Cardinal Marc Ouellet on the State of Quebec

«I Hope That There Will Be a Reawakening of Our Spiritual Patrimony»

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ROME, DEC. 11, 2003 ( Cardinal Marc Ouellet hopes to help his flock rediscover its deeply Catholic identity.

The archbishop of Quebec talked about the mission that awaits him in Canada, in this interview with ZENIT soon after the last consistory in Rome.

Q: Your Eminence, after your time in Rome teaching dogmatic theology at the John Paul II Institute and after spending some time as the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, you are now the new archbishop of Quebec. What are the new challenges that you are facing right now?

Cardinal Ouellet: It is certainly a new life for me to be the new pastor of a diocese. After working in the ecumenical field and dealing with theological dialogue with other Christian beliefs I am now back in my own country, where my own Christian roots are, and I see the great need of a new evangelization in the terms of John Paul II.

Many of my brothers and sisters in the faith have lost knowledge of their own faith; they don’t practice anymore and even lost memory of that faith. In the school system, history does not have a big place and even religion has lost its importance.

Therefore I see a great need of handing on the faith through the renewal of family life, a new understanding of marriage as the foundation of the family and of society, and also the importance of maintaining the school as a place where faith is transmitted … and the parish community [as a place] to develop a stronger catechesis.

The school is not giving a real catechesis, therefore it is necessary to complete the religious practice in relation with the sacraments. That is one of the challenges we have to face not only in my diocese but also in the whole province of Quebec.

A second challenge is the youth. There is a gap between the generations. My generation has not really transmitted the faith to their children. Some of the children are not even baptized. We see very few children in church on Sundays.

Q: Is there a certain ignorance, or do you sense that there is even hatred against the Church?

Cardinal Ouellet: It is more ignorance among the youth. They have not learned anything about the Church. It really concerns me. But now, after the World Youth Day in Toronto, things are changing slowly.

I have invited young people to celebrate with me in the spirit of World Youth Day, and 700 of them came to my cathedral. It was a big success. I gave them catechesis and we had other activities the whole day. Many of them had been in Toronto; others came for the first time.

It was so good that we decided that we must repeat the experience of World Youth Day…. So I invited them to make a pilgrimage with me at the end of August to a very famous shrine in the diocese, St. Anne de Beaupré, and more than 500 responded with great enthusiasm to my invitation. We walked 14 kilometers together. I gave them the catechesis of the Sunday, which was about the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:31, where Paul speaks about marriage.

It was such a good experience. In the evening we had a celebration of the mercy of God and then the Eucharist and finally a fire at the river shore until midnight. Many priests came as well and gave assistance for the sacrament of penance. There is a new spirit developing here.

The attitude of the newspapers and television is usually not very positive toward the Church in Canada, but these events in Rome, the 25th anniversary of the Pope, the beatification of Mother Teresa and the consistory have been covered very positively. I hope this will have also a lasting impact on the youth.

Q: Can you say that the situation of the Church in Canada is similar to the situation in the U.S. or is it very different? Is there a similar crisis?

Cardinal Ouellet: I don’t know the situation in the States very well. I think that in the States the situation is a bit better in the terms of religious practice.

The culture there is a culture of free initiative, and the Catholics had to fight for their own faith, because they were living in a sort of supermarket of different beliefs — whereas in Quebec we had a Christian and Catholic society; everything was given and we took it for granted, and all of a sudden everything fell apart.

Secularization of all the institutes, hospitals, trade unions — we had Catholic schools — all of this fell apart in the last 30 years. Now we start to really react against this, because if we allow this process to continue we will also disappear as a nation.

Christianity was part of our cultural identity. If it disappears we won’t survive as a culture that is French, that has its precise historical configuration. I hope that there will be a reawakening of our spiritual patrimony. That is what I am preaching since I am back in Quebec.

Q: Is it true that the French population in Canada is mostly Catholic whereas the English-speaking population is Protestant?

Cardinal Ouellet: Before it was like that, but now the situation has changed. Catholics are now widespread in the whole country. Probably the majority of Catholics is still in Quebec.

Of a population of 30 million Canadians, half of them are Catholic and half Protestant, half on the French side and half on the English side. Also most of the immigrants from Haiti and Latin America are Catholics and they help us to remember our own roots.

There is a republican and secular spirit that has taken over in the French culture. But I can see that my presence is indicating a new trend. And I really want to help my people to rediscover the heart of their identity.

Q: The people in Canada will certainly notice that you are a man of dialogue …

Cardinal Ouellet: When I got back to Quebec the press had already formed a prejudice saying that I was ultraconservative, since I was coming from Rome and I was appointed to create «order and discipline» even among the bishops.

I think now this image starts to change because the coverage of the celebrations in Rome was so positive. Hopefully they will accept to deal with a real person and not to deal with preconceived ideas about me.

It is a very demanding challenge, but I accept all interviews. I try to answers about the values and what I want to do. I have been involved also in public debates; they have given me critical attention, but at least it is attention.

Q: Maybe even the prejudice against Rome will change slowly …

Cardinal Ouellet: Yes, this would be nice. If you consider, the gift of holiness of Mother Teresa is so positive. It is a gift of this Pope whom people consider as so conservative. I always point out his openness for dialogue, his ecumenical gestures, his fight for world peace.

Q: You have chosen the motto «Ut unum sint» [that they all be one] when you became a bishop. After the time that you have spent working in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, do you see a concrete possibility of continuing to work into that direction even in your new position as the archbishop of an important diocese?

Cardinal Ouellet: The motto is at the heart of Our Lord’s prayer before his death. It has implication for ecumenical work obviously, but it has so much meaning also for the life of each community.

Today there is a real challenge of unity at a local level, because if you lose your own identity you need to be brought back to the heart of the Gospel.

I think we need also to deepen our understanding of unity. Unity is the Trinitarian unity that means: «like you and me, Father, that they may be one in us.» It is not just to have the same ideas about politics or social justice; it is a share in the heart of the mystery of God and this is the truth of every single parish community.

The motto is so universal: It is universal in quality, in intensity of communion of the Trinitarian mystery, and in extension. It implies the whole
world and whole humanity, which is called to enter into this mystery. So I won’t change my motto.

Q: Unity starts in the family …

Cardinal Ouellet: Yes, today we face not just a moral crisis, but an anthropological one as well. We are losing the sense of the difference between man and woman, the complementarity of the sexes. The culture is trying to suppress the difference of sexes as if being a woman or a man makes no difference.

So the Church is reminding the world that the difference of the sexes is important, fundamental and it even belongs to the vocation of man to image God, to give a reflection of the mystery of God — because in the divine Persons you have equality but you have also difference.

The Father is the Father and the Son is the Son and the Son is absolutely not the Father and vice versa. And the Spirit is completely different from the Father and the Son, but they are God together. There would be no God without the difference of the divine Persons in the unity of love.

We are created in the image of God. So it is very important to be created as a man or a woman, and it is not the same. If we want a true humanity, we need to accept the difference and to live out the difference in a love which is open to a third. That is the mystery of God.

We live in a critical moment for anthropology but we have a wonderful opportunity to announce the deepest part of the mystery of God, which is Trinitarian love and which is inherent in the mystery of love between a man and a woman and their child.

Q: Could you explain a bit about your relationship with Hans Urs von Balthasar, with whom you have done your doctoral thesis?

Cardinal Ouellet: I was thinking a lot of him in these days for two reasons: first of all, because he was nominated a cardinal but he never came to the consistory because he died three days before on the 26th of June 1988. In a way this gesture of the Holy Father has had its impact, recommending what he [Balthasar] did as a theologian, which was a huge contribution, which is still to be discovered not only by the theologians but by the Church as a whole.

During the consistory, on my side there was sitting another disciple of Balthasar, the archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. There are also others, like Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Stafford or the new cardinal of Esztergom-Budapest, Peter Erdö, who have been influenced by his writings. And Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, knew him well.

That means that the spiritual and intellectual heritage of von Balthasar is still alive and now has penetrated more deeply into the hierarchy of the Church. Not to forget the Pope himself! Ecumenically the theology of von Balthasar is a treasure. I have seen Lutherans reacting very positively to the soteriology of von Balthasar. And also when Rowan Williams was appointed the new archbishop of Canterbury, he made a reference to von Balthasar as a sign of hope for the future of closer relationships between the Anglican and the Catholic Church.

Balthasar’s theology is a seed of new evangelization. The Pope’s program of new evangelization has its substance in von Balthasar’s theology, which is deeply Trinitarian and which has a ramification in anthropology and in the way we understand the Church and the relation between the institution and charism.

There is a deep and refreshing vision of the mystery of the Church, and the nuptial dimension of ecclesiology is very developed as well in his theology. This is what the Church needs in the future.

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