Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The New Jerusalem, A New Beginning

A transition marked by a level of hope and excitement befitting the Second Coming hits its peak today when Thomas Christopher Collins formally takes the reins of Canada's largest local church as Toronto's 10th archbishop.

Underscoring the demand on space in St Michael's Cathedral for the Mass, which begins at 10.30am local time (1530GMT), invitations to the local presbyterate have largely been limited to the pastors of the archdiocese.

After his first public engagement since arriving in the 1.6 million-member local church -- a Sunday evening Vespers and Lectio Divina service arranged at the last minute and still able to attract a large, and largely young, crowd to downtown's St Basil's Church -- Collins spent yesterday with the media, including back-to-back sessions with the editorial boards of the two main national dailies and a sit-down with the Toronto Star where he cited the church's imperative to be engaged in a wider variety of issues.
"Look at what we say. Look at what we are engaged in. The Catholic Church is at the forefront of social justice issues," Thomas Collins says.

He points to the many food banks, soup kitchens, housing projects and clothing and toy drives run by Catholic parishes as evidence of the commitment of the church to addressing the needs of the poor.

"These people are there every day," he says....

Catholic leaders, acting on instructions from the Vatican, have become more engaged in the political process over the past year.

This means urging parishioners to consider Catholic teachings when voting, and lobbying politicians to do the same when setting public policy.

Collins says that mandate must apply to fighting poverty.

But too often, he frets, Catholic leaders are called upon to comment only on such issues as reproductive rights or same-sex marriage.

As important as those issues are, the church also needs to get its voice heard on social justice topics such as poverty and housing, he says.

"We need to speak, to be engaged in the dialogue of the broader community."

His first priority, however, will be to become reacquainted with Toronto and the Ontario political scene after 10 years in Alberta, where he was named archbishop of Edmonton in 1999.

"God gave us two ears and one mouth. We need to listen more than we speak."

But before long, Collins says, the church will speak out more about finding solutions to the root causes of poverty – including inadequate incomes, social supports and housing – while still addressing the immediate needs of the poor.

"There has to be that immediate reaction. If someone is hungry, we feed them. If someone is homeless, we house them," he says.

"But we also need to look at the roots of those sorts of things. Are there policies of the society that could be changed?"

All churches and church leaders, he says, have not only a right but also a reponsibility to be active in such political and policy discussions.

"We are part of society. We've been here since the beginning and are massively involved."

Although no media outlets took up the 60 year-old prelate's offer of beginning interviews as early as 6.30 am, his installation day is getting its public start with a live interview on CBC television's national morning show.

Slated to run in the area of 15 minutes, Collins' homily today will play to his strengths as a Scripture scholar, hinging on the Book of Revelation's vision of the "New Jerusalem" and its message for the life of the church.

Archdiocese of Toronto