A traditional motivation for celebrating anniversaries was our admiration for anyone who could last so long as to be able to say they had worked in a single career, been married or simply lived for such a long time. Especially when someone hit that golden jubilee, that special 50th anniversary, we held in a sort of awe their talent for survival.
That's not nearly so true any more. Now that people routinely live into their 90s and centenarians are becoming almost commonplace, simply living long enough to celebrate an anniversary is hardly an accomplishment.
Instead of survival, however, we now admire an increasingly rare virtue: the ability to commit to something larger than yourself. To stay in a marriage, with a single company, career or vocation for half a century is now recognized as an astonishing feat of staying power, determination and loyalty.
All of which brings us to the priesthood and Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic.
On June 4, the cardinal celebrates his ordination to the priesthood. Long before he was a cardinal, or archbishop, or even a bishop, he felt called to be a priest. He responded to that call and has stuck with it through thick and thin for 50 years. He filled all those higher offices out of duty, but no one demanded that he become a priest. There was no vow of obedience that forced him to enter the seminary.
He graduated from the seminary with the largest class in the history of St. Augustine's in 1955. He served as a priest through graduate studies, through the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council and the turbulent decades that followed. Many other men who were ordained with him ? and many who were ordained later ? left active priesthood. But he stayed.
There is much more that can be said about the cardinal, of course. His deep insight into Scripture, his love of history and profound understanding of its importance as a source of wisdom about human endeavour. He is well known as a man of abiding orthodoxy; he is also one who believes deeply in the duty of every Catholic to look out for his/her neighbour. The cardinal's commitment to social justice should be better known than it is.
Cardinal Ambrozic celebrated another anniversary earlier this year: his 75th birthday on Jan. 27. Age 75 is the normal time of retirement for bishops, but the late Pope John Paul II decided in his wisdom to ask the cardinal to stay in his cathedra for a while yet. Most people get to relax about this time in their lives, but not bishops or cardinals, or priests.
We ask much of our priests. In a day of larger and larger parishes and busier lives, we don't get to know them as we once did. As for bishops, too often, we see them as distant functionaries busying themselves with administrative duties. Too rarely, we see them as what they are: shepherds and teachers.
For half a century of priesthood, Aloysius Ambrozic has been a shepherd and a teacher. But mostly, he has been a man in love with God, a man who calls Jesus his Lord and Brother.
On behalf of all of us at The Catholic Register, I'd like to add our own congratulations and best wishes to the cardinal on this special occasion.
Publisher and Editor
:: top of page
Editor's note: This is an updated version of a biographical profile of Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic. It was first published in March 1998 on the occasion of his appointment to the College of Cardinals.
BY JOSEPH SINASAC
The Catholic Register
The priestly life that has placed Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic at the top of Canada's largest Catholic diocese began in a small, rural Eastern European settlement at a time when the Great Depression was ravaging most of the world.
It was on Jan. 27, 1930, that Aloysius Ambrozic was born to Aloysius Sr. and his wife, Helen, near Gaberje, Slovenia. The elder Ambrozic was a small farmer and grocer, an independent and outspoken man who took his religion as seriously as everyone did in those days in what was then Yugoslavia. The church was five kilometres from home, but Sunday attendance at Mass was taken for granted, like going for breakfast, recalls the 75-year-old cardinal.
More than piety, however, Ambrozic was shaped by his father's sense of leadership, one that stemmed from the man's abiding faith. Today, the cardinal traces the origins of his religious vocation to a sense of leadership in social and political matters that my father had. He was in the Christian Democratic party and I know the reason he was in it was because he was a good, practising Catholic man.
Ambrozic Senior was active in numerous matters, particularly in helping his fellow farmers improve agricultural methods.
To him, that was part of his faith. Usually vocations come not from extraordinarily pious families but certainly from religiously serious families, but families that also have some kind of sense of leadership, the cardinal muses.
The young Ambrozic didn't show any particular inclination towards the priesthood. He was a dutiful son and, being a big lad, helpful on the farm, according to his sisters, Francis Cerar and Helena Golob.
He was just a normal boy, doing what normal boys do, says Cerar. There was elementary school in Dubrova, high school in Ljubljana, and such duties as helping his grandfather saw logs.
Ambrozic Junior was the second of seven children, the eldest of five boys. As such, he felt an obligation to help the family survive in the leaner times that followed growing up in Slovenia.
The Second World War brought strife, violence and destruction to Yugoslavia. It was a time of terror that made its mark on the cardinal. His father, being an opinionated Christian Democrat, was hated by both the Communists and the fascist collaborators of Nazi Germany. Once the Nazis were defeated, the Communists won the peace in Yugoslavia, violently and systematically cleansing the country of all those who didn't fit their plans or were potential sources of opposition. Intellectuals, politicians, clergy, independent-minded farmers, were all targets.
In May 1945, the entire family fled to Austria. For the next three years, life was a series of displaced persons camps in Vetrinj, Peggez and Spittal an der Drau. Somehow the young man completed his high school education.
Canada beckoned, however, thanks to an uncle who was a Franciscan priest, a friendly bishop in Toronto and some Carmelite nuns. The sisters were asked to sponsor the Ambrozic family and readily accepted. On arrival in Canada, the elder Ambrozic got a caretaker job with a summer camp and the family moved to the spot near Markham, Ont.
Young Ambrozic, as the oldest son, fully expected his help would be needed to support the family. But it wasn't necessary, so he began to consider his future. At the back of his mind was the priesthood.
Certainly it wasn't any kind of divine revelation. You go to the seminary because you want to try it out.?
Which is just what he did, entering St. Augustine's Seminary to study philosophy and theology. His family was pleased and supportive. To me it was not a surprise that he went into the priesthood, says his sister Helena. Although, she adds, he was such an adept student that he could have tackled almost anything and not surprised her.
On June 4, 1955, he was ordained a priest for the archdiocese of Toronto by Cardinal James McGuigan.
His career as a priest began as curate of a parish in the small town of Port Colborne, Ont. While there, he did what priests do, visiting families, working with the youth, saying Mass, hearing Confessions, praying over the sick, etc.
Though he originally saw himself as a scholarly priest, parish life began to grow on him. But it was just at that moment when he was called back to Toronto to teach Latin at St. Augustine's. The official language of the church is only one of four ancient languages he has learned, the others being Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. The cardinal also is familiar with, besides English, French, German, Italian, Slovenian and Portuguese.
Then studies called. He was off to Rome for postgraduate work at the Angelicum, where he received a licentiate in theology, and the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he obtained a licentiate in sacred Scripture.
While in Rome, he lived at the College Capranica, whose origins go back to the 15th century, the first residence for diocesan priests studying at Rome's various universities. Life in the birthplace of Europe in the 1950s was wonderful. When he wasn't studying, there was a cozy coffee shop around the corner that served the best coffee in Rome. Then all around him was inspiration in the form of ancient churches and the ruins of the Roman Empire.
There was St. Maria Sopra Minerva, the only genuinely Gothic church in Rome, according to the cardinal. It was built on the ruins of a Roman temple to the goddess Minerva. Construction on the current building was started in 1280 and it opened for worship in the mid-14th century. Inside, the young priest could contemplate Michelangelo's statue of Christ Risen and the sarcophagus of St. Catherine of Siena, along with numerous other masterpieces of sculpture and painting.
A few minutes stroll down Rome's labyrinthian streets was the Pantheon, another Roman temple converted to Christianity. And for watching the street life of Rome, there was nothing like a quiet stop in the Piazza Navona, an oval site once used by the Romans for games but now devoted to outdoor cafes, street artists and musicians and hawkers of various trinkets.
But studies ended and Fr. Ambrozic returned to Toronto. There he taught Scripture at St. Augustine's from 1960 to 1967. More studies followed that year when he went to the University of Wurzburg to obtain a doctorate in theology. His dissertation was on the Gospel of Mark.
Being a young diocesan priest in Europe was, he recalls, an affirming thing. Whenever he travelled, he would stop in on parish priests to offer his services. They always welcomed him and offered him a place to lay his head.
I found that extremely pleasant.
Back in Toronto, the priest re-entered the professoriate, teaching New Testament from 1970 to 1976 at the Toronto School of Theology, which combines the religion faculties of numerous institutions, including St. Augustine's. Besides teaching, he found time for academic writing, publishing The Hidden Kingdom: A Redaction-Critical Study of the References to the Kingdom of God in Mark's Gospel (Washington, D.C., 1972) and Remarks on the Canadian Catechism (Toronto, 1974), along with other academic articles.
But he was also a priest and during much of that same period, he served on the archdiocesan Senate of Priests.
In May 1976, Pope Paul VI called and Fr. Ambrozic became Bishop Ambrozic, auxiliary to Archbishop Gerald Emmett Carter. His job was to oversee pastoral care of the archdiocese's central region and the ethnic communities.
Though it was an unexpected honour, he took to his new job dutifully and energetically. In 1984-85, he made pastoral visits to all 43 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese to strengthen and support religious education. He was also a member of the Christian Education Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and helped revise the Canadian catechism. On May 22, 1986, he was appointed coadjutor archbishop, meaning he had been selected to fill the shoes of now Cardinal Carter on his retirement. On March 17, 1990, he was made archbishop. That same year he was one of four bishops chosen to represent Canada at the 1990 Synod on the Formation of Priests in Rome.
More appointments followed quickly. He became a member of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in June 1990, the Congregation for Clergy in February 1991 and the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1993. In 1994, he was one of the Canadian delegates to the Synod on the Consecrated Life.
A major change in his life took place on Feb. 21, 1998, when he was invested in the College of Cardinals. Suddenly, his life was a lot busier as the Vatican demanded a much larger chunk of his attention.
A year later he was appointed to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of Sacraments and the Congregation for Oriental Churches.
In 2004 he was appointed to the Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See, an advisory body on the financial affairs of the Holy See.
Life in the episcopate is rather more administrative these days than it was when Ambrozic was a simple priest. And, as he ruefully discovered when ambushed by an article in Toronto Life that put him in a negative light and led to considerable controversy, more under public scrutiny. But, throughout his career, he has never doubted that he answered the right call.
I went into it with a very clear idea of what I was into, he says. I never felt I made a mistake.
He attributes his durability to simple natural stubbornness, a clear sense of his own identity, daily prayer and wonderful friendships with priests.
An extremely private man, Ambrozic finds comfort in relationships with fellow priests that are supportive without being intrusive. There's a certain mutual acceptance and a certain reticence. You can help each other without butting into each other's private affairs.
On June 4, the cardinal will have been a priest 50 years, the last 29 as a bishop. Though he has never doubted his vocation, he recognizes how much the world has changed to the detriment of modern vocations. The church in 1948 or 1955 was psychologically more secure. The priests functions were more clearly defined. At that time, we knew earlier than we do now what we wanted to be.
Today, the church, battered by declining membership and media attention on abuse scandals among the clergy, suffers, in the Western world at least, from a vocations crisis. It has been wracked from within by debates over doctrine, the role of women and priestly celibacy. From without, it battles creeping and seemingly overwhelming materialism and relativism.
Ambrozic knows well that today's priests find it more difficult than he does to have a secure sense of their place within the church. Yet at times he also recognizes a reluctance to make the kind of commitment that being a priest of the Roman Catholic Church requires. They say, I don't know how I fit in. I'm not too sure whether I do fit. Do I really want to fit or should I leave my options open.
At the same time, he takes great joy in many young priests who are secure in who they are and clearly enjoy their vocation.
Now, you talk to young guys and they are proud to be priests. They don't apologize for being priests. They enjoy being priests. I talked to one just the other day and he was so happy to be a priest. It's nice to meet guys like that.
The cardinal is well aware of the internal debate and the criticism heaped on him, particularly by the secular media, that he is unwilling to yield to change. In his position as one of Canada's leading authority figures in the church, he knows he is even more in the spotlight, more a target for those who dislike the church's positions. This fails to daunt him
Despite it all, Ambrozic sees his main challenge as simply being true to the Catholic Church.
:: top of page
Editor's note: The following article is an excerpt from an interview with Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, archbishop of Toronto, in which he reflects on the meaning of priesthood, prayer, Scripture and modern culture.
On his motivation for becoming a priest
Going back, priests usually came from families where there were more than two children, where the parents were not necessarily pious but regular Catholics, involved in the works of the church in the widest sense of the world.
For instance, my father was not involved in the parish but certainly was involved in the Christian Democratic Party (in Slovenia, the cardinal's native land) and he was there because he was a Christian, he was a Catholic. He was jailed for that by the Yugoslav right-wing dictatorship and he was jailed for the same reason by the Catholic fascists, and he would have been killed by the Communists had he not left.
That kind of involvement was obviously a factor, one way or the other, on my life. Not that I went into politics, but his involvement was as a Christian. So it was certainly an influence, no question about that.
There also has to be a certain readiness, a regular kind of church life and activity (in anyone contemplating entering the priesthood or religious life). I was active in various student organizations that were Catholic, such as YCS, Young Christian Students, in Slovenia during the war and later in the displaced persons camp (in Austria). That's where I went to high school. In my class there were 25 students, half boys and half girls, and two of us decided to become priests.
It was a very personal decision. No one was pushing me. I had finished high school just before I came to Canada so I had a pretty good idea that I would try to be a priest.
:: top of page
Once you get into the seminary you begin to look at it from the inside. For two years I had my doubts as to whether or not I was made out to be a priest. Eventually, I decided to stay.
Ours was the largest class in the history of St. Augustine's Seminary. That was in 1955 and there must have been 55 graduates. The one thing I liked about St. Augustine's was that you met people from all over Canada. There were Newfoundlanders, Prince Edward Islanders, Acadians, there were people from Alberta and Saskatchewan, British Columbia. St. Augustine's Seminary was a good place to get to know Canada.
I still remember in this classroom there was a map of Canada without Newfoundland, because Newfoundland only became a province in 1949. I was in the seminary from 1948 to 1955.
Coming to Canada was, of course, a culture shock. I had some schooling in English, but that wasn't speaking English. I knew the grammar, but the difficulty of the English language is in the idiomatic expressions, turns of phrase and the various uses to which words are put. It's a delightful language. The thing that worries me now that it is becoming the lingua franca (of the world) is that it is fed by words of other languages, such as those of Latin origin. They don't have the same spirit as idiomatic words. Once a language ceases to be fed by the dialect, it begins to die. I'm not saying that's happening with English yet.
:: top of page
On getting older
Relationships in the seminary were very important. The trouble is as you grow older, your work becomes more and more involved. You have less energy to spend on things so you spend it on your work rather than friendships that you formed.
My high school friendships and college friendships have lasted. But my high school friendships are all over the place, and inevitably though you keep writing, they are hard to keep up. As far as my seminary is concerned, I have made some very fine friendships and they have lasted. But you don't work at it the way that you used to. Not that you work at it, but that you don't spend as much time on your friendships as you once did.
The other thing is that people die. A while ago I looked at the photos of my first Mass and the banquet that followed. In one there was a kind of head table and the only two people in the picture that were still alive were myself and a niece of mine.
One day a classmate, Fr. Ed Law, referred to another classmate who had died. He said to me with his wry humour, You know, at one time it was only the old codgers who died. Now it's young guys like us. It was kind of funny and not so funny.
:: top of page
It's rather difficult to talk about something that you do every day, that you just do. It's like a conversation with God, a conversation with Christ. I can't see myself functioning without prayer. Christ is my Lord and my brother.
Interestingly enough, I have begun to appreciate again something I never appreciated fully and that is the rosary. In the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries you accompany Christ. It becomes a very personal voyage, tapping into your imagination.
People think of the rosary as a Marian prayer, but it's not. It's a Christo-centric prayer. It centres very much on Christ, even the Joyful Mysteries. The Luminous Mysteries, the new ones, are clearly very much about Christ. They are clearly all about Christ and His life. In fact the Holy Father John Paul II filled a gap by instituting these mysteries. There was nothing much from the Joyful Mysteries the joys of Christ and so on and then better. In the morning I say Mass, in the morning I say my Breviary, in the morning I make my meditation. During the day there are so many other things that come my way so it is naturally in the morning when I have time, and when I have peace.
:: top of page
On the importance of Scripture to the life of the Catholic
A professor of mine decided not to teach Scripture any more and they were looking around for someone to replace him. They knew I had studied Greek. In the seminary I had studied (Greek) on my own and I had studied Hebrew for the simple reason that I felt that every priest should have at least a smattering of the ancient languages.
So they asked me to study Scripture.
Really my first love is history, but Scripture is very much like history so I had no complaints. A lot of my reading is history related. It's like knowing yourself because you discover things about yourself. I think history is basically an extension of the human personality. Ultimately, we're all very much the same. Realistic history has a way of flattening personalities. You get to know the real greatness. Take, for instance, John A. Macdonald. He had trouble all the time; there was really no period when he could enjoy his greatness. And the same with Winston Churchill.
The Bible is the book, though the longer I live the more I realize how much you need a living authority. You can always play around with a book. You can always make it say things it doesn't say and keep quiet about things it does say. That's why you need a living authority (i.e. the magisterium).
The Bible is our book. Studying Scripture obviously gets you in touch with the real people who created the Bible. Of course I know Mark (ed. - the cardinal did his doctoral thesis on the Gospel of Mark), for me the most interesting thing about Mark is that he had no absolutely no intention of being original. He was not doing his own thing, but it was the church's thing. And yet he is at the same time the most original of the evangelists. He probably wrote the first Gospel; I really do believe that. Precisely because he had no intention of being original, he was probably the most original of them all. His intent was to preach. He was a catechist or a leader of the community, probably a Roman community, so what he was doing every day, or at least every Sunday, he then put down in writing. As far as he was concerned, his writing was simply an extension of his work.
What I find in the Old Testament, and also in the New Testament, but particularly in the Old Testament, is a continual tug of war between divine revelation and the human temptation to domesticate it. We want to domesticate that and God is continually resisting us. We want to make God a nice guy. He is much more than that.
I read the psalms every day and every so often I discover something I never saw before. I know I have read that psalm before a thousand times, and yet all of a sudden I discover something new. I think that if people read the Bible intelligently, they'll find most of it is quite clear. I don't encourage them to take courses, but I just take it for granted that they have a certain understanding and a certain curiosity for truth.
:: top of page
On Pope Benedict XVI
I am so glad that Cardinal Ratzinger became the Pope. He kept us honest and I have no doubt that Ratzinger contributed much to the greatness of Pope John Paul II. They were friends for years and years even before John Paul was Pope.
Ratzinger will accept truth from others when he hears it, but he will then point out other truths. For instance, he will say there is validity in every religion yet Jesus is the Saviour of the world. Our media don't like that because it makes us Christians look superior to the rest. But the thing is this, we have to accept Jesus as the Saviour of the world. This is not to say we're better than anyone else. I'm not trying to put down Mohammed or Buddha they were great men but they were not Christ.
The other thing about the new Pope is, if somebody else had been elected (who had been on the media's favoured list), the media would have twisted and turned everything he said. Then after two years, they would have discovered that he still believes in God and he is still Pope.
I listened to Cardinal Hummes of Sao Paolo. He is a tremendous fellow. I heard him speak and then I read a report of his statement. Well, his words were given such a left-wing spin, it had nothing to do with what he had to say. That's what would have happened if somebody else (other than Ratzinger) had been elected pope. There are certain core values that sometimes we don't like, but we still have to accept them.
:: top of page
On the shortage of priests and what it takes to be a priest today
Let's hope that we have touched bottom (regarding the priest's shortage). I know that things were a lot worse, say, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After the Second Vatican Council there was a great deal of uncertainty and priests were leaving and it was difficult to encourage vocations.
I still remember a layman talking to us in the late 1970s at a vocations conference. He said, You know, there are vocations out there. All you guys have to do is get your act together. I thought he was so much to the point. By that he meant, make up your mind as to what you are and get to work.
There was a great deal of confusion about what is a priest. Now, you talk to young guys and they are proud to be priests. They don't apologize for being priests. They enjoy being priests. I talked to one just the other day and he was so happy to be a priest. It's nice to meet guys like that.
I look for a certain self-discipline (in men seeking the priesthood). Then, I look for a simple readiness to sacrifice, a simple readiness to give of oneself. He cannot be numero uno all the time. Then, I look for certain leadership qualities; that's difficult to find. He needs to be able to lead others, to invoke their hidden abilities and talents.
Obedience is also important. In most cases, obedience makes you do things you wouldn't otherwise do, and you discover abilities within yourself you otherwise wouldn't know are there.
The things I obviously take for granted are the ability to be celibate, some self-control and a prayer life.
It's a matter of growth, of maturity, of being able to see other sides of the picture.
:: top of page