The 36th Cardinal's Dinner drew 1,700 people together in Canada's largest annual charity fundraising dinner. Full address of Cardinal Thomas Collins follows.
36th Annual Cardinal's Dinner – November 5, 2015
Address from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto
Good evening. I am so pleased to be with you this evening and grateful for the presence of each one of you as we come together for this, the 36th Cardinal's Dinner.
I begin with an expression of gratitude. To Victor Dodig, Chairman of this year's dinner, along with Dan Sullivan, Vice Chairman. Thank you for your hard work, dedication and leadership. It is wonderful to look out and see over 1,700 guests with us this evening.
I also wish to take a moment to pay tribute to the late Joe Barnicke. As noted in your program, Joe was one of the founders of this dinner, and for three and a half decades offered tireless leadership. Joe never stopped promoting the dinner, making phone calls and personal invitations to Toronto's corporate and political leaders. A number of members of the Barnicke family are present with us this evening – please know that we are most grateful for Joe and all that he did to strengthen the community. Philanthropist, businessman, lover of family and faith: let us take a moment of silence this evening in honour of Joe Barnicke.
I extend a warm welcome to our distinguished head table guests who represent leadership at the political, corporate and community levels. We continue to pray for all of those in positions of leadership.
I think tonight in a special way of those elected public officials at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. We turn to the patron saint of politicians, St. Thomas More, to strengthen and sustain all those who have been elected to political office. In a special way this week, we pray for our federal members of parliament and the new government sworn in a short time ago in Ottawa.
I bring greetings to the religious leaders here from other faiths, both at the head table and among those gathered tonight. Most often quietly and without fanfare, our faith communities foster a spirit of care and compassion in our city, province and country. Thank you for all that you continue to do.
To the many corporations that faithfully support the Cardinal's Dinner year after year, I am most grateful for your presence. It is heartening to meet in my travels so many corporate leaders who draw inspiration from their faith. Be assured of my prayers.
Finally, I welcome the clergy, religious men and women, and parishioners from across the Archdiocese of Toronto who are here this evening. We all benefit immensely from your engagement, commitment, fidelity and willingness to put your faith into action, each and every day. For that, I thank you.
A Fellowship of Love in a Turbulent World
As we have done for over 3 decades at the Cardinal's dinner, we gather to enjoy an evening of fine food and fellowship, and to assist those in need. Such occasions provide us with an experience of common purpose, and with the yearly Cardinal's dinner the bond of fellowship unites not only Catholics from throughout our archdiocese, but also our dear friends and neighbours of other faiths. There is a wise saying: "Friendship divides our sorrows and doubles our joys", and that is true this evening.
But as we come together we cannot be unaware of the storms and dangers that surround us, which in their darkness give added lustre to the light of our common love. One of my favourite works of literature is Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Like all great literature it illuminates the world of reality. A small band of friends sets off on a great quest. They are ordinary folk, but the dangers that surround them and the evils against which they strive are extraordinary. In the end, after much suffering, their humility, love, and sturdy fidelity triumph over the brute force of evil. In an ironic twist that highlights a theme dear to Pope Francis, it is ultimately an act of mercy that seals the doom of the seemingly invincible power of the evil Lord of the Rings.
I have lately been thinking a lot about Tolkien's masterpiece, and am now rereading it once more, for delight, as always, but also for insight and wisdom in the struggles at hand.
We joyfully gather in a hall of fellowship this evening, but many evils await outside. Many, in fact, lurk within the human heart. Although the heroes of Tolkien, or of the Old English literature which was so dear to him, would be drinking mead and singing ancient songs in the hall of fellowship before setting forth to battle the dragons outside, the Cardinal's dinner is traditionally a more sedate affair. But only in its setting. The battles, the storms, and the dragons are real, though because they are not highlighted dramatically as they are in literature, we may not recognize them. That is the point of literature: it helps us to recognize what we would otherwise miss.
This evening I will reflect on a few of the challenges we face, and on how we can address them in joyful fellowship trusting in God's providence, and using well the strengths that we have received individually and as a community. There is no reason that the struggles we face should overwhelm us with fear. They are an occasion for joyful hope, but only if we resolutely advance against them and, most importantly, offer life giving alternatives.
The Refugee Crisis and Persecution
In recent months, we have all been gripped by the powerful images of refugees fleeing their homeland, victims of war and religious persecution. Since 2009, the Archdiocese of Toronto has had a full time Office for Refugees in place, tasked with welcoming the stranger among us. We remain one of the largest private sponsors of refugees in Canada. More than 160 of our 225 Catholic parishes have mobilized volunteer committees and raised funds to welcome refugee families.
On September 8, our archdiocese launched Project Hope, a 100 day campaign to raise $3 million to bring 100 refugee families to the Greater Toronto Area as soon as possible. To date we have raised $2.4 million and have enough volunteer committees to bring 80 families to Canada. In early October, a volunteer team of 10 from the Refugee Office paid their own way to travel to Jordan to begin the task of processing more than 100 families to bring them here. This act of mercy will literally change lives forever.
Consider that a Project Hope refugee from Iraq made a quick decision to leave her home with her children when her husband and son didn't return from work one day. The previous day, the family had received death threats for being Christian. She left with only their identification papers. She has no information about the fate of her husband and son but couldn't risk staying in her home. She wants to start a new life with her children far away from injustice, fear and persecution.
I wish to extend my thanks to all who are participating in this effort to help refugees. Our parishes and schools have responded in a wonderful way. I am also heartened that so many corporations, other faith communities, community organizations and a number of extremely generous individuals have come forward. As much as we need financial donations to reach our $3 million goal, we need volunteer committees of 6-10 people to make a one year commitment to journey with our refugee families.
We hope to meet these goals by Christmas for this emergency effort. But we will continue to be engaged in refugee sponsorship for years to come.
I know representatives from the Refugee Office volunteer team that made their way to Jordan are present this evening. We also have, as our guests, some refugee family members sponsored by our parishes that now call the Greater Toronto Area home. You are most welcome. May God bless all those engaged in this critical ministry.
The final stage of life on earth is an intense experience for all involved. It is sacred, difficult, profound, and moving. It comes to us all. It is an essential part of human life. It is an occasion for great love. The death bed is holy ground. Those who assist those who are dying, and their families, deserve the gratitude of us all.
Just a few short months ago, I journeyed with my sister in her final days on this earth. She endured a lifetime of illness and suffered for many months as her time with us came to an end. Through these difficult days, I was overwhelmed by the loving outreach of the hospital workers in Guelph who provided her with palliative care that ensured she was as comfortable as she could be, providing appropriate medication to relieve pain, and doing so with deep respect and love.
In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a fundamentally misguided decision, opened the door to assisted suicide in this country. Physicians, once called to be servants of healing, will now asked to be agents of death.
Every Canadian should take time to pause and reflect. Is this really what we want in our country?
What to do?
For one thing, bringing comfort to those who are dying should be an essential element of our life of faith, and in many parishes it is. Modern medical science can provide effective alleviation of pain; but all of us can provide love, and practical assistance for those who are dying, and for their families.
In addition, while we respectfully express our deep concerns about assisted suicide and euthanasia, we must provide an alternative by enhancing palliative care for those who are in their final days. We should contact our elected officials and ask them to make this a priority.
I also believe that it is critical that faith communities take a leadership role in promoting expanded palliative care.
Consider the example of Providence Health care. For over 50 years, they have created an environment where people can experience joy, comfort, and peace during their final days. Providence has a plan to physically relocate and transform two existing hospital floors into a home-like, integrated Palliative Care space, benefitting both patients and their caregivers. This is where our efforts should be focused – fostering a culture of love and care for those who are dying.
This evening, I am announcing that the archdiocese has pledged $1 million, to be fulfilled over several years, to help Providence Health care realize this vision, providing an environment of love and compassionate care.
We witness this culture of care, inspired by faith, not only at Providence Healthcare but also in our other Catholic health care facilities including St. Michael's and St. Joseph's Hospitals. I am most grateful for the incredible work undertaken by all of those strengthening Catholic Health Care in our community.
Many of our institutions that care for the most vulnerable were founded by religious communities. Religious men and women have played a critical role in fostering and strengthening the seeds of faith in the Archdiocese of Toronto. We are just completing the Year of Consecrated Life in the global church, an opportunity to recognize, pray for and support those who have been called to serve as religious sisters, brothers, and priests. We owe much of the great success of health care and education in Canada to women religious who have given so much to our country. So many of our religious orders have also dedicated their ministry to working with the poor and marginalized.
The Family With its Joys and Challenges
I have just returned from almost a month in Rome where the bishops of the world, along with many lay people and priests and religious, joined Pope Francis to discuss the family. The synod provided a beautiful opportunity for dialogue and an exchange of ideas between church leaders and laity including married couples from all corners of the globe.
We must consider how we support families in today's society. The global church continues to look for opportunities to affirm and support families that faithfully and heroically day in and day out raise their children lovingly and aspire to journey together through the ups and downs of life. In our diocese we have a Marriage Sunday celebration each year to affirm the vocation of marriage. We will have a large gathering in February 2016 to bring together hundreds of couples who are celebrating significant milestone anniversaries. It is a beautiful witness to a world that often says it can't be done.
The church also recognizes the challenges facing the family and the reality of many broken marriages that not only impact the couple but also their children and extended family members. We continue to reach out and journey with them in an authentic and pastoral way.
Our Family of Faith as a Sign of Hope in our World
Amid the challenges of this world, we are all called, individually and as a community of faith, to be a sign of hope. As we enter into the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, we are challenged to experience the mercy of God for our own sins and failures, and to extend to others the loving compassion which we have received.
Each year our ShareLife campaign helps more than 200,000 people in need through more than 40 agencies. I am grateful for all those that continue to support the annual appeal, with more than $14 million raised in 2015. We are also in the midst of the Family of Faith campaign for our archdiocese, with a goal to raise at least $105 million. It is wonderful to see the generous response from our parishioners. This campaign will help us in practical ways to proclaim the good news of the Gospel for years to come.
Our pastoral plan calls on us to look not only inward to enhance our parishes, foster vocations and support those who we see each week in our churches, but also, to engage in the public square and to serve the marginalized among us. We think back to our origins.
Irish immigrants, forced to flee their homeland, arrived in Toronto in 1847, just a few years after the diocese was founded. The first bishop of Toronto, Michael Power, a martyr of charity, died of typhus contracted while caring for those immigrants relegated to the fever sheds by the lakeshore. He is buried beneath the altar of the beautiful cathedral he started, and envisioned as the symbol of our community of faith and as a sign of God's love in our society, but did not live to see completed. But over the years others continued his legacy of mercy and service, and throughout our history Bishop Power's cathedral has been a beacon of hope.
Back in 1845, Catholics and Protestants worked side by side to excavate 95,000 cubic feet of earth, by hand. Thankfully, today we have more modern equipment to complete the restoration of the Cathedral which will expand to accommodate more parishioners, and provide greater capacity for our outreach programs.
I would invite all of you here this evening to join us on December 8 and 9 when we will open the doors of the cathedral for two days to meet the restoration artists working to transform the mother church of the Archdiocese of Toronto, an historical and architectural icon in the heart of our city.
Our Cathedral is particularly blessed by being the home of the world renowned St. Michael's Choir School. Since it was founded in 1937 by Monsignor Ronan it has offered an exceptional combination of academic and musical excellence, and ranks with the choir schools which are attached to great cathedrals in Europe.
Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto educate almost 300,000 students; we are grateful to all who are engaged in the great work of Catholic education.
We have just celebrated the feast of All Saints this past weekend. It calls us to reflect upon the lives of the saints who have gone before us. Saints are not people who have attained perfection; no, they are men and women like you and me, imperfect as we all are, yet committed to live holy lives day by day, quietly loving God and neighbour in the circumstances of ordinary life.
We are called to be saints: to live ordinary lives with extraordinary love, and to do so in a turbulent world, where the power of evil can seem daunting, but is no match for ordinary folk who are humble, faithful, and true, trusting not in their own strength but in the providence of God. That invitation to sanctity, for ordinary people in daily life, inspired Bishop Power and those pioneers of faith who have gone before us.
God offers that invitation to each of us. It is for each of us to accept it.
Thank you for your presence here this evening.