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 - Discernment has many different paths. Last Lent, my own personal discernment took me on Lenten Listening: A Busy Person’s Retreat run by Faith Connections, Regis College and the Toronto Area Vocation Directors Association. I came home with more than I bargained for but just what I needed.

Seriously contemplating whether or not I wanted to pursue freelance writing full-time, the retreat paired me up with a spiritual director in my area with whom I visited three times over the course of six weeks. Never having received any sort of formal spiritual direction before, I went into the sessions hoping to have a clearer idea of whether this was what I truly wanted.

HAVANA, CUBA - In Old Havana, time seems to stand still. Amidst the stunning architecture and vintage cars rolling along cobblestone streets, visitors are shown a glimpse of a different world at this UNESCO World Heritage site.

But what is striking about the old city is the many signs of Catholicism in the capital of one of the few remaining communist nations in the world. It is evident immediately upon arrival in Havana. Driving past the bay, we saw the white marble Christ of Havana statue on a hilltop. There was no stopping, however, as the 20-metre work of art was under construction.

Then we made our way into the city, down the narrow walkways into the heart of Old Havana.What do we pass but a stone cross towering overhead, smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk — a sign of what’s to come.

Our tour began at the Basilica and Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi. Built at the tail end of the 16th century for the Franciscan community, its religious use was discontinued in the mid-1760s after Cuba reverted to Spanish rule following a brief two years under British rule. Attached to a 40-metre bell tower, the basilica functions today as a museum and concert hall. Inside, there is a glass statue of Jesus that was given to former Cuban president Fidel Castro by Blessed Mother Teresa, our tour guide tells us.

Walking into the picturesque “Hostal Valencia,” a rustic bed and breakfast established by Spanish settlers, there is a large portrait of Castro (or El Comandante, as locals call him). And less than a half-metre away, a small illuminated statue of Mother Mary holding baby Jesus in a glass case caught my eye. To an outsider, it seems contradictory to have these two symbols so close. Then again, the Blessed Virgin and the dictator both have devotees in this communist state. The city’s charm is encapsulated here, with vines growing from the upper balcony of a large courtyard where visitors eat at tables on the ground level.

Continuing along our route, El Templete comes into view, a tiny neoclassical chapel partially covered by a massive ceiba tree. It was erected on the spot where Havana’s first Mass was held under the same kind of tree in the 1500s. Every Nov. 16, Habaneros (residents of Havana) celebrate the anniversary of the first Mass along with the first town council of San Cristobal de la Habana.

A little farther along is the Museum of the City, which used to be the Captain General’s Palace, seat of the Spanish governments on the island from 1791 to 1898. From 1899 until 1902, the U.S. military governors were based here, and during the first two decades of the 20th century the building briefly became the presidential palace. Half of it was used for official business and the other half as a residence. But before it served these purposes, this was the site of Havana’s original church, the Parroquial Mayor, with relics from its past on display in the lower chambers. Among these relics are an old pew, a Gospel adorned in gold, a monstrance decorated in coral and a sculpture of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns.
Fittingly enough, the finale was the iconic cathedral of Havana that has not one name, but two. Officially called the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, it’s better known as the Cathedral of St. Christopher, Havana’s patron saint. Before being shipped off to the cathedral in Seville, Spain, the bones of Christopher Columbus lay here. On either side of the baroque facade are bell towers, one of which is visibly larger, creating an intentional asymmetry. Tourists shuffle about the square outside, staring in awe at the grandiose testament to the faith.

Amidst the multitude of sights in Old Havana, such as the Ambos Mundos Hotel where American writer Ernest Hemingway penned many of his classics, and Morro Castle that guards the entrance to Havana Bay, Catholic icons are scattered. They play a prominent role in giving Habana Vieja its unique character.

Six months after Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba and spoke out for stronger religious freedom for Catholics, it was interesting to see the religiosity inherent in the city’s many features. Indeed, it is a country of contrasts. Although the anti-religious views of Marxism have clearly had a powerful impact on the country, Cuba’s Catholic roots remain.

TORONTO - As the new chaplain at the Newman Centre, Fr. Chris Cauchi is looking forward to serving the spiritual needs of students at the University of Toronto.

“Newman is such a vibrant place,” Cauchi told The Catholic Register. “I’d like to first observe what’s going on, learn, and I’m very blessed I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many priests and laypeople before me have already laid the foundation.

“My hope is to be able to nourish and support that growth that is going on here.”

Cauchi moved into the Newman Centre June 27, taking the reigns from Fr. Michael Machacek. He’ll also serve as pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, located just next door to the Newman Centre.

Cauchi, who turned 32 on Aug. 11, was first assigned to be associate pastor at St. Barnabas parish in Scarborough, where he helped co-ordinate the youth ministry. When he moved to St. Michael’s Cathedral two years later, he was involved with the young adult ministry along with being the assistant chaplain for Ryerson chaplaincy.

Born in Canada, his family decided to move to its native Malta when he was three years old. It was in Malta where he entered the seminary.

“We have the policy of the internship year,” said Cauchi. “We have to do it outside of the diocese, so being Canadian, I thought it would be good to do it here.”

He returned to Malta for his theology but his diocese of Gozo has a policy where you must serve abroad for at least two years after ordination.

“So in my case I came here and from two years it became seven and I’m still here. And I like it.”

His appointment to Newman came as a surprise, he said.

“But I’m very glad to be here.”

His role will comprise three components: the parish, the residency formation program and the chaplaincy outreach to students, he said.

“I want to emphasize my mission would be to try to make justice with the three of them.”

The challenges of the job will reflect the challenges of every Catholic, said Cauchi.

“How can we remain rooted in the tradition of the Church? How can we grow personally and communally in our relationship with Christ? How is Christ calling this community to leave behind what’s familiar and go to the unfamiliar territory that Christ may want us to be?

“These are some questions that every believer needs to focus on, that our community is focusing on. And I think the Holy Spirit will continue to guide this community and this process of change.”

Two years can really change a person. Faith-wise, anyway.

During my time as Youth Editor, I have been blessed with the opportunity to go to World Youth Day in Madrid to see the Pope in person. I’ve read YOUCAT: The Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’ve met with a spiritual director a couple times. I even hopped on a plane and travelled to Connecticut for a retreat with the Sisters of Life. But what is more astounding (to me, anyway) is the fact that I now like praise and worship music, even uploading some of these songs onto my iPod.

This is all a pretty big deal for me. I think things started changing after World Youth Day. Being in a climate where everyone was so open about their faith was really strange and amazing. Whereas before that the Catholic and non-Catholic worlds were always separate to me, for once, they were blended together. There was no filter.

I remember throwing around the term “faith journey” now and then over the years, but I don’t think I truly understood the term until this past year, when I was actually actively on one.

To be open to God isn’t an easy task. To have a genuine desire to listen is equally as challenging because it’s easier not to try to listen. But I’ve learned to try to be open, come what may.

My spiritual director shared a Bible verse from Jeremiah with me, and it has given me much food for thought: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to give you a future with hope... when you search for me you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”

This really stuck with me. Once I heard it, I wanted to hear it again. It was encouraging, exciting.

Through covering the Catholic community and getting to know many faith-filled people, I’ve learned a lot. We are the company we keep, after all.

YOUCAT was really helpful, too. Included in our pilgrim backpacks at World Youth Day (although you can buy them at Catholic bookstores, too), sections range from “What We Believe” to “How We Should Pray” to “How We Are to Have Life in Christ.” It has been a great resource for me and helped me to understand the basic tenets of the faith, which I assumed I knew.

The answer to the question, “Why do we need faith and the sacraments in order to live a good, upright life?” is one of the most relatable parts of the book.

“If we were to rely only on ourselves and our own strength, we would not get far in our attempts to be good,” it reads. “Through faith, we discover that we are God’s children and that God makes us strong.”

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s to trust in God. It sounds easy, but it’s surprisingly hard to let go and do. For now, I’ll just keep trying.

TORONTO - On the feast day of Jesus' grandparents, a eucharistic celebration in honour of new Bishop Wayne Kirkpatrick was held at St. Michael's Cathedral July 26, where his own grandparents were married about 100 years ago.

Heading to St. Patrick’s Catholic Street Patrol, I was apprehensive.  

The premise of the weekly event is to hand out sandwiches, drinks and snacks to the homeless on the streets of downtown Toronto during the hot summer months.

But the idea isn’t to give some food and move on. It’s to engage the homeless and to offer friendship to those on the outskirts of society.

With whole wheat turkey and mozzarella sandwiches in tow, I joined the group walking to Nathan Phillips Square. Just before reaching our destination, our group leader spotted two men she thought might want a sandwich.

I hung back at first, then joined the group.

A friend and I chatted with Bill for about 10 minutes. He talked about how he worked on the Rogers Centre when it was built (called the SkyDome back then) and how his father just had a big operation.

He told us he’d be going in to the hospital for surgery soon, but he was nervous because he didn’t want to be worked on by the med students.

Bill didn’t want a sandwich, he had just come from the Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program at Osgoode Hall.

As the organizers had told us, many people on the street just want some company. It’s still nourishment, just a different type.

As we entered the main area at Nathan Phillips Square, we encountered a group of about 10 homeless people gathered close together, made up of both men and women.

After giving out one sandwich, others started approaching me asking if they could have one, too. I asked others in the group if they wanted one as well and ran out of sandwiches.

I thought it was going to be an uncomfortable experience, but it wasn’t.

It was just people interacting with other people. I think that’s the best lesson of all. We’re all just fellow members of humanity and regardless of the amount of money to our name, both giving and receiving dignity and respect are priceless. Sure, recipients of Street Patrol gain. But, whether they realize it or not, so do the participants.

Going home that night, I opened the fridge to make a sandwich.

Seeing a variety of cold cuts to choose from, it felt like absolute abundance.

Fittingly enough, my father shared a page from a book he tore out while doing some stonework on an old factory earlier that day. It was a list titled, “Rules for Being Human.”

Bullet two resonated with me: “You are enrolled in full-time informal school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant.”

The last statement read, “You will forget this.”

I’ll try my best not to forget what I learned at Street Patrol. And if I do, I can always go back next week.

ST. CATHARINES, ONT. — During Bishop Wayne Kirkpatrick's July 25 ordination, significant figures in his life raced through his mind.

"I was thinking of my parents," he told The Catholic Register, after becoming the newest auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Toronto. "I was thinking of Bishop Thomas Fulton who ordained me."

He was also thinking about the years he spent at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, where the ordination took place.

"I've been here for 14 years altogether and I was ordained here."

Kirkpatrick said his new ministry is going to be a greater responsibility.

"Definitely in the laying on of hands, I could feel that responsibility coming upon me."

Born in St. Catharines on June 5, 1957, Kirkpatrick studied at St. Jerome's College at the University of Waterloo, earning a bachelor of arts in philosophy before entering St. Augustine's Seminary in 1980 where he completed a masters of divinity before being ordained to the priesthood in 1984. He also studied at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, where he earned a Licentiate (masters) of canon law in 1990.

The move to the archdiocese of Toronto is going to be difficult, Kirkpatrick acknowledged.

"It's always difficult to uproot but I think life is a series of uprootings," said Kirkpatrick. "This is a big one but certainly one that with the prayers and support of the people of St. Catharines and Toronto, I'll be able to make that."

As auxiliary bishop, Kirkpatrick will oversee care of the pastoral needs of the northern pastoral region of the archdiocese of Toronto. He has also been appointed as episcopal vicar for religious institutes of men and women in the archdiocese and episcopal vicar for the francophone community. As well, he is now titular bishop of Aradi.

St. Catharines' Bishop Gerard Bergie called the ceremony both beautiful and moving.

"I can't help but feel pride, not a sinful pride, but pride in that the diocese has provided a wonderful ceremony and provided a wonderful priest to the archdiocese of Toronto," said Bergie.

Kirkpatrick will be greatly missed, said Bergie, who has worked with the new bishop since arriving in the diocese in November 2010.

"We started in the seminary together so I've known him for many years. When I was new to the diocese, he was a great help to me and always there for me, very supportive, very knowledgable, so I'll always be indebted.

"Truly, Toronto's gain is our loss," he added.

Laurier LePage, a senior server at the Cathedral for the past 28 years, grew up in the same area in St. Catharines as Kirkpatrick and the two were schoolmates.

"As he became a priest in St. Catharines, I started to see him again… I was glad to see him come back. It was great. It was like old times together again."

Deborah LePage, Laurier's wife, lived two houses down from the Kirkpatricks.

"From seeing him play cowboys and Indians in the backyard, then to a priest, then to a monsignor and now, this is unreal. It's really unreal.

"It just makes my heart throb," she said. "I was in tears."

Thomas Brown, 40, a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, has known Kirkpatrick for about 15 years.

"I'm just so happy for him to become a bishop," he said, adding that he'll miss him very much.

During the homily, Cardinal Thomas Collins said people's lives are touched by the ministry of an apostle of the Lord.

"As bishops, we need to work hard to be spiritually fruitful," he told the packed cathedral.

Mentioning courageous saints such as Francis de Sales, Charles Borromeo and John Fisher, Collins described various challenges they faced such as evangelizing a society that had fallen away from the faith.

"The challenge is great but we have mighty heroes," he said.

The episcopal motto chosen by Kirkpatrick is "Abide in me," said Collins.

"And these words guide all of us as disciples," he said.

After the ordination, Kirkpatrick was absorbing the events of the day, which took place on the feast of St. James.

"I'm the kind of person that reflects upon all that's taken place so as the day wears on and tomorrow I'll be thinking more about what's taken place."


Investiture with ring, miter and pastoral staff

The Ring

The first insignia to be received by the bishop during the rites of ordination is the ring. Upon handing over to the newly ordained bishop the ring, the principal ordaining bishop says, "Take this ring, the seal of your fidelity. With faith and love, protect the bride of God, His holy Church." The ring symbolizes discretion, since rings were used to seal private documents and the ring represents the symbolic marriage between the bishop and the Church.

The Miter

The next insignia which is given to the newly ordained bishop during the rites of ordination is the miter. The miter is a headdress which points upwards towards heaven. It is a mark of the bishops' office and a symbol of their authority.

The Crozier (also called the pastoral staff)

The last symbol given to the newly ordained bishop is the crozier. The principal ordaining bishop says, "Take this staff as a sign of your pastoral office: Keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you to shepherd the Church of God." Each bishop is a symbol of Christ the Good Shepherd. The crozier also symbolizes the responsibility that the bishop has in leading all to Christ.

TORONTO - Lorraine McCallum was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, just days after the birth of her third daughter in 2009.

A stem cell recipient, McCallum shared the story of using her own stem cells for treatment at the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research's Café Scientifique, exploring the realities and ethical questions raised by stem cell research. The event was sponsored by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

"I'm not entirely sure why it works, but it does," she told the audience of about 100 gathered at Toronto's Fox and Fiddle pub July 3. "With multiple myeloma, they don't really know where it starts in the body or what triggers it but stem cell transplants are standard  treatment… and it is effective at least for a while in holding the cancer at bay."

TORONTO - When injustice becomes visible, it becomes intolerable, pro-life activist Jonathon Van Muren told an audience of about 150 spectators at the New Abortion Caravan's Toronto stop June 28.

"Great injustices have been conquered before," Van Muren told the crowd gathered at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Toronto's west end. He compared the fight to end abortion to the battles against slavery, child labour and segregation.

The People’s Summit in Rio de Janeiro provided a space for people from all over the world to exchange ideas, tell their stories, form alliances and share their hopes for the future, including nine women representing the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

From June 15-23, the young women — all under 30 — from the D&P delegation brought the Canadian voice to the ecologically themed workshops and presentations.