44th Annual Cardinal’s Dinner – 14 November 2023
Address by His Grace Most Rev. Francis Leo, Metropolitan Archbishop of Toronto
Thank you, Mr. MacKinnon, for your kind words and for all your committed work in coordinating the organization of this year’s event. It is wonderful to be with all of you, dear friends, as we join together in fellowship for the 44th annual Cardinal’s Dinner.
As it is my first time attending this event, I want to begin by thanking my esteemed predecessor, Cardinal Thomas Collins. For 16 years His Eminence has served the people of the Archdiocese of Toronto as a faithful shepherd, guiding the flock with immense love. Earlier this year, he also celebrated 50 years of priesthood. I am grateful for his incredible example of fidelity and devotedness. Your Eminence, we thank you most sincerely and know that you will always be in our heart and prayers.
What a beautiful sight it is to gaze upon all of you here, 1,400 guests from throughout the archdiocese and the Greater Toronto Area. I observe such an amazing cross-section of our archdiocesan faithful and institutions, making up this diversity of cultures, vocations and allegiances, religious affiliations, and unique social landscape. And we are all eager to enjoy a scrumptious meal and raise funds for a number of very worthy causes. We may be Churchmen and religious leaders, Indigenous or newly minted Canadians, educators and financiers, politicians and government officials, law enforcement personnel and those who serve the cause of justice, scholars and healthcare workers, families and religious communities, members of the Christian faith, those of other faiths and those of no faith, blue collar, white collar, grey collar, roman collar and no collar workers, the young and the young at heart, taking time out of our very busy schedules to contribute to the needs of the disadvantaged and those in need.
I warmly welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, the Most Rev. Ivan Jurkovic, the Pope’s Representative here in Canada. Thank you for your presence, Your Excellency. We very much appreciate your friendship, your ministry and the closeness of the Holy Father which you embody and express in an admirable way along with your dedicated staff at the Nunciature.
We also welcome those who have been called to the service of political office. Thank you Minister Tassi, Premier Ford, Mayor Chow and the many other elected officials present here at our head table and those in the audience for your many self-sacrifices and for your service. We also want you to know that the Church is always open to sitting at the table in a spirit of charity, truth and respectful dialogue. Faith-based organizations offer so much to our wider community and be assured that we want to be part of the conversation and join forces for the common good.
To the many corporate and business leaders, I thank you for your presence, generosity and benevolence expressed in so many ways and we pray that you will always make prudent and responsible decisions - yes those that will help your companies be profitable but also, in the words of Pope Francis, “We are called to be creative in doing good … using the goods of this world – not only material goods, but all of the gifts we have received from the Lord – not to enrich ourselves, but to generate fraternal love and social fellowship.” 
I also want to thank wholeheartedly our dedicated Chief of Toronto Police Services, Chief Demkiw for all that you and your officers do to serve and protect our community. It is comforting to know that it is a service keen on collaboration with communities, respectful of traditions, upholding the rights and freedoms of all and one to which you are entirely dedicated and carry out with steadfastness and a big heart.
A special welcome to the many representatives from other Christian and faith communities. At a time when we see so much violence, terror and division throughout the world, let our ecumenical and interfaith friendships and partnerships be a balm that heals, a hope that comforts and unites. This evening, we call to mind in a very special way the horrors taking place in the Holy Land, and we lift up in prayer the victims, those in power and all the families in Israel and in Palestine; and let us not forget those facing the atrocities of war in Ukraine and in so many other places in our world. I ask you to join me in a moment of silence as we bow our heads and pray for the grace of lasting peace, justice and healing.
I have been deeply moved in perceiving these past eight months those committed to caring for the poor, the broken and forgotten. I think of the Archdiocesan Office for Refugees, one of the largest private sponsors of refugees in Canada, welcoming the stranger to a new home. We are blessed with wonderful and committed staff and volunteers in our Catholic social service agencies and religious orders – their ministry of presence and outreach reflects the face of Christ to those they encounter each day. Our Catholic university and seminaries who educate the next generations of Church and civic leaders with the light of faith and in keeping with the Gospel of Christ and the Church’s teachings. We give thanks to the province for their continued support of publicly funded Catholic Schools and we also have many private Catholic schools in addition to our higher education institutions in the archdiocese, universities and seminaries. And we mustn’t forget the home-schooling community and the parents who diligently work at the wholesome upbringing and education of their children as first educators. Our committed Catholic hospitals caring 24/7 for each person that enters their doors – body, mind and soul. Sadly, we are faced with an increasing culture of death around us more and more in our world. Let us fill the room with light, caring for those living in darkness.
Over the past 44 years, the Cardinal’s Dinner has raised more than $6 million to support charitable works. This generosity has also extended to our annual ShareLife appeal which has collected $12 million this year, allowing us to reach out to countless Catholic social service agencies caring for all those in need, regardless of religious affiliation. Of particular note - ShareLife has recently allocated $600,000 towards food and meal programs throughout the Greater Toronto Area in an effort to address food insecurity which is so prevalent in our current reality.
I also wish to recall the historical visit of Pope Francis to Canada last year on his penitential pilgrimage of healing, reconciliation and hope and for inspiring us to continue to walk with Indigenous Peoples of this Land. He challenged us to consider how we could add our voices to join in these life-changing efforts. I’m pleased to share with you that over the past month, eight projects submitted by the Archdiocese have been approved by the National Indigenous Reconciliation Fund. The archdiocese has committed to date close to $3 million dollars to support these initiatives that will help further our common journey. We will continue this work as we fulfill our $6 million pledge. Thank you to all those who have walked with us.
In thinking of our young people who are a true gift not only to the Church but to the wider society and indeed the world, I recall the words of Pope Francis at World Youth Day this past summer in Portugal: "Have the courage, then, to replace your doubts with dreams. Do not remain hostage to your fears, but set about working to realize your goals!" Our young people have so much to offer us and we need to invite them to the table to be with us, to dream with us, to share their ideas and to join us in working together for the common good, indeed the Kingdom of God here and now present.
To the clergy, priests and deacons, seminarians and consecrated men and women, and the engaged, committed laity present this evening who serve the Lord, the Church and society, I must extend my admiration, prayers and gratitude for your witnessing and your faithful living out of your vocation and ministry. We have 225 Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments, Gospel witnessing, community building and social outreach in more than 30 languages. That takes a lot of faith and determination as well as blood, sweat and tears, and so to all those engaged in pastoral care as well as the incredible volunteers who sustain the ministries, I say wholeheartedly, thank you!
What comes to mind in this context, in the interplay between faith and culture, religion and politics, are the provocative words of a tenacious but insightful 2nd century theologian and apologist from Cartage by the name of the Tertullian. In those early years of Christianity, struggling to understand the right relationships, he asked: "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem” – in Latin, Quid ergo Athenis et Hierosolymis? He set up almost a gripping confrontation between the two symbolic poles of ancient authority whereby “Athens” represented worldly wisdom, Greek thought as source of Western philosophy and “Jerusalem” the divine wisdom and allegiance to the revealed faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In response to the question at hand, in this evening’s setting and indeed in the life of the larger Toronto community, we can proudly albeit humbly confess: there is much that one can say to the other, that is, there is an abundance of collaboration possible. Through this mutual engagement we may effectively contribute to the betterment of society, both spiritual and temporal – in respect of one’s own spheres of competencies. Let us not fear to dream of the many ways we can and even must come together, respectfully and passionately, in a labour of love, for the good of our people.
Many contemporary social commentators, especially those working through a lens illuminated by the light of faith, are mostly unanimous in noting that our world, if one can speak in such general terms, is undeniably fractured and wounded - and therefore in dire need of healing and mending. We ourselves take note of shattered commitments, broken families, radical secularism, much indifference and individualism, the rise of anxiety among the young, big brother overreaching, moral and religious relativism, confusion and uncertainty, abuse of office and much more. To paraphrase the wise and popular nursery rhyme: Humpty Dumpty experienced a 'code red' and we can't really figure out how to piece him back together again.
I am speaking here of the noticeable ethical, religious, political, economic and cultural indicators which point to a loss of inner harmony reflected in our fractured unity of communal living. We cannot ignore the emotional health of the family, understood as the most basic unit of any society, the ethical integrity and coherence of our public and private institutions and services, the financial and political spheres of influence, the wars that wage first in the human heart and only then in many countries around the globe - these underscore a general lack of cohesiveness and a call to always take the moral high ground, come what may.
Closer to home, we cannot but note the housing crisis being experienced by so many, the number of homeless in our neighborhoods and the plague of mental illness and slavish addictions that are at least partially the causes of this affliction, together with a lack of healthy interpersonal and community networks and support systems. And the list goes on.
But what can we do? Is there a way to heal our wounded world? Is there an effective antidote to address the malaise at hand? I think part of the hope is, to use an expression of The Christophers: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
One candle that can and must be lit to help dispel the darkness we experience is that of intentional engagement by persons of faith in the public square.
Men and women of faith have a unique mission to accomplish. Though eternal life is our ultimate goal, our faith is incarnational and thus engaged in this world and the impetus of why we must get involved, why we must care about our present world. We have a lifegiving contribution to give. Faith gives purpose and hope to our lives and to our living in society. It encourages us to help each other, to love each other, to serve each other, to lift each other up. Our freedom of religion allows us to bring that influence for good into public life with generosity, respect, civility and courtesy, and doing so, to be a positive influence in re-stitching the fabric of our tattered life in society.
Despite the shifting cultural and religious landscape, the role played by religious affiliation in public life is a positive and welcome happening called to influence and continue to shape society, becoming a catalyst of authentic and healthy social progress. In this vein, The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith in 2013, “developed an online survey for global leaders and executives to help us reflect on the significance of faith in society. The survey asked questions about issues, problems and geographic areas where faith does, or can, play a helpful role, and posed key questions about attitudes, beliefs and perceptions in regard to religious belief.” A major finding was that faith plays a positive role in global affairs and is considered to be a constructive force for good and can have a positive influence in promoting social change. The five areas where faith can make a difference by shaping mindsets, influencing stakeholders and mobilizing communities are: (i) human rights, (ii) peacemaking and conflict prevention, (iii) values, (iv) anti-corruption, (v) business ethics.
These findings seem to be an appropriate backdrop to the Holy Father’s teaching that: “The Church, while respecting the autonomy of political life, does not restrict her mission to the private sphere. On the contrary, “she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines” in the building of a better world, or fail to “reawaken the spiritual energy” that can contribute to the betterment of society... The Church “has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities.”
Our involvement needs to welcome the stranger and fight racism in its many forms; it must care for the environment and defend religious and other freedoms; it needs to promote a culture of encounter and of life, building a civilization of love while standing up for traditional moral values in keeping with natural law, rejecting dangerous ideologies and practices and striving for a healthy, virtuous, balanced and serene lifestyle.
There is an inevitable need, as it were, to challenge the power brokers in the wider culture; however, experience teaches that our culture is often ill-advised. We must bear this in mind when we engage in it with great respect. Like St. Paul in Acts 17, we seek to be attentive, noticing the very good practices already present and get involved in improving relationships, helping the needy, fostering research and development, social and environmental justice, civic and corporate governance and other fields of influence and public service.
To conclude, an inspiring true story: “Some call him the “tree whisperer.” Tony Rinaudo is, in fact, World Vision Australia’s tree maker. He’s a missionary and agronomist engaged in a thirty-year effort to share Jesus by combating deforestation across Africa’s Sahel, south of the Sahara.Realizing stunted “shrubs” were actually dormant trees, Rinaudo started pruning, tending, and watering them. His work inspired hundreds of thousands of farmers to save their failing farms by restoring nearby forests, reversing soil erosion. Farmers in Niger, for example, have doubled their crops and their income, providing food for an additional 2.5 million people per year”.
Perhaps our engagement in the world can be seen likewise in terms of pruning, tending and watering the instances of goodness, truth and beauty present in our contemporary culture and each day we can be that farmer who, with the sensitive and compassionate heart of Our Lady, invests time, passion and resources so that the garden of the Lord Jesus may bear fruit that lasts unto eternity.
I am before you as a disciple of Christ. And I speak to you as a son of a tailor and bookkeeper from the old country who came to this country and brought us up with such values which continue to inspire and direct me. For us, it was all about faith and family, respect and hard work, generosity and integrity. And as I consider all things from this perspective, I’d like to simply say: please, let us take care of one another; forgive each other, be patient and loving; God’s pleasure is to see his beloved children united and looking after each other. And our days will be filled with light and joy when we live daily by giving a piece of our heart to others.
https://www.hprweb.com/2023/10/toward-evangelization-of-creators-of-the-christian-culture/: In his 1969 book The Acting Person, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, made a further distinction between authentic and inauthentic attitudes in those who choose to participate in social life. Those whom he characterized as having an authentic attitude were defined by two characteristics: an attitude of solidarity and an attitude of righteous opposition. The attitude of solidarity is an attitude of commitment to community, while righteous opposition is an attitude of intolerance to actions or thoughts that would be detrimental to the community. On the other hand, those with inauthentic attitudes were defined by the characteristics of conformism and avoidance. Conformism is mindless imitation and complacency, and a form of alienation that is particularly related to consumerism and materialism. Avoidance is an attitude of retreat from difficult situations, a straightforward avoidance of participation.
 As we read in a recent publication from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: “When we engage the public square as Catholics, we are first and foremost disciples of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We do not act alone but as members of his mystical body. In the public square, we are called to confirm our faith through our words and actions, living our public faith in a responsive manner in which we seek to advance what is true and good when we see injustice, evil, and threats to human dignity and human freedom emerging in our society. In short, when confronted by what is wrong and false, we must confess truth and, in so doing, confess Christ.” - Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Letter: Living as Catholics in the Public Square – Freedom of Religion and Conscience in Canada, 2023, 20.