Cardinal Marc Ouellet heard the Pope loud and clear.

Canadian bishops met Pope Benedict for their once-every-five-years ad limina visit on May 11. The Pope called on Church leaders to nourish sound doctrine and sacramental practice in the face of Canada’s “pluralism, subjectivism, and increasing secularization.” Quebec archbishop and primate of Canada, Cardinal Ouellet spoke to Register correspondent Edward Pentin about the meeting.

How can the Catholic Church in Canada best deal with these challenges in a country in which Catholics have largely abandoned the faith? What can be done to reawaken the faith of nominally Catholic Quebeckers?

That’s a big question. Our ad limina visit here in Rome is a rich moment of conversations and exchanges of points of view. It’s been very enriching for us in terms of hearing from other parts of the world where they have similar problems, for example Ireland and parts of Spain.

The situation in Canada and Quebec is not unique, but it’s clear we have to focus on New Evangelization, to sustain the family which has been an important part of our dialogue with society in recent years.

I think this is a very important objective, to reshape and sustain the family so the spouses are faithful and open to the gift of life. In light of the message of the Holy Father, he insisted on the Holy Eucharist and the identity of the priest. ...

He insisted on the holy Eucharist and the identity of the priest and I think we have a very extraordinary opportunity with the preparation of the Eucharistic Congress in 2008 to foster better understanding of the Eucharist and its importance in Christian life and renew our attendance at Sunday Mass and the catechesis as offered in many dioceses.

You know that the Holy Father agreed to bless a symbolic object related to the spiritual preparation of the Eucharistic Congress; it’s called the Arc of the New Covenant — a small boat with icons on both sides. This will go around Canada in a sort of pilgrimage from diocese to diocese and be a sort of meeting point for catechesis, fraternity and preparation for this event. So we have a good opportunity to renew our awareness of the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

Most young Quebeckers live together and have children, without marrying. There is also a continuing debate over the definition of marriage in Canada as a whole. What is this doing to Quebec society?

Obviously, there is much confusion among the youth about the significance of human love and commitment to love and to get married and have children. But I think, in a way, it’s not their fault.

They live in a culture where those values are not promoted enough or are undermined in many ways in the media.

So I think we need a New Evangelization, to encourage the youth to take seriously the commitment to love, to see better the link between human love, marriage and family. This continuity between love, marriage and family has to be rebuilt in our culture.

That’s part of our task: to teach that and to help youth find happiness as John Paul II repeated so many times, inspired by Vatican II — to find happiness — in the sincere gift of self and in commitment to love, not just to have some sort of very ephemeral experience of love, but to be committed to love forever.

And how can the Church best get the message across?

That’s part of the normal pastoral work of the Church, but we need to build on the movement born out of World Youth Day — and the same movement is growing in preparation of the Eucharistic Congress in 2008. I return to Quebec City next week and I have 600 youth waiting for me as part of the preparation for the Congress. So we have to help this movement to grow and have an impact on society more generally. We need to improve our pastoral activity with youth.

Pope Benedict, in his message to you, strongly cautioned against blurring the lines between priests and lay people, noting that “ministry cannot be entrusted to others without compromising the very core of the Church’s existence.” And he questioned why young men would want to become priests, if the role of ordained ministry is not clearly defined and recognized. How will you be trying to address these questions of the Holy Father?

First, I think it is important to note that we were very impressed by the attitude of the Holy Father: his welcoming attitude, his capacity to listen, his openness of heart. There was no attitude of judgment, but a really positive attitude — he wanted to help us face our challenges with great respect for our own Church. Obviously, what he pointed out is very important: the Catholic identity and that of the priest that is an essential part of the Church. We cannot think we have an alternative to the priesthood, so it was a good reminder. We are trying to promote with more energy pastoral vocations to the priesthood and for that the message is important. We have to affirm the identity of the priest and what is specific to him: the preaching of word, the celebration of the sacraments, the presence of the community, and all of these basic features of priestly ministry. We will promote these, obviously.

The Pope called on Catholic Canadians to rediscover the Eucharist. Is Eucharistic devotion on the rise in Quebec and what are your hopes for the 2008 Congress on the Eucharist?

Yes, it is on the rise.

In my diocese for example, over recent years, I’ve seen Eucharistic adoration outside of Mass developing, and perpetual adoration in some parishes.

It’s really a new phenomenon and a sign of hope and renewal of faith in the holy Eucharist. So we need to recover a more bold way to be just ourselves as Catholics and not fear telling people who we are, that we don’t have to hide and have a complex. We just need to be ourselves in society, to promote our own values and be proud of our Catholic identity.

This congress will last a week but the grace of the congress is already working in our communities, in the heart of convents, who are praying for spiritual renewal for our people. So the opportunities for evangelization are there, and after the Eucharistic Congress there will be a follow up to help us confront challenges of our time.

Edward Pentin

 writes from Rome.