'Alarming portrait' of Canadian Church will be erased by Holy Spirit

Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi

Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi

September 22, 2014

BEAUPRÉ, QUEBEC – The Canadian Church is in the midst of a precipitous drop in the numbers of priests, sisters and brothers, and the weakening of the faith of the laity, Canada's new apostolic nuncio told the country's bishops Sept. 15.

A statistical overview of the Church in Canada, following decades of secularization, paints an "alarming portrait," said Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, who arrived in Canada seven months ago.

Consider the consecrated life, Bonazzi said, "which, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, belongs intimately to the life, holiness and mission of the Church."

The numbers of those in consecrated life has dropped sharply from the 60,000 religious in the 1960s, he said. "Today, there are little more than 15,000 and their average age is 80 years."

Bonazzi pointed to other sources of "anxiety and suffering": "the shortage of priestly vocations, the aging of the clergy, the weakening of the faith."

Yet, despite the "alarming portrait," the nuncio urged the 90 bishops and eparchs at the annual plenary meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to see the Church as the Holy Spirit sees her.

St. John Paul II in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium) saw a pathway for the Church in the "miraculous catch of fish," Bonazzi said.

"In her navigation on the sea of history, sometimes calm, sometimes agitated, sometimes even rough, the barque of the Church has at its disposal an emergency kit to use in case of necessity," he said.

"In this emergency kit there is the invitation not to be afraid to put out into the deep again and again: Duc in altum."

"There will be a miraculous catch of fish," he predicted, reminding them of St. John Paul's exhortation to put the "icon of the miraculous catch" before them.

The bishops should "keep alive an ever-renewed hope, assuring us the Lord calls us to an inexhaustible experience of grace," Bonazzi said.


The nuncio called for more attention to the Word and to the "promise of God."

"Do we see a troublesome picture before us? Yes! Days, months and years without apparent results? This too! Does the Church seem somehow declining? That also!

"But all of this is accompanied by the certainty – if we trust in the word of Christ and we cast out the nets – that a miraculous catch lies ahead, the birth or rebirth of a Church more evangelical."

Pope Francis provides an image of the "A Church which goes forth," one of the themes of his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.

But the nuncio said it is first necessary to "pray and then proclaim."

"It is not possible to have a 'Church that goes forth; unless there is a solid 'Church that enters,' a Church that is profoundly rooted in God, in the mystery of the Trinity and of redemption."

Pope Francis follows this "hierarchy of values" of praying first, then proclaiming, he said. "What Christ does within me is more important that what I do myself."


Bonazzi also stressed the importance of collegiality and communion, not only among bishops but with bishops and their priests and lay faithful.

He used the analogy of how our two eyes, with slightly different points of view, allow us to see a three-dimensional perspective.

"Many times it is not easy to harmonize different views; it is tiring to bring together different visions," he said. "However, by oneself, one does not go far."

"Acting in unity is more important than acting, no matter how perfect it may be, in isolation: collaboration then is more important than working in solitude; the communion is more important than the action," he said.