Why America Will Meet The Islamic Challenge and Canada Won’t

An excerpt from an interview with the Archbishop Tom Collins of Toronto by the John Allen of the U.S. National Catholic Register:

NCR: Part of what people mean by calling you ‘evangelical’ is a willingness to challenge the prevailing secular consensus.

Archbishop Collins: Oh, absolutely. … This is a very secular society, definitely not the United States. In Canada, there’s a strong push among the ruling elite to address the issue of a multicultural and multi-religious society by saying, “Let us drain the public forum of all religion.” The secular society would thus not really be the society of this age, which is what it should be, but a society drained of anything. It’s iconic that after 9/11, in the country where it actually happened, everybody went to a cathedral where the president and religious leaders prayed. In the country to the north, which also lost people, the event was held on Parliament Hill, with nary a reference to God. I wasn’t there, but somebody told me that the only hymn was “Imagine,” an atheist hymn. We’re all conscious of the Swiss Air tragedy. [In 1998, a Swiss Air flight crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board.] After that tragedy, there was a “God-free” public service. That’s one alternative [for a multicultural society], and I think it’s absolutely wrong-headed.

NCR: So the new Canadian bishops are determined to push back?

Archbishop Collins: I think so. We’ve had enough. We’re here, and we’re part of this society. As I often point out, if someone’s vulnerable and on the street in Toronto, it’s someone motivated by religion who’s going to help them. We’re there on the street, we walk the talk. Therefore, we have a place at the table. We’ve earned it, quite apart from the fact that all but 16 percent of the Canadian population claims some sort of religious affiliation, at least when approached by the census. I think the idea that the solution to a multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural society is to deny the profound reality in the lives of the vast majority of the population, which is religion, is just bizarre. Why should we sit here and let that happen? I’m not talking about replacing this model with a theocracy. Obviously we’ve had that in history. The church is always healthiest when it’s not in power, so I’m not recommending that. We should not be in power, but we’re here, and we have a right to speak.

NCR: To what extent is this evangelical spirit present at the grass roots?

Archbishop Collins: I feel extraordinary hope. I had this hilarious experience last year, after I had just ordained six guys to the priesthood. We were outside going around taking photographs in a little courtyard beside the church. This reporter came up to me, looking soulfully into my eyes, and asked me to talk about the failure of people to respond to vocations to the priesthood and the disaster looming over the church. I said, “Well, I just ordained six of them. Talk to them, they’re over there.” He said, “But what about the failure and the falling apart of the church, people drifting away?” That’s just not my reality. Sure, those things are real, but it’s not the whole story.

NCR: It sounds like you’re trying to project a robust Catholic identity, but one that’s outward-looking rather than moving into a ghetto.

Archbishop Collins: Definitely not a ghetto. We’re part of the society. We’re good friends with all our neighbors of many faiths, and with the secularists too. … I think we should engage in hearty discussions with all kinds of people. I got a letter recently from a guy who was raised a Catholic, who wanted me to excommunicate him. He said he didn’t believe this and that, and he was upset with the Catholic church. I wrote back, because I’m sure he’s really a nice guy. I wish I had told him to come by for a cup of coffee so we could talk about it. What I said was that far from excommunicating you, I pray that God will bless you abundantly. I suggested that he might want to read Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity, because he takes atheism quite seriously. He doesn’t dismiss it at all. I also suggested the Gospel of Mark … just take a crack at it. I think we need to get out there and do that, meet people where they are.

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