Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

Michael is Associate Editor of The Catholic Register.

He is an award-winning writer and photographer and holds a Master of Arts degree from New York University.

Follow him on Twitter @MmmSwan, or click here to email him.

TORONTO - Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic spent 56 years as a priest because Jesus was the man he admired most. When he entered the seminary just after the Second World War the new seminarians were asked about their heroes. A few snickered when the immigrant boy from eastern Europe stood and named Jesus as his hero, but decades later as cardinal and archbishop he would stand at the pulpit and proclaim Jesus.

"It is Jesus to whom we look. It is Jesus whom we imitate. It is Jesus whom we follow. It is Jesus who is with us so we can be with Him," were words that often found their way into the late Cardinal Ambrozic's sermons.

"Any time he had a choice, his choice would be to talk about Jesus," said Kitty McGilly, former faith formation consultant with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. "He didn't say Christ, he didn't say God, he didn't say Lord. He very intimately named Jesus."

A friend of the cardinal's for more than 30 years, McGilly remembers him standing off-stage at the SkyDome in 1984 waiting to speak to 45,000 people who had turned up for an event called "Journey of Faith."

There was never a time Dr. David McCann didn’t believe and never a time he didn’t know what he believed. Until he died Aug. 8 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, the McMaster University associate professor of family medicine and expert in disaster relief operations only believed more and more — in God, his Church, his family and the inviolable sacredness of life.

The 50-year-old doctor leaves his wife Donna and five children.

He also leaves a sort of second family in the Florida One Disaster Medical Assistance Team. McCann was its chief medical officer despite having moved away from Georgia to Hamilton, Ont., in 2007.

A dual citizen, Dr. McCann had joined the emergency response team not long after working with survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks. He responded annually to hurricanes in the United States and to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

TORONTO - It’s 805 kilometres from St. Jean Pied du Port in the French Pyrenees to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and 72-year-old George Xuereb believes he can walk it without getting blisters.

He has reason to be hopeful. He’s already beaten prostate cancer, so anything is possible.

Xuereb will walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela — the Way of St. James — with his son Michael, who harbours doubts on the blister count. Michael Xuereb walked the Camino last year and lost track of the number of blisters that emerged on his feet. He remembers precisely the number of toenails he lost — six.

“I figure if I lose five toenails or less I’m moving in the right direction,” said Michael.

TORONTO - When the City of Toronto stops sending out welfare cheques over the coming winter it could be a very good thing, maybe something worth expanding to the entire province, said Catholic observers of the welfare system.

Instead of welfare cheques, the city intends to issue debit cards to Torontonians on Ontario Works. While 65,000 Toronto recipients already receive welfare payments via direct deposit into their bank accounts, there are still about 35,000, most without bank accounts, who receive cheques.

"(The debit card plan) doesn't seem to degrade anybody's dignity or anything like that. It sounds like a good idea," said Bishop John Pazak, chair of the social affairs commission of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.

For many cheque recipients the only way to turn the cheque into spendable cash has been to frequent payday loan companies that charge hefty fees for cashing a cheque. Money Mart charges $2.99 per cheque, plus three per cent of its value. The Cash Store, which operates 574 Cash Store and Instaloan branches across Canada, reported third quarter profits of $1.15 million as of June 30 on quarterly revenue of $49.7 million. The company's profits were down because of a $3 million class-action payout. The courts ruled brokerage fees charged by the payday loan company pushed interest rates above the legal limit.

TULITA, N.W.T. - On the edge of turning 22, Chad Bonnatrouge doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, hasn’t touched drugs, lives with his grandparents and sticks to himself. He graduated from high school in Tulita a couple of years ago and is uncertain what his next move should be.

He’s got family in Vancouver and they have invited him to join them. He’s been there once and is unsure whether he wants to go back. For now he stacks firewood and fetches groceries for his grandparents.

He volunteers for the Tulita Land and Financial Corporation. The volunteer hours qualify him for payments from the corporation, which administers funds from the 1994 Sahtu Dene and Metis Land Claim Agreement.

Sr. Celeste Goulet remembers how at his graduation ceremony the whole village roared in approval when Bonnatrouge’s name was called. Graduation for this quiet, lonely kid was perhaps not a sure thing.

TUKTOYAKTUK, N.W.T. - Kedra and Destiny Kimiksana got to try cherries for the first time at the Catholic mission house in Tuktoyaktuk with Sr. Fay Tromblay. Once they had been warned about the pits, I tried teaching them “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor...” Of course the seven- and eight-year-old girls didn’t know what a tinker or a tailor was. In fact, beggar man and thief were also new vocabulary.

After a couple of tentative bites and discovery of the first pit, both girls decided cherries were pretty good. They also got to try a bit of avocado, which Tromblay added to their salad. Salad is something they only eat at Sister’s house.

They liked the avocado, but found it difficult to pronounce.

Kids in Tuktoyaktuk are familiar with traditional Inuvialuit foods. They love tingmiaq (goose), pipsi (dried fish) and muktuk (skin and blubber of a whale). They eat a lot of imiraq (soup made from caribou, goose or fish).

TULITA, N.W.T. - When Sr. Celeste Goulet was nine years old her dad died. She grew up a fat, lonely kid in Guelph, Ont., who was paradoxically good at sports. Badminton was her game.

When she was first attracted to religious life, Goulet went looking for an order that ran an orphanage. By the 1970s there weren’t many of those left. Some mostly Polish Franciscans, the Felician Sisters, were the last women’s order in North America that still owned an orphanage.

By the time Goulet arrived in Tulita 32 years ago, the young sister had a degree in early childhood education and a conviction that what happens to children matters.

She spent a year talking over options with Tulita parents — do you want a day care or a pre-school? She carefully explained the difference. The parents opted for education that would increase their children’s chances of success in school.

TULITA, N.W.T. - Felicia Bravard and her friends Brendan, Stacy and a girl too shy to give her name to a stranger are passing a summer day in classic teenage style. I found them moseying the gravel roads of Tulita sharing a joint at 10 in the morning.

They offered me a toke, an offer not often made to middle-aged Church journalists. I declined.

If Felicia was a third-generation Canadian with an Italian or Irish background, this would probably fall into the category of teenage misbehaviour — a phase. In a First Nations community in the North, where nearly every adult is either an active alcoholic or counting the weeks, months or years of their sobriety, the 10 a.m. marijuana is more troubling.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is in fact trying to shape a different future for Felicia and her friends. The commission is in the midst of a five-year mandate to create a public record of the tragedy of Indian residential schools and to examine the ongoing fallout of a 130-year policy that separated 150,000 native children from their families. By witnessing the stories of many of the 80,000 survivors and documenting the cultural and societal devastation to families torn apart, the TRC hopes to cultivate reconciliation between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. Over time, they hope to build a better life for teenagers like Felicia.

INUVIK, N.W.T. — Pictures tell stories. Stories tell us who we are. For 15-year-old Mary Masazumi the story falls into the category of mystery.

Her father Alfred is dead and there are no family photo albums at home in Fort Good Hope that stretch back into her father’s childhood. Mary hoped to fill that gap pouring through binders of photos from the archives of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. The diocese came to Inuvik for the Northern National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada June 28 to July 1 with as many photos of students as could be found. Visitors could take home up to five copies. The photos were the most popular attraction outside the commission hearings.

Masazumi’s father went to school at the Immaculate Conception residential school in Aklavik — at least she thinks it was Aklavik.

“He hasn’t told me about residential school,” she said.

INUVIK, N.W.T. - The Church in the north can help native people recover their languages and cultural identity, but it won't be easy, said Oblate Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie at the conclusion of four days of testimony about the damage residential schools did to native families, communities and culture.

Justice Murray Sinclair, chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a five-year mandate to investigate the history of the schools, wrapped up the TRC's Northern National Event in Inuvik July 1 with a warning to aboriginal participants in the Commission's hearings that they will have to take responsibility for the future of native culture.

"The Church can't give you back your language. The Church can't give you back your culture," Sinclair told about 400 people who attended the closing ceremonies for the event.

Sinclair told churches they would have to tell people they don't have to be Christian if they really want reconciliation.