Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith will serve as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops for the next two years.

October 31, 2011

CORNWALL, ONT. – Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith says he's looking forward to serving "my brother bishops" in his new role as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"It's not something I was looking for, by any stretch of the imagination," Smith said in a telephone interview Oct. 20, the day after he was elected CCCB president. "But it's a unique privilege."

The choice of Smith, 52, came as no surprise. He has been the conference's vice-president the last two years and was unopposed in the election.

"When it gets to the point of voting for the president, it's sort of like an old-fashioned Russian election," he joked. The bishops' discernment of who will assume leadership roles in the conference is typically done prior to the election of the vice-president and two co-treasurers.

The role of the CCCB president includes preparing for the conference's annual assembly and ensuring that the decisions made at the event are carried out, he said. It also involves representing the conference at meetings with government and the Holy See, writing letters and speaking to the media.

"Like many other roles, you really only know what it involves when you're actually doing it."

Smith takes over as president from Bishop Pierre Morissette of Saint-Jerome, Quebec. The new vice-president is Archbishop Paul André Durocher, the current bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall, Ont., who has just been named archbishop of Gatineau, Quebec. (See story on Page 4.)

The highlight of the annual assembly, Smith said, was "the opportunity to listen to the insights of the other bishops, especially those who have been ordained bishops for quite a while because they bring a wealth of experience and wisdom."

The 75 bishops in attendance also heard presentations by Archbishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse, France, a well-known liturgist. Le Gall related Pope Benedict's letters on the Eucharist and on the Word of God to the liturgy.

That interrelationship is "at the heart of the new evangelization; it's at the heart of the liturgy," said Smith.

The archbishop said the new evangelization will be at the heart of his activities as president.

The topic is a central one for Canada's bishops and "keeps coming up in our conversations in one way or another," he said. "It's really in the background of everything we are saying."

The CCCB is currently developing a statement on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion and how those beliefs are now being challenged in Canada, he said.

It is also examining the situation of immigrants and refugees in light of "the call of the Church to be a living sign and living voice of compassion and openness and concern to people who are legitimate refugees."

Statements on both of those issues will give the conference to highlight "the inherent dignity of the human person," he said.

Smith said his role as CCCB president will mean that he is away from Edmonton more than in the past. "But with modern communication today, I'm away but I'm never out of touch."

The archdiocese has "a great team" in its pastoral and administrative offices, he said. "It's going to be business as usual for people and for the running of the archdiocese."

Smith is the second ordinary of the Edmonton Archdiocese to serve as CCCB president. Archbishop Joseph MacNeil served in that role from 1979 to 1981.