Day 2002 and the visit of the Holy Father to Toronto were the most memorable. While there was a special episcopal committee responsible for this event, the executive of the CCCB was also involved in the preparations.

During the last two years, I also had the opportunity to participate in a number of meetings with bishops from Latin America and the United States. The focus of these meetings was globalization and its cultural and economic effects, particularly on poorer nations.

Q: What is your future vision for the CCCB?

Archbishop O’Brien: First of all, I think that the CCCB should strive to foster communion among the bishops of the country. We need the support of one another as we face the particular challenges of our dioceses.

At the same time, because many of the issues that we face are not only local ones, the resources of the CCCB can be of great assistance to the bishops. For example, in the present debate over same-sex unions, the assistance of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family has been most useful.

Finally, I hope that the CCCB will continue to reach out to the rest of the world; it would be my hope that the conference will continue to have both a missionary spirit as well as a concern for the peace and well-being of our brothers and sisters elsewhere.

This international outreach of the conference is a way of showing our solidarity with our brother bishops, many of whom minister under very difficult circumstances.

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