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 - Singers, dancers, musicians and artists lent their talents to raise about $4,000 to support the pro-life charity Aid to Women at a Dec. 8 fundraiser at the El Mocambo nightclub.

The event was held on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

“The owner of El Mocambo is a Marian devotee and he loves Mary and so he loves to donate his club on Marian feast days to causes that understand those feast days,” said Elena Repka, event organizer and vice-president of Aid to Women’s volunteer board of directors. She asked that the club owner not be named to respect his privacy.

It’s a good thing the federal government wants to know where millions of dollars given to the Attawapiskat community has gone, Fr. Rodrigue Vézina told The Catholic Register on the phone from the Northern Ontario reserve. Since 2007, the government has given more than $90 million to the struggling community.

“All of us want to check where all of our tax money is going,” said Vézina, an Oblate missionary and pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Attawapiskat, supported by Catholic Missions In Canada.

The small isolated town near the western shore of James Bay received international attention when Chief Theresa Spence declared a state of emergency in October as temperatures began to drop. For at least the past two years, many residents have lived in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.

Contemplating Christian unity could get you an iPad 2 as part of this year’s Friar’s Essay Contest.

Submissions are currently being accepted for the 10th annual contest for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity co-sponsored by The Catholic Register and the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement-Graymoor in Toronto.

The theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “We will all be changed.” Students are asked to submit a 500-word essay answering the question: What must be changed in order to attain Christian unity in the Church?

TORONTO - After years of free service, churches, shelters, charities and non-profit organizations could be on the hook as the City of Toronto plans to start charging a fee for trash pickup.

The city has said there will be no increase for homeowners in terms of their garbage pickup, but parishioners may be asked to give a little bit to help offset the new fees for churches, said Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the archdiocese of Toronto.

“So really, you’re just going back to the same people to ask for more to support this change,” he said.

The proposal is one of the items on the table as the city works on its 2012 budget. A long list of cuts and increased service fees are on tap as the city struggles to find ways to balance its budget.

MacCarthy said while he understands the city is looking for ways to realize some cost efficiencies, the new proposal is going to have significant implications on the roughly 125 parishes within city limits in the archdiocese of Toronto.

“It really depends on the frequency of pickup at a church for garbage and… the number of bins they might have at a church,” he said. “So if it’s weekly with a bin, they’re talking about $800 a year.”

But it’s difficult to say how many parishes would be affected by this as some use city services while others use private garbage collection, said MacCarthy.

The city wants to start charging a fee for this service “in order to make the system fair overall and to prompt those new to the fee system to improve their waste diversion efforts,” according to a document sent to non-residential customers.

For a curbside bin emptied bi-weekly, the cost is $403, weekly is $806 and twice weekly is $1,612.

The changes would be phased in, with a yearly 25-per-cent increase effective July 1, 2012 and full trash pickup fees effective Jan. 1, 2015.

St. Francis Table, a ministry that provides meals for the less fortunate in Parkdale, would be one of the agenices affected by the trash pickup fee. Br. John Frampton, who runs St. Francis Table, said it’s a crime that charities and church groups are being singled out to pick up the city’s costs.

“We try to keep it to a minimum,” he said. “We compost, we take care of the paper and plastics. We comply with garbage bag content and I just think it’s another money grab to pay for services that are costing too much.”

The poor are getting poorer, he said.

“We are feeding the hungry here six days a week,” said Frampton. “And other groups are doing justice amidst injustice that’s being done by the government that should be responsible to these people.

“St. Francis Table is responsible for feeding the hungry of Toronto and this is the appreciation we get.”

The proposal also includes charging transfer station tipping fees of $100 per tonne of waste to previously exempt non-profits, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

“With the collection, we get a lot of really generous donors that are really careful about what they donate, but we also get a lot of stuff that’s just not usable at all and it has to go to the dump,” said Louise Coutu, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Toronto.

“For years, the Society has had an arrangement with the city where we don’t pay tipping fees because it’s realized that this stuff is our responsibility, but if it weren’t going to us to be sorted, there would probably be more going directly to the dump,” she said.

Coutu estimates this will cost an additional $20,000 on its annual budget.

“It’s not just the tipping fee we’re paying, it’s our truck out there, our guys,” she said. “So it is expensive for us. We’ve seen it as part of our service. You can’t look in everyone’s bag when they’re donating to you.”

This Christmas season, the stories of five diverse people and their journey to the Holy Land to discover the season’s true meaning is airing on CTS’s Journey to Christmas.

The goal of the four-part documentary series was to discover if there was more to Christmas than is typically experienced in North America, said producer Karen Pascal.

“We’re so caught up in the commercialism and the busyness and the gift-giving and I think the true meaning of Christmas has become something really distant,” said Pascal.

TORONTO - Birthright International has been for more than four decades a place that provides a loving alternative to abortion, said co-president Mary Berney.

“We’re here to help women and to basically show them how they can have their baby,” Berney told The Catholic Register.

Founded in Toronto in 1968 by Louise Summerhill, a mother of seven, Birthright International now has about 350 offices in Canada, the United States and Africa.

TORONTO - Fr. Frank Portelli is embracing a new challenge in his priestly life, taking the reins as the director of the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth.

“Successful youth ministry is when you’ve engaged the young person,” Portelli told The Catholic Register. “Not imposing something but finding out what their desire is, what their questions are and trying to meet that need.”

Portelli was assigned as director of the OCY Nov. 1 and is currently in a transition period as he works between his new post and as associate pastor at St. Luke’s parish in Thornhill. As of January, he will be able to focus his efforts solely on his new ministry. Replacing Christian Elia, his posting is for three years.

TORONTO - Jeremy Taggart, drummer for popular Canadian rock band Our Lady Peace, wants to help stop the stigma around mental health issues.

On Nov. 25, he did just that, relating his personal story as keynote speaker for the third annual “No Health without Mental Health” symposium run by the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Taggart spoke about his brother’s battle with schizophrenia.

“We’re here because we’re trying to gauge what is crazy and what is normal,” the former Catholic school student told the audience of about 300 students and teachers. “And it’s a struggle that we all try to gauge every single day.”

TORONTO - Ales Michalevic wants people to know that torture still exists in 21st-century Europe. A candidate in the 2010 presidential election in Belarus, he knows from firsthand experience.

"Just one year ago, I was in prison," he told an audience of about 20 people at the University of Toronto Nov. 24. "And we had hot water and showers once a week."

TORONTO - Mozart called the organ the “king of instruments” for good reason, said Gordon Mansell, music director at Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Toronto. Beginning Dec. 7, Mansell intends on showcasing the instrument’s beauty through a free lunchtime concert series running every Wednesday at the west-end parish.

“What happens in most parishes is that the organ is not used to its fullest potential so the people do not really have a good perspective on the instrument,” said Mansell. “So when they hear organ music played professionally… their every sense is engaged. It is quite an experience unlike any other.”