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.

On the Fourth of July, the Catholic Church in the United States turned toward Washington, not for the fireworks, nor for a windy speech from the president, but for the conclusion of what the American bishops declared to be a Fortnight for Freedom.

I followed it rather more closely than most, since I was appointed last year a consultant to the American bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Alarmed at encroachments on religious liberty at home, and escalating violence against Christians abroad, the ad hoc committee of senior bishops proposed a special fortnight of prayer, fasting, catechesis and public action in defense of religious liberty. Summoning forth “all the energies the Catholic community can muster,” the fortnight was a dramatic appeal to Americans — both Catholic and otherwise — to realize that their “first, most cherished liberty” is under sustained and serious attack.

In Calgary, eternal fatherhood is made manifest once more

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CALGARY - Four new priests were ordained here on the Feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, a most grace-filled day for the diocese of Calgary in its centenary year. It was a blessing for me to be on hand to witness some family friends ordained, and then later to join in the joy of a First Mass at my home parish of St. Bonaventure.

Priestly ordinations are rather fewer than we need these days, so to have four young men is remarkable, all the more so as they all came from local parishes. Their vocation stories are a combination of old patterns and new ones. Two went almost straight from high school, the others after some time working. Their vocations were nourished in Catholic families and inspired by good priests. As is common today, World Youth Day had a significant impact too.

My misgivings about Dublin congress leave me just a little embarrassed

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I was a little embarrassed watching the coverage of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin. Not because of anything that went on in Ireland, but rather because of my original attitude toward the congress being held there at all. Yet watching the pilgrims from around the world gathering in Dublin, I saw that their gestures of sympathy and solidarity were better than an attitude of ostracism and punishment.

When it was announced in 2008 at Quebec City that the 2012 IEC would be in Dublin, I was rather dismayed. I understood that sometimes a local Church in distress can be buoyed by such an international event — after all, that was the logic of having the IEC in Quebec City to begin with, to administer an emergency transfusion to the anemic local Church. Yet Dublin struck me as a step too far. After all, it would be hard to find any place where spectacular incompetence had brought the Church into greater crisis than in Ireland. And Irish society as a whole, led by its government, was hardly better.

Are northern efforts coming at the expense of the new evangelization?

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WHITEHORSE, YT - Last week I wrote about my impressions of the Yukon on my first trip to Canada’s north. In many ways it is altogether different from anything I have previously encountered in Canada’s cities, or even in my parish on Wolfe Island. At the same time the Yukon raises questions that the Church in all of Canada must face.

It is frankly astonishing that anyone lives in some of these remote communities, where a summer visitor is impressed by the natural beauty but year-round residents have to cope with isolation and lack of services, to say nothing of the severe cold and oppressive darkness of the punishing winter. To imagine living up here in the early 20th century, before roads and four-wheel drive trucks and propane gas heating and food preservatives is mindboggling, especially given that an overland trek of several weeks would deliver one into the Okanagan, one of the loveliest climates anywhere in the world.

The challenging capacity of Canada’s far north

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WHITEHORSE, YUKON - On my first visit to Canada’s territories, and the farthest north I have ever travelled on the globe, I was even more curious than I usually am, and asked a lot of questions of those who were kind enough to meet me. One word kept being repeated in almost every answer: “capacity.” The bishop of Whitehorse explained the importance of it, the premier of the Yukon emphasized it, a young couple raised it in relation to housing, an aboriginal shop-owner mentioned it in terms of suppliers — even the receptionist at the local newspaper spoke of it in terms of the newsroom.

Nigerian Catholicism at forefront of universal Church

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There is a new archbishop in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. That might not strike you as big news, but it is. The last time Lagos had a new archbishop was in 1973. Cardinal Anthony Okugie, now 76, retired in May after an astonishing 39 years as archbishop. His successor, Archbishop Alfred Martins, is already 52, so likely will only serve for about 25 years or so.

In the four decades since Cardinal Okugie was appointed, Nigerian Catholicism has come to the forefront of the universal Church. Nigeria’s explosive growth, its sending of missionary priests to the dying Churches of Europe and North America, and its face to face confrontation with militant Islam all have lessons to teach Catholics the world over.

Uniting a diverse flock

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ROME - Pentecost is a feast of unity, as the gift of the Holy Spirit makes possible the unity that the Lord Jesus desires for His Church. To preserve the unity of the Church is one of the first duties of the pastor. The flock is to be brought into the one sheepfold. Yet that remains a very difficult and delicate task. Two current examples, much discussed in Rome these days, point to different approaches.

Consider first the Anglicans. For the better part of 40 years there have been significant numbers of Anglicans looking Romeward, particularly after the unilateral decision in the Anglican Communion in the 1970s to ordain women, something never done by either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Many thought that such a unilateral rupture of common sacramental practice meant a definitive abandonment of the ecumenical path by the Anglican Communion, and therefore some measure should be adopted by Rome to make it easier for Anglicans to become Catholic while preserving something of their ecclesial communities and liturgical heritage. The Holy See took rather a different view. While provision was made for individual Anglican clergy, and individual Anglican lay people could always become Catholic in the normal fashion, there was no provision for groups to enter full communion together.

Ten years after the occupation of the Church of the Nativity

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BETHLEHEM - Ten years ago, for 40 days in April and May 2002, the Church of the Nativity was occupied by armed gunmen. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were outside, the Palestinian armed forces inside, and the Christian world fervently tried not to take offence.

It was a shameful episode, both in its substance and in the reaction to it, a sad signal at the beginning of this century that the persecution of Christians would proceed apace.

New statutes for Caritas may have far-reaching consequences for new evangelization

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ROME - Much of the recent news from Rome deals with matters that, though important, will have minimal effect on the life of the Church as a whole. The negotiations with the Society of St. Pius X, the admission of former Anglicans to full communion, even the doctrinal assessment of one of the leadership associations of American women religious — all of these items are at the margins, rather than the centre, of the universal Church. The Society of St. Pius X has a significant presence in only a few countries, the former Anglicans in even fewer and the congregational leadership subject to doctrinal assessment represents an aging and rapidly diminishing component of American religious life.

Yet one recent piece of news is potentially of great significance for the daily life of the Church throughout the world. The Holy See announced last week reformed statutes for Caritas Internationalis, the global umbrella group of various Catholic development agencies.

Politics needs faith’s blessedness

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On May 1 in Ottawa I had the pleasure of delivering a speech to politicians and others at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Below is an abridged version of that address.

My topic is “Faith in our Common Life: Why Politics Needs Religion.” But permit me to say a few words first about why politicians need religion.

Exactly one year ago, many of you were in the final moments of a federal election campaign. It was a Sunday and the people’s verdict was to be rendered the next day. On a typical Sunday morning I am found in my parish on Wolfe Island, in the St. Lawrence River across from Kingston, but a year ago I was in Rome awaiting the pronunciation of a rather different judgment. Pope John Paul II was declared blessed.

Pope’s early years marked by brotherly faith and love

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ROME - With the papal birthday and anniversary last week, attention in Rome was understandably focused on reviewing the seven-year pontificate of Benedict XVI. I had the unexpected pleasure though of reading about the other end of the Holy Father’s life — the early years of his Bavarian youth.

Last year an interview book was published by Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the pope’s older brother. They were ordained priests together in 1951 and have enjoyed a close relationship through the years. After his election as Pope, the younger brother, Joseph, was not able to travel to Germany to spend time with Georg, so now the monsignor comes several times a year to Rome to spend time with his little brother, the Pope. They had originally planned to retire together to their home in Regensburg, but the events of April 19, 2005, permanently altered that plan.