Speaking at the funeral Mass of late Bishop Remi De Roo of Victoria, British Colombia, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Michael Czerny, remembers De Roo’s lasting impact on the Canadian Church and beyond.
The Catholic community of Victoria, in British Columbia, bid farewell on Saturday, 12 February, to late Bishop Remi De Roo, who led the diocese from 1962 to 1999. An iconic figure, he was the last surviving Canadian, English-speaking bishop, to take part in the Second Vatican Council.
A charismatic and outspoken figure of the Canadian Church, Bishop De Roo passed away at the age of 97 on 1 February. His funeral Mass was held at 11.00 a.m. local time at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria.
Taking part in the celebration was Cardinal Michael Czerny, ad interim Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who conveyed Pope Francis’ condolences and blessings to the local Catholic community.
Born in 1924 in Swan Lake, Manitoba, to a family of eight children, he was ordained a priest in 1950 and was named Bishop of Victoria by Pope Saint John xxiii at the age of 38, making him the world’s youngest bishop of the time. He subsequently attended all four sessions of Vatican ii, from 1962 to 1965, which deeply marked his strong views on the Church, notably on the role of lay people, women, priestly celibacy and the preferential option for the poor. During his entire ministry, he held a close relationship with local Indigenous communities.
A strong advocate for social justice in public policymaking, he served as chair of the Canadian Bishops’ Social Justice Committee and was the main force behind the 1983 Canadian bishops’ statement “Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis”. That document stated that the “goal of serving the human needs of all people in our society must take precedence over the maximization of profits and growth”.
While advocating for social and economic justice, he also firmly opposed abortion. In 1968, he made a presentation to a federal committee considering abortion law reforms and called on the committee to show “respect for life”, expressing the Church’s deep concern “that a too-open health clause may result in widespread disrespect for and assault on the life of the unborn child”.
Despite arousing some criticism in the Church for his progressive and sometimes controversial views and having to apologize for poor investment decisions made in his diocese during the 1980s and 1990s, Bishop De Roo was widely recognized and appreciated for his role in Vatican ii and his prophetic spirit.
This was recalled today by Cardinal Czerny. He was “complex, controversial, and faithful to his convictions until the end”, he said. “Above all he was a Council Father who dedicated the subsequent 55 years to continually rediscovering what it means to live as a Council Christian and as a Council Church ... and now indeed as a Synodal Church”. “Bishop Remi called himself ‘a pilgrim of the Second Vatican Council’”, the Cardinal said. “It decisively shaped both his unwavering vision and his lifelong mission. His conciliar conscience found expression in various directions, but above all became concrete in his constant habits of proximity and closeness, encounter and engagement. He believed that the Church in Canada should divest itself of its instinctual suspicion of the modern world, and instead always seek to dialogue with contemporary culture, to accompany the path of ongoing cultural and social transformation, and to enlighten society with the ‘living substance’ of the Gospel”.
Cardinal Czerny went on to highlight the key elements of Bishop De Roo’s pastoral choices: his bond of friendship with the Indigenous communities; his commitment to the promotion of social justice; his promoting the role of laity in the Church and specifically of women and the care he gave to ordained ministers who had chosen to leave the ministry.
The Canadian prelate further noted that Bishop De Roo was a stimulus to heed the Second Vatican Council’s call to scrutinize the “signs of the time”, to open to dialogue and not condemn. “Let us recall — Cardinal Czerny added — that above all, collegiality is made up of closeness, openness to dialogue, patience, and a cordial welcome that does not condemn; that belonging to the Church today is based more than ever on fidelity to the Council and on attention to the human heart, to community, to the common home, with ears and eyes attentive to the ‘signs of the times’ that continually reveal the presence of the One to Come; that the rediscovery of synodality must inject new energy into every area of pastoral response: catechetics, liturgy, family, employment, justice, culture, social life, charity...”.
“Let us recall too — he added — that if we affiliate with elites instead of trusting in the Lord and opting for the poor; if we huddle for assurance within our own closed groups instead of going out to the existential peripheries; then we end up far from the people of God and outside of real communion with the Catholic Church”.
He finally remarked upon the similarities between Bishop De Roo’s pastoral approach and Pope Francis’ teachings, recalling notably his words to a group of Italian catechists received in audience on January 30, in which the Pope called for missionary communities that “walk the paths of the people of our time”, “know how to approach those wounded by life” as the Good Samaritan did and “fearlessly engage in dialogue with those with different ideas”.
“With the intercession of our beloved ancestor, let us — even with the risk of being, once in a while, just a little bit irritating — embrace them with firm resolve and inextinguishable hope!”, Cardinal Czerny concluded.
By Lisa Zengarini