CANADIAN FEDERATION OF PRESBYTERAL COUNCILS
October 21, 2016
CANADIAN FEDERATION OF PRESBYTERAL COUNCILS
ANNUAL NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AT HAMILTON, ONTARIO
“YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW” (2016 Theme)
The Canadian Federation of Presbyteral Councils was established by the Canadian Bishops soon after the Second Vatican Council. Its membership consists of a representative-priest from every Catholic eparchy and diocese of Canada, appointed by the local Bishop from among members of the local presbyteral council. Although not all diocese or eparchies are always represented, the Archeparchy of Winnipeg has been appointing an active representative for many years. One Winnipeg representative, Monsignor Michael Buyachok, even served as the national president of the Federation for a number of years.
The goal of the Federation is quite clearly expressed in its Constitution which, although revised over the years, continue to reflect the noble mandate of enhancing the life and ministry of Canada’s Priests.
The Constitution of the Canadian Federation of Presbyteral Councils begins with the following bold preamble and mission statement:
PREAMBLE – The Church I Canada is multicultural. Recognizing the complementarity of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, aware of fulfilling the mission of the Church entrusted by Jesus Christ to His disciples and recognizing new expressions of leadership in respective Eparchies and Dioceses, we present the vision statement and constitution of the CFPC.
VISION STATEMENT – We, the Canadian Federation of Presbyteral Councils, work in a spirit of unity and collegiality with Priests and Bishops in Canada. We serve the pastoral needs of the People of God by supporting Presbyteral Councils in their role as advisors to individual Bishops and assisting Priests in the integration of their spirituality, ministry and leadership.
Article II of the Constitution also lays out the principal OBJECTIVES of the Federation:
1. To provide a forum whereby the Presbyteral Councils of the local Churches can share their experiences as collaborators with their local Bishop in the governance of the local Church.
2. To accomplish and/or collaborate in accomplishing those tasks which cannot be adequately or easily done by individual Councils.
3. To provide a means for Presbyteral Councils … to cooperate with the Bishops, Religious and Laity of Canada in addressing the needs and concerns of the Church in the modern world.
4. Identify the concerns and needs of Priests, envision responses to these concerns and needs and promote strategies to implement these responses.
5. To provide a forum whereby Priests … can work in closer harmony … in addressing issues of mutual concern.
THIS YEAR’S ASSEMBLY
The CFPC met for its 2016 annual National Assembly in mid-October. It chooses a different diocese/eparchy each year as a location for this gathering, and this year the City of Hamilton was chosen. Priests travelled from all across Canada by “trains, plane and automobiles” to a downtown hotel and by Monday evening almost all had arrived. There was the usual registration and an early supper, but the Assembly really got underway later in the evening with the Divine Liturgy followed by the opening session.
The President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who also happens to be the Bishop of Hamilton, M. Rev. Douglas Crosby. He shared with the gathering something akin to a “state of the union” speech in which he gave a rundown of all the major events and goals and challenges of the Church un Canada over the last year and for the one to come. This was very much appreciated by everyone. As some suggested, it would be great for all Catholics of Canada to hear or have access to such a summary on an annual basis. The talk was followed by an open Q&A during which various matters were discussed.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, was also present for the first two days. On the second day, he lead the first session with an inspiring reflection on three points that are essential to truly experience the “joy of being a priest”. He shared that the foundation for his talk was a meditation formulated by German Bishop Klaus Hemmerle – “A Decalogue for Priests”.
He stressed, among other things, the need for regular Confession on the part of Priests. He explained that without regular Confession, we would fast start to crumble and the people would soon feel the effects. He reminded the Assembly that priesthood is a Sacrament and not just an office. The mission of a Priest is the mission of an apostle. The primary job of an apostle is to pray and to proclaim the Gospel. Only by prayer are we in tune with the Lord. Only then can we truly fulfil our calling to be one with Christ and to Evangelize. He also emphasized the great importance of knowing and living the Word of God. Our challenge is to become better listeners to the Word of God. To be less concentrated on our own words and more intent on knowing and making heard the Words of the Lord! He concluded by underscoring the grave importance of the unity between Priests and between Priests and their Bishop. A Priests work is never a one-man show. The effort is always in union with Christ and His Church. Only in this unity can Priests really achieve a strong sense that they are working together with their brothers and their Bishop to serve the Faithful, the people. Over the days, the Nuncio expressed his enthusiasm for the goals of the Federation and his desire to support and promote the CFPC. One item of National Assembly is always a formal banquet. This was held earlier than usual in order that Archbishop Bonazzi, who had to return to Ottawa, could be the honoured guest present at the event.
This year the Federation engaged itself in some soul-searching as to what the future of the CFPC would be and what direction is should take. Much of the 2016 Assembly was dedicated to discussion based on documentation as well as the ‘signals’ that the representatives were bringing form their brother-Priests of their own eparchies/dioceses and from their local Bishops. Fr. Bill Brennan from Fredericton, NB, a former member of the CFPC who has experience in facilitating discernment workshops, guided the Assembly’s discernment process with a series of exercises that were interspersed with prayer and Scriptural reflections.
A chapel was set up in a small conference room at the hotel. It was the place where Eucharistic liturgies and vespers and matins were prayed in common. But also, a tabernacle was in one corner and there the Blessed Sacrament was reserved and many Priests took advantage of this special grace to pray privately in the presence of Christ throughout the Assembly. At any given time throughout the Assembly, especially in the morning or evening, representatives could be found gathered near the Tabernacle quietly praying the chasoslov/breviary or a rosary.
Bishop Crosby extended a warm invitation to everyone to visit his Cathedral Church of Christ the King in downtown Hamilton to pass through the Holy Doors. At one point or another during the Assembly most clergy managed to make it. It is a magnificent church that was built in the 1930s. Upon entering, one is transported to the middle-ages of Europe. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth the trip.
The next National Assembly is slated for October 2017 in the city of Victoria, BC. The theme, to be finalized by the CFPC executive will be in the direction of Priestly life and ministry - what it looks like today and how it will look like in 5 – 10 years.
It is interesting that the representatives and the speakers returned repeatedly to the theme of the need to be “happy priests”. The Nuncio, Abp. Bonazzi, reminded the gathering of Pope Francis’ affirmation, that “being a priest is beautiful”. With its ups and downs and its high moments and challenges… the priestly life is truly a loving gift from the Lord and when it is understood as such, it really shines for the Priest and the people that he serves.