A Catholic missionary gathers firewood in the Northwest Territories. The annual Tastes of Heaven gala to support Canadian missions is going virtual this year. Photo by Bishop Jon Hansen

Tastes of Heaven goes virtual, and national

By 
  • April 18, 2021

The annual Tastes of Heaven gala fundraiser for Catholic Missions In Canada was not staged in 2020, one of the long list of victims of the COVID-19 virus, but the keystone event returns April 29 in a virtual realm.

Joe Gennaro said taking the annual gala — the largest fundraiser each year in support of Catholic Missions and its support for the Catholic Church in Canada’s mission territories — online serves two purposes.

“The reason why we chose the format is to stay in front of our donors to show them that we are trying to operate during this time so that our missions could receive their help,” said Gennaro, stewardship officer with Catholic Missions. “We also thought it would be interesting to try and grab a wider audience — basically all of Canada could participate — compared to in the past when a limited audience from the (Greater Toronto Area) could attend.”

Catholic Missions has already succeeded in its bid to attract a more national audience for the 2021 gala. Gennaro told The Catholic Register already confirmed are virtual attendees from eight of the provinces and all three Canadian territories. This is a result of Catholic Missions inserting gala invitations into all the magazine mailings it sent out over the past six months and building awareness via social media and Catholic media outlets from coast to coast.

Gennaro will collaborate with Fr. David Reilander, the president of Catholic Missions, to lead the proceedings. The two will present the virtual viewers with an in-depth snapshot of what is involved in sustaining Canada’s missions. They will touch upon how donors directly contribute to food, utilities and transportation costs for the evangelists who endeavour to be a witness for Jesus Christ in poor and remote Canadian communities.

The pre-event attendance figures have been so strong that the optional wine tasting package is listed on the Catholic Missions website as “no longer available.” Dieter Unruh, a senior instructor of the International Sommelier Guild (sommelier is French for wine steward), will host the virtual wine tasting. He has selected a red and a white wine from the Two Sisters Vineyard based in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. The showcased red wine is a 2013 Stone Eagle Estate Reserve and the white is a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc.

Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, will also feature in the proceedings as he will present the St. Joseph’s Award to Fr. Frank Salmon, OMI, for being an exemplary Canadian missionary. Salmon has served as a pastor in the Diocese of Prince George in B.C and has devoted over 45 years of his life working with First Nations people.

Over its two decades, Tastes of Heaven has raised $3 million for Catholic Missions, said Gennaro, with these funds primarily directed towards providing sustenance for approximately 600 missionaries across the country. Catholic Missions essentially has a footprint in each of the 10 provinces and three territories.

The annual event generally attracts hundreds of guests for a gala event for a gourmet dinner, served by famed chef Biagio Vinci of Biagio’s Ristorante in downtown Toronto. The event has been garnering upwards of $300,000 in recent years.

The fundraising goal for the 2021 virtual gala, at $75,000, is par for the times. As of April 11, $47,091 of that total had been collected.

Though Catholic Missions has taken its lumps during the pandemic, Gennaro said the generosity of donors since the pandemic struck just over a year ago has made sure its situation is not as dire as it could have been.

“I’d say in terms of Catholic Missions feels — or at least what I feel — is that we’re not in as bad of shape as it could have been because of the pandemic. But we are definitely in need of help — missionaries especially. They are having difficulty with limited mobility reaching people in remote areas. Travel is just so difficult with the pandemic,” he said.

For more on the gala, see cmic.info/tastes-of-heaven/.

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