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Benedict XVI leaves mark on Quebec Church

Pope Benedict XVI may never have set foot on Canadian soil but his pontificate left an indubitable imprint in the Quebec Church. 

Several lay people, working in the Quebec Church, made this same observation when asked to weigh in on Benedict's eight-year pontificate, which came to a graceful end today.  

Messages of appreciation from church and political leaders worldwide poured in for weeks after Benedict announced his resignation February 11.  They lauded his theological reflection and insight, his gentle leadership in advancing interreligious dialogue and Church unity, as well as his firm hand in dealing with some of the hardest-hitting scandals the Church has seen in decades.
   But what was Benedict's impact in the Quebec context?  

YOUTH 

His teachings resulted in real change and growth in youth ministry, said Isabel Correa, director of the Youth Ministry Office for the Archdiocese of Montreal.  

Many thought he would be unable to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II in his relationship with youth. But his message to young people to seek true joy, rather than the fleeting joy of material goods, and to be more deeply rooted in the faith than their parents' generation really resonates with Quebec youth in particular, she said.
 
According to Correa, Benedict was effective in calling on young people to a more profound relationship with Jesus through the practice of prayer with Scripture (Lectio Divina) and to a greater knowledge of their faith through the youth-friendly catechetical program, developed for this purpose in 2011, called YouCat.  

Correa said her office began organizing YouCat sessions at the cathedral with Montreal's bishops this year-three in Advent and three in Lent. The turnout has been positive. About 70 to 100 young people have attended each session and the YouTube versions have received more than 700 views each.  

As well, the practice of Lectio Divina continues to increase in popularity and has been incorporated into youth meetings since 2006, especially after Benedict's exhortation Verbum Domini.  

SOCIAL JUSTICE 

Benedict's pontificate also greatly impacted Canada's Aboriginal community, said Brian McDonough. He serves Montreal as the archdiocese's Social Justice Office director and as a Concordia University theology instructor.  

Benedict's outreach to the First Nations goes beyond the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha last fall. His thoughts on justice for Aboriginal Peoples have evolved over time, resulting in a 2012 message that acknowledges "the depth of the spiritual traditions of Aboriginal Peoples and calls for respect for (their) dignity", said McDonough.  

"Benedict's thinking in this area is timely as Catholics in Canada engage in the process launched by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding residential schools," he added. 

McDonough said another key point for Quebec in Benedict's teaching is the environment. Norman Lévesque, director of the national ecumenical Green Church project wholeheartedly agrees. 

CARE FOR CREATION 

However, Lévesque observed that Benedict went further than other popes.  

Previous popes, he said, "always linked creation care to social justice. But Pope Benedict XVI was to first to teach that we must take care of the environment because it is God's work. We are called to take care of it because it is the means through which God provides to all his creatures." 

And it seems Quebecers are taking to Benedict's teachings in this area. Lévesque said more Catholic parishes are asking for information, workshops and presentations on the theology of creation and on environmental action.
As well, Benedict's writings were referenced often at the Green Church Conference in Drummondville last fall. And two dioceses-St-Jean-Longueuil and Valleyfield-have instituted Creation Care Ministry. 

COMMUNICATIONS 

Moving beyond the obvious, that is, the Vatican's adoption of social media during this recent pontificate, communications professional René Laprise observed how Benedict's texts stimulate the Church to engage "in constant communication with the world today to build bridges ... and to be Good News for the men and women of today".  

The New Evangelization is a question of dialogue and witness, he continued. Benedict witnessed to this in his way.  

In the same line, Quebec's bishops have been reflecting on the "signs of the times" for many years and in their recent pastoral letter « Catholiques dans un Québec pluraliste », noted Laprise, who headed communications for the Archdiocese of Gatineau before moving to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

However, he said, the local Church has yet to fully implement Benedict's teachings on and example of dialogue-with society as with other religions-in a way that will allow it to convey its own message of respect, peace and the meaning of life.

Benedict is the pope of "the written word", he said, referring to his many publications.  

"While his pontificate was shorter than his predecessor's, he is leaving us a spiritual and intellectual heritage that will be analysed for numerous years," he said. 


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