Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 15, 2000
Vallee to head Canadian Council of Churches
N. Ont. bishop is first Catholic president
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Bishop Andre Vallee doesn't mind being repetitive when it comes to ecumenism.
"I feel I need to say it and I repeat it very often," said the bishop of the Hearst Diocese in northern Ontario. "Our lack of unity is a scandal in the world.
"The obstacles are many and there have been changes in the last 30, 40 years, but we still have a hard time imagining the world under one denomination."
Vallee, 69, was elected president of the Canadian Council of Churches at its governing board meeting May 3 to 7 at Providence Renewal Centre. He is the first Roman Catholic and the first francophone to hold this position.
He replaces Anglican Archbishop Barry Curtis, recently retired as bishop of Calgary and Rupertsland.
The 56-year-old CCC serves as a forum through which member churches can come to understand each others' varied traditions more deeply, grow in mutual respect and speak honestly to each other as disciples of Christ.
The Edmonton meeting included Bible studies led by Rev. Margaret Waterchief, a spiritual elder of the Siksika First Nation and an Anglican priest, and by Edmonton Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews.
There were also visits with "communities of vision" in Edmonton's inner city, talks about restoring just relations with the First Nations and discussions about biotechnology.
Vallee was appointed by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to the board when the Catholic Church became a member of the council in 1997. Other member churches of the council include a wide variety of mainline Christian denominations.
Being on the council surrounded by the various churches has been a discovery for Vallee. It's also given his ecumenical drive some hope.
"We don't have the opportunity to meet with people of other denominations. We go to our churches and that's it. We don't see people from other churches. This opportunity for me to meet these other people is extremely important.
"Having a chance to meet with them is enriching. It's a sign of hope. It's a sign of unity. It is Christ's command for us to be one."
Born in 1930 in Ste-Anne-de-la-Perade, Que., Vallee studied at Saint-Joseph Seminary in Trois-Rivieres. He was ordained in 1956 and went on to complete an education degree at Laval University and a master's degree at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
He travelled to the Philippines, where in addition to parish duties, he served as a professor and regional superior at the minor seminary of Davao. He returned to Canada in 1973 to become superior general of the Foreign Missions Society. He was general secretary of the CCCB until 1985.
He was bishop of the military ordinariate of Canada from 1988 to 1996 when he became bishop of Hearst.
Ecumenism is a common word in Vallee's vocabulary. He was the bishop for the Canadian Forces during the years when the military chaplaincies were unified from separate Protestant and Roman Catholic branches into a singular chaplaincy with one chaplain general. The position alternates between a Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy every two years.
"At the time, we were thinking maybe we should start working together," Vallee said. "It has worked out very well."
Like many of his Catholic neighbours growing up, Vallee was isolated from Protestants. Even through his travels and studies, he rarely had the opportunity to interact with other churches.
In the 1980s when he was general secretary of the CCCB, he worked with an Anglican bishop.
"I found they had as much spirituality as we did," he said. "They had the same faith in Christ that we did. They were really not much different than us.
"I grew into (the ecumenical) way of thinking over the years."
As president of the CCC, he hopes to fuel the council's ecumenical spirit. His role will also be to coordinate the actions and works of the council.
"The most important action is to make sure there are possibilities to get together as a forum to discuss issues . . . to get together as much as possible, to talk about issues important in our churches. We need that ongoing communication."
Issues at the forefront of many of the Christian churches today, said Vallee, are residential schools and bioethics.