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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Welcoming the Pope and His Message

Yet another vast crowd gathered around Pope Francis, this time for the Palm Sunday Mass. In these last days we have seen a joyful welcome extended to our new Holy Father. There is a widespread feeling of eager anticipation and hope as he assumes the leadership of the Church. Let us hope and pray that we will remain open and welcoming to the guidance he gives. I expect he will be challenging all of us profoundly.

The Mass of Palm Sunday began with an account of another enthusiastic welcome by huge crowds. When Jesus entered Jerusalem he was surrounded by cries of joy and hope. Yet when they realized the challenge that he was giving them, namely that salvation comes through following him in a willingness to embrace the Cross, i.e., to die to self so as to live for God and others, they turned away in rejection, and, in fact, crucified him.

Pope Francis is known as a man of great simplicity and of nearness to the poor. In short, he a man who shows us what it means to live in concert with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a profound challenge to a materialistic, consumeristic and self-centred society. He symbolizes in a compelling manner the call of Jesus himself to turn away from our multiple and harmful attachments and embrace evangelical simplicity so as to be at the service of the poor. He also manifests clearly the joy that issues from such a life, from allowing oneself to be transformed by the words and call of Jesus Christ. As we welcome the person of the Pope may we be equally open to embrace the Gospel.

On a different note, today our Archdiocese is celebrating the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Vic Perron, who died last week. He was a holy priest, who did, indeed, embrace the the Gospel of our Lord, or, better, allowed the Gospel fully to embrace him. We are grateful to God for his person, witness and ministry throughout more than forty years of service as a priest. Please spare a prayer or two for the repose of his soul. Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Pope's First Angelus

Papal security personnel must be suffering from ulcers. Like a loving father wanting to be with his children, Pope Francis keeps wading into the crowds - unexpectedly. While waiting in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus, I watched images on a large screen of the Pope greeting parishioners as they left St. Anne's Church where he had just celebrated mass with them. When that was finished he went out to the main street (!) to greet the crowds gathered there, before heading to his study window to give his first Angelus message. 

And what a message! Mercy. God is all merciful. Jesus is Mercy Incarnate. God never tires of forgiving us. The problem is that we tire of asking for that forgiveness. The Holy Father invited us to imagine a world marked by mercy. If we want a world that is less cold and more welcoming and supportive of one another, then we need to ask for forgiveness and be merciful. What makes that possible is God's mercy towards us, a mercy that is always ready to be poured out in abundance, if we only ask. Does God forgive? Well, as an elderly woman put it to the Holy Father in his early years as a bishop, if God did not forgive us, the world would not still exist.

And what a crowd!! Estimated at 300,000. I've been to St. Peter's Square many times in the middle of large gatherings, but that was my first experience of being literally packed in, like the proverbial sardines. The impact of our new Holy Father on the people of Rome and the world is truly extraordinary. He has won our hearts, and crowds in great number want to see him and listen to his words.
Among those who have already met the Holy Father are the staff at the guest house where I stay when I come to Rome. It is the same place where Pope Francis was staying before the conclave, and he came back the next day to pay his bill and thank the staff. Needless to say they are "over the moon" that he came to see them and say thanks. It gave me a clear idea of the impact that His Holiness will have on many more who, even if they cannot meet him personally, will see his smile and see there reflected the tenderness of God. That's what we saw today at St. Peter's Square. God has given us a great gift: a papa for us all.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Beautiful Surprise

I won't forget this! Last night I arrived at St Peter's Square just in time to see the white smoke go up! The atmosphere was electric!!! Impossible to describe. Then I joined the immense throng of people who hoarded together, full of anticipation, to await the announcement of the one chosen to be the new Successor of the Apostle Peter.

Pope Francis I. The very name says so much. Saint Francis is known, and universally admired, for his love for Jesus, for the Church, for poverty, for brotherhood, and for making known the Gospel. This was all instantly on display in the brief first encounter between the new Holy father and the people of Rome and the world. He won us over in seconds! The people all around me in that famous square reached out to embrace the new Bishop of Rome with cries of Francesco! Francesco! Most touching was his invitation to pray together for the Lord's blessing upon him so that he might in turn bless us. The crowd shifted in an instant from rapturous cheers to absolute silence as we prayed as one. At that moment we knew in our hearts that we have been given a wonderful gift in the person of our new Pope, who, by his choice of name and personal manner, has called us to be people of prayer and holiness, of friendship with Jesus and one another in Him, of solidarity with the poor, and of evangelical mission.

Habemus Papam! Viva il Papa!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Experiencing for the First Time What Others Have Long Known

Last Thursday I travelled to the Northwest Territories for a few days. One of our Edmonton priests, Fr Arlan Parenteau, is on loan here, sent in the context of the new twinning arrangement of mutual support established between the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. These past few days were an opportunity to visit him and to get at least an initial taste of life in the North. I experienced for the first time a number of things that the local people have grown up on, that are just part of their everyday lives.

First, roads. Have you ever driven on an "ice road"? A little unnerving, one might say. On both the Mackenzie River at Norman Wells and the Great Bear Lake at Deline, both frozen to a depth of about five and a half feet, I was driven by Fr Arlan in his truck on "roads" formed across the surface of the water. Since I heard that one should not exceed twenty kilometres an hour for fear of creating waves underneath that might crack the ice (!!!), my attention was split equally between the beauty of the surroundings and the speedometer. And then there is the "winter road". These run across the frozen muskeg, and stretch for hundreds of miles. The constant pounding by heavy transport trucks leaves them in deplorable condition, meaning that the people need to allow hours to travel distances that on normal roads would take little time. Outside the winter months the ice and winter roads disappear, of course, meaning that the only connection many small villages have to the broader world is by plane or, sometimes, boat. The sense of isolation is palpable, yet it is what they are used to.

Second, cold. REALLY COLD! I went out one day onto the Great Bear Lake to watch some local ice fishing. It took ages to put on what looked like a space suit and special boots and gloves in order to be shielded from a wind more biting than I could ever have imagined. As the fish were hauled out in nets that had been spread under the ice, I saw them literally freeze before my eyes. Yet a cold they have grown up on.

Third, snowmobiling. I had not had the occasion to drive a snowmobile before, so some of the parishioners in Norman Wells were insistent that I do so. They have grown up on these machines, using them for all sorts of transport. They assured me that the machines drive themselves. Well, not quite. I did not get into too much difficulty, and had a great time navigating the forest trails and skimming across Jackfish Lake. The beauty is breathtaking.

Experiencing for the first time what others have grown up on. In our modern world something analogous happens when one converts to Christianity. There is a kind of culture shock. The Scripture readings of Sunday help us to articulate this.

A Christian "grows up" on trust in God's never failing providence. Our Jewish ancestors on pilgrimage in the desert learned firsthand (Joshua 5:9, 10-12) what Jesus would later teach clearly, namely, that God is a loving Father who will always provide his children with their every true need (cf. Matthew 6:25-34). One coming from a world that teaches self-reliance into a Church that teaches God-reliance will experience culture shock.

A Christian "grows up" on God's mercy. We know that God loves us and we know our weaknesses and failings, and time and again we experience the boundless mercy and forgiveness of God, taught by Jesus in striking fashion through the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). One coming from a world that is harsh and bitter, far more ready to judge and condemn than to forgive, into a Church that has gown up on God's mercy, will experience culture shock, and truly wonder if God could ever forgive them their sins.

This means that we who have "grown up" on the love of God must be patient and gentle toward those who heed the call of the new evangelization and decide to taste and see if The Lord is, indeed, good (cf. Psalm 34). In other words, we need to be ambassadors of reconciliation, as St. Paul invites us to be (cf. 2Corinthians 5:17-21), always ready to be as patient and merciful toward others as God is toward us.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

All Day. All Parishes. All Priests

Wednesday of this week, March 6th, is the Day of Confessions in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. This is a wonderful opportunity to receive the gift of peace and freedom that come from the knowledge of forgiveness given in the Sacrament of Penance.

To encounter Jesus is to encounter mercy. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of the encounter with Jesus as the foundation of the Christian life. In the past week, I have had many reporters ask me my assessment of the legacy Benedict has left to the Church. In my view, it is the simple yet extraordinarily important message that stands at the centre of his corpus of astounding teaching: Christianity springs from an encounter with Jesus, a meeting that changes everything in our lives (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 1). Such a transformation is hardly surprising, because to meet Jesus is to encounter the Son of God incarnate. And God is love. When we encounter that love, we who are sinners experience it as mercy.

Spread the word! The Archdiocese has done its best to publicize this initiative, but there may be some who have not heard. In case you missed it, check out the story that appeared Saturday on the Religion Page of the Edmonton Journal.

Welcome to the mercy of God.