Cardinal Marc Ouellet faced a daunting task when he became archbishop of Quebec, Canada, in 2003.
The province of Quebec, once thoroughly Catholic, with roots in the rich history of French missionaries, had become thoroughly secularized.
The 49th International Eucharistic Congress was held in his city June 15-22, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of Quebec’s founding, with hopes that it would provide a way to rekindle the spark of faith there.
The cardinal, who is also primate of Canada and was once a missionary in Colombia, took advantage of the opportunity. He set out on a program of pastoral renewal centered on the Eucharist. He spoke with Register news editor John Burger in Quebec on June 18, the fourth day of the Congress.
You have some 11,000 pilgrims here from all over the world, listening to talks by cardinals and well-known lay apostles. The event seems to be going well.
Yes, it is going well — the response on site, the participation of the people coming from all over the world. We see the enthusiasm and great receptivity among the people. And they learn something. The liturgy today, for example, the oriental, Byzantine liturgy, was an extraordinary experience for everybody.
I hope there will be a follow-up, and we are thinking to continue to gather the youth and help build the culture of the Eucharist.
It is a fact that there is a rupture in our cultural tradition in Quebec and we need to really catechize anew parents and children, and foster the sense of Sunday rest and Sunday Eucharist. That’s a big need of our society.
This event, with the long preparation and with what will follow, is a seed of renewal or renaissance of Catholicism in Quebec. That’s my hope and conviction.
Is it too early to gauge whether there is any effect yet outside of this congress, on greater society?
I can tell you, for example, that I have decided to reopen the minor seminary of Quebec City in order to have priests for the future.
It is from the awareness of the need for priests and the gift of the Eucharist that brought us to this decision that was not in the plan. But bringing families together and hearing their availability to give their young adolescent of 12, 13 for a deeper Christian formation, we decided to go forward and to open a new minor seminary for adolescents between 12 and 17 years old, precisely to foster vocations for the future in a context where secularization has penetrated very deeply into our school system. So we need to reorganize the teaching of the faith to facilitate the support of these young people who have had some good Christian experience in the family or in some movement, but need a sort of context to grow in their faith and to cultivate their vocation.
Some bishops are opposed in principle to minor seminaries because you take boys so young out of the family.
I think a minor seminary is a community to foster good Christian life, fundamentally, and to accompany young people who have had in mind the idea of possibly becoming a priest.
So there is no decision made at 12 or 13 or even at 17, but there may be a decision to enter the major seminary afterwards, and it is during the specific formation that the last decision is made.
I agree we have to protect the freedom of the individual, but at the same time to offer him a real context where he will have all the elements to make a decision that is enlightened by all the spiritual experience and good teaching and fraternity in a Christian atmosphere.
And, you know, [they have] a permanent link to the family — we do not withdraw seminarians from their family. On the weekends, they will go and visit and be with their families, but they have the heart of the week together to get a good formation.
Have you had a chance to converse with some of the pilgrims at the congress about their experience here, and what that’s doing to them or for their faith in the Eucharist?
I wish I had time just to spend more time with them, but people come to me spontaneously to say “Thank you! Thank you!” And you see in their face that their heart has been touched deeply, and they are discovering anew their faith.
And these are good Catholics, practicing Catholics, most of them. But the experience is so positive that, really, there is a new flame in the heart, and I think they will be also better witnesses afterwards, at home or at work.
Archbishop Piero Marini, the longtime master of papal ceremonies under Pope John Paul II, has been here, concelebrating some of the daily liturgies and leading Eucharistic adoration in the adoration chapels set up around the grounds. He is president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. Was he involved in any of the planning of the liturgies?
At the end, because he was appointed some months before the Eucharistic congress, and Cardinal Jozef Tomko was head of the committee, most of the work had been done with Cardinal Tomko as head of the congregation. But when he was appointed we completed the organization and some details, and he was very cooperative and we were very satisfied with his help, his presence and giving also good advice.
But he left us very free because the main responsibility is from the local organizations, and he has the sense of respecting the local community and the sensitivity of the people, so there is something to be taken into account, and he is very respectful of that.
Would you discuss the rationale behind some of the liturgical choices: the use of liturgical dance; enhanced, narrated offertory processions, with people bringing up things like maple trees to represent Canada, Eskimo symbols, etc.; the use of Latin some days for the Eucharistic Prayer; the celebration today of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy; the decision to not include the Extraordinary Rite of the Latin Mass.
As you can see, we have tried to be sensitive to different sensibilities because the Eucharist is the source of unity in the Church.
We try to respect diversity and keep the focus on what builds unity. I think there was nothing extreme in one or the other sense. Yes, the liturgical procession was developed, maybe for some people a little too much, but liturgical dance is a big word for what happened there — some ladies who had incense in the hands; I do not call that very much liturgical dance. It was very discreet.
And the fact that we included a Byzantine liturgy is a way to let people know there are many rites in the Church. We are from the Latin tradition here.
Most of the people had never experienced a Byzantine liturgy; it was an extraordinary discovery for them. I think it has helped them realize this is a moment of wedding between heaven and earth; the presence of the angels and the singing from the beginning to the end, and the very sacred sense of the liturgy with the rituals.
We made decisions with the focus on unity and respect for different sensitivities.
In your homily at the Mass on Monday, you spoke of the global food crisis and related that to the Church and the Eucharist. Are there any particular policies or remedies that you would embrace?
This question has to be addressed at the highest level.
For example, there is a G-8 meeting in some weeks during the summer, so the chiefs of states of the Western world have to address that very seriously together, keeping in mind those who are starving in Africa, in Latin America, and there are more and more. We have seen the protests.
This is not a small need; it is a very serious need, and I think if there is something to adjust in terms of using corn for oil and not having enough to feed people, some decisions have to be made somewhere to make sure people will not be starving.
For us Christians, who are sensitive to the food we receive from God in order to share it with our brothers and sisters, if we don’t do everything we can, how can we really be in communion with God and our brothers and sisters?
I’m not an economist; I’m not a politician; I don’t know. But my cry was a sort of moral one, and I know that others have to respond at a different level, so I don’t know how exactly, but others may have solutions.
John Burger is the
Register’s news editor.