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.

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.

INUVIK, N.W.T. - In the midst of a gathering which seeks reconciliation and healing from the 130-year history of residential schools in Canada, Catholic and Anglican bishops from the north took responsibility for the 400-year-old division between the churches and pledged continued dialogue, co-operation and reconciliation.

"This is a road we're on and there are no exits," said Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

The gesture of reconciliation and healing came on June 29, day two of the five-day Northern National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in Inuvik. About 1,000 native people from all over the far north have gathered with Church and government officials to review the history of the residential schools, hear the stories of school survivors and imagine a new future for native Canadians.

Anglican and Catholic missionaries brought their rivalry with them to northern communities, often dividing communities and families along denominational lines. Catholics couldn't attend the funerals of their Anglican family members. Anglican and Catholic residential school students fought each other on the basis of religious labels.

"These are things we offer regret for, and we want to put them in our past," said Bishop Murray Chatlain of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, N.W.T.

INUVIK, N.W.T - It was a day of tears in Inuvik as Inuit, Dene and Metis gathered to remember and count their losses from years spent in residential schools.

"For the life of me, I can't remember the years from five years old to ten years old," said John Banksland, a representative of the northern survivors committee.

The second major hearing in the Truth and Reconciliation process opened on June 21 with approximately 1,000 survivors of residential schools turning out to tell their stories or listen to others tell theirs.

The federally funded commission is crossing the country to document the abuse that was rampant in the Indian residential school system that ran in Canada for more than a century.

Banksland's hope for the four-day meeting of residential school survivors, church representatives and government officials was for a better future.

"We've had 130 years of this stuff," he said. "It's time to let it go."

Unions, strikes and lockouts have dominated headlines and preoccupied the government as Canada eases into summer. So how many sermons are being preached about the right of workers to unionize? How often do Catholics recall the teaching of successive popes that workers have a right to a just wage that will provide for their families and old age?

Windsor and District Labour Council chaplain Fr. Bill Capitano — Fr. Cap down at the union hall — is convinced those sermons need to be preached.

“You might lose some people, but I think you would gain more,” Capitano told The Catholic Register. “The Church is talking about decent, living wages and the right to unionize. Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think that would be good for the Church.”

Beginning with the Canadian Auto Workers’ brief strike against Air Canada in mid-June, the Conservative government has taken an aggressive stance against strikes which Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said threaten the economy. The CAW and Air Canada decided to arbitrate their pension dispute before back-to-work legislation could take effect. Legislation imposed on Canada Post and its locked-out workers has saddled workers with lower pay raises than the employer had initially proposed in bargaining. Meanwhile, the Public Service Alliance of Canada is predicting a bitter fight over government plans for job cuts.

With an Ontario election looming in the fall, community faith leaders staged an all-party debate on poverty at the University of Toronto June 9. Well, it was almost an all-party debate. Despite seven weeks of trying, they couldn’t land a representative from the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

ISARC, an ecumenical and interfaith coalition supported by Ontario’s bishops and Catholic religious orders, went ahead anyway and at least one debater said the Conservative absence was irrelevant.

“Poverty will be an issue. You can’t ignore it. It’s not going away,” said Etobicoke Centre Liberal MPP Donna Cansfield.

Whether poverty is an issue when the election heats up in the fall will be up to churches, mosques and temples, said ISARC executive director Michael Skaljin.

“The faith communities are not going to be silent on this,” he said.

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.