Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On the "Signs of the Times," A Word from the North

As the rival camps of the Catholic chattering class continue the latest round of their traditional Exegetical Wars following yesterday's release of a certain hierarchical text, the Inaugural Message of the Canadian bench's new chief makes for even more worthwhile listening.

Elected president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops at last week's Northern plenary in Cornwall, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton (above) has long been seen -- at least, 'round these parts -- as a rising star. Currently all of 52, the Nova Scotia native was named a bishop at 43, then was tapped to succeed the celebrated TC in Alberta's senior church post barely five years later. Prior to his 2002 appointment to Pembroke, the archbishop had been vicar-general in his hometown of Halifax, a seminary professor, and pastor of three parishes all at once.

Hailed as a savvy communicator (sign language inclusive) and a whip-smart administrator, his devotees become legion over the years, Smith blogs weekly alongside hosting Nothing More Beautiful, a monthly New Evangelization program of catecheses and lay witness-talks in his cathedral that's shot for broadcast over the country's Salt + Light Catholic TV network. In May, the archbishop dedicated a new, green-certified seminary (photos) for the Oil Country church, home to some 375,000 Catholics.

At the start of his two-year term on the plenary's Friday close, the new CCCB head drew from the day's Gospel to speak of the church's need to discern the signs of the times, and the responsibilities the task demands in the context of today's society.

Especially amid the high dudgeon returned to the scene in these days, both the challenge and the hope of the scene sketched out applies well beyond Canada:

As the conference presidency alternates between the bench's English- and French-speaking sectors, the freshly-named Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau was elected as Smith's deputy, and the body's de facto president-in-waiting.

Having served along the US border since he was named a bishop in 1997, the 57 year-old Franco-Ontarioan -- an opera singer and blogger, among other things -- is expected to take a more policy-heavy role than usual in the #2 slot given his new see's cross-river proximity to the Federal capital of Ottawa.

Not to be outdone, meanwhile, in three weeks' time, the US bishops will convene in Baltimore for their traditional five-ring circus, better known as the November Meeting. More on it in due course.