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.

Prayer vigil targets porn shop


CALGARY - Sam Flynn is literally taking a stance against pornography. Since the spring, he’s gathered a group of friends for his ministry Prayer at the Porn Shop.

The group prays for an end to pornography outside a Calgary porn shop, the latest prayer vigil taking place Dec. 10.

“I think there aren’t enough people saying this isn’t good for your health or your relationship, this isn’t love,” said Flynn, a 25-year-old Mount Royal University business student.

Prayer for aboriginals remembers Rose Prince


OTTAWA - The Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council has focused its annual message for the National Day of Prayer for Aboriginal Peoples on a young woman named Rose Prince.

Each year, Catholics remember aboriginal peoples on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The aboriginal council, an advisory body of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops composed of seven aboriginal members and two bishops, raises awareness of little known aboriginal Canadians who were known for their holiness, like Prince, who was born in 1915 to a devout Catholic family at Nak’asdli, a First Nations community near Fort St. James in northern British Columbia.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission seeks more funding


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission looking into Canada’s 130-year history of residential schools for native children may not have enough money to finish the job.

The commission was set up in 2008 with a five-year mandate and a $60-million budget. After an initial false start, the commission is now scheduled to produce a final report by 2014.

“The original amount set aside in the Settlement Agreement may need to be revisited,” said the commission’s most recent annual departmental performance report to the Treasury Board.

Durocher installed as Gatineau's archbishop


GATINEAU, QUE. - In a celebration fraught with historic and symbolic significance, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher was installed as the second archbishop of Gatineau Nov. 30, on the Feast of St. Andrew.

More than 800 people packed St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Gatineau’s Hull district, including 46 bishops from across Canada and Montreal Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte. Durocher’s parents and many siblings, nieces, nephews and friends joined the faithful of Gatineau for the joyous occasion.

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana represented the Holy Father at the installation and, after reading the papal announcement, led Durocher to his cathedral chair.

Midland given 5,500 reasons to rethink recycling plant next to Martyrs' Shrine


MIDLAND, ONT. - Midland Town Council has 5,500 letters to read and ponder before its Dec. 7 meeting, at which it is scheduled to look again at its decision to green light an outdoor waste recycling business next door to the Martyrs' Shrine and Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons.

Forty protesters walked through falling snow Nov. 30 from Martyrs' Shrine to Midland Town Hall to deliver boxes containing at least 5,500 letters to Mayor Gord McKay. It was the last day for written submissions before the Dec. 7 council meeting.

The letters came from local Midland residents, Toronto parishes that make annual pilgrimages to the shrine and from as far away as the Vatican.

New evangelization top concern for Canadian bishops


OTTAWA - The importance of the new evangelization and the deep sense of communion between the Church in Canada and the Holy See are two themes that emerged from a recent visit to Rome by a delegation of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It is fair to say concern for the new evangelization pervades everything,” said CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith, who spent more than two weeks in Rome in November, accompanied by CCCB vice-president Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher and CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Patrick Powers.

Catholic agencies fear damage from cuts to settlement agencies


Catholic agencies that help immigrants and refugees settle in Ontario don’t know how they will cope with their share of a $31.5-million funding cut to settlement agencies in Ontario.

This year’s cuts come on top of $42.5 million shaved off Ontario’s allotment for settling and retraining immigrants last year. Over two years, Ontario has lost 20 per cent of its funding from Citizenship and Immigration for services to newcomers, according to the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

“We’re trying to make some plans and think through how we would react to a variety of different levels of cutbacks,” said Catholic Cross-Cultural Services executive director Carolyne Davis.