Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island, and chaplain at Newman House at Kingston, Ont.’s Queen’s University.

BALTIMORE - Last week the bishops of the United States gathered in their premier diocese and protested the erosion of the founding liberties of the American republic. In their annual plenary meeting the bishops designated threats to religious liberty as a key pastoral concern. The American bishops are right to be alarmed, but not only them. Religious liberty is under threat all over the world.

The most grievous attacks are lethal, with Christians being killed for their faith in Egypt, Iraq and India, just to mention the sites of massacres in the last year. Then there is the routine and brutal persecution of Christians in communist states, like China, or Islamist ones, like Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the vast majority of acts of religious persecution around the world are against Christians.

The death of Bil Keane, cartoonist and evangelist of culture, was a reminder that even the former can be an instrument of the latter.

Keane, who died on Nov. 8 at the age of 89, drew the Family Circus cartoon for more than 50 years. It launched in 1960 — during a leap year on Feb. 29 — and is still being published. The one-panel comic was in the form of a circle, and Keane had originally called it the Family Circle. A popular magazine of the same name objected and so Keane changed it to Family Circus, the protest from the eponymous periodical proving serendipitous, for the antics of Daddy, Mommy, Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and PJ were often circus-like.

Many of the World Youth Day pilgrims in Spain this summer warmed up, so to speak, by walking the Camino de Santiago — the 800-km medieval pilgrim route from the French Pyrenees to the Cathedral of St. James (Santiago) in Compostela, Spain. In recent years, the Camino (the Way) has become enormously popular, with many walking all or part of it for reasons both religious and secular.

In my own family, my younger sister did it some years ago, and my mother and father walked some 100 km of it a few years back. Last month, my uncle and aunt made the pilgrim way. It seems everyone and his brother is making the pilgrimage — though not literally, as my family would be hard pressed to persuade this aggressively sedentary brother to take the Santiago stroll.

KINGSTON - We are justly proud of our Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and so should Catholics across the land, for Kingston is the mother church of all English Canada. I count it a great blessing that I offer the Holy Mass there every Sunday night. Now Canadians from sea to sea shall have the opportunity to honour our cathedral with every letter and card they send.

On All Saints Day, Canada Post unveiled its Christmas stamps for 2011 at a special ceremony in our cathedral. Three images from the cathedral’s magnificent stained glass windows were selected. The angel appearing to Joseph will grace the domestic stamp, the Nativity the American stamp and the Epiphany was chosen for the international stamp.

Commonwealth summits come and go, with often nothing more dramatic taking place than Queen Elizabeth having to smile benignly upon some less-than-benign leaders of various unlovely regimes. This week in Perth, Australia, will be different. It is expected that the 16 heads of government from those countries where Her Majesty is head of state will agree to modifications in the rules for succession. If they all agree, the British parliament will amend the 1701 Act of Settlement to i) remove male primogeniture in favour of simple primogeniture, and ii) remove the prohibition on heirs to the throne marrying Catholics.

Currently, males are preferred in the order of succession, even if they have an older sister. It seems rather incongruous to speak of unfairness in a hereditary monarchy, as heredity is always arbitrary, but it is generally accepted that treating sons and daughters equally would be more fair. Since 1701, the two longest reigning and most successful monarchs have been queens, Victoria and Elizabeth II — reigning nearly a combined 125 years — so the distaff side has taken a rather distinguished turn even under current norms.

In Kingston and Wolfe Island, where I work and live, Don Cherry occupies a rather unique place. He grew up in Kingston and has a summer cottage on Wolfe Island. Here, he is one of our own.

In a larger sense, too, Cherry is considered by many across Canada to be just that — one of our own in a way that few are. For that reason, from time to time the whole nation erupts in a great Cherry controversy. The Globe and Mail employs a full-time columnist apparently for that reason alone. So for almost a fortnight, much attention was paid to what Grapes said Oct. 6 on the inaugural Coach’s Corner of the hockey season. On Oct. 15, in his regular spot, he apologized.

Fr. Robert J. Bedard, founder of the Companions of the Cross, died on Oct. 6. He was a great sign of hope for the Church in Canada, a truly original pioneer in the new evangelization.

Fr. Bob, as he was known to all, and I were not friends, but certainly had many friendly encounters over the years. Our last meeting stands out for it captured so much about Fr. Bob.

On Oct, 3, Fr. de Souza was invited to address a consultative meeting of Canadian religious leaders convened by John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, about the decision of the federal government to establish an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. What follows is an adaptation of what he said.

Just last spring I offered on Parliament Hill, in my capacity as chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society — an informal association of Catholic parliamentarians — a memorial Mass for Shahbaz Bhatti, the slain Pakistani minister, killed for his advocacy of the rights of religious minorities. That Mass, obviously Catholic, was attended by MPs and Senators of different parties, including many who were not Catholic, or even Christian. It was a sign that religious liberty is not an issue of special pleading by religious believers alone, much less religious believers of only one kind or another.

This morning I only speak for myself, but I would note that Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his annual message for the World Day of Peace 2011 to the importance of religious freedom.

It’s not right to characterize a people by their elected representatives. Who among us would advise our visitors that the Canadian character is what one witnesses, say, in the House of Commons during Question Period? So the fact that many members of the German federal parliament (Bundestag) boycotted Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in that chamber last week ought not be held against the German people.

But it should be noted for what it says about the German political culture. That so many — perhaps as many as a hundred members from the Green, Left and Social Democratic opposition parties — could be so rude and so closed-minded is a discouraging sign that all is not well in the heart of Europe. Remember that last year in Great Britain, the Queen extended a most gracious welcome to the Holy Father, and the entire assembled ranks of British political life — including all former living prime ministers — did Benedict the honour of welcoming him to the Palace of Westminster. Or a few years back, when President George W. Bush gave an extraordinarily warm and festive welcome at the White House, and even gave a formal dinner for the Pope, despite the fact that popes don’t attend such dinners. So the cool reception from a significant part of the German parliament is certainly not the normal courtesy the Holy Father is usually shown.

September 20, 2011

A tale of two funerals

Enough has been written about the Jack Layton funeral, but indulgent readers may permit me to add a final thought to what I have written elsewhere. Not so much about how Mr. Layton chose to organize his final parting, but rather to note the contrast between two funerals.

A few days after Jack Layton was feted at Roy Thomson Hall, the funeral Mass for Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic was offered at St. Michael’s Cathedral. The difference was like black and white.

In the concert hall, Rev. Brent Hawkes and others went on at great length about carrying forth Mr. Layton’s vision of an “inclusive” social movement. And the massed ranks of the proudly progressive stood and applauded lustily, all the while patting themselves on the back for their broad-mindedness — which is anatomically hard to do at the same time, but the spirit of the occasion demanded it.