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.

{mosimage}Another step, however minor, toward canonizing Pope Pius XII has got Canadian Jews wondering, why now?

The Dec. 19 Vatican declaration of Pope Pius XII’s “heroic virtues” has prompted the Canadian Jewish Congress to remind Canadian bishops that many Jews still harbour doubts about the war-time pope’s record.

{mosimage}As February dawned the Games were already on for British Columbia Catholics getting ready to welcome Olympic athletes, media and fans for the XXI Winter Games.

“I was in the athletes’ village this morning, just making sure everything is set up for Mass tomorrow morning,” Msgr. Jerry Desmond told The Catholic Register  just days before the opening ceremonies.

In the next 20 years Canada is expected to be less Christian, and a little less religious.

According to Statistics Canada, the most dramatic change in Canada’s religious landscape will be an increase in the number of Muslims. Muslims currently make up 35 per cent of all non-Christians. By 2031 they will be half of the non-Christian population.

The last time Bishop John Sherlock saw his old friend Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic there were tears in Sherlock’s eyes.

“The devastation of that Parkinson’s (like disease) had set in,” recalled London’s bishop emeritus. “I remember being overwhelmed with sadness. I remember I came out of his room and I broke into tears.”

Cardinal Ambrozic was a scholar who spoke English, French, Italian and German, read Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, all in addition to his native Slovenian. It was painful for Sherlock to think of the cardinal imprisoned by a disease, unable to communicate.

“His life must have been pretty miserable. He was a voracious reader and I presume even that was stripped away. He was a great communicator and that was taken away,” said Sherlock.

Sherlock prayed for Cardinal Ambrozic by name every day over the last two years. He directed his prayers to Blessed John Paul II, who had also suffered through Parkinson’s.

TORONTO - They sang "Christ is the World's Light" as they wheeled Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic's coffin down the centre aisle of St. Michael's Cathedral at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon to begin two days of vigil and visitation.

The cardinal's simple casket, adorned only with a crucifix, was greeted at the cathedral doors by St. Michael's Cathedral rector Fr. Michael Busch, who sprinkled it with holy water — a reminder of our common baptism.

The ceremony began with more than 200 already in the cathedral awaiting the cardinal's last entry into his Church. As the ceremony progressed they kept coming. By the time the congregation was singing Salve Regina the cathedral was more than half full.

Family, friends, trusted advisors and priests were among the first to file by the casket and offer a prayer for their old ally.

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.