By Cindy Wooden
QUEBEC CITY — Pope Francis wanted to check in with the bishops, priests and religious of Canada: “How are we doing when it comes to joy?” he asked them.
After intense days of meeting and listening to Canadian Indigenous and government leaders and celebrating Masses and leading prayer services, the pope joined church leaders July 28 for vespers in Quebec’s Cathedral of Notre Dame.
In his homily, Pope Francis acknowledged the challenge of ministering in the wake of allegations about clerical sexual abuse and the abuses against Indigenous children at church-run residential schools, but also the difficulties of sharing the Gospel in an increasingly secular society.
To proclaim the Gospel, the pope told them, “we must also be credible.”
Credibility, he said, comes from the witness of one’s life, from concretely demonstrating “the compassion that asks for nothing in return (and) the mercy that silently speaks of Christ.”
“The church in Canada has set out on a new path after being hurt and devastated by the evil perpetrated by some of its sons and daughters,” Pope Francis said.
He then specified that he was thinking “in particular of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people, scandals that require firm action and an irreversible commitment.”
“Together with you, I would like once more to ask forgiveness of all the victims,” the pope said. “The pain and the shame we feel must become an occasion for conversion: never again!”
At the same time, he said he was “thinking about the process of healing and reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters — never again can the Christian community allow itself to be infected by the idea that one culture is superior to others or that it is legitimate to employ ways of coercing others.”
Instead, he said, the church must be a community of joy, filled with people who know they are loved by God and know others are as well.
“Christian joy is about the experience of a peace that remains in our hearts, even when we are pelted by trials and afflictions, for then we know that we are not alone, but accompanied by a God who is not indifferent to our lot,” he said.
Looking at Canadian society, the pope said, some pastoral workers may take the position that religious believers are under attack and faith is their only “armor.”
People who hold that view, he said, tend to complain that “the world is evil, sin reigns” and so they adopt a “crusading spirit.”
“We need to be careful, because this is not Christian,” the pope said. “It is not, in fact, the way of God, who — as the Gospel reminds us — ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ ”
While God does not want Christians to be “worldly,” the pope said, he does want them to love the world and discern and promote what is good in it.
Pope Francis said constant whining about how secularized the world is getting risks “sending the wrong message,” making it seem as if church leaders were nostalgic for a bygone age when “the church and her ministers had greater power and social relevance. And this is a mistaken way of seeing things.”
Evangelization also must combat a “culture of exclusion,” he said, and that should start in the church itself.
Bishops and priests should not feel superior to their brothers and sisters in the church, he said. No pastoral worker should see their service as a source of power.
“This is where we must start,” he said. “You are key figures and builders of a different church: humble, meek, merciful, which accompanies processes, labors decisively and serenely in the service of inculturation, and shows respect for each individual and for every cultural and religious difference.”