Child at campTORONTO - Amid the darkness of a Christmas evening, a seven-year-old boy holds a candle and a Father Christmas doll at his home during a power outage two years ago, just before the Israeli military launched an offensive on Gaza City.

This picture forms part of a controversial exhibit by the non-profit group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. “Human Drama in Gaza” runs from June 16 to June 28 at the Cream Tangerine Cafe's The Great Hall on Queen Street West. The exhibit is a collection of 44 pictures taken by photographers from Agence France Presse, Getty Images and Reuters during the conflict.

The photos reflect scenes of sadness, death and despair during the December 2008-January 2009 battle as well as scenes of resilience at refugee camps established as safe havens for those left homeless after the attacks.

Maternal health the right choice for G8

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Maternal healthcareTORONTO - Canada has picked the right issue to push at the G8 meetings in Huntsville, Ont., June 25 and 26, but it hasn't got the math quite right, according to aid groups.

Leaked drafts of the final Huntsville communique indicate Canada is offering $1 billion over five years to tackle maternal and child deaths in poor countries — a commitment that comes in less than the $1.1 billion security budget for the G8/G20 summit and less than the $1.5 billion recently pledged for maternal and child health by Bill and Melinda Gates.

Targeting the health of women and children is the right thing to do, said Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

“It is certainly a huge development priority,” Casey said.

Religious hate crime numbers on the rise

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Race, religion and sexual orientation continue to be the prime targets for hate crimes in Canada, with more than one quarter of all hate crimes committed against people because of their faith.

Though race accounted for 55 per cent of hate crimes reported by police, religiously motivated hate crimes jumped 53 per cent between 2007 and 2008 and accounted for 26 per cent of 1,036 hate crimes in 2008.

The Statistics Canada figures on hate crimes are gathered from police services that serve 88 per cent of Canada’s population. Statistics Canada warns that the figures almost certainly underreport hate crimes not only because not all police forces report hate crimes but because many incidents go unreported to police.

Fr. Garcia the heart and soul of Toronto's Spanish parish

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TORONTO - He’s a pastor with humour, a great heart and an understanding of how to be God’s hand, parishioners say of Toronto’s Fr. Fructuoso Garcia.

Garcia, pastor of St. John the Baptist parish, has been serving Spanish-speaking Catholics in the archdiocese for nearly 40 years.

Since he took over as pastor at St. John the Baptist 16 years ago, Garcia has led the parish out of a $90,000 debt, motivated his community to raise $300,000 for repairs and involved them in painting and beautifying the church with murals and unique inventions like a votive candle delivery system — at the touch of a switch a little stream of water carries a lit tealite a few feet to a tiny pool and a statue of Mary on an “island,” meant to represent Our Lady of Charity, the Virgin of Cuba.

A question of identity, chastity for homosexual Catholics

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Bishop Thomas CollinsTORONTO - The Church has never called homosexual people objectively disordered and does not regard homosexuality as a sin, Archbishop Thomas Collins told the young adult group of St. Michael’s Cathedral.

“Since it (homosexuality) is not something chosen, it’s not a moral issue,” said Collins, speaking at an SMC Alive faith formation meeting June 13.

While being sexually attracted to people of the same gender is not a sin, turning that attraction into an all-encompassing identity and entering sexual relationships based on same-sex attractions directly contravenes the Christian value of chastity, said the archbishop. Same-sex attractions, which the Church calls objectively disordered, are a struggle and not an identity, he said.

“What I am is precious in God’s sight. To say you are one of your struggles — no, no, no. Do not let yourself be put into a box,” said Collins.

First Nations offer forgiveness

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Strahl forgivenessOTTAWA - A national coalition of First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders have offered forgiveness to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for residential schools’ abuses.

They presented the Prime Minister with the Charter of Forgiveness and Freedom, a formal response to Harper’s historic 2008 apology in the House of Commons for Indian Residential Schools. The response took place at the National Forgiven Summit here June 11-13 that drew thousands of residential school survivors, their descendants and well-wishers from across the country.

“We’re going to see Canada a healed nation and today we are much more healed than before because we have been able to come to a place where we can say ‘I forgive,’ ” organizer Kenny Blacksmith told the summit June 12.

“This is the hour of healing and restoration for all our people,” said Blacksmith, who spent 11 years in a residential school, before presenting Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl with the charter.

G8 can't ignore moral dimension of economy

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TORONTO - On any given day on Bay Street, Infinium Group makes between 500,000 and one million trades in stocks, stock options, currencies, futures and financial derivatives. As the largest single trader most days on the Toronto Stock Exchange — bigger even than any of the Big Five banks — that’s what it does every day.

Infinium doesn’t make its trades based on the value of companies involved or their plans for new investment. The thousands of trades per second are triggered by computer programs based on mathematical models.

At the G20 meetings in Toronto June 26-27 European countries want to slow down companies like Infinium and their breakneck, second-by-second bets on financial products. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper says no.

It’s a pretty sure bet the Pope is not on Harper’s side on this one.

Catholic groups welcome start of Truth and Reconciliation process

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Truth and Reconciliation Commission of CanadaOTTAWA - A group representing Catholic religious orders and dioceses involved in the Indian residential schools' system hope some of the positive and bright threads in an otherwise bleak tapestry will get a chance to be told as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission launched its first national event in Winnipeg June 16-19.

Catholic groups involved in running residential schools say they look forward to participating in the commission’s seven national events.

Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, who chairs the Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement, announced June 15 he would be attending all four days of the commission’s Winnipeg event, with board members and members of Catholic religious orders that ran schools joining him.

Catholic board on track to regain control

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Toronto Catholic District School BoardTORONTO - It's been more than two years of provincial supervision for Canada's largest Catholic school board.

But having Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees back in power is a reality that could be in place by November, after the next trustee elections, according to a recent letter by Ontario
Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky to provincially appointed board supervisor Richard Alway.

In the June 9 letter, Dombrowsky said the board would have to pass an audit of its 2009-2010 financial statements to confirm that it has balanced its budget.

“If those statements confirm that the board has retired its accumulated deficit, I will expeditiously undertake the process to return the board to full local control,” Dombrowsky wrote.

City honours WRP project

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WRP Affordable housing projectTORONTO - Forty communities of Catholic nuns were among 21 “Affordable Housing Champions” honoured by the City of Toronto June 3.

The sisters were singled out for their WRP Neighbourhood Housing project, which created 38 units of subsidized housing in southeast Scarborough.

The project began as a millennium jubilee project in 1999.

L'Arche experience leads Jesuit to priesthood

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Archbishop Prendergast, Teo Ugaban, John MeehanTORONTO - Living in the L’Arche community in France and meeting Jean Vanier led John Meehan to discover his call to become a priest.

“It changed the way I looked at community, the Church, my faith. I wouldn’t be a Jesuit now if it hadn’t been for L’Arche,” he told The Catholic Register.

Meehan, 42, was ordained June 5, along with Teo Ugaban, at Toronto’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, with Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., presiding at the Ordination Mass.

Born in Halifax, Meehan started thinking about the priesthood in his teens. But it was his experience in France that led him to consider the Jesuits. The call came during a European backpacking adventure in 1989 when he decided to volunteer at L’Arche and work with individuals with severe disabilities. His eight months living in community and living “very simply” was what attracted him to the vocation.