Letter to Minister Dion re: Situation in the Holy Land & Middle East

The Honourable Stéphane Dion, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Dear Minister,

Greetings on behalf of the Catholic Bishops in Canada. I would like to bring forward to your attention two proposed recommendations which are of great importance to the Bishops of Canada: 1) to encourage the Government of Israel to recognize claims by a small Palestinian Christian community in the Cremisan Valley, and 2) to classify as "genocide" the atrocities carried out by the so-called "Islamic State". Although these two matters are not related to each other, we consider both to be issues of justice and peace, and which have significant impact not only for Christians but for all people in the Middle East.

As background, I should mention that in addition to many instances over the past 50 years of national and local involvement by our country's Catholic dioceses and eparchies in interfaith conversations and collaboration, for the past 16 years either the President of our Conference, or another member of our Executive Committee, has participated in annual week-long meetings in Israel and Palestine. Known as the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, it began at the prompting of the Holy See and includes delegates from a number of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe as well as those of the United States and South Africa. This past January, following its customary approach of engaging in conversations with local Christians, Jews and Muslims, the Coordination's meeting focused on visits to Gaza, the Cremisan Valley and Jordan.

Our Conference's delegate for the Coordination's 2016 visit was the Most Reverend Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil. This was his second experience as delegate. Although he heard and witnessed the fears of many in the Holy Land dealing with violence and imminent war, Bishop Gendron likewise noted small but significant signs of hope. These included grassroots efforts among Muslims and Christians, in addition to examples of inspiring collaborative efforts among Jews and Muslims with the encouragement and assistance of local Christians. Bishop Gendron, and the Bishops from the other countries as well, were struck by the quiet and courageous determination among the ordinary people of Gaza to rebuild their homes, despite the scarcity of construction materials and the heavy impediments of security. At the same time, we also acknowledge the legitimate security concerns that the State of Israel and Egypt face regarding extremist elements in Gaza. Our Conference shares with other Catholic Bishops around the world a deep concern for all the peoples of the Holy Land to live free from fear, violence and hatred.

1. Encouraging Israeli authorities to recognize claims concerning the Cremisan Valley

The first matter of concern which our Conference urges the Government of Canada to consider is that you encourage Israeli authorities to recognize and remedy the difficult situation being experienced by the Christian community in the Cremisan Valley. This is a mainly agricultural area in the West Bank on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, adjacent to the towns of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The Ministry of Defence seems determined to construct a security wall that will cut off 58 Palestinian Christian families from their agricultural lands which are among the most fertile in the Holy Land. Not only will the families lose their land and livelihood, but the local Catholic Salesian monastery there, as well as the nearby convent of Salesian Sisters, will be severely restricted in their educational services to 450 disadvantaged children—girls and boys, Muslims and Christians—from the surrounding towns and villages.

In August 2015, the Israeli army began building the security wall in the area, specifically on the privately owned lands of Beir Onah - Beit Jala, uprooting olive trees and bulldozing agricultural lands as sections of the wall are completed. Construction work on the wall in the Cremisan intensified at the beginning of April 2016 with eight-meter high sections of concrete now being put in place. This past September 2, the St. Yves Society issued a comprehensive outline of the legal case, entitled The Last Nail in the Coffin: The Annexation Wall in Cremisan. The text has been posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, As noted on page 18 of the outline, the Cremisan Valley has not been the site of militant action in the recent past.

This past February, the Israeli High Court, while dismissing the latest petitions in the case, recognized that the landowners have the right to object to any route of the wall that does not maintain their right to access their lands freely, while the Salesian Sisters have the right to object to the final route of the security wall in the future. We join our voice to those of the other Conferences of Bishops which participate in the Holy Land Coordination, urging our respective governments to encourage all parties involved to exercise a more humanitarian approach to the Cremisan situation, and to seek alternative approaches through dialogue and negotiation.

At the same time as advocating for a just solution to the situation in the Cremisan Valley, we also wish to underscore our deep concern and total rejection of the use of violence and terror in the Holy Land. According to recent media reports, the Israeli Foreign Ministry indicates 34 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks and 404 people injured, including four Palestinians, in the wave of violence that began last autumn. This includes 331 stabbings and other attacks or attempted attacks. According to the international NGO Defence for Children International, some 180 Palestinians were killed and more than 15,000 injured from September through February, with some of the injured and killed including the attackers

As underscored by the Holy See in its 2015 document on Catholic - Jewish relations, "The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable", Judaism is not simply another religion with which the Catholic Church is in dialogue. Jews are our "elder brothers", our "fathers in faith". Because of these strong bonds, the Catholic Church feels a particular obligation to stand together with the Jewish community to decry any and all forms of anti-Semitism, wherever it may be found. At the same time, this close bond of friendship provides a bridge, a trusted relationship, whereby Catholics and Jews can speak in truth and love with one another, including matters which are of great mutual concern, including those such as the situation of Christian communities in the State of Israel and in Palestine, as well as the troubling signs of anti-Semitism in our day.

2. Classifying as "genocide" atrocities carried out by the so-called "Islamic State"

Our second recommendation follows up the joint letter which the Co-Chair of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, and I forwarded you on December 15, 2015, requesting that Canada make a priority of advocating for at-risk Christian communities in the Middle East as well as Africa. The international organization Aid to the Church in Need wrote to the Prime Minister of Canada and yourself this past February 3 on the dire situation of Christians in both Iraq and Syria. While it is evident that all religious minorities, including Shi'ite Muslims and Yezidis, risk persecution and oppression by the so-called "Islamic State" and thus fully deserve every effort toward protection and assistance, I wish to note, as Rabbi Frydman-Kohl and I pointed out in the said letter, that Christians, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, are facing more persecution, restrictions, hostility and harassment than any other religious group. These statistics are confirmed by the 2014 findings of the Pew Research Center in the United States, as well as by an extensive report in Great Britain last year by Aid to the Church in Need.

Similar concerns about the religious minorities in the Middle East have been further articulated in the Marrakesh Declaration, developed at a Middle East conference this past January 25–27 which brought together Muslim leaders from more than 120 countries plus representatives of the region's persecuted religious communities. The Declaration recognizes that "conditions in various parts of the Muslim world have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one's point of view"; that criminal groups "alarmingly distort" Islam's "fundamental principles and goals"; and that it "is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries."

For these urgent reasons, our Conference urges you to make your own the recent assertion by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that "Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims." Secretary Kerry's March 17 statement comes immediately after a March 14 bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, unanimously supporting a resolution condemning as genocide the atrocities by the so-called "Islamic State". These actions by the United States follow the February 4 decision of the European Parliament to classify atrocities and religious cleansing by the "Islamic State" as genocide. Previously, during July 2015, Pope Francis also described the situation as genocide: "… we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide—I insist on the word—is taking place, and it must end" (address given at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015). By following with a similar intervention of your own, you would also help give support to the Marrakesh Declaration.

We welcome, Minister, your response to these suggestions and reflections. Should it be of assistance, Bishop Gendron and other representatives of our Conference would be most happy to meet with you to discuss these considerations further, as well as to work with you and the Government of Canada to promote efforts toward peace, justice and security in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. Please be assured that our prayers and best wishes are with you.


(Most Rev.) Douglas Crosby, OMI
Bishop of Hamilton
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Related Offices Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs Office Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Social Justice Peace

Pope Francis’ New Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” or “The Joy of Love".

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops joyfully welcomes the Holy Father's Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family. As the national assembly of the Catholic Bishops of this country, we encourage its prayerful reception among all the faithful, and recommend its careful study to married couples and families, and to those agencies and organizations working with them, as well as to pastors and those in consecrated life who are called to be at the service of family life.

Bishops across Canada will be issuing their own statements of welcome, and engaging in discussions and conversations on the Exhortation with the members of their diocesan and eparchial churches. For its part, this Conference will assist the Bishops in their reflections and discussions on the Exhortation, in view of integrating and implementing its insights and teachings into the pastoral life of the Church.

The Apostolic Exhortation reminds us that "the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people," and that "the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed" (no. 1). At the same time, the Exhortation reflects on the "crises, worries and difficulties" which face family life (no. 231), and reminds pastors and communities of faith to prepare couples for marriage (no. 205) and accompany them in the first years of married life (no. 217). Likewise, Amoris Laetitia challenges all the faithful to do more in accompanying, discerning and integrating those family situations which "radically contradict" the ideal of Christian marriage or "realize it in at least a partial and analogous way" (n. 292).

Amoris Laetitia reiterates the necessity of protecting human life from beginning to its natural end. In the section entitled "The Transmission of Life and the Rearing of Children", the Holy Father points out that "if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed." Citing the Relatio Finalis of the 2015 Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis affirms: "The family protects human life in all its stages... Consequently, 'those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection. Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia', but likewise 'firmly rejects the death penalty'" (no. 83).

The Bishops of Canada are deeply thankful to Pope Francis for focusing the attention of the Universal Church on the importance of marriage and family, for reminding all the faithful of the urgent priority of accompanying families in hope and mercy, and for inviting Christian families to "value the gifts of marriage and the family" (no. 5).

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Ottawa, April 8, 2016

Link to the Apostolic Exhortation

Read/Download online – PDF file

To order the exhortation from CCCB Publications. click here

Related Offices Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Discipleship Consecrated Life Vocations Catholic Teachings Married Life Family

Excerpts from Bishop Henry’s Chrism Mass Homily 2016

In an interview published just a few days before the December 8 start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said the Jubilee of Mercy is to usher in a revolution of tenderness: “Once people realize ‘I’m wretched, but God loves me the way I am,’ then I, too, have to love others the same way.” The discovery of God’s generous love kick-starts a virtuous circle, which leads us to acting in a way that’s more tolerant, patient, tender, and just.

During this Jubilee of Mercy the Church asks us to practice and live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It is important to note that they are “works.” Work frequently tends to be hard.

I have had several jobs – all different: as a young boy, I was a salesman at my uncle’s farmer’s market stand; a golf course caddy; a shipper in the textile industry; a parking lot attendant; a mechanic; a construction labourer; a student; a packer at a brewery; and then became a priest and bishop. Each of the jobs was hard from time to time but none of them compared in difficulty to working on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which I still have not mastered.

The first set being the corporal works — to feed the hungry, give to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom captives, and bury the dead — to some degree are measurable but you never get to the point when you can say the job is complete.

The second set, the spiritual works are more elusive: to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, admonish the sinner, gladly forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead. Again unending work!

We never seem to get it right, so we have to practice, practice, practice.

Some people try to turn mercy into a kind of metaphorical “fabric softener” for the Christian ethos. I’ll mention two ways that this can happen:

1. Protecting the wrongdoer more than the victim

This kind of indulgence can occur because of misguided friendship or collegiality.

It can also happen because one wants to protect an institution – whether it be the church, the state, a religious order, or a club from the adverse consequences of uncovering and prosecuting wrongdoing. As a church we have failed on this account many times in recent history by the inadequate way we have dealt with the crimes of sexual abuse.

Such a mind-set goes against the spirit of the Gospel, which advances the preferential option for the poor and advocates for whoever is the weaker. Protection of the victim, therefore, must precede protection of the offender.

2. Mercy is seen by some as undercutting or abrogating justice

A further grave misunderstanding of mercy occurs if, in the name of mercy, we think we may ignore God’s commandment of justice, and understand love and mercy, not as fulfilling and surpassing justice, but rather as undercutting and abrogating it.

Therefore, we cannot contravene elementary commandments of justice because of a sentimental misunderstanding of mercy.

One cannot advise or provide assistance for an abortion out of a phony sense of mercy, if the birth of a child with disabilities appears to expect too much of the mother or the child, for example.

Furthermore, here in Canada today, we cannot, out of pity for an incurably sick person, offer active assistance in their committing suicide in order to “release” him or her from their pain and suffering. Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, and their euphemistic counterparts, do not imitate God’s mercy.

Such pseudo-mercy does not imitate God’s mercy; rather, it dismisses God’s commandment “Thou shall not murder” [Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17].

With tenderness and compassion we have to help people, in word and deed, to carry out the demands of the commandment in their often complex and difficult situations.

The discovery of God’s generous love kick-starts a virtuous circle, which leads us to act in a way that’s more tolerant, patient, tender, and just….

Related Offices Bishop's Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Euthanasia Jubilee of Mercy Theological Reflection Physician Assisted Suicide

Bishop Henry and Scholars Speak at Mosque on the Life of Jesus

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate which translates as In Our Time. The document is likely the most important contribution to the understandings of non-Christians since the Catholic and Protestant Reformations. The document, through the Council Fathers, sensitively explained that the Church’s message, in some areas, lacked a key approach that marked the people of God throughout the ages. The Council Fathers acknowledged that while the Church was clear in her message that non-Christian religions missed or misconstrued the person of Christ (and this is a grievous error), they sometimes failed to acknowledge the elements of truth in these religions. This was not meant to pave a new way for the modernism’s idea that analytic and scientific reasoning made religion into a mere symbol and thus a good way to live, or post-modern’s idea that religion is relativistic and everyone can choose to their path to follow God. Nostra Aetate, comparatively, followed in the Christian tradition that while everyone is called into a relationship with Christ and the Church, the “prevenient grace of God” could be at work in unexpected areas [Trent VI, LG 16].

Nostra Aetate can therefore be said to revive this Christian idea in our time: an idea that has always been a part of the theology of the Church. One of the documents that In Our Time quotes is a letter from Pope St. Gregory the VII to Nacir the Muslim King of Mauritania [1040-1085? AD]: “we believe in and confess one God, admittedly, in a different way, and daily praise and venerate him, the creator of the world and ruler of this world.” Pope St. Gregory is not being relativistic or condescending, following the recent popes of our time he is saying that “as Christians and Muslims, we encounter one another in faith in the one God” [St. John Paul II, address to representatives of the Muslims of Belgium, May 19, 1985]. It is important to nuance this with the fact that Christianity alone has the fullness of the understanding of God in Trinity [DI 5-6]. Pope St. Gregory was not alone in his approach, Catholic theology of the late nineteenth century picked up on this theme with Pope Pius X in his catechism acknowledging that Muslims were separate from pagans and “though admitting one true God, they do not believe in the Messiah, neither as already come in the Person of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Henry and Ahmadiyyan Muslim scholars will be involved in a discussion on the nature and life of Jesus at the Baitun Nur Mosque. Join us for a free supper, dessert and a talk by Bishop Henry and other Christian and Ahmadiyyan Muslim scholars on Saturday, April 9. See the display ad on the facing page for more information.

The Ahmadiyyan Muslims are a community known for their Islamic background. They are unique in their belief that a man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the end times prophet, and that Jesus survived the crucifixion and spent the rest of his life in India. Join us as we seek to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” [1 Pet. 3:15] and to create a world where we “live in peace with all people,” [Rm. 12:18]

Related Offices Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs Office
Related Themes Inter-Religious Interfaith

Bishop Henry's Homily at the Funeral of Fr. Jan Drzazga

Jan died on Friday, March 25, 2016.

Reflecting on Jan's death, I was struck by the timing, i.e. that it occurred during  Holy Week. On Monday at the Chrism Mass, with representatives from all the parishes of the diocese, we honoured the Priest and Permanent Deacon Jubilarians, all those in the sacrament of orders renewed their vows and commitment, we blessed the holy oils to be used throughout our diocese for the coming year.  On Thursday, we washed feet, celebrated the Last Supper - institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, the unbloody sacrifice of the Lord. On Friday, it was the Death of the Lord for our salvation, and on Sunday the Resurrection of the Lord.

It was indeed a good week and a good Friday for a priest to die.

Jan was a Priest, Professor, and Hospital Chaplain. He taught Political Science and had a special love for the Social Teachings of the Church.

I think that he would be pleased with the following true story. The government of Polish Prime Minister Jaruzelski had ordered crucifixes removed from classroom walls, just as they had been banned in factories, hospitals, and other public institutions. Catholic bishops attacked the ban that had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms.

But one zealous Communist school administrator decided that the law was the law. So one evening he had seven large crucifixes removed from lecture halls where they had hung since the school's founding in the twenties. Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well.

The next day two-thirds of the school's six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the protest. Soldiers surrounded the church. But the pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world.

So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning. "There is no Poland without a cross."

I would suggest that "There is also no priesthood without the cross."

That reality runs throughout the Word of God for our liturgy today.

Is.: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, , to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty…

2 Tim.: "I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come…

Lk 23: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit… "


Another Pole, St. John Paul II summarizes everything in Pastores Dabo Vobis  #23:

This pastoral charity flows mainly from the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the centre and root of the whole priestly life. The priestly soul strives thereby to apply to itself the action which takes place on the altar of sacrifice. In deed, the Eucharist represents, makes present once again, the Sacrifice of the Cross, the full gift of Christ to the Church, the gift of his Body given and his Blood shed, as the supreme witness of the fact that he is Head and Shepherd, Servant and spouse of the Church. Precisely because of this, the priest's pastoral charity not only flows from the Eucharist but finds in the celebration of the Eucharist its highest realization, just as it is from the Eucharist that he receives the grace and obligation to give his whole life a "sacrificial" dimension.


Our Gospel concludes with "He is not here, but has risen."

The same is true for Jan, he is not here any longer but has been raised to new life in Christ.


April 5, 2016
Bishop Henry

Related Offices Bishop's Diocesan Curia
Related Themes Vocations Priesthood Funeral Death Notice
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