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Posted April 8, 2003

Pope remembers Canadian cardinal for selfless service

Toronto Star News

Pope John Paul remembered his old friend Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter as a generous servant to the church in a condolence telegram sent yesterday from the Vatican.

The Pope praised Carter's "many years of selfless service both as archbishop of the church in Toronto and as a member of the College of Cardinals."

Carter, an archbishop who rose to the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic Church and became spiritual leader of Canada's largest English-speaking diocese, died Sunday at age 91.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese of Toronto said Carter will "be at rest" in St. Michael's Cathedral -- where the public can come to pay their respects -- from 3 p.m. today until the funeral mass Thursday morning.

The tributes poured in yesterday.

"A man of keen intelligence and wit, Cardinal Carter welcomed openness and debate on moral, social, and political issues," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in a statement.

"His contributions to the Roman Catholic Church and to Canada will always be remembered."

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves remembered Carter as an outspoken man who continues to hold a place in the hearts of many Canadians.

The friendship between the Pope and Carter dated back to the days when the pontiff was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland and Carter a bishop of London, Ont.

Even though Carter suffered a disabling stroke in mid-1981 and had been in poor health since the fall of 1984, he still maintained a busy workload that included involvement in Pope John Paul's visit to Canada for World Youth Day last summer.

Carter was felled by his stroke two weeks after the Pope was wounded in an assassination attempt, and the cardinal once described their first meeting afterwards.

"We were struck down by the same bullet," Carter told the Pope. "You must take it easy."

"And what about you?" the pontiff asked.

"I have learned to accept my condition," said Carter.

"Ah, you must not only accept it," the Pope said. "You must accept it with joy."

"Joy is the hard part," the cardinal recalled thinking.

Carter became archbishop of Toronto in 1978and became cardinal the following year. Before his appointment to Toronto, he was bishop of London, Ont., for 15 years.

One of eight children of middle-class parents in Montreal, Carter was among four of his family to choose the religious life. His older brother, Alexander, was bishop of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and two of his sisters became nuns.

Carter rose to become one of Canada's most prominent prelates -- variously regarded as a liberal theologian who played a leading role in the Second Vatican Council's sweeping changes in the church; and at times as a cautious mover, clinging to many tenets, taking a hard line against ordination of women and other touchy issues.

Unlike his spiritual predecessors, Carter moved in lofty, influential circles, seen frequently in the company of business leaders, former Ontario premier William Davis and movers and shakers of other political stripes, including former Liberal leader John Turner. One of Davis's last major decisions as premier was to pledge full financing for separate schools in the province.

Ordained a priest in 1937, Carter spent the next 25 years as an educationist in Quebec, acting as principal of Montreal's St. Joseph's Teachers College and sitting for much of the time on the Montreal Catholic School Commission.

Some quotes from former Toronto archbishop Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter, who died Sunday at the age of 91.

On abortion:

"The conviction of the sacredness of human life from the beginning to the end is not up for grabs in the Catholic Church. The purveyors of death to unborn children would convince us that we are divided or hesitant on the (abortion) issue. We are not. We are more united on this matter than on any other. And we will stay that way.''

On religion and politics:

"I'm a good friend of (former Ontario premier) Bill Davis. But that doesn't mean he consults me very much about anything or that I tell him he has to do something. It's not like the old days in Quebec when the bishops were powerful enough to demand a school or hospital and were right into the power structure. Ontario Catholics were always in the minority, and so they were never involved in the power structure in the same way.''

His message after suffering from a stroke:

"Don't lose sight of your spirituality. The day may come when it is all you've got. When I crumbled and found that I could not move my left leg or my left arm, when I had to be led like a little child, when I didn't know if the next few hours were going to be life or death, all I had was my spiritual peace and my confidence in the Lord.''

On life as a priest:

"I would like to have been married and to have my own children and my own family. I would go further than that. I would say that any priest or any religious person who didn't feel that way has all the potential of being a disaster for the people of God. But that does not change my basic conviction that celibacy is a marvellous sign in a world gone mad for sex and that the dedication of our lives for the building of the kingdom of God is a worth-while gift which we give gladly even though at times it hurts. I consider that this dedication and this life of service is, next to my faith and my baptism, the greatest gift I could have received from God.''