TORONTO - Shocking, shameful poverty among Canada’s native people goes far beyond the remote Northern Ontario community of Attiwapiskat. Native poverty is walking the streets and crowding the basement apartments of Canada’s largest cities, according to a new report by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Janet Smylie.

Smylie gathered detailed health information from 790 aboriginal Canadians living in Hamilton, Ont., and discovered the greatest, most prevalent risk to their health is poverty. Almost 80 per cent of respondents to Smylie’s survey reported an annual income of less than $20,000 per year.

New Senate report calls for First Nations’ education reforms


OTTAWA - Senator Gerry St. Germain knows first-hand the role a good education can play in lifting people out of poverty and despair.

“I grew up in a Métis community where there wasn’t much hope, and there wasn’t a very strong light at the end of the tunnel,” St. Germain said in an interview.

The senator had an aunt who “sort of grabbed me out and helped our family educate me.”

John Paul II DVD raises funds for Ottawa basilica


William Zlepnig was flabbergasted when he saw a stamp exhibit dedicated to Blessed John Paul II on display in Ottawa last April. He liked it so much he decided to sponsor the creation of a DVD that would keep the exhibit alive forever while at the same time helping to raise money for the restoration at St. Patrick’s Basilica.

“The basilica did a whole restoration outside and it’s (cost) up in the millions of dollars,” Zlepnig, a member of the St. Patrick’s Basilica Knights of Columbus, told The Catholic Register.

Titled A Stamp Tribute to John Paul II, about $4 or $5 of every DVD sold will go towards the restoration fund, he said.

CCCB delegation makes solidarity mission to Haiti


OTTAWA - As the second anniversary of Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake approaches, a Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops delegation is visiting the country on a solidarity mission Dec. 14-21.

The Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake killed more than 220,000 people, seriously injured more than 300,000 and devastated large sections of Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Léogâne and other areas. Three million people were left homeless or otherwise seriously affected.

New auxiliaries for Quebec


Pope Benedict XVI named two new auxiliary bishops to Quebec Dec. 12 to assist Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix in Canada’s first and oldest diocese.

The new bishops-elect are Fr. Gaétan Proulx, O.S.M., a Servite religious order member, and Fr. Denis Grondin Jr.

At a news conference in Quebec City carried on the diocese’s ECDQ TV network, Lacroix said he welcomed the Holy Father’s announcement with great joy. The archbishop described the men as pastors who are extremely well-equipped and experienced. He said they are “profoundly spiritual and rooted in the faith” as well as very rooted in the realities of everyday life.

CIDA funding in limbo


The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is not alone in its anxious wait for a funding decision from the Canadian International Development Agency.

There are more than 200 non-profit development agencies waiting for the government to say yes or no to new or continued funding, wondering whether they will have to lay off staff and cut off funding to co-operatives, clinics and seed banks in some of the poorest regions of the world.

In November, CIDA told Development and Peace its proposal for $10 million per year in program funding over the next five years had passed through the CIDA approval process and only needed a final yes or no from the Treasury Board. CIDA expected the Treasury Board to deal with the matter by Dec. 1.

Meeting Pope highlight of congress


TORONTO - For Gérard Byamungu, the most memorable part of the Third World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students in Rome was meeting the Pope.

“It was a gesture of appreciating what we do as international students,” said Byamungu, an international student studying at Toronto’s Ryerson University on shaking hands with Pope Benedict XVI. “I was very happy that I had the chance to meet him and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

While all delegates had an audience with the Pope, only select participants had the opportunity to shake his hand.

House of Commons calls on Pakistan to release Christian woman held on blasphemy charges


OTTAWA - Canada’s Parliament has called on Pakistan to release a Christian woman who faces a possible death sentence under that country’s onerous blasphemy laws.

On Dec. 8, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion “calling upon the Government of Pakistan to immediately release Ms. Asia Bibi, to ensure her safety and well-being, to hear the outcry of the international community and to respect the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The motion, tabled by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, was welcomed by International Christian Voice, a religious freedom organization founded by Peter Bhatti, the brother of the former Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who was assassinated March 2 this year.

Bhatti was the second highly ranked Pakistani official who was assassinated for speaking against the blasphemy laws. On Jan. 4, Punjab province governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard for defence of Bibi. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the only Christian in the Pakistani government. His brother Dr. Paul Bhatti, was appointed as an advisor to the Pakistani Prime Minister on minority issues in late March.

“International Christian Voice along with the religious minorities of Pakistan, strongly appreciate the Canadian government for approving a motion calling upon the Government of Pakistan for the immediate release of Asia Bibi and to repeal its blasphemy laws,” said Peter Bhatti in a news release. “We feel very proud and blessed to be a part of a country that fights for justice and religious freedom not only for Canadians but for all. Canada continues to stand as a champion of human rights, democracy and religious freedom.”

On Dec. 9, as Canada marked Human Rights Day, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called 2011 a “landmark year” for human rights, but noted many innocent people continued to be persecuted for their sexual orientation, politics or religion. He reiterated the government’s pledge to establish an Office of Religious Freedom. “The history of humanity has proven that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable,” Baird said in a statement.

On Dec. 5, in a statement to the House, Conservative MP Bob Dechert, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, reminded the House of Baird’s response last November to Bibi’s incarceration.

“At the time, the Government of Canada registered its concerns with Pakistan at high levels,” Dechert said. “We have also called on the Government of Pakistan to repeal laws criminalizing blasphemy, which restrict religious freedom and expression and have disproportionately targeted religious minorities.”

Dechert said human right promotion and protection remain integral to Canada’s foreign policy.

The Foreign Affairs ministry has been conducting consultations on the Office of Religious Freedom but no date has been announced for its establishment.

Northern reserves suffer a poverty of spirit


MOOSE FACTORY, ONT. - Poverty. No clean water supply. No electricity. No heating. Lack of proper housing. Lack of education. Minimal health resources. Suffering. Hopelessness. Loud cries for help. And yet no one is listening. No one is paying attention. No one is showing care and compassion.

This may sound like a Third World, developing country, but, no, this is Canada. This is the Canada that so many people do not know exists and is ignored. Until recently, I was one of these people.

I am a registered nurse who has served in impoverished villages in Nigeria and the shantytowns surrounding the cities of Lima, Peru, and Guayaquil, Ecuador. I have experienced much poverty in my travels, but I have also experienced hope, courage and love. Although these people may seem to lack the basics, they have so much more. It is a poverty of material, not of spirit.

Meeting on recycling plant next to Martyrs' Shrine delayed


The Town of Midland's Planning and Development Committee won't be talking over plans for a metal and industrial waste recycling facility next to the Martyrs' Shrine at its Dec. 7 meeting.

The Recycling Specialties Inc. proposal for an open-air waste sorting facility on the doorstep of the shrine is off the agenda while the company continues to work on its plans.

Meanwhile, Midland Mayor Gord McKay tells The Catholic Register relocating the Recycling Specialties yard away from the Wye Marsh, Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons and the Martyrs' Shrine is a distinct possibility.

Attawapiskat local pastor wants to know where all the money goes


It’s a good thing the federal government wants to know where millions of dollars given to the Attawapiskat community has gone, Fr. Rodrigue Vézina told The Catholic Register on the phone from the Northern Ontario reserve. Since 2007, the government has given more than $90 million to the struggling community.

“All of us want to check where all of our tax money is going,” said Vézina, an Oblate missionary and pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Attawapiskat, supported by Catholic Missions In Canada.

The small isolated town near the western shore of James Bay received international attention when Chief Theresa Spence declared a state of emergency in October as temperatures began to drop. For at least the past two years, many residents have lived in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.