These are a few of my favourite (P.E.I.) things

While on our annual family vacation to Prince Edward Island in July, a visiting friend from Ontario made an intriguing remark about her first impression of the island.

“I simply cannot get over how Catholic P.E.I. seems to be,” she said.

Such an impression never occurred to me. But her not being Catholic obviously gave her a different perspective.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am not being critical,” she said. “I just mean driving here from the (Confederation) Bridge we saw so many pretty little Catholic churches, we’ve heard about the lobster suppers in Catholic churches and there just seems to be a ‘Catholic feel’ to the place.”

We had a nice visit that afternoon with our friends and nothing more was said on the topic. But it got me thinking. She had a point. In fact, about half the population of 140,000 in P.E.I. is Catholic, according to Statistics Canada.

Then I started thinking about some of my favourite “Catholic” things on the island and I quickly came up with a tidy little list. (We’ve been visiting P.E.I. each summer for almost a decade after buying a cottage, which we rent when we’re not there.)

We’ve all heard the tourist spiel about Anne of Green Gables, white sandy beaches, the quaint red clay roads and the fabulous P.E.I. golf courses. And we might think potatoes or lobster when P.E.I. is mentioned, but Catholic is not a word that typically comes top of mind.

So, here are some tourist ideas for things to check out with Catholic flavour the next time you are, as the locals say, “on island.”

o The Confederation Trail is a walking and biking trail from one tip of the island to the other. The trail used to be the railway lands. I have not ridden the entire trail but I have found no prettier ride than the 12 kilometres from Morell to St. Peter’s. Most of the ride you’ll have a beautiful view of St. Peter’s Bay with the stately old St. Peter’s Church majestically standing on the hill across the bay. There are many places to stop along the trail for a picnic lunch and a clear vista of the big white church, which is generally open for a visit and with Sunday Mass at 11 a.m.

o St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown is a century-old stone French Gothic church built from the remains of the cathedral that had been damaged by fire in 1913. It is the fourth church on the site and one of the most visible landmarks in Charlottetown with its three copper spires being some of the highest points on the city skyline. It is the only Roman Catholic cathedral in the province and one of the most elaborate churches in the Maritimes. The marble altar is 10 metres high and if you look closely at the ribs in the ceiling, you’ll see symbols of the Allied nations in the First World War, which was raging during St. Dunstan’s construction. Guided tours are available but you’re also welcome to quietly visit on your own or attend Mass.

o Ceilidhs (pronounced kaylees) are a fun part of the musical culture in P.E.I. Though not specifically Catholic, the Ceilidh tradition of singing, dancing, fiddling and strumming occurs in many churches and halls around the island. Ceilidhs began some years ago as weekend “kitchen parties” and now they are open to the general public and occur most nights of the week in summer. Each year, we attend a couple of Ceilidhs, especially the Crane Family Ceilidh at the refurbished St. Andrew’s Chapel in Mount Stewart, near our cottage.

o St. Andrew’s Chapel is significant on its own. It was the first church built in P.E.I. by Scottish settlers in 1772. In 1864 it was moved by horse and men on the ice down the river 28 kilometres to Charlottetown where it was converted into a school by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Later abandoned, it was restored and renovated and returned to Mount Stewart in 1998. Next to the chapel is the burial site of Fr. Angus MacEachern, the first bishop of P.E.I. His story is worth exploring and available at the site.

o St. Mary’s Church is the largest wood church in the province and is renowned for its acoustics. Located near Cavendish in Kensington, it hosts the Indian River Festival with world-class vocalists and musicians. It attracts tourists and singers the world over, as well as worshippers every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.

o The Chez Shea Inn and Spa is a former convent only minutes from the Confederation Bridge. We’ve never stayed overnight at the beautiful old three-storey building, but are told it is spiritually rejuvenating, although perhaps not as healing as the Sisters of St. Martha who used to reside there. Its grounds are peaceful amid a colourful and fragrant garden.  

A quick word about the P.E.I. lobster suppers; they are no longer run by church councils or CWL members. They are run by for-profit businesses in a few churches and restaurant halls. If you love lobster, they are worth checking out but the ambiance is more like a restaurant than an old-fashioned church supper.

I am sure there are plenty more Catholic sites in P.E.I. and I expect to find more during our future visits.

    America’s most cherished liberty under attack

    On the Fourth of July, the Catholic Church in the United States turned toward Washington, not for the fireworks, nor for a windy speech from the president, but for the conclusion of what the American bishops declared to be a Fortnight for Freedom.

    I followed it rather more closely than most, since I was appointed last year a consultant to the American bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Alarmed at encroachments on religious liberty at home, and escalating violence against Christians abroad, the ad hoc committee of senior bishops proposed a special fortnight of prayer, fasting, catechesis and public action in defense of religious liberty. Summoning forth “all the energies the Catholic community can muster,” the fortnight was a dramatic appeal to Americans — both Catholic and otherwise — to realize that their “first, most cherished liberty” is under sustained and serious attack.

      Could it actually be that the media is on the side of life?

      The parallels between abortion and euthanasia or assisted suicide are often cited during debates, especially by those who recall the role played by the media and the courts in first liberalizing Canada’s abortion laws and later eliminating them.  But over the past few weeks we have seen a striking difference emerge. 

      Decades ago, almost all media outlets supported liberalization of abortion laws. In recent weeks, however, media reaction to a B.C. court decision striking down Canada’s assisted suicide laws has  been anything but unanimous. Even editorials supportive of the decision have acknowledged the vulnerability of the elderly and disabled, and pointed out the potential for abuse through a more liberal law.

      Opposing the court decision, the Vancouver Province said, “Allowing doctors to kill patients nearing the end of their lives, even with their consent, cheapens the sanctity of life, no matter how horrible the disease a patient is suffering from.”

        Providing safeguards for medical killing is delusional

        Tragedy at a Montreal psychiatric facility should stop proponents of  medicalized killing dead in their tracks.

        On June 16, one day after the B.C. Supreme Court struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, someone in the high security psychiatric unit of the Centre Hospitalier Université de Montréal asphyxiated a patient. On June 21, a second patient was suffocated.

        But here’s the thing: neither death was recognized as a homicide, let alone raised alarm bells, until the next day when an attempt to choke a third patient to death was foiled. A former slaughterhouse worker with a lengthy history of violent crime, who checked himself into the ward the very day the first patient was killed, was charged June 27.

          In Calgary, eternal fatherhood is made manifest once more

          CALGARY - Four new priests were ordained here on the Feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, a most grace-filled day for the diocese of Calgary in its centenary year. It was a blessing for me to be on hand to witness some family friends ordained, and then later to join in the joy of a First Mass at my home parish of St. Bonaventure.

          Priestly ordinations are rather fewer than we need these days, so to have four young men is remarkable, all the more so as they all came from local parishes. Their vocation stories are a combination of old patterns and new ones. Two went almost straight from high school, the others after some time working. Their vocations were nourished in Catholic families and inspired by good priests. As is common today, World Youth Day had a significant impact too.

            American Jesuit James Martin can find the humour in the Church

            Jesuit Father James (Jim) Martin is quickly becoming one of my favourite religious writers and orators. And the more I read of his works or watch his talks on TV and the Internet, the more impressed I become.

            This American Jesuit thinks clearly, speaks and writes directly, and best of all, he is funny, although he has serious messages. (He is the official chaplain of Comedy Network’s The Colbert Report where he sometimes appears.) He is a populist who endeavours to make Catholicism ever more popular.

            If you’re looking for summer reading, Fr. Martin has several best-selling books, including My Life With the Saints, A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Centre Stage with Jesus, Judas and Life’s Big Questions, and the Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

              My misgivings about Dublin congress leave me just a little embarrassed

              I was a little embarrassed watching the coverage of the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin. Not because of anything that went on in Ireland, but rather because of my original attitude toward the congress being held there at all. Yet watching the pilgrims from around the world gathering in Dublin, I saw that their gestures of sympathy and solidarity were better than an attitude of ostracism and punishment.

              When it was announced in 2008 at Quebec City that the 2012 IEC would be in Dublin, I was rather dismayed. I understood that sometimes a local Church in distress can be buoyed by such an international event — after all, that was the logic of having the IEC in Quebec City to begin with, to administer an emergency transfusion to the anemic local Church. Yet Dublin struck me as a step too far. After all, it would be hard to find any place where spectacular incompetence had brought the Church into greater crisis than in Ireland. And Irish society as a whole, led by its government, was hardly better.

                Laity must join bishops in answering affronts to the Church

                I cannot abide bishop bashing.

                The habit in some Catholic circles of remorselessly denouncing and denigrating our prelates for perceived failures to lead, to act, to show courage, to boss the world about, sets my teeth on edge.

                It is difficult to imagine a role outside the world of electoral politics that requires a broader back, a thicker skin and a finer ability to manage expectations than that of a North American Catholic bishop in 2012.

                  Are northern efforts coming at the expense of the new evangelization?

                  WHITEHORSE, YT - Last week I wrote about my impressions of the Yukon on my first trip to Canada’s north. In many ways it is altogether different from anything I have previously encountered in Canada’s cities, or even in my parish on Wolfe Island. At the same time the Yukon raises questions that the Church in all of Canada must face.

                  It is frankly astonishing that anyone lives in some of these remote communities, where a summer visitor is impressed by the natural beauty but year-round residents have to cope with isolation and lack of services, to say nothing of the severe cold and oppressive darkness of the punishing winter. To imagine living up here in the early 20th century, before roads and four-wheel drive trucks and propane gas heating and food preservatives is mindboggling, especially given that an overland trek of several weeks would deliver one into the Okanagan, one of the loveliest climates anywhere in the world.

                    Doggone it if I’m going to play God

                    They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and that may be so.

                    But there is something special about an old dog, and he (or she) can often teach an owner a thing or two. Puppies are adorable, but old dogs are like comfortable shoes that when slipped on can sometimes walk us to unexpected places.

                    (If you’re not a pet lover, I implore you to stop reading immediately and move onto something else in The Register. These meanderings from a sappy dog lover will only frustrate you.)

                      The ‘Real’ in our reality

                      Most of us wish the title of Greg Wolfe’s book Beauty Will Save the World could come true.

                      But few of us would automatically agree with the argument made in Italian dramatist Romeo Castellucci’s newest work — On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God — that even human waste can serve the faith.