Protesters gather in Calgary, AB, for the 1 Million March 4 Children rally, Sept. 20, 2023. (Quinton Amundson)

Catholics must help combat ‘anti-faith’ forces, imam tells bishops as plenary opens

Canada’s Catholic bishops were urged by a Muslim Imam at their annual plenary assembly to speak out for “moral rights” — while also being counselled by a Cardinal to pursue reforms that make the Church “open to all.”

Imam Abdul Hai Patel used brief remarks during a session on inter-religious dialogue to laud the “historic moment” of a new formal working relationship between Catholic and Muslim leaders. But Patel told the assembled bishops a key aspect of moving forward in good faith is asserting common moral positions in the face of “anti-faith” forces.

Mosque-Church dialogue, he said, can be a means to counterbalance those whose assertion of human rights seek to override the moral foundations of both faiths. 

“We cannot solve the problems of the Middle East but as inheritors of Abrahamic faith, we can work together to solve the problems of Canada (and) preserve the values of our faith,” the Imam said.

His comments came at the soft launch of a website in development since 2019 that will serve as a forum for “building bridges” between Catholicism and Islam, which he noted is now the second largest faith tradition in Canada.  The site,, is expected to be public early in 2024.

“The values of our faiths are being challenged by the anti-faith movement, so we have to be steadfast in our principles and speak out,” Patel told The Catholic Register following his comments to the bishops. “These are issues I hope we will go forward on together.”

He said the Sept. 20 Muslim-initiated Canada-wide march against “gender ideology” in schools is one such issue but stressed so is medically assisted suicide (MAiD), which he said he has discussed with Cardinal Thomas Collins.

Patel’s urgency contrasted with the tone, though did not contradict the message, delivered by Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle at the opening of the plenary assembly held at Kingbridge Conference Centre north of Toronto. 

Speaking via video link from his native Philippines, Tagle placed the theo-bureaucratic reform of the Roman Curia in the much deeper context of Church renewal to rouse evangelization and revive in Catholics awareness that “every Christian is a missionary disciple” of Christ.

As such, he told the Canadian bishops, the restructuring of the curia according to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution Predicate Evangelium is not meant to be read as a “set of bylaws” that all dioceses, and by inference parishes, must follow by rote globally. 

“Do not clone the Roman curia,” Tagle said. “There is no intention of doing that.”

Rather, he stressed, the reforms are intended to promote the essential “missionary conversion of the whole Church.” Francis sees structural change to the bureaucratic offices of the Church exemplified by the establishment of the dicastery offices as an “optic” to more clearly see how the evangelizing mission can be galvanized and carried out.

“Reform is not an end,” Tagle said. “It’s a means to more effective evangelization.”

He noted that while all dicasteries within the Vatican are theoretically equal, the dicastery of evangelization is referenced first  — and Francis presides over it. 

“The Bishop of Rome is to be the first evangelizer. He is the universal pastor.”

That puts the curia at the service of the Church, and certainly not “above the bishops” in Canada or anywhere else: “The curia should serve the bishops.”

Its renewal, framed in the language of Pentecost, seeks to overcome divisions within the Church that arose from “ethnic, ritual, tribal and caste” affiliations and unify Catholics not just with each other but with the world they are called to evangelize.

“The Church must become a home for all, especially those who feel they do not belong,” Tagle said. “(it is) not only for the Catholic Church but for the whole of creation.”

The bookend-style messages delivered by Tagle and Patel were apropos to the timing of the plenary itself, which comes as four Canadian bishops  set off next week for the month-long Synod of Synodalities in Rome, which Pope Francis has heralded as a global opportunity to renew the Church as a “listening” institution first and foremost.

One of them is Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller, who was asked at a press conference how he foresees the differing emphases represented by Patel and Tagle being addressed at the October event. 

“We’ll see how that works out,” he said with a shrug and a broad smile.


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