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.

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.

>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.”

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - For those looking for property in northern and eastern Nova Scotia, there are deals to be had.

The agent representing the diocese of Antigonish, the Chaisson Group, lists 58 properties at www.churchpropertysales.info, 16 of which have already sold. Most of the properties are lots or acreage.

If the diocese got its asking price for every property it would make $7,775,600. The asking prices for the properties already sold comes to $1,604,000.

Selling the properties is a key part of the overall strategy to raise $18 million by November 2012 in order to satisfy settlement agreements with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

The diocese is asking $264,900 for a waterfront home in Iona on Lake Bras d’Or, two hours drive from Antigonish. But a more typical property is 2.5 acres on Bayfield Beach Road in Antigonish for $125,000.

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Since arriving as the bishop of Antigonish in November 2009, Bishop Brian Dunn has spent a lot of time listening and he’s learned how important listening is to his job.

“We need to discern the movement of the spirit,” he said. “We need to revitalize the concept of consultation.”

This agonizing, slow process of listening to as many people as he can — hearing their anger, disappointment and grief — isn’t just a practical strategy for building consensus and making sure as many Catholics as possible feel they’re part of the diocese’s future direction. Dunn believes listening is a spirituality that provides insight into what the Church is.

“I’m convinced that consultation and a spirituality of communion is it. I think that’s the only way,” he said.

It’s not the approach everyone expected from the canon lawyer whose administrative past has included stints as a member of the college of consultors and associate judicial vicar of the marriage tribunal in Windsor-Grand Falls, Newfoundland. But 20-months in, nobody in Antigonish can credibly accuse Dunn of narrow, rule-bound legalism.

YARMOUTH, N.S. - On Norbert LeBlanc’s street there are three houses for sale. They’ve been for sale long enough for the realtor’s signs to start fading and growing rust. House prices in Yarmouth dropped 11.9 per cent between the first quarter of 2010 and 2011, said the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

Southern Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate was 12.7 per cent in April, down from 15.9 per cent a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

What’s left of the diocese of Yarmouth — a diocese that hasn’t had a bishop since Bishop James Wingle was appointed to St. Catharines in 2001 — now has to raise money to pay for sex abuse settlements past and future by selling real estate.

But it’s not as grim a prospect as you might think, LeBlanc told The Catholic Register.

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - As Catholics of Antigonish ponder their post-Raymond Lahey life of faith, duelling groups are holding discussions about what a rebuilt Church should look like.

A left-leaning group fired the first salvo last October with a conference featuring academic theologian Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University. A right-wing group will respond later this month with a conference featuring Michael Voris, a conservative apologist and commentator with a dedicated Youtube following.

“We don’t think the Lakeland conference was really a conference that is in conformity with the true teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Wayne Murphy of Port Hood, organizer of the June conference, titled For the Beauty of the Church.

For Murphy, the only good Catholics are right-wing Catholics.

I hate this story.

I don’t hate it because some people fear stories about sexual abuse by priests could tear apart the Church. Journalism can’t destroy the body of Christ.

All men who use sex to dominate the weak, the vulnerable and the innocent are evil. Men who camouflage predatory sex behind the Gospel, who preach mercy, justice and forgiveness by daylight and consume young souls in the dark, they’re worse.

The unfolding of this story ever since Mount Cashel hit the headlines in 1989 is still news. There is still evil to be unmasked. As a journalist in the Church, I should embrace that challenge. Unmasking evil is part of what journalists  do. What could be a greater service to the Church? But I hate it.

When I worked for The Guelph Mercury in 1990, editing the crime page for our weekend edition, I always put the arrest of priests on sex charges at the top of the page with the biggest headline. That was an easy decision. Predatory priests are bigger news than desperate addicts robbing gas bars. Unexpected reversal is what makes a story news.

Within days of a violent storm that tore limbs from dozens of mature trees and uprooted others, the Scarboro Missions celebrated a gift of 15 new cherry blossom trees on their property.

The gift from the Sakura Project brought out Toronto’s Japanese Catholic community and a Japanese folk dance group in a show of solidarity with Japan June 12, three months after a devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 and pushed the Fukushima nuclear power plant into a meltdown.

“These trees, in a sense, mark this disaster. But also, these trees will grow along with Japan,” said Masaya Otsuka of the consulate general of Japan’s office, which supports the Sakura Project.

The Scarboro Missions headquarters on Kingston Road was chosen as one of 55 sites in 18 municipalities across southern Ontario where the Japanese consulate has planted trees.

Since the Second World War the Scarboros have sent 40 missionaries to Japan. Several Scarboros served over 50 years in Japan and six are buried there.

St. Jerome’s University is dreaming big. By 2015 the Catholic college at the University of Waterloo hopes to be well into a building and expansion program that will begin with a new residence and include an updated library and classrooms, a new student centre and a new graduate program.

St. Jerome’s “Strategic Vision: 2015 and Beyond” lays out the broad strokes, but by fall a campaign team expects to present to the board of governors fundraising goals and priorities, St. Jerome’s president and vice chancellor Fr. David Perrin told The Catholic Register.

“What the vision (statement) strives to do is articulate who we are and who we are proud to be, and where we want to go,” Perrin said.

The vision should start to become a reality in time for the college’s 150th anniversary in 2015, said Perrin.

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.