Giving and receiving are part of Christmas, but don’t forget the spiritual gifts

Give kids some credit — they’ll figure bullying out


Bullying is taking up an awful lot of space in our public and private conversations, making an old duffer wonder if some sort of qualitative change really has taken place regarding this age-old . . . phenomenon. I almost called it a “problem” but that would be to buy into the current thinking about bullying, which is unrealistic, not very helpful and dishonestly coercive.

Certainly it’s no fun to be on the receiving end of bullying. And in extreme outbreaks there can indeed be cause to enlist the help of school and even police authorities. But in the general run of things, I don’t believe we’re ever going to eradicate bullying and, furthermore, shining a spotlight on behaviour that will usually burn itself out in a few days can do more harm than good both to perpetrators and victims by commemorating that which might more beneficially be forgotten.

It might be pleasant (if a little boring) to believe that children could find a way to grow up without ever coming into conflict with one another, but they never shall. In the furiously churning, soul-shaping cauldron of adolescence, young people look for models of behaviour they might want to emulate and they also look inside as certain characteristics emerge, some of which they discover cannot be jettisoned, even if it might be “cooler” to do so.

During this process young people can be mercilessly judgmental of everyone, including their peers, some of whom (for today at least) they’ll decide they like and some of whom they’ll dislike. If someone watches the wrong TV shows or listens to the wrong bands or wears the wrong shoes — these are not some blameless and inexplicable whimsy of taste as most of us regard them later in life when we are comparatively sane. No, these are social, indictable offences that must be commented upon, put down and even punished.

Most instances of bullying soon blow over with no input necessary from the authorities. Sometimes the perpetrators themselves come to realize that their actions are over the top and modify their behaviour. Often, the victims discourage its continuance by standing up to their bullies — verbally or physically — or else they remove the sting of bullying by sloughing it off and not rising to such cheap and inflammatory bait.

Either of these approaches is infinitely superior to letting elders get involved, mostly because young people deal with things more directly and honestly. Once you get the authorities involved, everybody has to start playing nice and affirming one another’s okayness. Smothering in officially sanctioned indifference probably doesn’t seem to matter much if the underlying disagreement is about Justin Bieber or high-topped running shoes. But there’s a danger that the lesson being learned is that it’s wrong to ever voice disagreement or disapproval and one should always strive to please everyone else.

When busybody authorities start refereeing disputes, Catholic youth are particularly at risk of being bullied (in the blandest possible way, of course) into soft pedalling important tenets of their faith. Being cowed in this way in their developing years is bad training for standing up to the bullies we all inevitably encounter as adults — whether its bosses, unions, a hectoring media with a virulently secular agenda to promote or the atheists and over-sensitive multicultural types who emerge from the woodwork at about this time of year to throw a blanket over public expression of Christmas celebrations.

A near-constant element in the modern concern about bullying is the magnifying impact of the Internet and social networking gadgets which, we are told, makes it seem like the victims can never escape their tormentors. They could, though, if they’d just summon the will to unplug the darned things. Last summer my wife and I were dining at an outdoor patio and saw six young people sitting together at a table across the way, each one of them ignoring their flesh and blood friends so they could noodle away on their nefarious handheld thingies.

Our kids, thankfully, made it through school just before the use of such devices became so pathetically ubiquitous. And significantly all three of them have at various times recognized that their dependence on that virtual world was becoming disproportionate and unhealthy and have made a point of going off-line for a season or two until they got their equilibrium back.

Young people have a way of figuring these things out. The same would apply to bullying.

If you racked up the bill, you pay it


Perhaps thankfully, my propensity for racking up unmanageable debt emerged early in life. It started via the Capitol Record Club, which I rashly joined at the age of 14.

Gripped by spiritual dread


A doctor’s appointment brings me to the scene of the crime

The moment I saw the address of the medical building, I felt uneasy. I had an appointment with a new doctor and I feared his office was in the same building my husband and I had prayed in front of during 40 Days for Life.

I had stood outside the building and its abortion clinic, but never gone inside. I didn’t want that to change.

Approaching the building the morning of my appointment, I realized that, yes, it was the same one. This time, no one was praying out front, no one was holding pro-life signs. Everything in me wanted to turn around and leave. The thought of entering the very building where babies were being killed — even if I was there to receive medical care — filled me with a spiritual dread I couldn’t bear.

I was also filled with a profound sense of responsibility. What was I doing to protect the babies and their mothers? What should I be doing?

I had to remind myself I was there for my own medical reasons. Yet part of me was rebelling. I wondered: “Why Our Lord, why did you bring me here today?”

When I pulled on the door handle to enter the building, a group of women whisked by, rushing to the elevator. I could hear the last few words of their conversation: “This is where they get rid of the baby.”

I was overcome. I didn’t know how to respond. Should I say something? Should I follow them? They quickly disappeared into the elevator. I went to the building directory and scanned the list of tenants. Two listings jumped out: one for a birth control and sexual health office, and the other for a women’s health clinic. I wondered if I should go to those clinics and say or do something.

Was God calling me to become more involved in the pro-life movement? I carried that thought with me as I approached my doctor’s office. I thought to myself: I could never work in this building. How could anyone come to work day after day knowing babies were dying in the building while they worked?

I was disturbed further after reaching my doctor’s office. A large, bizarre painting was hanging in the waiting room. It mocked Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece of the Last Supper. In the place of Jesus was Marilyn Munroe. Instead of apostles, the table was populated with celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Laurel and Hardy, Marlon Brando, Clarke Gable and Fred Astaire. There was even a monster, Frankenstein. I was stunned.

I stared at the painting, dumbfounded. Finally I told the receptionist that, as a practising Catholic, I was very offended by it. She muttered something under her breath about the different reactions of people to the painting. It turned out my doctor was out of the country, so I left, silently.

The events of that morning got me thinking about how hostile the world still is to Christ and to Church teachings. I realized that, as a Catholic, I would often bear the brunt of that hostility. The words, “We must be in the world, but not of the world” reverberated in my soul. I thanked God for the grace to see, hear and know the truth in a world so often overwhelmed by destructive messages. And as a parent, I reflected on the Declaration on Christian Education from Vatican II.

“Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring,” it reads. “Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and men that a well-rounded personal social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those virtues that every society needs.”

Those are powerful words and they remind me that it is my parental duty to evangelize the Catholic faith within my family but also beyond.

During prayer, my mind often returns to the morning appointment at that dreadful medical building, and I plead to Him: “Show me Lord, show me what you want me to do.”

(Writer, speaker and consultant, Pilarski’s book, Motherhood Matters: Inspirational Stories, Letters, Quotes & Prayers for Catholic Moms, is available by calling 416-934-3410.)

A whale of a story that comes with a profound message


Even the most biblically illiterate person knows — or thinks they know! — the story of Jonah and the whale. Unfortunately, what they know is likely dredged up from school memories and is likely to be either trivial or wrong.

In my own upbringing, the story of Jonah and the whale was a kind of litmus test of the authenticity of your faith. If you swallowed Jonah, as it were, you were a true believer; if not, well, we will continue to pray for you.

The Book of Jonah begins starkly: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah: Go to the great city of Ninevah, go now and denounce it for its wickedness…”(v. 1).

Ninevah was an enemy of Israel and it was about the last place on Earth that Jonah wanted to go. Jewish belief at that time was exclusivist. God loved Israel but no others. Jews were the chosen people of God. Ninevah was full of wicked gentiles, infidels; why should Yahweh concern Himself with them?

When the word of the Lord came to many patriarchs, they tried to play deaf: Moses, Amos, Jeremiah. But Jonah’s hearing was acute. So he boarded the first available ship sailing in the exact opposite direction to Ninevah. “It was going to Tarshish.” Tarshish was the land beyond land, the furthest extremity of the universe, the place beyond the reach of God. Jonah made off, we are told, “…to escape from the Lord” (v. 3).

In open seas, the ship was battered by a hurricane. The crew was terrified and began to jettison cargo. Jonah was asleep in the hold, until the captain found him and demanded of Jonah: “Call on your God, perhaps He can save us” (v. 6).

But Jonah could not pray. Perhaps he imagined that his disobedience had rendered prayer impossible. Perhaps he was too stubborn or terrified. Then the sailors cast lots to determine who was to blame for their predicament, and Jonah pulled the short straw. He confessed that he was on board to escape from God, and then Jonah offered himself as a sacrifice for the others, prefiguring a later and greater biblical figure who would offer Himself as a sacrifice for all.

“Take me, throw me overboard,” Jonah said, “and the sea will go down.” The sailors readily agreed. Jonah was pitched overboard, and then swallowed by “a great fish” (v. 17).

In the maw of the great fish Jonah suddenly discovered that prayer came, if not easily, then eloquently.

The great fish then spewed bedraggled Jonah up onto dry land. As American theologian Frederick Buechner wryly observed, Jonah’s relief at being out of the whale was probably exceeded by the whale’s relief at being relieved of the troublesome Jonah.

Now the word of God came to Jonah a second time: unfortunately, same instruction. Go to Ninevah. This time Jonah went. Who wouldn’t?

A miracle occurred. Not a great fish, but a great revival. The Ninevites listened. They repented. And Jonah was furious. God was saving Israel’s enemies. Jonah wanted fire and brimstone to rain down on the heads of the Ninevites. Instead there was nothing but grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

What a marvelous story! Whimsical, perceptive, funny — full of grace and truth. It tells us that there is no Tarshish, no sanctuary safe from God. It tells us that even cowards sometimes sacrifice themselves for others. It tells us that nothing we do, nothing we are, can put us beyond the reach of God’s salvation.

If Jonah can be heard from the belly of the great fish, our forlorn prayer, whether it originates from a psychiatric ward or a prison cell, can likewise be heard. Best of all, it tells us that God’s boundless love extends to all, even to Ninevites like us.

How sad that some Christians miss the point of the story of Jonah. It is not history; it is something more important — truth.

To reduce the wonderful story of Jonah to the know-nothing question of “do you believe that the whale swallowed Jonah and that he survived three days?” is to stunt human imagination and understanding. It is to make reason a stumbling block, rather than an aid, to faith.

Edward Norman’s remarkable conversion to Catholicism


On Oct. 7 Dr. Edward Norman was received into the Roman Catholic Church at Our Lady of Walsingham in England. In itself, this might not seem remarkable, only another former Anglican to take advantage of the door so generously opened by Pope Benedict XVI in his November 2009 invitation Angicanorum Coetibus. But when you learn who Norman is, his late conversion is remarkable indeed.

Born in London in 1938, Norman was educated at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His specialty was church history, which he went on to teach for two decades, much of that time as Dean of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In 1978 he was chosen to deliver the BBC’s Reith lectures on the theme: “Christianity and the World.” In addition to academic appointments and honours, Norman served as a priest, dean and chancellor of York Minster. It was not uncommon to hear his name discussed as a potential Archbishop of Canterbury. He is the author of more than 20 theological books.

As the title suggests, Norman’s 2004 book Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors was a scathing indictment of modern Anglicanism. It provided clear evidence of how uncomfortable Norman had become in the Church of England. When it was published, he told an interviewer: “There is a big hole at the centre of Anglicanism — authority. I don’t think it’s a Church; it’s more of a religious society.”

As an insider, Norman knew how the Church of England functioned and he pulled no punches. Of General Synod, he wrote: “Every disagreement, in seemingly every board and committee, proceeds by avoidance of principled debate.

Ordinary moral cowardice is represented as wise judgment, equivocation in the construction of compromise formulae is second nature to our leaders.”

Is the situation different or better in the Anglican Church of Canada? Based on my three-plus Anglican decades, I would say no — although my view is that of a parishioner since I never aspired to any ecclesiastical office. This is not to say that there are not fine people and committed Christians within the Anglican Church. There are. But they tend to be in the pews and they are repeatedly let down, in my experience, by the ostensible leadership. In any case, the primary occupation of a Canadian Anglican bishop today is arranging the closing of churches. The rate of decline is such that the lights should go off in the last standing Anglican church in just a few decades.

Despite his criticism of the Church of England, Norman remained in the Church for eight years after the publication of Anglican Difficulties. It can hardly be imagined or overstated how difficult a decision it must be for a minister or priest to abandon the denomination in which he was ordained and to which he has dedicated his life.

What was the final catalyst for Norman? From the outside, who can know? Even the convert often finds it difficult to express all the subtleties, the twists and turns, of his pilgrimage. What he told the Catholic Herald at the time of his conversion was this:

“The Church of England provides a masterclass in equivocation; it also, however, is the residence of very many good and faithful Christian people who deserve respect — for their perseverance in so many incoherent spiritual adventures. To leave their company is a wrench; to adhere to the Catholic faith is to join the encompassing presence of a universal body of believers in whose guardianship are the materials of authentic spiritual understanding . . . I have immense gratitude.”

Norman is the latest in a long, distinguished line of converts: men like G.K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Graham Greene and Malcolm Muggeridge. His conversion is further proof that even amidst the dark seas of postmodernism, St. Peter’s barque still searches out and rescues the drowning.

That doughty old warrior, Hilaire Belloc, wrote to a friend that the Catholic Church was like a landfall, at first glimpsed hazily and only through the mist:

“…but the nearer it is seen, the more it is real … The metaphor is not that men fall in love with it: the metaphor is that they discover home.”

Welcome home, Edward Norman.

No need to dilute what little is left of our ‘separate’ school system


At what point did what used to be known as the “separate” school system become so flexible and indifferent to its creedal distinctions that one of its high schools would dedicate and outfit space for use as a Muslim prayer room?

Even people who aren’t particularly sympathetic — or are even antagonistic — to the Roman Catholic Church must be wondering about that after Ana Paula Fernandes, the principal of Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in London, Ont., announced the re-designation of an office in that school for just such a use. There are perhaps two dozen (obviously) non-Catholic students enrolled there.

Why identify a school as specifically Catholic and then carve out a space for the religious observances of people who practise another religion?

Well, according to Fernandes, you do that “to ensure that all our students feel welcome, that they feel that they belong,” she told the London Free Press.

But those two dozen students don’t want to “belong” to a Catholic school. They’re Muslims. They or their parents obviously want them to “attend” a Catholic school, probably because of the perception that, of Ontario’s two educational systems, the Catholic curriculum (in spite of government-mandated watering down of its distinct Catholicity) has significantly more rigour than the public one.

But when you “belong” to something in any meaningful sense, you commit to it. It shapes you and you are bound to it by duty and obligations. The two dozen Muslim students do not want to “belong” to any sort of Catholic institution in that way, as made clear by their request for a separate prayer room.

One wonders what Fernandes’ response will be in the probably not-too-distant future when a couple of dozen budding Wiccans or atheists or hedonists request their own sanctuary for their religious or anti-religious observances? Surely she wouldn’t feel justified to accommodate one group and not extend the same gesture (and a few thousand dollars’ worth of broadloom and paint and wiring to effect a room overhaul) to another? That would be discrimination, and that minority group might feel they didn’t “belong” in a Catholic school.

By a decidedly peculiar arrangement in Ontario, students of any or no religious affiliation are welcome to attend a public or Catholic school. With few exceptions (I’m thinking here of the Toronto school that scandalously accommodates gender-segregated Muslim prayers in their cafeteria on Fridays) schools in the public system make no allowances for the religious proclivities — whatever they be — of their students. As a school system that is open to all, that is unquestionably the fairest and most sensible way to manage things.

Public funding of Catholic schools up to Grade 10 was part of the British North America Act. In 1984, then retiring Premier Bill Davis — much to the surprise of just about everybody — extended full funding to the end of high school. Considering the changing patterns of immigration and secularization then in play, it was a highly unpopular move. A more credible case could’ve been made for withdrawing public funding from the Catholic system altogether or finding some method to allow parents to designate their tax dollars to the school system of their choice.

Realigning anything as complex as the educational structure of an entire province would be a hugely disruptive process so the hesitation to tackle that job is understandable. But the current system is patently unfair and any modifications or exceptions we make to the system in the name of fairness and inclusivity only dilute the distinct Catholic character of Catholic schools. That distinctiveness — that recognition that Catholics have different educational requirements than the rest of the population — was the raison d’être for creating a separate system in the first place.

While it might appear that Catholics are making out like bandits here and getting everything their way, there is swelling displeasure within the ranks of the faithful that true Catholic identity is being lost in our schools as the province — which is, after all, paying the bills — demands modifications that chip away at the integrity or contradict Catholic teaching. Home schooling — once the preserve of evangelicals disaffected by the secularization underway in public schools (such as the banning of prayer) — is now catching on with more and more Catholic parents who, sadly, are coming to feel the very same way about the Catholic system.

Halloween can be a Catholic teaching moment


I was taken aback in early October when I went to a local drug store to pick up some medication and was confronted with rows and rows of Halloween merchandise. Even with trick-or-treating just around the corner, the costumes, candies and other accessories seemed so out of place in a drug store. Then again, I’ve seen the stuff in hardware stores, too. It seems to be everywhere.

Halloween has become big business. The Retail Council of Canada says “Halloween is one of the most anticipated days of the year for Canadian children.” During October, it’s estimated that nearly $600 million worth of goodies and snack-food items will be sold. A recent statement from the National Retail Federation stated that a record 170 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year and they’ll spend $8 billion on decorations, costumes and candy. That includes 25 million people who will dress their pets in a costume.

As a businesswoman with a marketing background, I understand the business opportunity of Halloween. It’s hard to knock retailers for trying to make a buck from the holiday. But as a Catholic mother I have long wrestled with the spiritual fallout of society’s increasing infatuation with this day.

Should we be dressing up our daughters and sons as monsters, witches, devils and skeletons? When we celebrate Halloween this way, do we risk glorifying violence and evil? Are we sending the wrong message, a non-Catholic message, when we give so much attention and spend so much money on a holiday with pagan origins? Surely, that money could be better used to feed the poor or support our local churches.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I should pull down my blinds, lock my door and ignore Halloween altogether. Or maybe we should just dress our children in wholesome costumes, give them proper warning and reluctantly let them join in the fun.

I used to run a saints club in a local Catholic elementary school. The purpose was to teach children about the lives of saints and encourage them towards saintly virtues. It was mostly rewarding but the end of October was always a troubling time.

It was sad to see the attention given to the secular celebration of Halloween, the costumes, the parties, the snacks, while absolutely nothing was done to mark the Catholic feasts of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). It struck me as odd that a Catholic school would mark a festival with pagan roots and then the next two days virtually ignore important feasts on the Church calendar. (Actually, it was rare to hear teachers mention the liturgical calendar or any feast days.)

I’m not suggesting that Halloween be banned in Catholic homes and schools. I’m not opposed to children having fun. But there are several ways educators can use the season of Halloween to teach the Catholic faith to children. Here are some examples:

o Make All Saints Day a school event and ask students to dress up as saints. Offer prizes for those who do. Rather than receiving treats, this could be a day about giving.

o Have students do a short presentation on a saint of their choosing.

o Teach the Irish folktale of Jack O’Lantern and the Catholic origins behind the custom of burning a candle in a carved pumpkin on Halloween.

o Take students to a Catholic cemetery and pray the rosary for the deceased.

o Study the history and evolution of Halloween but with a focus on it being of secondary importance to the two days that follow it.

o In high schools, use Halloween to discuss Catholic teaching on the occult and why the catechism rejects such things as magic, sorcery, horoscopes, clairvoyance and astrology.

One year I asked kids in our saints club to do a project on a saint. On the day the project was due, All Saints Day, our club had 25 bristol-board projects that covered an entire wall of the school. There were projects on Padre Pio, St. Bernadette, St. Anthony and St. John Bosco, to name just a few.

The project prompted other students to start asking questions. What does levitate mean? What is incorruptible? Do I really have a Guardian Angel? The entire experience was an absolute joy.

Along the hallway that morning the focus shifted from ghouls and goblins to the great saints of the Church. It was a reminder that Halloween costumes come and go but the saints are with us always.

The anxious wedge between Christians and Muslims


Pope Benedict’s XVI visit to Lebanon last month was a proud and privileged moment for Lebanese and other Christians in the region. But as the Pope spoke on behalf of peace, called for Christian unity and addressed the importance of living the interfaith reality in the region, American embassies in the Middle East and other locations around the world were under siege by Muslim crowds.

Muslim anger was aroused by an amateur film made in the United States that depicted the prophet Mohammad in disrespectful ways. Political cartoons in French newspapers quickly picked up the theme, exacerbating an already volatile situation. The issue is very sensitive to all Muslims. Even a respectful image of the prophet is forbidden.

Much of the world was left with sadness at the death of the U.S. ambassador and three colleagues who were killed when the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed. Many in the civilized world simply do not understand why some Muslims respond so violently to a film created by a single individual. We’re left to ask: does the punishment poured out upon those embassies equal the offence?

Pope Benedict, standing shoulder to shoulder with leaders of the Christian world, along with various inter-faith leaders and a group of atheists in Assisi, Italy, in October 2011, made the following comment: “We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to disregard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended good. In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as a justification for violence. While we condemn terrorism of the day, it should be acknowledged that history also gives testimony that Christians have used force and violence in a way which today we acknowledge with a measure of shame.”

Most Canadian and Americans, including Canadian and American Muslims, would agree that these outrageous attacks are without justification and must be condemned. But, regrettably, there is a growing sense in the West that Muslims in general are a menace. Incidents such as these contribute another layer of undeserved resentment and suspicion of most Muslims. It is becoming more difficult for the average person in the West to believe the majority of Muslims are law-abiding, God-fearing, neighbourly people who walk the streets of our neighbourhoods and are very much committed to our same values of freedom, peace and family.

The Muslims who act violently represent a tiny percentage of the world’s Muslim population. Muslims are about a quarter of the planet’s population, about 1.6 billion people in total. In 2009, they exceeded the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics (although there are 2.18 billion Christians overall) and over the next 20 years the Muslim population is projected to grow twice as fast as the rest of the world. The tendency is to regard Muslims as being Middle Eastern or south Asian but the reality is that they inhabit every continent and embody many nationalities and cultures.

So it is incumbent upon us, as Christians, to not paint the whole Muslim world with the same brush of suspicion. Islam is one of three world monotheistic religions, joining Christianity and Judaism. In Islam, Jesus is revered as a prophet but not as divine, while Mary is honoured and mentioned more often in the Quran than in the New Testament. Like Christians, Muslims are called to love their neighbour — and most do.

When a Christian or a Muslim dishonour their neighbour, both fail in the faithfulness to which they have been called, and both must undergo a change of heart. What that means in our day-to-day lives is that if a Christian has an opportunity to befriend a Muslim based upon the Golden Rule, they should take that initiative, thus building a better world. And vice-versa.

Together, Christians and Muslims need to address the sobering question of how to overcome the ideological differences that drive such a wide wedge between them. Is the human desire for genuine peace and freedom stronger than acts of violence? Let’s pray that the answer to that question is yes.

(Fr. MacPherson, SA, is Director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

Co-operatives could be the basis for a new economic model


In designating 2012 as The Year of Co-operatives, the United Nations has recognized that co-operatives are a powerful force for positive social and environmental change and thus instruments for building a better world.

Canadian experience gives clear witness to this truth. The pioneer Alphonse Desjardins established the first caisse or credit union in Levi, Que., in 1901, following the innovative European financial model of savings and credit owned and governed by its members.

Recognizing that French Canadians had no tradition of saving and that many were forced to leave Quebec in times of economic crisis, the Catholic clergy endorsed the new caisses and received Pope Pius X’s approval for priests to manage local branches. By 1963, Quebec had 1,248 caisses with assets of over $1 billion and 1.5 million members. Co-operatives soon spread across Canada.

Despite many trials, the movement prospered and today Canada has 9,000 co-operatives with a combined membership of 18 million and annual revenue of $50 billion. And so the Canadian Association has good reason to celebrate The Year of Co-operatives with an international summit Oct. 6-11 in Quebec City. The theme is “The Amazing Power of Co-operatives.”

In reading the promotion literature for this event, one discovers a remarkable resonance between it and recent teaching by Pope Benedict in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He sees the promotion of social or civic economy as a way to modify, indeed civilize, our present economy. For him, business may or may not aim at profit, but it should have the primary goals of social and human welfare.

In co-operatives and credit unions, where members are owners, there is a more communal appeal to taking initiatives, making decisions and sharing earnings. Co-operative leaders and Benedict both foresee a real possibility for the co-operative approach to grow and become powerful enough to influence mainstream business into becoming more civilized and less focused on monopolistic markets.

The Pope writes in Caritas in Veritate: “Without prejudice to the importance and the economic and social benefits of the more traditional forms of business, they (social or civic business) steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of the economic subjects. And not only that. The very plurality of institutional forms of business gives rise to a market which is not only more civilized but also more competitive.”

The co-operative movement can take many forms, including mutual insurance, agriculture, housing, many kinds of consumer and production goods, including housing and hotels, and financial institutions. In 600 municipalities in Quebec and 380 in the rest of Canada, credit unions are the only financial institution. And credit unions are ranked 18th among the 50 safest banks in the world.

Co-operatives are guided by seven principles: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; autonomy and independence; education training; information; co-operation among co-operatives; and concern for the community. Thus they promote democracy, self-help, equality and solidarity, all of which reflect Pope Benedict’s own expectation for social economy.

In recent years, co-operatives, especially credit unions, have developed rapidly in poor countries. Nelson Kuria, CEO of the co-operative group in Kenya, who will be coming to the Quebec Summit, states: “I have no doubt that the co-operative model provides a most effective institutional mechanism for responding to the development challenges of the African continent on a sustainable basis. Co-operatives can simultaneously promote wealth creation, poverty alleviation and more equitable distribution of resources.”

Tom Webb, who helped create the international Master of Management, Co-operatives and Credit Unions program at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, says: “It’s time to unplug ourselves from the old global economics and plug into the enormous potential of cooperative economics to truly build a better world.”

Is Tom dreaming? Probably not. If the co-operative movement were able to collaborate effectively on the international level — with one-billion members and $1.6 trillion annual income (counting only the largest 300 co-operatives) — it could significantly influence the future global economy.

And so the Quebec summit will be emphasizing how co-operatives weathered the economic crisis better than ordinary business and banks, and planning how co-operatives can have a much greater impact on economic thinking, planning, policy and action taken by business, government and international agencies in Canada and around the world.

Who will take care of the bully?


As children get back into school-day routines this fall, they’ll have the support of a new framework to deal with bullies and bullying. That’s a very good thing.

In Catholic schools, the anti-bullying initiative is called Respecting Difference. Its aim is to create learning environments, consistent with Catholic teaching, in which every student can feel safe and be treated with respect and dignity.

This new focus on bullying puts to the test all our earnest talk about the critical alliance of home, school and parish in caring for children. If we’re going to have an effective Catholic strategy for dealing with bullying, we need to bring the resources of all three to bear. I’m not talking about a naive appeal to some ideal world of perfect families, wise pastors and dedicated teachers, but a sophisticated approach that uses the expertise of trained professionals to deal with imperfect families and stressed systems.

It is admirable that society finally recognizes bullying as a major concern. Now all schools in Ontario must have plans to eradicate it. The one regret I have is that new strategies do not pay enough attention to the bully in cases of serious and chronic bullying.

After 38 years in social work, I have developed a firm belief that bullies are created. They’re not born. Admittedly, some children are born to be more aggressive than others. But bullying and aggressiveness are not identical. Racism, ethnic discrimination, handicaps, personality, physical size, poverty and other variables children are born with or born into play major roles in bullying and victimization. But these conditions do not tell the entire story. Children who are bullies and even children who are victims of school bullying are often survivors of child abuse, child neglect or are witnessing domestic violence in their homes.

I do not mean that every single victim of school bullying is experiencing maltreatment at home or witnessing domestic violence. I do not even mean that all bullies are bullied or are witnessing bullying at home. I am saying that it happens more often than most people believe. Bullying should be a red flag for all of us. It should point the way to further investigation.

There’s science to back this up. In a cohort study of 2,232 children, Bowes et al (2009) found children exposed to domestic violence were more likely to be bullies or bully victims (both bully and victim) than those children not exposed to domestic violence. Shields and Cicchetti (2001) concluded that maltreated children were more likely to be bullies and were more likely to be victims of bullying.

I estimate that more than 85 per cent of men attending groups for men who have physically harmed their wife or common–law partner watched their mothers being assaulted by their fathers when they were children. The lesson is clear. Children repeat what they see and what they live with in their homes.

When teachers see bullying they should not leap to the conclusion domestic violence or child abuse is going on in the home of either the victim or the abuser, but it should be a red flag. The teacher may need to ask for the help of a school social worker and if they discover that child maltreatment is going on they will need to get clinical help for the victim and for the bully.

Fortunately, most communities have a family services agency and these organizations are skilled in dealing with trauma. Family service agencies can assist the perpetrator, the survivor and the children witnessing domestic violence. In a Catholic environment, we have a special imperative that should guide our actions. We need to hate the sin of violence but love the sinner. Bullying can not be condoned but the bully and the victim both need help.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that schools need to have a good anti-bullying policy and they must follow it. It is important to separate minor bullying from serious bullying. In the case of serious or chronic bullying, the school social worker or some other professional should be consulted.

This is also an opportunity for the parish, the Catholic school and the Catholic family services agency to work together to end the violence and to begin the healing.