Quebec's purge of religion reaches the youngest levels

At the nursery school my children attended, parents were assigned duty days to maintain the required adult-to-child ratio. If you were assigned to group time or snack time you had to be prepared for any and all sorts of conversation.

One morning, I listened along with four pre-schoolers as a little boy told how his family had gone out to buy a Christmas tree on the weekend. It was no ordinary trip to the Boy Scout lot or the garden centre, but a drive to the country where the perfect tree was selected. Dad chopped it down, they brought it home, set it up and put a star on it.

    What's in a word? Plenty when it comes to religious liberty

    Religious freedom cannot be reduced to freedom of worship.

    That’s the subtle, but essential point at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the annual World Day of Peace. For nearly 50 years now, the Holy See has designated New Year’s Day as a special day to pray for peace. Each year the Holy Father selects a theme for his annual message, and for 2011 he selected religious liberty.

      Don't pin the message on the messenger

      When the message is displeasing, shoot the messenger. That old saying came to mind when I was reading Fr. Raymond de Souza’s final Catholic Register column (Dec. 26) for 2010.

      The messenger who got shot, in this case, was Globe and Mail correspondent Michael Valpy, the lead author of a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada that ran in the newspaper before Christmas.

        Young Catholics RiseUp to be counted

        An annual highlight arrives in the last days of the year. That’s when Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) holds its annual conference for university students. They call it RiseUp, and it begins each year on Dec. 28 and runs through New Year’s Day.

        I first went in 2004 in Toronto, in my first year as chaplain of Newman House at Queen’s University. Completely conquered by the experience, I have returned every year since as it has travelled around the country — Vancouver, Quebec City, Calgary, Toronto again, Winnipeg, and this year in Montreal.

        Not all Catholics in Canada know about CCO, but they should. It is one of the most powerful works of the Holy Spirit in our country and a testament that the Gospel has not lost its power to attract souls — even those of the young. Andre and Angele Regnier founded CCO in 1988 in Saskatoon, realizing that the university campus was indeed mission territory. While in previous generations it would have been enough to merely provide services for practising Catholic students, the current situation requires evangelization. CCO’s premise is that most students on campus, including those from Catholic homes, have never heard the “Gospel preached simply and clearly.” So they do it.

        CCO full-time missionaries are usually recent university graduates themselves, and they raise all of their own income personally. Can you imagine the zeal for the Gospel and the trust in Providence required to accept that mission? There are dozens of them at campuses from Vancouver to Halifax, and they are evangelizing thousands of university students. To be with some 500 of those students in Montreal was a pure gift and why I have already booked the 2011 RiseUp in Vancouver on my calendar.

        “CCO is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization,” says the mission statement. “We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world.”

        A key word there is fullness. They invite students to be more Catholic, not less. They understand that at the heart of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. They teach people to pray. They encourage reception of the sacraments, especially promoting confession. Eucharistic adoration is central. The Holy Spirit is not neglected. They read the Scriptures devotedly. They present the magisterial teaching of the Church with confidence in the truth, not a grudging attitude. They present the Catholic faith as a joy to be embraced, not a burden to be borne.

        They are a model for how the Church should evangelize a culture where God is at the margins. And if all this can be done on the university campus, where hostility to religion and scepticism about truth often dominate the local culture, then there are sure grounds for hope that the Gospel has not lost its power.

        Bringing 500 faithful young Catholics to Montreal is a challenge. Montreal is likely the least-practising major city in the Catholic world. For generations in Montreal the only real question has been whether the Church would withdraw from the culture before it was pushed out, or vice versa. The grand Notre Dame in Old Montreal now charges admission, exempting those who come to pray. Just like the admission charge at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s signals the collapse of the Church of England as a culture-shaping institution, so too does Notre Dame indicate a general attitude that what used to be is not and never shall be again. A culture that cannot support its principal shrines converts them to de facto museums, but they stand as tombstones — markers of places where the faith is dead.

        So when a number of students at RiseUp went to Notre Dame for Mass, the cashier was sceptical that so many young people would actually want to do so. Surely it was some kind of trick to avoid paying the fee. Yet they prevailed, and it stands as a symbol of what these marvellous young Catholics do — overcome the scepticism of so many in the Church that the fullness of the Catholic faith still attracts souls to Jesus Christ.

        To see the Oratory of St. Joseph and Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral both filled with young people on fire for their faith, this is what the Church in Canada needs. Whatever travails each year brings, at RiseUp the year ends full of Christian hope.

          Christmas time is here, prepare for the Globe’s seasonal religious cheer

          Just in time for Christmas, The Globe and Mail ran a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada. In its unflagging service to the nation, the Globe customarily marks the Christmas season with depressing religion stories. This year’s contribution was rather more ambitious than most, and worth a read.

            Christian realism energizes Narnia film

            Hollywood has long been looking for a new blockbuster magic series to rival the commercial successes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the string of Harry Potter movies. When C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe came to the screen in 2005, many observers thought that the studio bosses had once again hatched a winning idea for a long-running fantasy franchise.

              When is your midnight Mass?

              What time is midnight Mass? It’s the season for that question, and the answer is not predictable.

              Over more than a generation, we Catholics have fumbled away one of our most distinctive customs. Indeed, the Christmas Mass schedule has become something rather different than what the Church intends, and what our tradition refined over centuries.

                We must encounter the Lord in Advent

                Each year at this time, Advent seems to get lost in the shuffle.

                The weeks before Christmas are bustling with things to do. We shop for presents, make trips to visit friends and relatives, attend concerts of seasonal music, put in appearances at the usual round of office parties and other sociable events. There is only one thing wrong with this happy round of activities: It inevitably distracts us Christians from engaging creatively with the wonderful truth of Advent as the Catholic Church has traditionally understood it.

                  John Lennon's imaginary world

                  Faithful readers will know that much energy has been expended these past years on combating the “new atheists” — militant, aggressive and very trendy. Atheism is of course not new, and even the new atheists not altogether new.

                  Thirty years ago, John Lennon was murdered, shot outside his Manhattan apartment on Dec. 8, 1980. The anniversary of Lennon’s death brings an annual discussion of his significance, and due to his widow’s prodigious efforts, various commemorations of the slain singer. This year there were more than usual. Invariably these involve a sentimental playing of “Imagine,” Lennon’s anthem.

                    Giving is a family affair

                    The world of advocacy can be a depressing place much of the time. That is why this time of year is so enjoyable.

                    Despite the gravity of the issues we read and write about throughout the year, the Christmas season brings out powerful media messages and, perhaps more to the point, brings crowds into the streets and malls focused on the act and spirit of giving.

                      Pope Benedict — love and the law

                      What does the law have to do with love? Are they not antithetical? To follow the law is to be under a burden, to be compelled, to be constrained. To love, on the other hand, is to embrace the capacity to choose, to be creative, to be liberated.