THIS WEEKEND is the 150th anniversary of the setting up of the Confederation of Canada in 1867 by the British North America Act of Parliament. The picture here shows a statue of the best known of the martyrs of Canada (1649), St Jean de Brébeuf, whose feast day we keep every year in October. The life and history of some countries in the world are particularly important for us as Catholics as they perhaps teach us particular things about our character as a worldwide Church.
If you ever watch the American sitcom How I met Your Mother you will know that the character Robin Scherbatsky is Canadian (as is the actress playing her) and sometimes mocked on this account; there’s a tendency for Canadians to be the butt of unfair jokes; but this weekend is a good time to think about the place, especially as Catholics in Canada are by far the largest single Christian denomination (38.7% of the total population); there are also strong ties with this country through history and the Commonwealth. I have never been there but I have relatives there since three great uncles of mine emigrated to Canada in the Depression in search of work. BBC Radio 3 has been broadcasting special programmes during the last week to mark the contribution made by Canadians to music and the arts in general.
Of course the place of indigenous peoples such as the Inuit in Canada is such that talk of it being ‘founded’ in 1867 needs to be qualified. Although many died from disease the relationship with French and British settlers seems to have been better than elsewhere in America.
From the point of view of Catholicism it is significant that Canada, according to the OECD, is one of the most educated countries in the world: it is the top country in the world in terms of tertiary education (51% of the population). Given the vast investment of the Catholic Church in education, this is a significant achievement; also completely bilingual education is common across the country. One would expect a good record in terms of education to have paid off in terms of many attitudes in society One area where this would be true from a Catholic angle is in relation to multiculturalism, attitudes to migration and support for refugees. Here policies and view-points across the political spectrum are strikingly different from some of what we are seeing elsewhere in North America – so Canada is one of the most ethnically and culturally mixed countries in the world, with a large proportion of its citizens having been born elsewhere and Canada has a strong record in relation to welcoming refugees. Moreover successive governments have promoted strong public services funded from taxation, proper gun control and the outlawing of capital punishment.
How important to us is it that we should smile? Here are some words about smiling from one of the best Catholic theologians and philosophers of the last century, a Canadian Jesuit called Bernard Lonergan:
‘The meaning of a smile is, as it were, a meaning that pre-supposes a situation, a meeting, an encounter, a set of previous personal relationships. It acknowledges the inter-personal situation and adds a further determination, a further constituent, to the present situation. It does not so much describe the subject as reveal him, betray him. There is no deduction from the smile to the person, but by the smile the person becomes, as it were, transparent. He is in communication with another, and that communication is something that antedates the distinction between sign and what is signified, the distinction between the soul that means and the body by which the meaning is expressed.’