Salamawit Mehari tells the story of her cousin, Nardos Haile, who tried to make the desperate voyage from Libya to Italy with her three children. As the boat began to disintegrate in the Mediterranean and her husband turned to help neighbours, Haile held tight to her 16-month-old — and watched helplessly as her four-year-old and six-year-old were swept overboard.

At Toronto’s St. Nicholas of Bari parish, a new community of Eritreans are mourning friends lost to the Mediterranean. Wedlep  Habtemical thinks he knows 20 who died at sea. Goitom Abrha recalls 25. Selam Tesfaselasy remembers 14 members of her church choir.

These refugees are part of a growing group of Eritreans caught in the Libyan civil war who have made their way to Canada. The tiny Toronto Eritrean Catholic Community of St. Nicholas Bari, under Capuchin Fr. Vittorio Boria, is supporting 35 refugee sponsorships through co-sponsorship and doing its best to help new arrivals settle and focus on their futures.

To be a refugee in Libya is its own circle of hell. Add in a civil war and it gets worse.

ISARC debate focuses on poverty issues


With an Ontario election looming in the fall, community faith leaders staged an all-party debate on poverty at the University of Toronto June 9. Well, it was almost an all-party debate. Despite seven weeks of trying, they couldn’t land a representative from the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

ISARC, an ecumenical and interfaith coalition supported by Ontario’s bishops and Catholic religious orders, went ahead anyway and at least one debater said the Conservative absence was irrelevant.

“Poverty will be an issue. You can’t ignore it. It’s not going away,” said Etobicoke Centre Liberal MPP Donna Cansfield.

Whether poverty is an issue when the election heats up in the fall will be up to churches, mosques and temples, said ISARC executive director Michael Skaljin.

“The faith communities are not going to be silent on this,” he said.

Nova Scotians find opportunity in crisis


>ANTIGONISH, N.S. - On April 13 the little wooden church on the hill overlooking Maryvale burned down. Located in the diocese of Antigonish, it was a mission church — one of four churches served by the priest in Lakevale. St. Mary’s was insured, but the insurance won’t fully pay to replace the 150-year-old structure.

A pretty good case can be made that the diocese needs that insurance money more than the people in Maryvale need another church. The diocese of Antigonish, comprising Cape Breton and three counties in Northeastern Nova Scotia, must raise $18 million to compensate victims of clerical abuse. If St. Mary’s is not rebuilt, Maryvale Catholics only have a 15-minute drive to Georgeville for Mass on Sunday. Yet the parish has decided to rebuild.

In their resolve, they resemble the broader Catholic community in Nova Scotia that is working to rebuild a shattered Church.

“There’s tremendous symbolism in that building,” said parishioner Terry O’Toole. “The diocese has been hurt. The parish has lost its church. But now there are people who can’t do enough for the building committee, the fundraising committee and the parish council. That crisis has really created opportunity.”

Prostitution immoral and exploitative, court hears


Striking down Canada's anti-prostitution laws would violate the “fundamental moral values” of protecting human dignity, and would infringe on a woman's rights to liberty and security, lawyers representing the Catholic Civil Rights League told the Ontario Court of Appeal.

“Prostitution is antithetical to the fundamental values of Canadians,” said lawyer Ranjan Agarawal on June 16. He was representing the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Christian Legal Fellowship and REAL Women of Canada.

“Prostitution is immoral. It takes the most intimate human activity and commodifies it. It is that commodification that causes violence, drug use, the trafficking of women, the exploitation of women in the economic margins of society.”

The federal and Ontario governments are appealing an Ontario judge's decision that struck down some sections of Canada’s prostitution laws as being unconstitutional.

D&P flexes its muscles


Canadian bishops are welcome to advise Development and Peace about overseas partnerships but D&P members are asserting their right to make final decisions about which organizations are funded.

D&P’s national council passed a unanimous resolution at a June 10-12 meeting that essentially reaffirms that funding decisions will be made by the council and its 12,000 strong predominantly lay members.

The national council consists of 20 elected, volunteer representatives from across Canada, plus bishops Richard Grecco of P.E.I and Claude Champagne of New Brunswick. D&P acts as the international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada.

The national council resolution came in the wake of a recent decision by the D&P executive, acting on abortion-related allegations expressed by a Mexican cardinal, to revoke the funding of the Mexican human rights organization Centro PRODH. That decision prompted a defiant resolution from D&P members in Quebec and New Brunswick in support of Centro PRODH and calling for restoration of its funding.

Conservative policy convention supports traditional marriage and parental rights


OTTAWA - The Conservative Party has given a ringing endorsement to traditional marriage, to family life and the rights of parents to raise children according to individual conscience and beliefs.

At its 2011 policy convention, held June 9-11, the Conservatives resolved to support legislation “defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” They also stressed that Parliament, not the courts, should determine the definition of marriage through a free vote.

“This is a party that’s not afraid of being conservative,” said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a Catholic, in an interview.  “It’s a dramatic change from the days of the old Progressive Conservative Party where social conservatives were not made to feel welcome.”

The party passed a resolution on family and marriage that affirmed the family unit is “essential to the well-being of individuals and society, because it is where children learn values and develop a sense of responsibility.” The resolution also stressed “the right and duty of parents to raise their own children responsibly according to their own conscience and beliefs.”

Right to prostitution doesn’t exist


TORONTO - Prostitution is an economic activity, not a constitutionally protected right, and public policy regarding prostitution is the responsibility of Parliament, a federal lawyer has argued in the Ontario Court of Appeal.

On the opening day of an appeal into a lower-court decision that struck down some sections of Canada’s prostitution laws, federal lawyer Michael Morris told the five judges that the state has no requirement to ensure a safe work environment for prostitutes.

“The ‘security of their person’ argument is based upon the argument that prostitution should be made more safe,” he said. “We say that requires they have a right to engage in prostitution in the first place.” No such right exists, he said.

Morris was challenging an Ontario Superior court ruling by Judge Susan Himel that said Criminal Code provisions that prohibit living off the avails, keeping a common bawdy house and soliciting for purposes of prostitution infringed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Marshall sentenced to two years in prison


WINDSOR, ONT. - Father William Hodgson Marshall was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually abusing 16 boys and one girl in Ontario high schools while he was a teacher, coach and principal from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s.

Marshall, 88, was also given three years probation and his name will be added to the national sex offender registry. He pleaded guilty to charges of indecent assault that occurred in schools and private residences, from Windsor to Toronto, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

For the victims, it was an emotional two days in Superior Court where the priest pled guilty prior to numerous victims giving pre-sentence statements.

Ken Hills, one of Marshall’s earliest victims, was abused at Toronto’s St. Michael’s High School in 1953. His assault occurred in an office by the gymnasium where Marshall coached basketball.

“You began stalking me when I was in Grade 8,” he told the court. “This predatorial action continued through grades nine and ten and eleven.”

‘Diversity of cultures’ comes together in Midland


In 2003, Zofia Szaflarski was invited by a friend to join a weeklong walking pilgrimage to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont. Hesitant but curious, Szaflarski agreed and since then she has been “addicted.”

Several walks later, Szaflarski now helps organize and promote the annual pilgrimage.

“It’s very religious and very spiritual,” she said of the walking pilgrimage, particularly popular among Polish Catholics. “But what a lot of people forget is that it’s also a lot of fun.”

With about 1,000 other people, Szaflarski spent a week trekking  125 kilometres from St. Patrick’s parish in Wildfield, Ont., to the Shrine. The group celebrated Mass each morning and then walked, prayed, and sang until they lit a bonfire after they stopped for the night. This year’s pilgrimage will culminate at the Shrine on August 13.

Canadian pro-life leaders to gather in Toronto


The leaders of the Canadian pro-life movement will examine strategies for effective change when they gather June 24-25 for the Toronto 2011 Pro-Life Forum.

Hosted by Campaign Life Coalition, the two-day conference will kick off at a dinner with keynote speaker Brian Lilley of Sun TV News, followed by a full day of panels and speakers. The forum will take place at Hotel Novotel Toronto Centre.

“Be informed, be inspired, be active,” said Alisa Golob, youth coordinator for the Campaign Life Coalition, echoing the conference’s theme. “First you have to know what’s going on… and hear the other side of the story.”

Canadians seldom see pro-life issues reported in the media, said Golob, and when they do, it’s usually negative coverage. This, according to Golob, is why CLC chose Lilley, host of Byline, as keynote speaker for the opening night dinner.

Small budget changes could have big social impact say critics


OTTAWA — The June 3 Throne Speech reiterates modest campaign promises and the June 6 budget is virtually identical to the budget tabled Mar. 22. However, these little changes could have a huge impact on Canadian society, observers say.

Though the 400-page budget document emphasizes stability, a think tank concerned about a flourishing civil society says the Conservative government is “preparing for a coming storm in Canadian politics: one which they intend to shape and survive.”

That storm involves the aging of Canadian society that will see 2.5 workers for every retiree, up from the present 4.7 workers per retiree; a coming health care crunch that has not been publicly addressed; and the ways an increased free trade environment might hurt some sectors of the economy, Cardus warns.

“The increased emphasis on expenditure review and the advanced targets for returning to surplus are just two indicators that this budget is really about battening down the hatches and rolling out the foundations for shaping tomorrow’s social architecture,” said an analysis by Cardus, a think tank that now incorporates the former Centre for Culture Renewal.