By Peter Stockland
His Grace Francis Leo offered up gratitude to Christ as he was made Archbishop of Toronto at today’s Mass in a packed St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica that was equally filled with the spirit of the Annunciation.
“The most important thing is gratefulness to Jesus Christ … gratitude for our salvation, for the mercy he shows us, the wisdom and courage he gives us, and the grace with which he lifts us up,” Archbishop Leo said during his homily. “How could we ever live without God?”
The 51-year-old former Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, named by Pope Francis on Feb. 11 to lead the Toronto Roman Catholic Archdiocese, drew applause from those gathered for his words, although he later jokingly apologized for the homily’s length and promised it was not a sign of things to come.
An hour before the installation Mass began, the Archbishop-designated was in the central aisle of St. Michael’s greeting his new parishioners and posing for pictures with them, giving the anticipated pageantry an air of hospitality and humanity.
Toronto’s Catholic good and great were among the 1,000-plus invitees to the Mass, including interfaith guests, Indigenous representatives, and a scattering of politicians.
The hierarchy of Catholicism in Canada was also out in force led by Primate Cardinal Archbishop Gérald Lacroix, retired Toronto Archbishop Cardinal Thomas Collins, Papal Nuncio Ivan Jurkovic, Antons Prikulis, first secretary of the Papal Nunciature, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, 60 bishops representing dioceses in Toronto and across the country, and enough priests to fill the entire centre row of pews in the Cathedral Basilica.
Yet omnipresent was the spirit of the humble, ordinary woman whom Archbishop Leo affectionately called “Myriam of Nazareth” as he extolled her “world-changing fiat” (sign of consent) at the Annunciation to bear the Christ child and bring salvation into the world.
“The qualities of Mary should always imbue our responses,” he said. “She makes Jesus real and personal to us (to) open our hearts and relationships so Christ is born anew again.”
Leo then consecrated the Toronto archdiocese to “the immaculate heart of the Ever Blessed Virgin Mary,” drawing a parallel between his declaration and that of Pope Francis when he consecrated Russia and Ukraine to Mary exactly one year ago.
The Feast of the Annunciation’s elevation of consent to God’s will was central to the liturgy not only in the Gospel reading from Luke, but in the hymns and other readings. A letter from Pope Francis to “Francis, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God,” emphasized Leo’s devotion to Mary and called on him to “communicate the signs of the living Christ to the sheep entrusted to you with the docility to do whatever He will tell you at the command of the Immaculate Mother – cf. John 2:4.”
The reference was to Mary’s words at the Wedding Feast of Cana, which are a prelude to Jesus’ first miracle, and which Leo has adopted as his motto and had emblazoned on his Bishop’s coat of arms.
The tone of willing obedience was set at the very beginning of the Mass when the Papal Nuncio asked the Archbishop-designate if he was willing to accept the Metropolitan See of Toronto.
“With faith in Lord Jesus Christ and love of God in my heart, I do accept and resolve to serve faithfully this local church,” Leo said.
He was then presented with his Archbishop’s crozier, making concretely visible his pastoral stewardship of Toronto Archdiocesan Catholics. In accepting the office, Leo joins luminaries such as founding Bishop Michael Power (1841-1847), Archbishop Neil McNeil, (1912-1934), Cardinal James McGuigan, who served as archbishop for 37 years from 1934-1971, Cardinal Emmett Carter (1978-1990), Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic (1990-2006), and of course former Archbishop Thomas Collins, who remains a Cardinal despite retiring as archbishop after 16 years of service.
In concluding remarks at the Mass, Collins said he often received impromptu, unsolicited commiseration during his time as Toronto’s Catholic shepherd for what some consider the “terrible burden” the office carries. He admitted the role can weigh heavily on ecclesiastical shoulders at times but at least equal is the joy of carrying out God’s will, which “always triumphs and gives joy to the mission” of being Archbishop of Toronto.
“We’re on our way through the valley of death, through the vale of tears, but with a song in our hearts to see the marvellous works of God’s grace,” he said. “With his (Archbishop Leo’s) devotion to God, there is joy in my heart to see him as Archbishop of Toronto.”