Saturday, March 26, 2011

"A Wonderful Challenge": Quebec's Way of Lacroix Begins

Escorted to the chair by an ebullient predecessor -- now, of course, Rome's Kingmaker-in-Chief -- Gérald Cyprien Lacroix was installed on Annunciation Night as archbishop of Quebec: the 24th successor of François de Laval, Canada's first resident prelate... but far more importantly for today's purposes, the heir of Marc Ouellet.

Ordained a bishop less than two years ago, the 53 year-old primate of Canada comes, much like his mentor, from an unusual pedigree. A member of the Pius X Secular Institute -- a new movement dedicated to a fresh approach to evangelization -- the new archbishop has been rocketed to the leadership of the church in the Francophone province after a priesthood (and, indeed, a life) that've seen significant stints outside of Quebec.

As a teenager, Lacroix and his family lived in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the future prelate attended a diocesan high school and the Benedictines' St Anselm's College. A decade later, the new primate was assigned to serve as a missionary in Colombia, where he spent ten years working the fields. Both English and Spanish figured into the archbishop's homily, where Lacroix underscored his commitment to a new evangelization of the famously-secularized "New France."

"In this country that is mine," he prayed, "I long to carry Your Name."

And, clearly, Hatman's heir is open to every means to accomplish the goal. Having launched a Twitter feed to mark his appointment, an iPad (with a Bible app installed on it) was among the offertory gifts presented at the Installation Mass -- held in the city's convention center -- along with a gift of a drum from the local First Nations, and a map of the Quebec church.

While most of Lacroix's opening interventions in the press have been, as one would expect, Francophone, the primate did make an English-speaking splash in a Q&A with Holy Post, the religion blog of Canada's leading conservative paper, the National Post.

Here, some snips:
Q. [With weekly Mass attendance now hovering around 20%] what can you do to bring more people back into the pews?

A. I think the first thing is not to try to bring people back to the pews. People in Quebec will resist that. They don’t want us to use them as instruments that fill our pews and raise our statistics. That’s not our mission. Our mission is to bring people to a deeper relationship with the Lord and the Gospel and by doing that the rest falls into place. If God becomes the center of your life that changes everything and then people will find their way back to the Church. The Pope has said very clearly we’re not looking to build up numbers and statistics....

Q. Many of those in Quebec felt there was a time when the Church and the government were too close and the views of the Vatican were imposed on them. How do you deal with those fears?

Because of our history here and our recent history a lot of people are really afraid that we are going to start imposing things through the government. I have absolutely no nostalgic feelings for that time. I want to go forward. Of course, we have nothing to impose on anyone — not the government nor the people. We want to propose but not impose. We propose and present the message and people are free to accept it. In other times in Quebec history there was a greater closeness between government and the Church and it was hard to distinguish who was who. But we’re not there any more and we don’t want to go back. We want to look forward and see what kind of relationship we will have with the people. We need to find the right balance between what we had and what we have today. It’s a wonderful challenge.
And, lastly, as for the primate's mentor, while the global docket of episcopal appointments over which Ouellet now presides is never-ending, the short-term future will see the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops spending a disproportionate amount of time tending the chairs at home.

Half of Quebec's 19 ordinaries reach the retirement age within the next two years. The province's departing group is led by Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal, who turns 75 in June.