My friends at Salt + Light Television are in the cable television business — or perhaps better to say, in the evangelization business, cable television department. The greatest profit I gain from their work though is not their TV programs but their special documentaries, available on DVD. I have about a half dozen myself, but there are more than 30 to date, ranging from devotional materials for Lent and profiles of religious communities to lives of the saints and current controversies.

On the last point, their documentary on the Venerable Pius XII and the Second World War is a signal service, dealing with the historical slander that the late Holy Father was indifferent to, or even complicit in, the Holocaust. Given that Pope Benedict XVI has entered the war over Pius XII’s reputation in full battle armour — declaring last year that Pius likely did more than any other person to save Jews — the material assembled in the documentary, A Hand of Peace, is essential viewing.

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But merely articulating this noble concept is meaningless without the will to vigourously defend it.

So it is encouraging to see this important issue injected into the election debate through a promise from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives that’s been endorsed by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Pope Benedict XVI calls religious freedom the path to peace and now we find it may even be a  source of harmony between Liberals and Conservatives.

As part of their election platform, the Conservatives have pledged to create an Office of Religious Freedoms that would operate within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This new office would monitor religious freedom abroad, promote it as a tenet of Canadian foreign policy and support programs and organizations that advance the cause of religious freedom. It would also offer safe haven to persecuted religious minorities through “generous” refugee programs.
The film Soul Surfer hit theatres April 8. It tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, left, who loses an arm during a shark attack. (photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions)NEW YORK - The true story of a teenage girl who overcame a horrific shark attack to rise to the top of her sport is translated to the big screen in Soul Surfer (Tri-Star), an uplifting film about the power of faith and perseverance.

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a happy, ordinary 13-year-old living in Hawaii with her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid) and two brothers. The entire family surfs, but Bethany shows the most promise, winning competitions and gaining a sponsor.

When they’re not at the beach, Bethany’s family is often in church, where sermons are given by youth group leader Sara (country singer Carrie Underwood in her film debut).
Mags won the Wellesley Idol competition at the age of 15.It is with sadness that I am announcing this to be my last column for The Catholic Register. It has been a tremendous 14 years and I am humbled to have had this opportunity. I am also happy to finish with the privilege of introducing a new generation of young Catholic artists. I pray that they can follow in the footsteps of Matt Maher by breaking through into the general Christian market and perhaps even the secular market.

First, there is Mags (magsthesinger.com), who is my daughter. After winning the Wellesley Idol competition at the age of 15 as well as being a finalist in the Faith FM shining star singing competition, she recently released a jazz Christmas jazz album,Dreaming of Christmas.  

Kathleen Dunn (kathleendunn.ca) has released two albums, the most recent His Saving Love.  Among her accomplishments are ministering for 13,000 at the National March for Life on Parliament Hill.
Four months ago the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace announced procedural changes to stop donor money going to organizations sympathetic to abortion. Those changes, which came after a bishops' investigation revealed some D&P funds had gone to groups hostile to Church teaching on life issues, seemed to turn the page on a bumpy chapter in D&P's history.

So it's difficult to comprehend last week's unseemly events in Ottawa where Archbishop Terrence Prendergast had to intervene to cancel a D&P initiative because the speaker from Mexico, a priest, runs a human rights organization that is chummy with a pro-abortion group. The archbishop must be wondering how in heaven's name this could have happened. How could D&P, his own staff, fellow bishops and the priest himself, Fr. Luis Arriaga, put the Archbishop in such an awkward position.

Prendergast is one bishop unreservedly on the front line in the anti-abortion crusade, whether it be in his public statements, joining the annual March for Life or, last year as Quebec bishops were noticeably absent, standing with Cardinal Marc Ouellet when Canada's then-primate was under attack for unequivocally defending life. So he would have been rightfully perplexed and perturbed at reports that his archdiocese was welcoming a speaker from a D&P partner agency that is linked to a pro-abortion organization called Right to Decide.
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper let it be known earlier this year that he was “personally” in favour of the death penalty, the opposition New Democrats and Liberals exploded like firecrackers.

But was Harper’s support for the culture of death really so surprising? He and his governing Conservatives had already tried to reverse an important pro-life orientation of Canadian foreign policy when they decided to end the practice of seeking clemency for Canadians facing capital punishment in other countries. (The decision was eventually rebuffed by the courts.)

The Prime Minister’s personal preference is also unsurprising in view of the fact that most Canadians appear to agree with him. Harper is a crowd-pleaser, and that’s what crowd-pleasers do: go with the polls.
Is the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P) indisputably committed to the Gospel of life? Is the pro-life cause as important as, say, their campaign against bottled water? Recent events in Ottawa have brought into question D&P’s pro-life commitment, and therefore the prudence of contributing money to its annual Share Lent campaign.

D&P is the “official interna- tional development organiza- tion of the Catholic Church in Canada” and has the support of Canada’s bishops in raising funds in Catholic parishes. D&P isn’t a missionary organization in the traditional sense — it does not do explicit evangelization. Rather, it supports “partners in the Global South who promote alternatives to unfair social, political and economic structures. ... In the struggle for human dignity, the organization forms alliances with northern and southern groups working for social change. It also supports women in their search for social and economic justice.”

Its vision and mission statements say nothing about God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, Christi- anity, evangelization, salvation or the proclamation of the kingdom. In its own self-presentation it is indistinguishable from a secular hu- manitarian organization, save for its official fundraising activities in Catholic dioceses.
Michael O’Brien, the leading Catholic novelist in the English language, has sent millions of words into print. He has painted numerous sacred images which tell their own stories, pictures being worth thousands of words. Yet the words he spoke on March 28 at Saint Paul University in Ottawa had an uncommon power, for they were a personal testimonial of grace.

“I am proud to say that I am a Roman Catholic. It is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful that we have a Saviour who dwells with us in this magnificent Church. This is our home. The Church is full of Judases, but it is overwhelmingly full of saints.”

Regarding the Judases, O’Brien knows of what he speaks. The artist was speaking as part of a panel organized by the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal, Canada’s leading Christian think tank, and Conversations Cultural Centre, a project of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. The panel addressed the Indian residential school system under the title, “From Darkness of Heart to a Heart of Forgiveness.” The evening was sombre, with the weight of sin clearly felt, and also hopeful, with the liberation wrought by mercy also evident.
A sorry trend of modern times is that election campaigning often exposes the ugly side of democracy. As voters, we should stand on guard to prevent that ugliness from overtaking us.

Instead of a busy spring session of Parliament the nation has been dragged into an election campaign that already is typified by anger. Many voters are rightfully peeved to be called to the polls for the fourth time in seven years at a cost of more than $300 million for a five-week exercise that portends the status quo, another Conservative minority. Canadian armed forces are fighting in Afghanistan and Libya and the country faces a lengthy list of social, environmental and economic challenges as it climbs out of the recession.  The times call for strong leadership but instead our MPs, just 29 months after the last election, are out on the hustings and Ottawa is all but deserted.

Piled on top of all that annoyance is exasperation at the schoolyard behaviour of many candidates, particularly the party leaders. The campaign was less than an hour old last week before the honourable members were calling each other liars.  That was followed by the inevitable attack ads that individually offend candidates and collectively degrade our democracy. It’s enough to drive any voter to despair and cynicism.
At the time of this writing, missiles and bombs launched by the United States, Britain and France are raining down on Libya, provoking yet another crisis in the political conscience of the West. We must ask ourselves hard questions. Is such military intervention by our governments justified in this instance? By what authority, and under what circumstances, does any sovereign power have the duty to attack another country?

Catholic citizens must also ask themselves what, if anything, in the Church’s social teaching prepares us to deal with the urgent possibility that many Libyans could be killed if the regime in Tripoli succeeds in crushing the current rebellion.

The set of principles for the conduct of just and justifiable warfare was crafted in the Middle Ages in a bid to govern international conflicts. The idea behind the doctrine of just war was noble and optimistic. It held that, in a fallen world where war is a constant fact of life, some semblance of civilization could prevail even in violent confrontations.
Faith communities are on the front lines of service to the poor, right across Canada. Most of the volunteers at soup kitchens, drop-ins and other street-level programs are members of communities of various faiths. And these services are (unfortunately) needed more and more.

As only one example, in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood, the St. Joe’s Supper Table experienced an 18-per-cent increase in people needing to be fed in 2009, up to 130 guests per evening. It got worse the next year: between August 2009 and August 2010, demand grew another 26 per cent. St. Joe’s recorded its highest-ever number of guests, 191, on Sept. 14, 2010. That was an incredible load for a facility that can only seat  24 people at a time.

Estimates of Canadians living in poverty ranged up to 4.3 million during the height of the recent recession. Almost one in 10 Canadian children live below the poverty line. People of faith are becoming increasingly aware that such high levels of poverty are far beyond piecemeal or charitable solutions. So they are starting to speak out, demanding change. The most senior leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths gathered in Ottawa in early March to urge federal politicians to respond to this growing crisis by taking concrete action. Bishop François Lapierre of St. Hyacinthe represented the Catholic bishops.