With the passing of Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte on April 8, Canadians say goodbye to a man who demonstrated by his actions what the Catholic Church is truly about.
Cardinal Turcotte, the emeritus archbishop of Montreal, was humble, drole and friendly to everyone from panhandlers to celebrities. He liked nothing more than a good chin-wag about his favourite sport — hockey — and his favourite team — the Canadiens, of course.
My best memory of him was from our own expedition to attend the funeral of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, in September 1997. He was one of the spiritual leaders of the official delegation of 10 Canadians led by Madame Aline Chretien, the wife of then Prime Minister Jean Chretien. I was there as a lay person and scribe to chronicle the event for the Catholic press.
Given that we spent five days on this trip, of which only six hours were consumed by the funeral, we had a lot of time to rub shoulders on the plane, or waiting for planes, or driving to and from planes. It was a grueling circumnavigation of the globe and the cardinal’s warmth and dry humour kept us smiling.
A couple high points:
- Attending morning Eucharist at which he presided. Among the congregation were Madame Chretien, me and a handful of government staff who kept us on schedule. Cardinal Turcotte reminded us in his homily that we had been privileged to honour in Mother Teresa a woman who kept the poor and sick first and foremost in thoughts, prayers and actions.
- Joining the cardinal on a tour of the King of Thailand’s palace in Bangkok on a stopover after the funeral. He was like a small child in his delight and awe at the grandeur of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which forms part of the palace grounds. He showed the same reverence for the praying Buddhists as he would for any other person of faith.
Cardinal Turcotte always excelled at common sense and faith in the goodwill of others. He spoke his mind when he had to, but understood well our human frailties and need for compassion and mercy.
He was one of the earlier episcopal appointments of John Paul II, but his pastoral approach demonstrated exactly what Pope Francis is talking about when he says we need to be a Church for the poor.
May he rest in peace.