By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Photo  from Vatican Radio
Well, it has finally begun. Yesterday the Synod on the Family 2015 was inaugurated with solemn mass at St. Peter's Basilica, presided by the Holy Father. All Synod Fathers concelebrated, including yours truly. Providentially, the Gospel for the Mass gave us the teaching of Jesus on marriage.

Reflecting upon this passage, the Holy Father gave us clear and strong marching orders as we enter into synod. The Church, he reminded us, must at all times be faithful to the words of Jesus, her divine Master, and reach out to all families with the truth and charity of his Gospel. The Pope, it seems to me, could not have chosen a more timely topic when he called for a Synod on the Family. In fact, this is the second in two years on this subject! Marriage is beautiful, authored by God from the beginning as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman, whose mutual love is fruitful in the procreation of new human life. Yet families today face a bewildering range of new ideas pertaining to marriage and human sexuality, and live in the context of new and increasing threats to the dignity of human life. The pressures on family life are enormous, and often cause great stress. We Bishops want to offer clarity, hope and encouragement, and this will be the aim of our time together.

I'm looking forward to the discussions. Pope Francis has called for open and fraternal dialogue among the Bishops. Since this is my first experience of a Synod, I'm interested to see how the process and procedures will allow for this. It should be fascinating and enlightening. After all, the nearly 300 Bishops participating in this ecclesial gathering represent every continent of the world. I look forward, for example, to hearing what my Brother Bishops from Africa bring to the discussion. Their experience is quite different from that of the North American culture from which I shall speak. And think, too, of what the Bishops of the Middle East might say, given the tremendous heartache suffered by their families trapped in terrible violence or forced to become refugees. These are just a couple of examples pointing to what I believe will be very rich discussions.

I join with other Bishops, but we all know the chief protagonist here is the Holy Spirit, whose mission is to remind us of the teachings of Jesus Christ and thus lead us into all truth. Please pray for all of us, that we might clearly discern the Spirit's promptings as we formulate recommendations to our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What a Week!!!

I've been in Philadelphia since last Monday for the World Meeting of Families. This event happens every three to four years and draws families from around the world. Registration for this one was about 25,000 people - very enthusiastic and joyful people! It was the joy of being together with fellow Catholics to thank God for the gift of family, to celebrate it, and to commit to be heralds of the wondrous and beautiful plan of God for the family.

The joy was given especially intense expression with the arrival of Pope Francis. His participation in this World Meeting was the principal reason for his visit to the United States. Yet, as you know, some extraordinary events preceded it. I followed it on TV as much as possible, and was really moved by the warm and enthusiastic reception he was given. Especially touching were his moments with children, the sick and the prisoners.

Yet it was only when we found ourselves in his presence that we experienced the power of his person. Even when I had no access to a TV monitor to follow his progress, I could tell where he was just by the enormous cheers as he drew near.

Many ask the reason for this powerful reaction to Pope Francis. Certainly his personality touches hearts. He personifies tenderness, and thus makes tangible the gentle mercy of God. Yet a passage from the Acts of the Apostles leads us to deeper appreciation. Consider the account at Acts 5:12-17. There we read of people bringing the sick to the Apostles for healing, and hoping in particular that "the shadow of Peter" might fall on them and they be cured. The Pope is the Successor of St Peter. When we draw near to him we are experiencing "the shadow of Peter" falling across us. The many TV images we saw are clear proof that the hearts of many were healed through this encounter.

And more - many more - will be healed if we commit to reach out to troubled families with the beauty and truth of the Gospel. This will be the heart of the discussions about to take place at the upcoming Synod on the Family, for which I leave this week in order to take part. Please keep in prayer me and the other approximately 300 Bishops who will gather in Rome for this event.

As Pope Francis reminded us Saturday evening, when God became one of us in Jesus Christ, he entered a family. Jesus continues to dwell in the hearts of families who call upon him. May we all rediscover - and live - the gift of family life as intended by God. This will renew our families and thus our society as well.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Make an Issue of It!!

To my mind, the most remarkable aspect of the present federal election campaign is the silence surrounding an issue which threatens our common life together as Canadians in profoundly harmful ways. That issue is physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Last February the Supreme Court of Canada declared the practices legal (!!!!) and gave the federal Parliament one year to produce legislation to accord with its decision. This is a change of seismic proportions to our laws protecting the vulnerable, a change that, in effect, does not protect the weak but instead deepens their vulnerability. Yet we hear nothing about it on the campaign trail! Gathered in plenary assembly last week, the Bishops of Canada gave voice to their astonishment at the lack of attention being given to this issue, and called upon all Catholics to make their voices heard and challenge the candidates on their position.

I echo the call. We must not be silent. When the SCC first rendered its judgement, I offered a statement in response, which can be found here. The statement issued last Friday by the Bishops of Canada can be found here. I invite you to review these statements and then contact those who are running for office. Let them know that what the Supreme Court has declared legal remains morally unacceptable. Call upon them to give full protection to the weak and vulnerable. Demand as well protection for the full conscience rights of medical professionals who may be pressured to kill another human being.

The situation before us is that we are now able to kill instead of care. Let's not stand for this, but stand instead for the protection of all human life from its beginning to natural end.

Monday, September 7, 2015

We Need Help to Change

On Sunday I joined with the Vietnamese Catholics of Queen of Martyrs parish to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for their new Church. Acquired from a parish that had previously called it home, the Church has now been beautifully transformed inside. From the outside it looks the same as it has for many years. Inside the change is quite dramatic.

I suggested to the people gathered for Mass that this is reflective of what the Lord wishes to bring about in all of us - interior transformation. We might look the same externally, but a new heart is given to us whenever we encounter Jesus Christ and allow him to bring about change within. We shall see things differently and relate to both persons and events in new ways. Thus will an interior change cause a ripple effect of transformation around us.

And, oh, how such change is desperately needed! In school visits I meet young - very young - students struggling with anxiety and depression. Threats continue to mount everywhere against the dignity of human life from beginning to natural end. In my city, and countless others, families are hurting from poverty and violence. Especially traumatic these days is the heartrending plight of millions of displaced persons who have fled from violence in Syria and elsewhere, many hundreds of thousands of whom are on the move toward what they hope will be a better life. This cannot be our status quo!!!!! Change must come!

But how? Change will happen when we allow ourselves to be changed. I'm using the passive voice here deliberately. It is clear that we are unable to change ourselves. We need to be changed. And that is precisely what the Lord Jesus wants to bring about. The lesson of the Gospel of Sunday is that we are called to bring to Jesus our inability to change and ask him to bring about the needed transformation of our hearts. The Gospel account centres upon an encounter between Jesus and a man who is deaf and unable to speak. Clearly, the man is incapable of changing his inabilities. When he comes to Jesus, though, the change happens; it is the Lord who opens his ears and unstops his tongue.

In so many ways the world has grown deaf to the Word of God. We listen to voices that keep us centred upon ourselves and ignorant of the needs of others. In countless circumstances where we have the opportunity to speak only what is good and helpful, to defend what we know to be true from our faith, do we instead find our tongues silent, made mute by fear of being ridiculed for our belief.

As Jesus said to the deaf man may he say today to us: Ephphatha! Be opened! Open Lord, our ears, eyes and hearts, set free both our minds and our tongues, transform us entirely from within, so that we may be agents of the transformation you will to bring about throughout the world.

Monday, August 31, 2015


This week the Archdiocese of Edmonton is marking some wonderful milestones. We do so with great joy, so I'm happy to share the news with you.

First, on Wednesday we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the arrival in Edmonton of the Priests of the Society of St Sulpice. Founded in the seventeenth century in France by Jean-Jacques Olier, this community of priests is dedicated to the formation of seminarians. At the invitation of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, the Sulpicians came to Edmonton and assumed responsibility for the care and formation of men studying for the priesthood at Saint Joseph Seminary. Their ministry has been exemplary, and they enjoy the confidence of the Bishops of Western Canada, whose dioceses they serve. The Sulpician Fathers are a great blessing to the Church, and it will be my joy this week to celebrate this anniversary with them.

Second, at another Catholic post-secondary educational institution in Edmonton, we shall formally open with God's blessing a new students' residence. Saint Joseph's College has operated on the campus of the University of Alberta since 1926. One long-held dream has been to establish a residence for women students in addition to the men's residence that has existed for many years. After a great deal of careful planning and hard work, this dream is being realized. Congratulations to all! As we gather on Thursday of this week for the formal blessing, please pray that all the students who will call this home may come to know the love of Christ that permeates this College community.

Finally, and also on Thursday, I shall be present when we celebrate the welcoming by Catholic Social Services of the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre into their family. The dignity of human life from beginning to natural end inspires the entire social outreach of the Church. It is the reason the Edmonton Pregnancy Crisis Centre reaches out in love and support to expectant women. From this principle Catholic Social Services embraces any who are in need. The two together are an obvious fit. As we celebrate this milestone I ask for your prayers for the protection and honouring of all human life.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Who Else is There?

I love the passage from the Gospel we heard on Sunday. (cf. John 6:53, 60-69). Deeply moving, it is one of my favourites.

Jesus has been giving what we have come to call his Bread of Life Discourse, in which he offers himself, fully and completely, as Bread for the life - even eternal life - of the world. It is scarcely possible to imagine a self-offering more complete, ratified unmistakably in his later death on the Cross. Yet what is the response of many of the disciples to this total gift of self? The passage tells us that they walked away, returning to their former way of life. We are told that they found his teachings too hard to accept, so they turned away and abandoned him.

What must have been going on in the heart of Jesus as this unfolded? Heartbreak comes to mind. He offers himself fully, in love, and he is rejected. Then he turns to the remaining disciples, and asks if they, too, will leave him. Peter gives the response, which, to my mind, is one of the most moving in all of Scripture: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Who else is there? Notice that Peter does not focus upon what Jesus said. His attention is upon who Jesus is. He does not counsel Jesus to soften his message. He does not advise him to find another, easier way of expressing the truth. He looks beyond what has been said to the One who said it. Because Jesus is who he is - the Holy One of God who alone can lead us to eternal life - there is no one else to follow. Our call is not to reject the messenger because of the message, but to accept the message - however difficult - because we trust the Messenger.

A good question to reflect upon these days is: What is my response when I receive from Jesus and his Church a message I find hard to understand or accept? Do I stay with Jesus or do I leave? Or do I remain with him only conditionally, accepting some things and not others?

Jesus offers himself to us completely, without measure or condition. The response he seeks from us is likewise total. Let's pray that we, too, will know him for who he is, stay with him, and never walk away.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Church Guy

Near where I live is a family with four young children. One day they were playing in their backyard when I arrived home. The little girl, five years old, saw me and came running over. She said, "Hey! Aren't you the Church guy?" "Well," I said, "Yes, I guess I am." She looked at me again and said, "Then why aren't you in Church?"

I've thought about that question a lot since then, because it finds an echo in the questions or comments that we often hear directed at "Church people." It will frequently take the form: "Why don't you keep your faith "in Church," which is to say, faith and its insights should have no place in public discourse and are best kept confined within Church walls, an entirely private affair.

For us "Church people", we know this is impossible. Not because we seek to impose our belief on anyone, as is mistakenly (and frequently) charged against us. We do not impose; we propose. And what we have to propose is something extraordinarily beautiful: the message of hope, which is the Gospel.

The urgency of the need to share this message is clear. All around us we see many manifestations of a serious crisis besetting humanity, namely, a lack of hope. I think of young children speaking to me of depression in their lives or troubling their friends. In Canada the news last week was full of reports of a growing use of the narcotic fentanyl, and this not long after reports of Health Canada giving permission for the use of the so-called "abortion pill." At the current time in our country we are pondering the impact of the Supreme Court decision in February allowing physician assisted suicide and euthanasia. Globally we see heartrending images of refugees from the Middle East and Africa risking - and losing - their lives as they flee across the Mediterranean Sea seeking a better life. These examples can be multiplied. Together they give evidence of a lack of hope.

This gives rise to immense sadness in our hearts because we know it need not be this way. There is a reason for real hope. That reason is the sure love of God, made manifest and active in Jesus Christ. This conviction impels us not to keep our hope-giving message to ourselves, not to confine it within Church walls, but to announce it with confidence and joy.

Over the last few days I had the wonderful privilege and blessing of being at two events, in which the participants made clear their desire and readiness to share with others the beauty of the faith. The first was the annual pilgrimage to a Marian shrine at Skaro within the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The second was a festival for young adults called One Rock, held within, and hosted by, the Diocese of Calgary. At each, enthusiasm for the faith was palpable. I am edified and encouraged by the love for the Gospel beautifully on display among the people who gathered for these celebrations of the faith.

May we each find ways, in our variety of circumstances, to be "Church people" who do not keep the faith "in Church", but willingly share it with others as the reason for hope.