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The Catholic Register offers its readers dependable information and opinion as a joyful servant of God's pilgrim church.

Decades of failed policies and broken treaties have created an appalling level of social and economic misery that affect every layer of aboriginal life. So the first thing needed to fix the problem is a decision about where to start.

To that end, First Nations leaders will meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and key government members on Jan. 24 in an Ottawa summit to address what Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg ranks as the most important issue facing Canadian society today —  forging a new relationship between the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people and the rest of Canada.

Archbishop Collins - A wise choice

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The title of “Cardinal” derives from the Latin word cardo, meaning hinge. When cardinals became integral to the Church many centuries ago, they were likened to hinges that let the gates of the Vatican swing open to the outside world. Cardinals were the hardware that, in a tangible way, connected the people to the Pope and the Pope to the people.

That function — advising the Pope and being his eyes and ears among Catholics worldwide — remains vital today and is why Archbishop Thomas Collins was such an astute selection for the College of Cardinals. As an archbishop in Toronto the past five years and in Edmonton seven years before that, Collins has been a sturdy hinge for the Canadian Church.

Religion a core value

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The Christmas morning bomb attacks on Nigerian churches that killed dozens of worshippers underscores why the Stephen Harper government cannot act soon enough to establish an Office of Religious Freedom.

Its creation was promised during last spring’s federal election and, under Foreign Minister John Baird, consultations began in October to set parameters for the new department. The Minister has promised details in coming weeks but, as yet, has not announced an opening date for the new office. Horrors like the carnage in Nigeria should spur him to keep this initiative on a government front burner.

Shahbaz Bhatti - Martyr of faith

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The Catholic News Service, which provides The Register with Vatican reports and international news, has named Pope Benedict XVI the top newsmaker of 2011.  There is no disputing that  Benedict dominated Catholic headlines as he passed his fifth anniversary as pontiff with another year of tireless service and faithful ministry. But in terms of a Catholic person of the year we respectfully nominate the Pakistan martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.

Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minorities, was ambushed on his doorstep on March 2 because he lived openly as a Catholic in a hostile anti-Christian environment. He died because following in Christ’s footsteps compelled him to denounce his country’s detestable blasphemy laws and defend a Christian woman condemned to death on trumped-up blasphemy charges.

Christmas wishes

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Our consumer society is afflicted by a “commercial contamination” that spikes in December. As Christmas approaches, we stay busy decorating, partying, drafting our wish list or buying and wrapping gifts for others.

In this mad rush we too often become guilty of neglecting the authentic peace, joy and spirit of Christmas. This is a season to celebrate Christ’s coming with prayer and reflection and also a time to look beyond our own family and friends to reach out in joy, charity and prayer to the forlorn and forgotten.

Show genuine care

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Before Canada’s federal and First Nations leaders hold a summit in late January to address the shameful state of native reserves, they should read Megan Blair’s plea for help in this issue of The Register.

They should feel the pain, share the despair and experience the sorrow she witnesses daily. A registered nurse in Moose Factory, Ont., Blair’s patients include the sick and dying from Attawapiskat, the small northern village that is Canada’s new symbol of neglect for its First Nations peoples.

“The poverty is immense,” she writes. “But it is not just a poverty of material things. It is a poverty of spirit. There is so much hopelessness and suffering.”

Mind God’s gift

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It was hardly news on Nov. 28 when federal Environment Minister Peter Kent dismissed the Kyoto protocol as a “big blunder.” Like the Liberals who signed the climate-change treaty in 1997, the Conservatives have made little effort to honour Canadian promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But Canada is not alone. As 190 nations gathered in Durban for a climate conference, the spirit of Kyoto, if not the treaty itself, was vanishing faster than the icebergs it was supposed to save. Kyoto was doomed by the many countries that cynically signed on and then did nothing and by a handful of big countries, such as the United States and China, that snubbed the treaty all along and gave big polluters like Canada an excuse to renege.

Toss Section 13

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Bills introduced from the backbenches of Parliament are typically cast adrift unless the government opts to throw them a life preserver. So we applaud Justice Minister Rob Nicholson for tossing a lifeline to a private member’s bill that seeks repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 13 comprises the paragraphs of an otherwise worthwhile act that makes hate speech a punishable offence. Hateful language, however transmitted, is abhorrent and society has an obligation to combat it robustly. But Section 13, which evolved from legislation in the 1960s to silence racist telephone hotlines, is manifestly flawed and its repeal is long overdue.

Offering real hope

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The Vatican is accustomed to accounts of miraculous recovery. But it didn’t take a miracle for Sharon Porter to captivate a recent gathering of cardinals, scientists, theologians and philosophers. Her story is not miraculous, just remarkable.

Porter suffers from systemic scleroderma, a dreadful auto-immune disease that causes hardening of the skin and internal organs, mobility problems and severe pain. There is no cure. But three years ago Porter’s own adult stem cells were used to rebuild her immune system and today she is virtually symptom free.

Why this matters in the Vatican is that, through the Pontifical Council for Culture, it recently signed a five-year, $1-million initiative with NeoStem, Inc., an American specialist in stem-cell research. Like the Church, NeoStem believes it is immoral — and unnecessary — to obtain stem cells by destroying embryos. It has aligned with the Church to promote adult stem cell research that is effective and ethical.

Opening doors

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As anyone who has tried to sponsor a parent or grandparent into Canada can attest, our family reunification program is broken. So the immigration minister deserves credit for renovating it.

It’s unfortunate, however, that recent reforms announced by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to reduce a backlog of reunifications could adversely affect other desperate immigrants and refugees. The reforms will make it easier for the parents and grandparents of new Canadians to come here, but asylum seekers, economic migrants and people seeking humanitarian exemptions into Canada will soon be competing for fewer spaces.

Celebrate life

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The birth of a baby should always be a celebration of God’s will being done. But much of the joy accompanying the arrival of tiny Danica May Camacho on Oct. 31 was offset by joyless fretting about the future of the planet.

Danica May, born in Manila, was one of several babies symbolically presented to the world on Halloween as the planet’s population reached seven billion, according to the United Nations Population Fund. She was the second child born to Catholic parents who subsist on the meagre salary of a Filipino bus driver. Naturally, they were delighted to welcome a new baby into their family.