What is so awful about promoting religious freedom?

One of the more baffling events since last May’s federal election has been the emergence of grouchy opposition to the Harper government’s Office of Religious Freedom.

Curiosity dates back to the election campaign itself when the Conservative pledge to create an Office of Religious Freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade attracted surprisingly little notice, much less alarm.

    Fresh energy for the Church, 500 years in the making

    CALGARY - Inglewood is an old neighbourhood in Calgary, the sort of place where you find a church nestled between modest homes, rather than surrounded by a vast suburban parking lot. But something new is happening here, or something old becoming something new — or perhaps even something new becoming something old.

    The parish of St. John the Evangelist used to be an Anglican parish, but just a week before Christmas the pastor, Fr. Lee Kenyon, his wife Elizabeth, and almost the entire congregation of about 75 souls were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary received the group and graciously welcomed into his diocese a new parish. They call themselves an “Anglican Use” oparish, meaning that while fully Catholic and in communion with the bishop of Rome, they use a form of the liturgy more in keeping with their Anglican traditions.

      Out of the frying pan come joys of the season

      As we settle into the new year, I can’t help reflecting on three gifts I received this Christmas.

      All were thoughtful, one was unintentional, and all came from three wise women. Even a couple weeks later, they still make me smile for different reasons.

      The first came from my beautiful and thoughtful wife. This present is the latest, state-of-the-art, high-tech, environmentally-friendly, non-stick, ceramic frying pan. A frying pan! I giggle just typing those words.

        Predictions? I have a few for 2012.

        Predictions are always a risky business, but since the new year infects many of us with a “crystal ball bug” I will venture that  changes are coming in free-speech legislation and in the rights of parents in public education. One private members’ bill and two court cases are well worth watching in this regard, and may even bring good news to Catholics involved with public advocacy.

        A private members’ bill introduced by MP Brian Storseth last fall will, if enacted, revoke Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which deems discriminatory any action “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” if they are “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of  discrimination.” This section gives the federal human rights commission significant powers to penalize those publishing opinion online, including opinion based on religious belief.

          One corner in Vancouver offers us two choices

          Faithful readers may recall that I spend the last days of the year with hundreds of university students, ringing in the new year at the annual Rise Up Conference of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO). This year it was the largest Rise Up conference yet, with more than 500 students in attendance. So large has the annual gathering become that CCO will stage two such conferences in 2012, one in the west (Saskatoon) and one in the east (Halifax).

          There are a number of priests who attend every year, and we are always thanked repeatedly for our presence. The students love their priests, like to have us accompany them and rely on us for the sacraments. But as I said to Fr. Thomas Rosica, who has been to even more Rise Up conferences than the eight I have attended, we are the ones who are truly blessed, to see the Church as she ought to be — vibrant, joyful and youthful. 

            A new year, another chance for change

            We were eastbound on a VIA train between Kingston and Montreal midway through the Christmas week when we got news of a horrifying accident ahead.

            A man and woman had been killed when their pickup truck somehow jumped a barrier on Highway 20 at the west end of the island of Montreal. The truck plunged onto train tracks below and was hit by an eastbound VIA train.

              2011 will certainly be a year to remember

              Life can be like wine. Some years are simply better than others. And 2011 was a wonderful vintage for me.

              Don’t get me wrong, there were some bitter tannins at the bottom of the glass at times, but overall the bouquet was exceptional and the taste robust.

              It had to be after beginning the year with a remarkable trip to the Holy Land in January, my first time to walk where Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. It began as a business trip and quickly morphed into a spiritual journey.

                Pray for the souls of two vastly different priests

                Gaudete Sunday must have been rather memorable at the throne of judgment. On Dec. 11, Cardinal John Patrick Foley died at the age of 76, after a long and distinguished life of service as Christian disciple and a Catholic priest. On the same day, Fr. Karl Clemens, a priest of the archdiocese of Kingston, died after a life marked by scandal and estrangement from the Church he served so poorly.

                Cardinal Foley was a pioneer in the Catholic media, going to Columbia Journalism School soon after his ordination in 1962. A priest of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, he edited their Catholic newspaper from 1970 to 1984, and then was called to Rome to be president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. It was there that he became known as the “Vatican’s voice of Christmas,” providing the commentary for some 26 years for midnight Mass, the world’s most watched religious broadcast. For those who knew him in person, rather than as a journalist, it was his kindness, humour and deep faith which made him an exemplary face of the Church.

                At a vigil Mass the night before his funeral, Bishop Daniel Thomas, for whom he was both a friend and a spiritual father, spoke of Cardinal Foley as the “best of Philadelphia, the best of the priesthood, the best of the Church.”

                  One prayer, but it says so much

                  I am eagerly looking forward to Dec. 18, the fourth Sunday of Advent this year. Since I have been ordained a priest, I have offered the following Opening Prayer:

                  Lord,
                  Fill our hearts with your love,
                  and as you revealed to us by an angel
                  the coming of your Son as man,
                  so lead us through His suffering and death
                  to the glory of His resurrection,
                  for He lives and reigns…

                    This Christmas, don’t forget the things that are truly important

                    In this Advent season of expectation and worship, I was thinking about hero worshipping when I noticed that the other day was the 100th anniversary of the birth of my dad’s boyhood hero, Joe “Ducky” Medwick.

                    Unless you’re a diehard baseball fan, you’ve probably never heard of Ducky. But everyone in my family knows of him because my late father’s only encounter with Ducky has long been family lore.

                      New Missal bodes well for the new evangelization

                      Less than two weeks after we began using the new translation of the Roman Missal, parishes and priests are getting used to the new prayers. Before the novelty wears off though, we ought to note that the very fact that the new translation exists at all is a promising sign for the Church’s witness in the 21st century.

                      Consider simply this: Whether at a parish in Bombay or Belfast, whether the Mass is being offered in Brisbane or Brandon, Catholics are praying the same prayers. For a universal Church whose liturgy is in Latin, that should not be surprising. Yet over the past decades centrifugal forces have been strong in the Church, with a certain liturgical mentality taking hold that emphasized the differences in various localities rather than the unity. When differing educational jurisdictions within a single country have a difficult time harmonizing their curriculum and examinations, it is no small achievement to have a single English translation used both in South Africa and South Dakota.