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.

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.”

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has created a new comic book as an educational tool to raise awareness of the struggles faced by those in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We believe in the power of youth to change the world and that they hold the future in their hands,” said Shelley Burgoyne, youth programs officer at Development and Peace. “So by reaching out to them in such a dynamic format we really hope to raise awareness of the struggles of our brothers and sisters in the (Congo) and encourage our Canadian youth to speak out.”

TORONTO - The concept of being open rather than closed to people of different faiths and backgrounds is in some ways more important than traditional left-right political distinctions, former British prime minister Tony Blair told an audience at the University of Toronto Nov. 17.

Standing alongside six young people of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Bahá’í faiths who are the Faiths Act "fellows" stationed in Toronto, Blair said he couldn't think of a better place to do interfaith work than in Toronto. Faiths Act is the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's multi-faith social action program with 34 fellows stationed in five countries around the world.

TORONTO - The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is concerned its VincenPaul Community Homes program will be lost if the proposed sale of 706 stand-alone housing units by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) board goes ahead.

St. Vincent de Paul leases 11 of the houses TCHC is proposing to sell, said Louise Coutu, executive director of the society’s central council in Toronto. These residences act as peer-monitored recovery programs. The society owns an additional three homes. Out of its 86 beds, 66 of those will be affected, Coutu said.

TORONTO - As sculptor Tim Schmalz works on his Nativity sculpture, he compares it to a Christmas carol — one of the songs of absolute happiness.

“Throughout this process, what happened was the figures became more joyous, the designs became more lyrical… And it wasn’t ‘Silent Night.’ It was definitely one of loud celebration as far as the representation is concerned,” said Schmalz.