Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Archbishop Speaks in Signs

The US crowd might've been more focused on the K-Far Fiesta down in Dallas yesterday (video here), but for our good friends up north, all eyes were on the Alberta arrival of Archbishop Richard Smith in Edmonton.

Just four days past his 48th birthday, Canada's newest metropolitan is younger than most US auxiliaries. (Don't get jealous.) His ascent to the helm of the western province and a flock of 350,000 comes five years to the week after his appointment to the episcopacy as bishop of Pembroke, where he served until his appointment to Edmonton in late March. Under the provisions of a unique arrangement, Smith took canonical possession of the archdiocese on 18 April.

In his remarks at the evening installation Mass, the papal nuncio to Ottawa Archbishop Luigi Ventura noted that, as opposed to a move closer to his native Nova Scotia, Smith had been sent the other way, "much to the chagrin of [the archbishop's] dear mother in Halifax." Both of Smith's parents and a flood of family from the Maritimes were in attendance, as was Archbishop-emeritus James Hayes, who confirmed Smith and ordained him to the priesthood.

Wrap-up from the Edmonton Journal:
Smith's family occupied a front pew. His parents left that pew only once, to present their son with a flask of wine and the eucharist, so he could perform the sacred communion service. "To us, he is still our son," Don Smith said prior to the gala event. "He will always be Richard to us."...

The new archbishop speaks four languages, but it's the one he mangles the most -- sign language -- that gives him the greatest joy.

At a press conference prior to his installation, Smith said he has "a special love" for those who are deaf -- that despite the playful ribbing he has taken in the past when he uses American Sign Language, or ASL.

"The deaf community teases me," said Smith, adding that his particular brand of sign language has been referred to as RSL, "Richard's Sign Language."

"They have some fun with that, but we can make ourselves understood. And it's a way that I can reach out and help them to participate in the life of the church."

Smith's facility with languages -- he also speaks French and Italian -- should come in handy in an archdiocese that has four French parishes and an Italian parish.

Smith, who turned 48 on Saturday, said he wants to find out why so many Catholics aren't attending mass regularly or participating in the life of the church.

"How can we reach out to them?" he asked rhetorically. "How can we draw them back to the table of the Lord?"

While agreeing the church needs to attract more young men into the priesthood, Smith said he's noticed an outpouring of interest in recent years in the priesthood and in religious life.

"Do we have challenges? Of course we do, but there are wonderful, encouraging signs that are giving me a real hope," he said. Smith also displayed a playful side, for example talking about the importance of being a hockey fan in a city that lives and breathes hockey. Then there was his quip about being in the forgiveness business and asking in advance for forgiveness for damage he does playing on local golf courses this summer.
Edmontonians felt quite the loss when TC was taken to TO. But the sacrifice has been repaid in kind.

In other things Canadian, all appearances are that an early transition will soon be coming to the archdiocese of Vancouver, where 68 year-old Archbishop Raymond Roussin SM hasn't appeared in the best of health; Roussin took a leave in 2005 after publicly announcing that he had been diagnosed with clinical depression.

The April report in the Italian press that began the Levada-New York speculation also related that the BC See -- host of the 2010 Winter Olympics -- could end up in the hands of Archbishop Michael Miller, the Ottawa-born secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education. A member of the Toronto-based Basilian Fathers and former president of Houston's University of St Thomas, Miller became a naturalized US citizen in 2002.

And speaking of Ottawa, the successor to Archbishop Marcel Gervais should be soon in the offing, to boot.

Jimmy Jeong/Edmonton Journal