Art as conversation with God

Whether your artwork rivals the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or is composed mainly of stick people, it’s a good enough tool for prayer on the Sacred Art Retreat.

The retreat, which first ran in 2003, explores using art as a way of achieving a deep intimacy with God. On May 27, more than a dozen retreatants began eight days of “walking and praying in the presence of God” at Invermara, a retreat house in Orillia, Ont. It’s the first of two retreats this summer.

“This retreat is not art therapy, it is a way of being in conversation with God,” said Sr. Virginia Varley, CSJ, who has been directing the retreat since 2006.

“It’s quite different for some people,” she said, adding that art is generally not thought of as a tool for prayer.

Couple’s musical celebration illustrates the life of Christ

If he who sings prays twice, Joan and Michael Maloney have four lifetimes of prayer between them.

The two singers are currently preparing for Behold the Man!, a musical celebration of the rosary, which premieres on May 29 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Simcoe, Ont. The repertoire, entirely composed by Joan Maloney, illustrates the life of Jesus through the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.

“I’ve always wanted to write a song cycle,” said Joan, who has performed professionally, composed and taught music her whole life. “And then one day at Mass, I was looking at the statue of the Blessed Virgin and it came to me that what I’d really like to do is write a song cycle honouring her and our Lord, and so I decided to write it on the rosary.”

The result was Behold the Man!, a 15-song program that features Joan, a soprano, husband Michael, a tenor, as well as pianist Linda Bonadeo-Boll and reader Michael Fidler.

Organist’s short stay lasts 60 years - and counting

When he arrived from Germany in 1951, the then 20-year-old Heribert Michel planned to stay in Canada for three years. He wanted to get work experience as an organist and choir director and learn a new language after graduating at the top of his class from Germany’s prestigious Regensburg Academy of Church Music. His uncle, a priest, expected him back in Germany to be the new organist and choir director when reconstruction of their parish, destroyed during the Second World War, was complete.

So much for those plans. Sixty years later, Michel remains in Canada. After meeting his wife, Suzanne, he chose to stay, settling in Peterborough, Ont., where the couple raised four children and now have 10 grandchildren.

The diocese of Peterborough is celebrating Michel’s six decades of service through his music ministry. On May 21, an anniversary Mass was to be held at St. Peter-in-Chains Cathedral, officiated by Bishop Nicola De Angelis, with a reception to follow. Among the special guests expected are MP Dean Del Mastro, MPP Jeff Leal, papal knights and Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus.

Catholic missions add to charm of historic Arizona



Like North America’s largest gem and mineral show every February. Like Kitt Peak National Observatory, which has the largest collection of telescopes — 26 — in the world. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, though not associated, is nearby at Mt. Graham.

For snowbirders and those who simply love the myriad charms of the American southwest — from adobe architecture to jagged mountains and sweeping desert vistas — you can add the Spanish Catholic missions between Tucson and the Mexican border.

Interstate 19 between Tucson and Nogales, a distance of about 100 km, features two significant missions, both national historic sites. There are two other abandoned missions that can also be toured. There is also the presidio (fort) at Tubac, which protected the missions.

These missions form the most northern settlements of a string of 24 stretching well into Mexico’s Sonora state. Southern Arizona, of course, was once part of Mexico. But before that, when these missions were founded, it was part of colonial Spain.

An intelligent look at traditional Catholic beliefs

Women of the Torah: Matriarchs and Heroes of Israel
Abraham: Father of All Believers
David: Shepherd and King of Israel
Women of the Gospels: Friends and Disciples of Jesus
Peter: Fisherman and Shepherd of the Church
Paul: Apostle to All the Nations
(Brazos Press, softcover, $10 per volume).

For people interested in learning something about current Catholic Scripture scholarship, and more importantly want their lives to be inspired by the biblical stories, Ancient-Future Bible Study is a valuable instrument. Anyone who completes the meditations will be significantly more familiar with the Bible, and these books should inspire readers to learn more and pray more.

Lectio divina (sacred reading) is an “ancient art” for exploring the Word of God with mind, heart and imagination. It’s a way to experience Scripture as real communication with God, with reference to what the Bible texts meant in ancient times and their transforming power to change our lives into the future.

Vianney’s message of hope hits the road

Leonardo Defilippis, star of Vianney. (Photo courtesy of St. Luke Productions) TORONTO - A one-man play showcasing St. John Vianney’s message of hope is coming to the archdiocese of Toronto in early May.

Vianney, starring Leonardo Defilippis, will be performed at five parishes throughout the archdiocese, beginning May 2 at Brampton’s St. Marguerite d’Youville Church and wrapping up at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Pickering on May 6. In between, it will be performed at Woodbridge’s St. Clare of Assisi (May 3), St. John Vianney in Barrie (May 4) and Toronto’s St. Andrew Kim Church on May 5.

The play brings a message of hope during a time of great challenge for the Catholic Church, said Defilippis, who is also founder and president of St. Luke Productions.

“It highlights the Church in a very special way. It brings out the importance of the priesthood and role of the priest for the people and what is the role of the people for the priest,” he told The Catholic Register.

Singer lends his voice to the community

Toronto opera singer Robert Pilon, who is a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament parish. (Photo courtesy of Robert Pilon)TORONTO - The room falls silent as Toronto opera singer Robert Pilon sings the first lines of the Les Miserables classic “Bring Him Home.”

Pilon, who for three years starred as Phantom in Toronto’s Phantom of the Opera, has performed this song and other classics at many galas for the Caritas Project, a Catholic charity that works with people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. The organization also supports people with mental health issues and behavioural problems.

Pilon’s volunteer work with the community reflects a successful musical career that is now geared towards helping others and working with charities. He is also involved with Toronto’s Blessed Sacrament Church, where he is a parishioner.

“It is a place of faith. I offer my services at Easter and Christmas to Blessed Sacrament Church so I can thank God for my gift,” he told The Catholic Register.

The Borgias made more for ratings than for jabs at Church, professor says

Actor Jeremy Irons portrays Pope Alexander VI in the upcoming TV series 'The Borgias'.WASHINGTON - The upcoming series The Borgias may be interpreted less as a swipe against the Catholic Church than the desire for the Showtime pay-cable channel to produce a follow-up in the same vein as its racy predecessor, The Tudors.

"They're going for the flamboyant, the exotic, the erotic," said Timothy Thibodeau, a history professor at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. "Everybody's heard of Henry the Eighth," the central character in The Tudors, Thibodeau added, while Rodrigo Borgia (who became Pope Alexander VI) is a figure "a lot of people have never heard of. For most historians it's very well known."

It's because of this, Thibodeau said, that leads him to doubt whether The Borgias "will present anything new that will stand the test of time."

The Borgias debuts April 3 on the Bravo network in Canada and Showtime in the United States. John Mulderig of Catholic News Service's Media Review Office, in a review of the premiere episode, said it "sometimes degenerates from an intriguing study in power politics — however misplaced and lamentable — to an obvious exercise in sensationalism."

Vatican partnership will assure faith focus for Canadian pilgrims

Patrizia De Libero Brown says Ornit-organized tours will allow pilgrims to meet with the local Church. (Photo by Michael Swan)TORONTO - If Catholics are ever going to feel at home in a global Church and a globalized world, they had better get out there, far from home, said Fr. Caesar Atuire, CEO of the Vatican’s service to pilgrims.

Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi has forged a North American partnership to offer travel services for Canadian pilgrims. Ornit, official distributor of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi services in North America, will offer pilgrimage packages to Rome, Lourdes, Israel and Palestine, walking pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, social justice tours of Nepal and event packages for World Youth Day and the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Working with Opera Romana, Ornit’s tours assure a faith focus for all their pilgrimages, including daily Mass.

Unwinding a living, active Word that is the Bible

The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental BookThe Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book by Timothy Beal (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 265 pages, hardcover, $31.50).

Christians are often described as people of the book. This is because our lives are shaped in a very direct way by the words of the two testaments we call the Bible. We give no other book on our library shelves the same degree of honour that we give this book. No other book challenges us, in so many different ways, to the same degree.  

In part, that is because of the high standard of ethical behaviour it sets before us. But part of the challenge also proceeds from the fact that, for many, its ancient contents are difficult to grasp, with details that even appear to contradict one another at times.

Remarkably true, yes, but one-sided look at historical wrong

Esther: The Remarkable True Story of Esther Wheelwright, Puritan Child, Native Daughter, Mother Superior by Julie Wheelwright (HarperCollins, 342 pages, hardcover, $32.99).Esther: The Remarkable True Story of Esther Wheelwright, Puritan Child, Native Daughter, Mother Superior by Julie Wheelwright (HarperCollins, 342 pages, hardcover, $32.99).

Julie Wheelwright has an extraordinary tale to tell about her ancestor Esther. But she falls a little short of telling the whole story, and that’s a shame.

Esther Wheelwright lived in colonial New England at a time when violent conflict between settlers and native people was rife. Imagine living under the constant threat of kidnap. Imagine you are six or seven and this is all you have known. This was the way for 18th-century native children in what is now Eastern Canada and the northeastern United States. 

Armed settlers took men, women, children, even babies — and this is in addition to taking the land native people needed to survive on. This was long before residential schooling was instituted. In the early colonial era, some were killed, others kept as slaves. We know little else about them.