By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
SAINTE-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRE, QC (CCN) — Cardinal Marc Ouellet affirmed his unqualified commitment to the Gospel as he bid farewell to the Quebec archdiocese Aug. 15.
Yet, at his last public celebration of the Eucharist before departing to Rome, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops acknowledged some people may have been hurt by some of his words in public debate or some of his pastoral decisions.
In recent months, Cardinal Ouellet has faced a wave of negative attacks in the news media for his forthright stance in defence of human life from conception, even in cases of rape.
“The message of truth is not always welcome; it is a suffering both for those who hear and sometimes for the minister who explains it,” he told the 1,400 faithful who packed the basilica shrine to Saint Anne on the Feast of the Assumption. “But God himself showed us that suffering can be a source of life.
“Nevertheless, conscious of my own weaknesses, I ask a pardon from God and from my brothers and sisters for anything that I may have done to hurt them,” he said. “May the God of mercy permit that we say goodbye in peace and reconciliation.
“My episcopal ministry in Quebec has always had the same theme, announcing the resurrection of Christ and the faith of the Church brought to perfection by Mary, the servant of the Lord,” he said.
“To our society in search of its values, I hope to remind the Good News of the victory of love over hate, the victory of grace over sin, and the victory of life over death.”
Waves of applause and shouts of acclamation during an extended standing ovation followed the Cardinal’s homily. Well-wishers thronged him as he greeted the sick, the elderly and the handicapped in the shrine known for its miraculous healings.
About 30 bishops from across Canada, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Quebec Lt.-Gov. Pierre Duchesne, Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and other dignitaries came to the Mass, which was concelebrated by Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal and Canada’s apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana.
At a reception in Quebec City, many dignitaries paid tribute to Cardinal Ouellet. Duchesne likened him to a prophet who, like John the Baptist, came to remind Quebeckers of their Christian heritage.
“He invited us to look at our roots, which are very Christian,” said Bishop Gerald Lacroix in an interview. Ordained last year as an auxiliary bishop in Quebec, Bishop Lacroix said, “If it was not for the Christian values we received from the missionaries from the founders of our country, we’d be lost here.”
Bishop Lacroix said he will remember all his life what he learned through serving the Church under the Cardinal, through being with him at “Mass every morning at 7:15 in the chapel, sharing meals, sharing readings, sharing vision for the growth of the Church and how to be good shepherds.”
“He’s been a real father to me,” he said. “He’s taught me so much, not just by what he said but how he is.”
Rimouski Archbishop Pierre-Andre Fournier also served under Cardinal Ouellet for five years as auxiliary bishop.
“He was a very creative man. He is so humble that he never mentioned a lot of things that he has done,” Archbishop Fournier said, citing care for the poor, the sick and immigrants.
“He has given voice to a lot of people who didn’t have voice in the society and in the Church,” he said. “He has helped Catholics to stand up.”
While Cardinal Ouellet is widely perceived to have lacked much support among his brother bishops in Quebec, Archbishop Fournier said he did have his support and that of others. “He was not a lone ranger.”
Cardinal Ouellet takes on a key role in advising the Pope on the nomination of bishops throughout the world.
“For Canada, it is an honour,” said Sault Sainte Marie Auxiliary Bishop Noel Simard. “It is a big responsibility in the Church.”
He was must take into account the needs of each local Church in the world, he said.
Canada’s Military Ordinary, Bishop Donald Theriault, said he expected Cardinal Ouellet would do a “wonderful job.”
“I think it will be a consolation for the Canadian bishops to know we have a point man in the Vatican at the level of overseeing the bishops and their work and postings and nominations,” he said.
But there is no question the Cardinal will be missed.
“It’s a tremendous loss for Canada, losing our great Cardinal who has done so much,” said Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.
He described Cardinal Ouellet as an “extraordinary” and “exemplary” bishop who “speaks with clarity and charity.”
“He is a model for all of us, what every priest should be and every bishop should be and that’s certainly what Cardinal Ouellet is,” he said.
Saint John Bishop Robert Harris, who attended seminary with Cardinal Ouellet, said even as a seminarian, he showed signs of being a man of prayer, a simple person who never sought anything but to be an instrument of God.
“I know the Holy Father has a very special person, a confidant, a plus for the Church,” he said.