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.

When media push the envelope, push back

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In a recent episode of the Canadian TV series Rookie Blue, a priest is tackled by a pair of police officers who show little patience with his explanation: A penitent had threatened to do something stupid, hence the priest, baseball bat in hand, chased him up the street. In the ensuing dialogue, one officer notes, “He’s a priest. He can’t be lying.” The other counters, “Pff, priests lie. Ever see that wafer that they call bread?”

The snide reference to the Eucharist offended many Catholic viewers, some of whom forwarded complaints to me as well as to Global Television, the originating network. In my own message to the network, I pointed out there must be countless, less offensive ways to convey a character’s skepticism about clergy and organized religion. The scene and its dialogue were unfortunate, given that the rest of the episode contained little if anything that would be regarded as offensive. (I had never watched the show before. When I saw the title in listings I had simply assumed it was yet another American crime offering.)

Where we fail to see Christ’s presence

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An American novelist I know recently found himself front-page news because of parental complaints about the language in one of his books.

The work, which is on the recommended reading list in the local public school system, belatedly drew the ire of a couple who protested that the frequent swearing and vulgarity of certain characters offended their family sensibilities.

According to a front-page story in the Charleston, S.C. Post and Courier, James Pasley and his wife want author Bret Lott’s novel, The Hunt Club, deleted from their son’s high school reading list. They have been loud enough that county school authorities have convened a hearing to try to resolve the issue.

Arrogance on full display in papal snub

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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.

There is always hope, and there is always faith

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Do you believe in miracles?

It’s an age-old question. Songs and movies have been written on the topic. Sporting events have taken the issue as their own: consider the “Miracle on Ice” or the “Immaculate Reception.” TV evangelists and so-called “doctors” the world over have gotten rich selling miracle healing and miracle cures.

Sometimes, the question touches us so personally and so profoundly that we can’t get it out of our mind. Can we definitely give all credit to God’s grace? Is God not working through the actions of humans, such as doctors, nurses and others? 

I found myself in this state the other day.

A tale of two funerals

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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.

‘Low-rent absurdity’ case shows our frightening times

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MONTREAL - Paula Celani will be in a Montreal courtroom Nov. 1 fighting a fine for attending an illegal Roman Catholic Mass.

Canadians of all religious faiths — and even those who care only about protecting Charter freedoms — should cross their fingers that she wins.

Celani actually showed up to fight the case this week. Alas, three public sector “witnesses” expected to testify against her were no shows so the matter was delayed until the day after Halloween.

Faith, reason and fundamentalism

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Last week was all about 9/11. This week should be about 9/12.

Five years ago, on the day after the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Pope Benedict XVI gave his famous — or infamous in some quarters — Regensburg address. He spoke frankly about the role of faith and reason, the question of violence in religion and the challenges facing both Islam and Christianity. The subsequent eruption of violence in the Islamic world to protest the Pope’s suggestion that there might be a problem in the Islamic world punctuated the urgency of the questions engaged.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, presidents, prime ministers and princes visited mosques, hosted Ramadan fast-breaking dinners and loudly proclaimed that Islam is a religion of peace. All well and good, but fraternal goodwill and Christian charity is not a replacement for dealing forthrightly with the theological justification advanced for such violence. Bad theology is answered not by breaking bread together. It is answered by good theology. On 9/12 five years ago, Benedict did what he does best, namely, highlight the theological issues at stake, the most pressing of which was the status of violence in Islamic theology.

Travelling in an age of lost reverence

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ROME - Given the perpetual chaos of the Eternal City, visitors might be surprised to learn of the strict regulations governing the tourist mecca known as the Spanish Steps.

According to a sign, it is forbidden under Article 14 Regolamento P.U. to “shout, squall and sing” anywhere on the elegant 18th century outdoor stairs linking the Piazza di Spagna and the Church of Trinita dei Monti.

It seems a case, however, where ignorance of the law is no abuse. I have never, in numerous visits to the area over the years, witnessed anyone shouting or singing. As for squalling, not even the drafters of Article 14 Regolamento P.U. could have imagined a greater lack of it.

What tourists who visit the Spanish Steps do is what they seem to do everywhere else they go: have themselves photographed, self-conscious and impatient, in front of the site of their latest inattention.

In Fr. Judge, Jesus was there

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The picture hangs in my home. At first glance it is easy to overlook him. He is slumped down, being lifted out of the rubble in a chair. The men carrying him dominate the scene, their uniforms covered in soot and plaster and ash. They are straining. He is dead.

The photograph of Fr. Mychal Judge being carried out of the World Trade Centre is one of the most enduring images from 9/11, a day when even the most vivid imagination was unequal to the unfolding reality. A Franciscan priest, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, Fr. Mychal rushed to the World Trade Centre after it had been hit.

He was tending to the wounded in the lobby, blessing, comforting, administering the sacraments. In the photograph his right hand is hanging limp, as though exhausted from the blessing, the comforting, the anointing. When the neighbouring tower collapsed debris struck Fr. Mychal. They carried him out and laid him in St. Peter’s Church, just around the corner from the World Trade Centre. A photographer caught the moment, and it appeared immediately everywhere. Just as immediately it was recognized as a religious image. This was the deposition from the cross in Manhattan.

Financial reality and the media hordes

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A few months ago, my colleague Fr. Raymond de Souza began a column about fashion trends in wedding dresses by recalling the old adage “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Perhaps a similar caution is in order in this case.

My formal training in math ended sometime in the ninth grade, and my investment experience could be printed on the back of a business card. Nevertheless, the peaks and valleys in global markets in the past few years have made more than one person wonder if the media have played any role in how fast stock values have changed and how quickly people reacted, possibly setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In early August both the Dow Jones and the TSX dropped more than 500 points in a single day, wiping out almost all the much-awaited gains of 2011. The media response would have been difficult to ignore for anyone near a television or computer screen at the time; all the news networks and cable stations filled instantly with talking heads, many of them belonging to the same analysts who had tried to explain the even-worse disaster of 2008. Since there was no quick fix then, it’s unlikely there will be one now, but people continue to look for one, or at least look for a simple explanation for why this is happening.