2017 Ad Limina visit of the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops and meeting with Pope Francis .

April 28, 2017

The 2017 Ad Limina visit of the Assembly of  Western Catholic Bishops  occurred from March 25-April 2. We were 26 in all, representing the dioceses of the west as well as the western eparchies and St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Sask. There are three other episcopal regions in Canada, namely, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, these were in Rome on different dates this spring as well. The phrase Ad Limina means, “at the thresholds,” in other words, a visit to the thresholds of the Apostles, namely the City of Rome where Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred and buried. An Ad Limina visit includes a visit with the Holy Father, the celebration of the Eucharist at the four major basilicas of Rome, and visits to the various departments of the Holy See, called Dicasteries. Within this very busy schedule some time is left for other activities during the week such as a visit to the excavations under St. Peter’s where the tomb of St. Peter was discovered, an evening at the Canadian College in Rome, a visit with the Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, an evening at the Pontificio Collegio Beda where I went to seminary, and a little time to shop or do business in the city, etc.
Ad Limina visits are to occur every five years, however our last one was 11 years ago as during that time we have had three Popes and regular Ad Limina visits were not easy to arrange. We began the actual Ad Limina on Monday morning, March 27, with Mass at the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt under the high altar of the basilica. A short time after the Mass, we found ourselves in the Papal Palace for our audience with Pope Francis. The Holy father’s pastoral style is much less formal than previous Popes during the Ad Limina visits. He sat down with us and for 2 ½ hrs. we enjoyed a relaxed dialogue regarding important questions the Church in Canada is facing. This was a fruitful and amazing encounter and a powerful way to begin our Ad Limina week.
As President of the AWCB, I had the privilege of addressing the Holy Father on behalf of the bishops regarding some of the concerns the Church faces in western Canada. I submitted beforehand, a short text which generally summarized the more lengthy  Ad Limina report sent to Rome much earlier. The text of the summary report follows, however, I spoke extemporaneously when we met with Pope Francis.

Executive Summary of the AWCB report to the Holy Father, Pope Francis – March 27, 2017

Your Holiness,
It is with great joy that the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops in Canada bring you greetings on the occasion of their 2017 Ad Limina visit. It is my privilege and honour to briefly summarize our written report regarding the challenges as well as the pastoral opportunities that are present to us. By way of background, our report outlined the demographics, geography and ecclesial jurisdictions for both the Latin Rite Dioceses and Ukrainian Catholic Eparchies.
Among the key challenges we face is the shortage of clergy and home grown vocations. The presence of many foreign clergy demands that we expend much effort at enculturation so that they are able to function within the Canadian multi-cultural context. We must also carefully discern both the reasons for such clergy coming to Canada and the possible challenges that might arise through tensions relative to cultural ways and attitudes. 
Religious orders have played a major role in the growth of the Catholic Church in western Canada and now with their sharp decline, we are concerned as to how to encourage and support religious life in our region. In addition, our dioceses now have the responsibility for the pastoral outreach formerly done by the religious. This has made great financial and resource demands within our communities.
Finally, the sexual abuse crisis continues to affect the relationship between the Church and society and has had a negative effect on ecclesial morale and vocations.
Given these challenges, one can say at the same time, that the majority of our clergy and religious remain dedicated to their vocations and pastoral work , indeed  much good fruit is present. The sexual abuse crisis has strongly motivated our communities to improve their methods of governance relative to responsible ministry standards. Finally, our foreign clergy as well as immigrant laity, continue to bring the richness of their faith and cultures into our communities and this has been positive.
The cultural context of western Canada is not different from the rest of Canada in that it is highly secular and grounded in relativism and materialism. The wide open abortion policy, physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, as well as legal same-sex marriage are now part of our social landscape. Sexual morality has changed rapidly since the 1960’s and an acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and transgender theories has become common place. Finally, the secular culture, fueled by an influential and sympathetic media as well as like-minded public figures, has caused confusion among the faithful.
Catholic Health Care and Educational Institutions are very much on the front line in these matters.
Opportunities do exist however, especially in the area of adult faith formation as well as a growing determination to strengthen the Catholicity of our institutions. Social communications are now greatly valued as a means of evangelization and there is an increasing number of practicing Catholics who seek to live out their faith in the public square. In recent years there have been many renewal programs available to parishes and schools as well as opportunities for ecumenical social justice cooperation. 
One of the most important areas of Church concern is the family. The family in North America is under great pressure as has been outlined in Your Holiness’ Synodal Apostolic Exhortation entitled, Amoris Laetitia. I would emphasize that the high percentage of non-practicing Catholic parents as well as our current cultural context has aggravated the problem of the transmission of faith .The large numbers of Catholic youth attending public schools and modest attendance in parish catechism programs serves to challenge the transmission of our faith. The lack of good faith formation and education is very evident among many families and numerous children are not baptised.
In western Canada, the presence of aboriginal peoples is a major social, cultural and demographic reality. There is a plurality of aboriginal cultures such as the many First Nations, the Inuit and a significant Metis population. The Catholic Church in the west has had a relationship with aboriginal people for about 200 years and many clergy, religious and laity have often assisted them through health care, various types of education, economic development initiatives  and spiritual accompaniment. However, in recent decades the relationship with the Church has become difficult. Canadians as a whole have become aware of the many types of poverty among these populations and even though the Catholic Church continues its ministry among aboriginal peoples, a strong public narrative has developed in Canada which lays blame on the Church for its involvement in residential schools.
The work of reconciliation and building bridges with these communities remains a significant priority for every one of our dioceses. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had a major impact on our country relative to residential schools and even though this process has had weaknesses, we as bishops are determined to constructively work on the Calls to Action coming from the Commission. The question of inter-cultural collaboration relative to Christianity and aboriginal spirituality continues to be a particular challenge as is the question of educating parishioners about aboriginal issues with the view to reconciliation and cooperation. Today, many indigenous communities are beginning to better control their educational institutions, health care facilities, local government and natural resources as well as becoming more effective in advocacy for their just rights in society. The challenge for the Church is one of accompaniment through the Gospel perspective and to help affirm a people who have much to learn from the Church and the Church from them.
Your Holiness, I respectively submit these few observations for your consideration and pray that much good fruit comes from our Ad Limina visit with you.

The Ad Limina Week begins with Mass at St. Peter's tomb. It is a small space for the western bishops to assemble together. Archbishop Smith (Edmonton) is the presider. This chapel is located one floor under the high altar at St. Peter's Basilica.

Gift exchange with Pope Francis. The Assembly of Western Bishops gave a donation to the Pope's charitable works (on behalf of the Western Bishops I had the honor of presenting the gift to the Holy father). The Pope gave a simple gift to each bishop consisting of rosaries and an image of Our Blessed Lady.

Immediately following our Papal audience and leaving the audience hall in the Vatican, there was a chance encounter between a few of us and a western Canadian group crossing the street. The Catholic

Pope urges bishops from western Canada to be close to their people
By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "That's your bishop!" a woman shouted to Seamus McKelvey of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as he leaned in for an impromptu picture with three prelates posing for a professional portrait with St. Peter's Basilica in the background.
McKelvey was with a large group of tourists from western Canada that just happened to be crossing the large boulevard in front of St. Peter's Square when he decided he would crash the lineup and jump right in for his own souvenir snap with Archbishops Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, and Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Ukrainian Diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia. It was a prize picture with the prelates dressed in their finest, fresh from a meeting with Pope Francis March 27.
The day started "in a rather spectacular way" with an early morning Mass at the crypt at the tomb of St. Peter, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour conversation with the successor of Peter, Archbishop Gagnon told Catholic News Service.
Those two events, one after the other, would make it "a hard act to follow for the rest of the week" as the archbishop, who is president of the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops, and another two dozen bishops from western Canada made their "ad limina" visits and pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican.
Archbishop Gagnon said the major concerns and issues the group brought to the table for discussion included the Catholic Church's relationship with the indigenous people and how to minister to them in their communities. For example, the decline in religious vocations means that diocesan bishops "need to integrate more fully into that missionary mode" for indigenous peoples.
Archbishop Smith told CNS that the pope spent "a lot of time talking about immigration," reaffirming that people from other lands and cultures "are a gift" that should be integrated. He said the pope told them, "Migration is a human phenomenon, don't be afraid, trust in the Lord, welcome people."
Bishop Nowakowski said the pope reminded them to listen to young people, to understand their perspectives.
When the bishops told the pope how young people are so bombarded with "so many anti-Gospel messages," he showed deep concern and said: "Please be close to your people. Accompany, be near them" so the church can offer "the hope that comes uniquely from the Gospel," Archbishop Smith said.
The archbishop said the pope emphasized the point that when the church listens young people, "you're listening to reality," and he urged them not to "confine yourselves to those in your parishes or dioceses, but reach out to those who are maybe having difficulties with the church or don't like the church: Talk to them, listen to them and go forward with that."
Archbishop Smith said the pope "is not afraid to say he doesn't have immediate answers" and therefore, neither should the bishop. But that does mean there is "a need for deep, sustained prayer, because the protagonist in all of this is the Holy Spirit leading us to Christ."
The only way to discern and accompany people properly, he said, is being "men of prayer, deep prayer, and listening to where the spirit is leading."
Archbishop Gagnon said that during their lengthy conversation, Pope Francis displayed "a powerful openness."
"Certainly his pastoral style is such where people feel affirmed and assured that there is a listening ear," he said.
There was "a feeling like we were talking with our brother," Bishop Nowakowski said.
Archbishop Gagnon said Pope Francis left them with a strong message of not giving up, despite the challenges.
The pope also reaffirmed the need for "a collaborative approach, understanding where people are coming from and knowing, at the same time, that clear decisions need to be taken on certain issues" that underline church teaching, Archbishop Gagnon said.
Archbishop Smith said this approach was particularly timely at this moment in history when outlooks, technology and culture are changing so quickly and "very often catching us all off guard."
It shows "discernment is exactly what has to be done" for the church "to respond with clarity with the Gospel," he said.
Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

A visit to St. Peter's Basilica is not complete without a 30 min. climb up a winding medieval stairway to the top of the cupola - one off the best views in Rome. Here is a good view of St. Peter's Square.

On the way to the top of the cupola one can enter the inside of the great dome designed by Michelangelo. This is a view looking down on the main altar, behind which, Mass is being celebrated. Surrounding the inside of the dome, the following words are displayed in Latin with letters over 6' high: "You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church."

One view of part of the Vatican Gardens from the cupola. The furthest building in the background is the Vatican Radio facility. The next building to it is the residence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He has lived in this former convent since his resignation.

The tomb of St. John-Paul II  is located under this side altar about halfway down the nave of St. Peter's.

The famous Pieta sculpted by Michelangelo in his early twenties. It is one of the most famous works of that great artist and the only piece he ever put his signature on. The Pieta depicts a weak and vulnerable Christ having been taken down from the Cross and lying in the lap of his mother - a woman shown as a person of great presence and strength.

Members of the AWCB waiting to enter the archaeological excavations under St. Peter's Basilica, known as the Scavi. Pope Pius XII authorized this escavation in the mid 1940s in order to respond to a growing interest in determining where St. Peter the Apostle was buried. These excavations led to the discovery that the Basilica was actually built over a Roman Necropolis (an ancient cemetery). This unusual historical fact only spurred the excavations to move forward in spite of the Second World War which was raging in Italy. The actual discovery of the remains of St. Peter is a rather long and interesting story but suffice it to say that the archaeologists, historians and Biblical scholars followed the trail of the ancient graffiti  which led them to a small burial trophy (altar) which has a small wall underneath with scratched invocations to the Apostle Peter to pray for individuals and for the people in general. It also contained the ancient Christian symbol, the Chi-Rho which are the first two letters of the Greek for Christ. The remains were removed after their discovery and placed in a specially designed air-tight box (designed by the Nasa Space Agency) and re-set into the ancient trophy once again.

A replica of the ancient burial trophy where the bones of St. Peter the Apostle were discovered. The red wall contained roughly scratched graffiti mentioning St. Peter's name.

A representation of the Chi Rho symbol - a monogram of chi (X) and Rho (P) as the first two letters in Greek for Christ. This was a common Christian symbol in the ancient world.

An attempt to photograph the re-installed air-tight box containing the relics of St. Peter installed within the ancient burial trophy once again. The photo shows a cavity in the wall (center) where the relics are installed.

The bishops of western Canada were invited for an evening social at the Pontifical Canadian College in Rome. The Sulpician Order founded this Canadian residence for clergy studying for advanced degrees in Rome as far back as 1888. It continues today to be a home for Canadian priests and lay scholars furthering their academics in one of the many colleges or universities in Rome. This photo shows in the front row: Mr. Dennis Savoie (Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See) and his wife Claudette; myself as President of the AWCB and Fr. Eric Sylvestre PSS, rector of the Canadian College.

The western Canadian bishops take their places at a wonderful banquet hosted by the Canadian College.

A view of the Canadian College Chapel in Rome.

Early morning Mass at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This is one of the most important and historical churches in Rome and is one of the four Major Basilicas. It is the largest church in honor of Mary in Italy and was built immediately following the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 where Mary was proclaimed, "Mother of God." We celebrated Mass in the chapel where the image of. Mary, entitled, Salus Populi Romani is found. She is venerated as the protector of the people of Rome.

A view of the nave of the Basilica looking towards the high altar. Much of the interior mosaic work imitates the artistic style found in the villas of ancient Rome.

The Basilica's tabernacle is found in the side chapel called: The Blessed Sacrament Chapel or The Sistine Chapel and Oratory (not the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican).

View of the Reliquary of the Holy Crib. This is found in the Crypt of the Nativity under the high altar of the Basilica. It is believed to contain wood from the Holy Crib in Bethlehem. The tomb of St. Jerome is nearby.

The AWCB is also composed of the four Ukrainian Catholic Eparchies in the west as well. During our Ad Limina week all of the AWCB members had the joy of celebrating the Eastern Rite Liturgy at a side altar in St. Peter's Basilica featuring a beautiful mosaic of St. Josephat, a celebrated eastern saint.

During the morning of visiting the Secretariat of State, we were given a tour of Mater Redemptoris Chapel very close to the Papal Apartments. This remarkable chapel was created for St. John Paul II and he used it for morning Mass on a regular basis. It is famous for its modern mosaics created by Marko Ivan Rupnick SJ. The chapel is completely covered by these mosaics and they depict the entire Biblical story, both Old and New Testaments.

Our week was filled by visiting the various departments of the Holy See - called Dicasteries. Here the bishops are at the Secretariat of State waiting for the Prefect to arrive so as to begin our discussions. We were with Section 2 of the Secretariat which deals with foreign affairs. Section 1 deals with domestic affairs of the Vatican City State.

Bishops enjoying the view over St. Peter's Square from the roof of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Statue of Our Lady as one looks across the Sanctuary of the Lateran Basilica - one of the four major Basilicas of Rome. The lateran, as it is called, consists of extensive buildings besides the Basilica and was once the residence of the Pope. Today, the Lateran Basilica is actually the Pope's Cathedral as Bishop of. Rome.

A view down the nave of the Lateran looking towards the high altar. The Lateran Basilica contains many notable relics from Apostolic Times.

In the pictutre above and the following two pictures: Bishops celebrating Mass at St. Paul's Basilica - one of the four major basilicas of Rome. This is the location of the burial place of St. Paul. His relics are located under the high altar. I had the privilege of presiding at this Mass with some local Romans in the congregation and AWCB members concelebrating. The Deacon at the altar is Edward Gibney, a Canadian studying across the street from the basilica at the Pontifical Beda College. He is from the Diocese of Saskatoon. I studied at the Beda and served as a deacon at this basilica in the 1980s.

Below, Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops vests for Mass at St. Peter's Basilica Sacristy.

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