The former cardinal of Toronto Aloysius Ambrozic recent death was totally eclipsed by the very public state funeral of NDP leader Jack Layton. There is a tragic irony here. If one ever needed proof that that organized religion and in particular that of the largest denomination in Canada,Roman Catholicism had lost voice and the power to inspire, it was the phenomenal outpouring of emotion over Layton’s passing and the almost eerie silence over the cardinal’s passing.
For many Canadians Jack Layton had become the signifier, the one who pointed to the values of God’s reign as understood in the bible. In our midst in a place where we least expected it, in a city where bank towers had replaced churches as urban symbols of what we valued, Canadians mourned not a religious figure but a different politician, the leader of the New Democratic Party. It was here not far from “Bay Street” that a man sprouted up from among us who never mouthed the name Jesus but who lived Jesus in his consistent defense of the marginalized.
Like an Old Testament prophet. Layton did not offer dead ritual which did not go anywhere. He did not spout pious phrases behind institutional walls. In his effervescent way “Jack” walked the walk of the Hebrew prophets and the Galilean rabbi. He did it on the streets of the city and in its council chambers.He did not offer charity but demanded justice.
For decades we watched him advocate for the homeless, for those “born outside the inn”, for those excluded. We saw him defend gay and lesbian people denied rights and jobs; we saw him speak out and organize the White Ribbon Campaign against violence on women; we walked with him on peace rallies when no prelates were in sight;we admired his bike-riding to work and his defense of the environment Jack Layton was consistently on the right side of history.
The fact that the former cardinal of Toronto died at the same time with little fanfare and the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition elicited such an outpouring of love and admiration is a tragic irony which needs to be unpacked within the walls of the Roman Catholic Church and indeed all of organized religion.