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 CNS Story:

In Canada, pope stresses importance of spreading Gospel

By Catholic News Service

OTTAWA (CNS) -- In trips, speeches, liturgies and meetings with Canadians over his more than 26-year pontificate, Pope John Paul II stressed the importance of spreading the Gospel in Canada's rapidly changing culture.

Presiding for the last time over World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002, the pope reached out to young people and asked them to renew the world with the force of love. His energy and effort to communicate will long be remembered by the thousands of young Canadians who joined in the massive youth pilgrimage.

On the same visit, he encouraged all Canadians to build on the country's heritage: the "spiritual and transcendent vision of life based on Christian revelation," which he said has helped Canada develop as a free, democratic and caring society.

Throughout his pontificate, the pope has remembered Native Americans in Canada, offering his support on land rights and acknowledging past mistakes by missionaries.

He canonized the first Canadian-born saint, Marie Marguerite d'Youville, and appointed the vast majority of the country's active bishops. He was the first pope to set foot in Canada, eventually making three trips to the country.

Closing World Youth Day events in 2002, the pope was treated as a special guest by Canadians. His physical frailty prompted fears that he might have to cut short his participation, but when he arrived he made a point of walking down the airplane steps instead of riding a lift -- a gesture that amazed his hosts.

He sojourned for three days at a lakeside retreat house on Strawberry Island in a remote area of Ontario, riding a launch around the lake and hosting a luncheon with World Youth Day representatives.

Presiding over three major events at a Toronto fairgrounds, the pope offered a simple but forceful message, telling young people that real happiness is found in the Gospel, not in worldly success or the "fleeting pleasures of the senses."

He said Christ's advice to be pure of heart, to love the poor and to build peace has special resonance in a world torn by violence and terrorism.

For many of the Canadian youths, the ceremonies offered the first glimpse of the pope. Some cried, some snapped pictures, and some climbed on friends' shoulders for a better view.

The pope chose the closing Mass for World Youth Day to make an important statement about priestly sex abuse cases that had caused scandal in some U.S. and Canadian dioceses. He said the harm done by some priests and religious to the young "fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame." But he asked the youths to "think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good."

Many older Canadians will best remember the pope for his 1984 pastoral visit to Canada. He crisscrossed the country and met with virtually every sector of the population, stressing themes of faith, ecumenism, prayer, social justice, and cultural and ethnic pluralism.

His comment at a Mass in Manitoba that "the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time" gave perspective to many of his more specific messages.

In the French-speaking province of Quebec, where Catholics are a large majority and where the evangelization of Canada began, he warned that a culture "nurtured by Christianity" was being "shattered" by Quebec's rapid entry into the technological age.

Meeting with other Christian leaders of Canada, the pope urged ecumenical cooperation in raising ethical and moral questions about economics, technology, science and culture. He said the modern age has "ushered in a technological mentality which challenges Gospel values."

In Newfoundland, the pope blessed the local fishing fleet and sympathized with the high unemployment along the coastal area. He said their economic insecurity reflected changes in the fishing industry and in economic patterns worldwide.

In the course of his 12-day visit, the pope met more often with young people, handicapped or sick people and aboriginal minorities than he had on any of his previous 22 trips outside Italy.

In his meetings with Native Americans, the pope acknowledged that the church had not always respected indigenous cultures and may have committed "blunders" in evangelization, but said that the American Indians and Inuit were "full-fledged members of the church, although not of society."

Toward the end of his 1984 trip, heavy fog forced the pope to cancel his planned visit to native peoples in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, 380 miles south of the Arctic Circle. He finally made it to the remote town in 1987 at the end of a 10-day trip to the United States.

At a Mass there in which some references to God were changed to "Great Spirit," the pope told the Indians and Inuit, or Eskimos, that they had a right to adequate land and resources.

During the four "ad limina" visits made by Canadian bishops to the Vatican in 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1999, the pope gave a detailed assessment of pastoral priorities for the church in Canada.

He encouraged the bishops to be authentic teachers and "heralds of the faith" in Canadian society, particularly in denouncing social and moral ills like abortion and euthanasia.

He praised Canada's Catholic school system but cautioned that the Catholic identity of these schools must be preserved. At the same time, he defended the church's right to govern its own schools, which had been called into question in some parts of Canada.

On several occasions the pope addressed concerns about the proper role of Catholic laity in Canada, saying in 1999 that some lay activities were becoming too "clergy-like."

He said the "first domain of the lay vocation is the life of society, culture and enterprise," and that Canadian Catholics should rediscover the sense of complementary communion modeled on the ancient image of priests as shepherds and laity as their flock.

In 1993, a few weeks after bishops from Western and Northern Canada asked the Vatican to consider allowing married priests in sparsely populated and indigenous areas, the pope said that ordaining married men is "not the path to follow" in coping with the priest shortage.

The pope recognized that church leaders in Canada often were preaching unpopular messages. He told the bishops in 1999 that the church needs to reach out with careful language to those who "see things differently and do not share our assumptions." He said the church, while insisting on the radical demands of the "Gospel of life," should not presume ill will or bad faith among those who question its teachings.

The pope's popularity in Canada was very high. In 2000, a survey showed that two-thirds of Canadians polled said they approved of the pope's performance as a spiritual leader, with Catholics giving him an 84 percent approval rating.

The pope offered perhaps his broadest assessment of Canadian society in a talk to the country's ambassador in 1993. He said Canada's sensitivity to human values and its efforts to make sure everyone is included in its multicultural society were models for the rest of the world.


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