Book News

One of the best-selling Canadian authors alive over the last four months has been a 96-year-old nun who lives in Chofu City, Tokyo, and teaches women’s Bible study classes.

New play explores the Nativity's mysteries


Toronto - Madhuri Ramadeen credits a Christmas play from her childhood for bringing her to Christ.

Children's books: Space, bugs, saints, humor and more


WASHINGTON - The following children's books are suitable for Christmas giving:

Youth survive streets to find hope


“Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11), he might as well have been talking directly to Covenant House president and CEO Kevin Ryan. Ryan may be a 45-year-old lawyer and former civil servant, but he doesn’t go to work in the morning. He goes to war.

“The stakes are very high. This is a street war,” Ryan told The Catholic Register. “We’re fighting against the bullies and the bullets and the predators and the pornographers and the pervs and the guns and the gangs… We lose kids. We lose them to the streets. We lose them to despair. We lose them to suicide. But we win more kids by far.”

Ryan’s report from the frontlines of Covenant House’s war for children has been catalogued in Almost Home, Ryan’s best selling book. Almost Home has hit number five on the Washington Post non-fiction list. It’s creeping up the Publisher’s Weekly rankings for trade paperbacks. It’s number two on Amazon’s list of Canadian international and world politics titles.

Co-authored with former New York Times staff writer Tina Kelley, Almost Home tells the story of six Covenant House kids, one of them Canadian and another who spent years on the streets of Toronto and Vancouver. They aren’t Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. Murial meets Covenant House Vancouver as a prostitute who had three different pimps by the time she was 20, an addict who had been getting high from the age of 12 and still living with the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. Meagan was thrown out of her family home as a teenager because she is gay. Paulie was beaten over and over by his father, but found refuge in drugs.

“They don’t see virtue in their lives. The message they’ve gotten over and over and over is, ‘You’re broken, you’re defective, you’re unwanted,’ ” said Ryan.

There aren’t necessarily happy endings to such stories. But these are stories people need to hear because lives are at stake, said Ryan.

Between 20 and 40 per cent of homeless youth attempt suicide. It is a leading cause of their deaths. Covenant House Toronto reports that homeless youth are 11 times more likely to die young than the rest of the population.

Toronto’s Covenant House, like the 20 other Covenant Houses in North and Central America, does a lot of things for homeless kids. It provides shelter, helps kids finish school, helps them reconnect with family when possible, find housing, find mentors, point the way to jobs. It also helps kids find the mental health care they need.

“They are often as traumatized as men who are returning from war,” said Ryan.

If teen suicide is now a national issue, Covenant House is in a position to give Canada some national advice: Kids need love.

“It requires love,” said Ryan. “But it also requires that we be love in the world in a responsible and effective way. That requires more than a sentimental hug and a warm meal. It means making sure that our kids have the attention and clinical care they need to transcend the darkness that overshadows their lives.”

Ryan claims to be shocked by the success of Almost Home.

“These are stories about young people who have pulled themselves up, climbed out of the darkness, in some instances from violence and trafficking and drug abuse, and found hope in their lives.”

Fr. Stan Chu Ilo and finding the path to spiritual joy


TORONTO - The greatest challenge for Christians today is forgiveness, says Fr. Stan Chu Ilo.

“The more you forgive, the freer you become, and the more you forgive, the healthier you become spiritually, physically and otherwise,” he said.

Ilo’s healthy habits of spiritual joy not only include forgiveness, but also involve being patient with ourselves, others and God.

Ilo is author of Discover Your Divine Investment: The path to spiritual joy, which he says will surprise readers with the fact that God is not done with them. There are stories in his book that he promises will draw people out of the ordinary human experience.

Ilo has purposely stepped away from the more heavy, speculative and abstract style of his past works to what he calls “theology of the marketplace.”

The challenge facing the Church today, said Ilo, is “communicating God’s word and communicating the truth about what we believe and what we hope for and what we celebrate (and) how we live. We need to find a good way of communicating God’s work.”

Ilo says Discover Your Divine Investment, published by Catholic Register Books, is intended to start a conversation with and be more accessible to the average Catholic or Christian. By book’s end, he hopes readers will walk away happy to be alive, happy God has kept them going and hopeful for the future.

“God speaks to us within the very ark of our humanity,” said Ilo. “Being attuned to this divine harmony is what this book is trying to tell people.”

While some look to palm readings and astrology for answers, Ilo urges readers to be introspective. “Shakespeare said the fault is not in our stars; the fault is in us,” said Ilo.

He promotes a more “reflective practice that attunes our daily actions and choices to the deepest hunger of our souls.” Ilo believes that if people do this on a consistent basis, they will find a pattern to what makes them happiest.

“That which makes me happiest and promotes the joy, happiness and fulfilment of people around me, if I do that on a consistent basis, is the purpose of my life,” he said.

For the author, “life is play,” and he would like people “to strike a balance between playfulness and seriousness” in their own lives.

“God invested in the cosmos, invested in every human being,” so Ilo wants each individual reader to grasp that not only does God love him or her, but that everyone’s life, happiness and self-actualization is important to Him.

“You are a treasure of inestimable value, no matter your age, no matter your sex, your sexuality, your race, no matter your history, no matter your past,” he said.

Ilo, originally from the Ebo ethnic group in eastern Nigeria, arrived in Canada 10 years ago after studying in Rome.

He had planned on a temporary stay before heading back to Europe, but three months into his visit, Ellen Mary MacAdam, to whom the book is dedicated, convinced him to stay. Ilo calls MacAdam, 91, his second mother.

“She said to me, you come from Africa, life must be hard and lonely for you, so I thought to invite you to have a meal and to assure you that there are people like us who will be here for you in case you need someone to talk to.”

He credits her with helping him discover the treasure within himself through Catholic education. MacAdam sponsored his graduate studies in Canada. He went on to doctoral studies and now teaches at the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

“She represents, to some extent, what I consider an ideal way of living, how through love we can cross borders of race, of religion, of creed, of social or economic class.”

To order Discover Your Divine Investment, at $14.99, call (416) 934-3410 or visit

Our addiction to oil fuels a new slave trade, author argues


The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude by Andrew Nikiforuk (Greystone and the David Suzuki Foundation, 282 pages, $29.95, hard cover).


“All energy issues are moral ones.” So declares investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk in his latest salvo against the culture of petroleum. And he is right.

Nikiforuk, whose book Tar Sands won the Rachel Carson Book Award and became a national bestseller, is one of the most public and best informed critics of Canada’s fossil fuel addiction, and all the social and ecological despoliation that goes with it.

In The Energy of Slaves he weaves a yarn about the transition from slave labour to fossil fuels in the 19th century, suggesting that enslaved people yielded their place and industrial power to enslaved resources. Moreover, as a globalized society we have become shackled to a petroleum-based economy that diminishes both our planetary health and the human spirit.

While the first part of Nikiforuk’s argument is a bit incongruous — equating slaves to carbon-based fuels is both logically and morally murky — the second part concerning our addiction to oil and its moral consequences is argued forcefully and well.

For Nikiforuk, unfettered demand for cheap oil is quintessentially a moral issue. Ecological side-effects of its extraction and consumption — from contaminated watersheds to species extinction and climate change — demand an abolition movement on an international scale.

Nikiforuk quotes University of Manitoba energy expert Vaclav Smil regarding America’s profligate use of oil. In light of the fact that the United States eats up twice as much oil as the wealthiest European nations, Smil asks whether Americans are therefore twice as happy as the Danes or twice as rich as the French? Are they twice as educated as the Germans, or twice as secure as the Dutch? For both Smil and Nikiforuk, the answers constitute one big fat no.

In terms of child mortality and educational achievement, the United States falls way behind its European counterparts. It has significantly higher rates of obesity, suicide, murder and incarceration. Moreover, studies reveal Americans are less happy now than they were a half-century ago, despite their oil-consuming lifestyle.

In short, consuming more oil does not necessarily lead to a better life.

Interestingly, Nikiforuk turns to St. Benedict for one antidote to an oil-consuming free-for-all. Benedict not only created a new community based on prayer, learning and labour, but codified this in his Rule so that future Benedictine communities might flourish. They still do flourish by ensuring the common purpose of monks and nuns is more important than the things they consume as individuals. Nikiforuk appeals to a 1,500-year-old morally and religiously grounded movement to address our current oil-drenched malaise.

For Nikiforuk, taking a cue from philosopher Alasdair McIntyre, the world awaits more Benedicts to create loving and flourishing communities, celebrating the spiritual richness and dignity of non-mechanized, non-oil-based work — a way of life that values civility and spiritual maturity.

Curiously, Nikiforuk, while appealing to a Christian moral argument, does not mention Bishop Luc Bouchard, the former bishop of St. Paul, Alta., which included the oil sands. In a  prophetic 2009 pastoral letter, Bouchard carefully summarized the history and social and ecological effects of the oil sands. The bishop saw this oil development running counter to both Catholic social teaching and the message of the Gospel.

“I am forced to conclude that the integrity of creation in the Athabasca oil sands is clearly being sacrificed for economic gain. The proposed future development of the oil sands constitutes a serious moral problem. Environmentalists and members of First Nations and Métis communities who are challenging government and industry to adequately safeguard the air, water and boreal forest eco-systems of the Athabasca oil sands region present a very strong moral argument, which I support,” Bouchard wrote in 2009. “The present pace and scale of development in the Athabasca oil sands cannot be morally justified. Active steps to alleviate this environmental damage must be undertaken.”

If, as St. Benedict claimed, to work is to pray, perhaps to work for ecological integrity and the breaking of our petroleum chains is one of the most poignant types of prayer we can offer at this critical time in our careening planet’s history.

(Scharper is a religion and ecology professor at the University of Toronto.)

Fascism, Catholicism, communism — and an Italian cyclist


Road To Valour: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, by Alli and Andres McConnon (Doubleday Canada, hardcover, 336 pages, $32.95).

If you were Italian or French and crazy about cycling you would know Gino Bartali’s name. But we are not a cycling nation, even if Victoria, B.C.’s Ryder Hesjedal, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, has nudged Canadians toward some kind of appreciation of the sport. Bartali won the Giro d’Italia three times and the Tour de France twice.
This true story of Bartali reads like fiction, so incredible are events and circumstances. The setting is mostly pre-war Italy under the rule of Mussolini but extends through the war and into the postwar period. Fascism, Catholicism and communism interject themselves into Bartali’s life.
What could be more normal than a young man who loved to ride his bicycle, who displayed his faith openly, who exulted in the joy of effort for all to see? Bartali was an advocate for Catholic Action. That wasn’t so startling. What was surprising was “how zealously and publicly the Church embraced Gino. He was described as a ‘magnificent Christian athlete.’ ”     
Sport can be a powerful instrument called upon to serve any purpose, personal or otherwise. In Road to Valour, Bartali and his cycling ability combine to create a national hero, admired by all. 
Mussolini’s Fascists wanted Bartali’s endorsement of their system of governance. The Christian Democrats wanted him to align his popularity with their party. The Church, aware of his Catholic Action participation, enlisted his support to help shelter Jews in the Tuscan area.
And then there was the case of Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist Party. It was 1948. The Tour de France was in progress. Togliatti was stabbed in an attempted assassination. He was left in critical condition and lapsed into a coma.
At this moment there is turmoil in the nation and Italy’s government. The Christian Democrats and Communists are vying for power. Italy is on the verge of civil war. Prime Minister Alcide DeGasperi of the Christian Democrates makes a phone call to his friend Bartali. There is still a week to go in the Tour de France. He has a simple request: “Try to make it happen...  it would be very important to all of us.” Bartali was also visited by a papal emissary and given a special medal. He was told “His Holiness wishes that you win the Tour as a loyal and athletic champion.”
Bartali did win the Tour de France. As if on cue, Togliatti awoke from his coma. His first two questions were: “What happened at the Tour? How did Bartali do?”
Bartali’s victory and Togliatti’s recovery, so close on the heels of each other, were summed up by the Le Monde correspondent in Italy: “No event in the world could have been as important as Bartali’s victory. This was clearly apparent on July 15 when the news of his exploits transformed the highly dramatic atmosphere into which Italy had been plunged following the attack on Togliatti.”
One Italian journalist wrote of the triumph: “Bartali wrote in these last two days — if one can write with pedal strokes and drops of sweat — perhaps the most beautiful page of his career.” As for Bartali, he was to express later that “Everyone in their life has his own particular way of expressing life’s purpose... I have my bicycle.”
Road to Valour is an excellent book that gives an informed snapshot of an era. In this case it was of Bartali and Italy, but it transcends that nation and could be descriptive of what happens in so many countries but is seldom recorded. Which is a shame because it leaves nations with nothing but cultural amnesia. The book is well researched and written, worth reading for pleasure, knowledge and a reminder of so many great stories waiting to be discovered.
(Cosentino is Professor Emeritus at York University.)

Catholic-Jewish tensions as seen through the lens of the Dreyfus Affair


The prodigious Catholic novelist, historian and journalist Piers Paul Read has just produced his 23rd book, a non-fiction account of the most infamous miscarriage of justice in French history, The Dreyfus Affair. Read’s account of the wrongful conviction of junior military officer Alfred Dreyfus in late 19th-century France on charges of treason — and the campaign to overturn that injustice which set off riots and exposed the shocking depth of anti-Semitism bubbling under every strata of society — represents a perfect marriage of writer and subject.  

Read’s skills as an historian would be required just to do justice to the main event of this many-peopled saga that takes almost 12 years to play out from Dreyfus’ exile and incarceration on Devil’s Island to his full social restitution. But Read’s story is much larger than that. To properly set the scene, Read devotes the first 70 pages of this very readable account to exploring the historic tensions between Jews and Catholics in France, going back to the French Revolution a full century before. And on the other side he brings the story (or at least the implications of the story) forward to the mid-20th century, showing how the Dreyfus Affair gave the world a nasty foretaste of the widespread persecution of the Jews that would be the distinctively horrific hallmark of the Second World War.

Pining for religion’s golden age with Ross Douthat's "Bad Religion"


Heretics, heresy, lost opportunities and misdirection — Bad Religion has it all.

Depending on where and when you first read about Bad Religion — the book, not the band — you might be of the opinion it is a smart, thoughtful take on the United States and the importance of religion. Or you might be pretty sure it is a sloppily assembled defense of some of the most retrograde Christianity imaginable.

Pining for religion’s golden age with Ross Douthat's "Bad Religion"


Heretics, heresy, lost opportunities and misdirection — Bad Religion has it all.

Depending on where and when you first read about Bad Religion — the book, not the band — you might be of the opinion it is a smart, thoughtful take on the United States and the importance of religion. Or you might be pretty sure it is a sloppily assembled defense of some of the most retrograde Christianity imaginable.

Getting to know Jesus from a Jewish perspective


Jesus was a Jew. Mary and Joseph were Jews. All 12 apostles were Jews. The first ecumenical council of the Church was held in Jerusalem in about 50 AD and everybody there was Jewish — even if they were there to decide what to do about non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

Very few of the people you meet at Sunday morning Mass are Jewish. Still, all these gentiles who surround us in church want nothing more than to know Jesus better. The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an invitation to do just that — know Jesus better.