By Jennifer Green

(Ottawa Citizen, June 27) -As funding for religious schools looms as an issue in the upcoming provincial election, Ottawa’s new archbishop, Terrence Prendergast, made it clear yesterday that fighting for Catholic education will be high on his agenda.

“It’s an important issue,” he told reporters on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral on Sussex Drive just after his installment. “It has a role in society as a whole.”

He was careful to avoid any blunt statements, but he reminded the group that Ontario is constitutionally guaranteed a separate school system. He said one of his priorities this year will be to visit Catholic high schools.

Ontario was guaranteed a Catholic school system in the British North America Act, written at a time when Catholics were a minority who needed to be protected in a largely Protestant Ontario.

But now, many Catholic commentators say separate schools are crumbling as the faith weakens within and lobby groups clamour for change from without. The group OneSchoolSystem wants the separate school system abolished, and points out that even the United Nations has called it discriminatory.

Meanwhile, parents of other faiths who want religious education for their children say it is unfair Catholics are the only group to get full provincial funding.

Ontario Conservative leader John Tory has said he will come up with a policy on the issue before the Oct. 10 provincial election.

In his sermon at a ceremony Monday night, Archbishop Prendergast underlined his concern for young Catholics and scolded their parents: “A large percentage of our youth live in households where their parents do not regularly attend Sunday mass. For an increasing number of young people, the family is not a source of stability, affirmation and religious education, and the church has to be there for them.”

The archbishop left Ottawa almost immediately after yesterday’s ceremony, first for Halifax, and then for Rome where, on Friday, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, he and four other Canadian archbishops will take part in an ancient liturgical ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The newly appointed archbishops, all named by Pope Benedict XVI over the past seven months, are Gerard Pettipas, (Alberta); Richard Smith (Edmonton); Archbishop Prendergast; Brendan O’Brien (Kingston) and Thomas Collins (Toronto).

Each will receive a pallium, a circle of woven lambswool embroidered with black crosses and weighted down with pieces of lead on the chest and the nape of the neck. The wool over the shoulders evokes the lamb over the shoulders of Christ.

The wool for the pallium comes from two lambs offered every year to the Pope on Jan. 21, the Feast of St. Agnes. The lambs are blessed at the Church of St. Agnes, one wearing a red floral crown, the other white, the latter to represent the saint’s purity and the former her martyrdom.

The lambs are then shorn and the pallia made. The night before the feast, the pallia are stored overnight in a silver casket above Peter’s tomb in the Vatican crypt.

This degree of ceremony was initiated by Pope John Paul II. Before that, “some people just got their pallium in the mail,” said Archbishop Prendergast.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007