October 19, 2018


The Canadian Federation of Presbyteral Councils held its annual National Assembly this year on Prince Edward Island. Graciously hosted by the Diocese of Charlottetown, the event took place at the new diocesan Our Lady of Hope Retreat Centre west of the City just past the town of "Avonlea", made famous by the legendary Anne of Green Gables. The Federation frequently uses a hotel in the host city as retreat centres are not always available. However, the everyone was simply amazed at the accommodations, the conference facilities with excellent technology setups, the wonderful meals and the amazing hospitality provided at Our Lady of Hope. Although the distance seemed to be a bit prohibitive for some representatives (especially from the far west), everyone that came agreed that the facilities and reasonable fees (and, again, the hospitality!) made the trip worth it.

After registration and orientation, the first day began with the Eucharistic Liturgy in the retreat centre chapel, presided at by the Bishop of Charlottetown, Most Rev. Richard J. Grecco. He also preached the first homily of the Assembly. This was followed by a supper and then the opening session which is the Keynote Address of the Assembly, setting the tone for the national gathering. It is the tradition of the CFPC that a local bishop would give this address which is then followed by an open Q&A. Bishop Grecco, who has a doctorate in theology and considerable teaching experience, delivered an excellent treatise on eschatology and how it should inspire and guide the attitude of the Church. What he had in mind was not merely a consciousness of the "last things" (as is sometimes the given as the essential subtitle of eschatology), but rather a looking and moving forward toward the promise of Christ of a new a resurrected life... a new life that begins already now.

The evening continued with fellowship and discussion among the Federation representatives and the local clergy and guests.

Tuesday morning began with morning prayer from the Divine Office. It must be mentioned that the Federation was very blessed to have Mr. Leo Marchildon not only lead all the liturgical services throughout the Assembly, but he had prepared a booklet with all the essential texts for the participants to use every day. Leo is the Music Director of the Diocese of Charlottetown and a member of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Council for Liturgical Music.

The first session of the day was presented by well known Catholic journalist Rev. Raymond de Souza. He had just come in from Rome where he covered the Canonization of the seven new saints on October 14th. He would shortly be returning to Rome to continue coverage of the Synod on 'Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment', but he was able to spend time with the Federation. The theme of the 2018 Assembly was to inspire a renewed appreciation for the gifts of ordination in a priest's sacramental role among the People of God. This is the theme that Fr de Souza spoke on - encouraging priests to revisit the awesome gift that their sacred orders can give to people, especially those entrusted to their pastoral care. He spoke about witness of their mere presence as well many opportunities that they have to Evangelize.

A bus transported the entire group to St. Dunstan's Cathedral Basilica in the heart of Charlottetown for their daily noonday Mass. Bishop Grecco was the main celebrant, but he was joined by Bishop Joseph Nguyen of Kamloops and the Cathedral Rector Fr. And, of course the CFPC member-representatives. There was relatively large gathering of people for a week-day Liturgy. Bishop Grecco gave a brief homily then invited the President of the Federation, Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski (Winnipeg Archeparchy) to tell the congregation a little about the CFPC and why they are in Charlottetown. In closing, Fr. Michael thanked the Bishop and the people of Charlottetown for their extraordinary hospitality and support and he gave special recognition and thanks to the Charlottetown Diocese's CFPC Representative Fr. James Willick, for all his work in helping arrange the Assembly program.

Following the Mass, Fr. Willick arranged a bus tour of significant churches and sights in the Diocese. The tour stopped at a number of places along the way, including the amazing "Harris church" of ------ designed by the famous PEI architect William Harris and, of course, Confederation Bridge.

Members went to various local restaurants for supper to have a taste of Atlantic Canada's local and authentic seafood. Everyone met back at the Basilica to take the bus to the University of Prince Edward Island where Charlottetown Youth Coordinator, Lauren Van Vliet had organized an encounter with young people. The idea was to parallel the themes that during this month were being discussed at the Rome Bishops' Synod on "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment". It was a very inspiring evening that saw the group of priests from across Canada engage in a dialogue with young people ranging from high school students to university students to young professionals, including a university professor and a married couple. Van Vliet facilitated the encounter with some questions throughout the evening, but everyone was free to ask their own questions and share their observations. You can always tell when the event went well... when no one is in a hurry to leave, but wants to stay and continue meeting and conversing.

The following morning began at 7:30 with morning prayer, followed by breakfast. The first session was presented by Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, who tackled the question of "Priesthood in a Time of Crisis". He spoke a bit about understanding and dealing with crisis in general, but he mainly tackled the great crisis of clergy abuse of children that is presently rocking the Catholic Church globally. His presentation was actually encouraging and hopeful in spite of the fact that he insisted that we must be honest in recognizing that the accusations are real, the crisis is large and it will only grow in the next couple of decades and we all need to take tough measures to clean up our act.

The Assembly broke for the Eucharistic Liturgy which was presided over by the Federation's liaison bishop for the Western Region - Bishop Joseph Nguyen of Kamloops, who also preached the homily. After lunch and a bit of free time, Monsignor Rossetti presented at the afternoon session. He spoke about a subject that has always been important to the Federation - the integral wellness of priests in their ministry. The session, that included an excellent presentation that allowed for questions throughout, was entitled, "Health, Burnout, Happiness and Joy". Basing his comments and insights on accurate data resulting from years of research, Monsignor Rossetti dismissed a number of common "myths" about clergy stress and burnout and how best to deal with such phenomena. He offered concrete information about clergy happiness and successful ministry. Among the 10 top predictors of priestly happiness were such factors as: a sense of inner peace; an authentic relationship to God; mutual support among priests; sense of being lonely and unappreciated; close friends and unresolved issues from one's past. This presentation was received very well by the Assembly as it obviously touched upon everyone's life.

Following the extensive session, the priests had a moment to prepare for the "formal" dinner that traditionally takes place at the National Assembly, to which the local hierarchy and other dignitaries are invited. The Retreat Centre staff did indeed provide a banquet experience for the priests with beautifully decorated tables and an exquisite meal. At the dinner, the CFPC President and expressed thanks on behalf of the Federation to the staff and all that made the event happen the positive experience it has been. The Federation's regional Vice-Presidents, Fr. Edward Terry (Atlantic), Fr. Gregory Smith-Windsor (Western) and Fr. Louis Groetelaars (Central) to express special thanks to Bishop Grecco and the guest speakers. Aside from the wonderful meal and fellowship, the highlight of the evening was the keynote address given by Fr. Raymond de Souza. Giving the example of three of the Church's priestly martyrs, including the recently canonized Martyr Oscar Romero.

The following morning was a day dedicated to the Federation, its members and its future. Following morning prayer and breakfast, the members gathered to tackle a series of fundamental questions about what the CFPC needs to provide for priests across Canada and how it needs to evolve to fully live its vision statement to 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 by assisting priests in the integration of their spirituality, ministry and leadership". This was surely one of the best and most passionate discussions of the entire Assembly and the only regret was that more time was not allotted for this session and the official AGM on the previous day. A number of important ideas and proposals came from these meetings and are to be implemented in the next months.

The Assembly concluded with two very important items for the Federation - that was a concluding Eucharistic Liturgy which was presided over by the Western Vice-President Fr. Greg Smith-Windsor. The homily, as is the tradition, was preached by the President Fr. Michael Kwiatkowski. [It is significant to note that some of the Assembly participants that could not concelebrate in this special Liturgy, because of flight schedules, made the effort to offer an early morning Mass.] This was followed by a fellowship lunch before everyone had to checkout and begin departures back to their home eparchies and dioceses.

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