Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo, The Catholic Register

Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo, The Catholic Register

Vanessa is a communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations and Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto and former reporter and youth editor for The Catholic Register. 

You can follow her on twitter @V_Santilli.

TORONTO - Natalie Wong is the first-place winner of the Friar’s Essay Contest sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and The Catholic Register for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

High school students between the ages of 14 and 18 were asked to submit an essay no longer than 500 words answering the question: “What must be changed in order to attain Christian unity in the Church?”

Students were asked to reflect on the Scripture passage of 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, given the theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25: “We will all be changed.”

TORONTO - Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird met with a group of religious leaders in Toronto Jan. 18 to continue discussions on the soon-to-launch Office of Religious Freedom.

“The only thing the minister said is that this office is for religious minorities abroad — not at home — and it has a budget of $5 million,” said Imam Abdul Hai Patel, who was in attendance at the consultation.

But there was not a clear answer as to how this is going to be enforced, he said.

TORONTO - More than 20,000 pamphlets were dropped in mailboxes at homes across Ontario as part of the “De-Fund Abortion Pamphleting Blitz” on Jan. 14.

The aim was to raise awareness among taxpayers that their tax dollars are providing abortion services in the province.

“It works at the grassroots level to spread awareness about… abortion funding to motivate and activate the everyday person to contact their MPP,” said Alissa Golob, youth co-ordinator at Campaign Life Coalition, who ran the event.

TORONTO - Timothy Keslick has had a spiritual director for the past three years — and he nows sees his faith as a joy, something to be embraced. 

“It’s good to freshen and strengthen your spiritual life and make sure you’re on the right track… It’s just getting into the habit of being more open to whatever God has in store,” said Keslick, a second-year history and linguistics student at Toronto’s York University.

While spiritual direction is commonly associated with adults, there are many young adults who seek it too, said Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt, director of Faith Connections, the young adult ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Faith Connections connects young adults with spiritual directors. 

TORONTO - Musician Susan HooKong-Taylor is doing everything she can in her music ministry to build up the body of Christ.

One way is through a Catholic arts initiative called The Beads.

“The Beads is an initiative that allows people to connect and then to express, to experience and to share a culture of life through the arts,” HooKong-Taylor told The Catholic Register.

TORONTO - The City of Toronto is conducting an online survey to determine if the public wants retail stores to open on holidays such as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.

This retail holiday shopping consultation is the result of a May 2010 report recommending that City Council allow all retail stores to remain open or closed at the discretion of the store owner or manager. 

“We’ve had a number of residents, retailers and businesses who have said in certain areas of the city… the holiday shopping is allowed and what they have indicated to the city is they don’t think it’s fair that in certain areas of the city the city allows it, but not in other areas,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of Toronto’s Economic Development Committee.

Suzanne Fowler wants people to fill the hole in their hearts with God, not with food.

That’s the premise of Fowler’s Light Weigh program for weight loss, which she created to solve her own struggles with eating.

“People are not going to food because they’re physically hungry when they’re overeating,” Fowler told The Catholic Register. “They’re going to food because of a spiritual hunger. It’s emotional. It’s taking place in the heart.”

Creating a sculpture is like playing a game of chess, said sculptor Tim Schmalz of his expanding clay Nativity scene. 

"Your opponent does one move and that will determine your move," said Schmalz. "And with doing a multi-figured sculptural scene like this, I have to react with the central piece… I have to monitor what person plays what role within this drama."

Schmalz worked on his sculpture of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the sixth annual Friends of the Crèche International Convention in November and is currently working on adding the three wise men, shepherds, an angel and animals to the scene. He hopes to have the sculpture completed by Christmas.

TORONTO - Pro-life activist Linda Gibbons will be spending her Christmas season in jail, having been arrested Dec. 16 for violating an injunction that barred her protests in front of Toronto abortion clinics.

The arrest comes just two days removed from Gibbons’ appearance before the Supreme Court of Canada as she tried to have the injunction barring her pro-life protests quashed. This injunction has led to some 20 arrests over the years and nine years of incarceration.

Gibbons began her latest protest around 9 a.m. at the Morgentaler Clinic near Bayview and Eglinton Avenues. Toronto Police arrested her about two hours later.

North Bay’s Knights of Columbus are distributing 1,200 pins to parishioners this Advent to make sure they remember the reason for the season.

“They’re about an inch-and-a-half in diameter and it has ‘Christmas’ at the top and ‘birth of Christ’ at the bottom and a picture of the Holy Family,” said Donald Halsall, financial secretary of the North Bay Council 1007, which was chartered in 1905.

“It’s to remind our Christians what the real meaning of Christmas is. We get wrapped up in gifts… but we should be remembering the purpose of Christmas is the birth of Christ,” said Halsall.