Robert Brehl: Searching for answers in this summer’s reading

Two-thirds through, few could argue that 2011 has been a good year. What with global economic turmoil, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Middle East unrest, famine in Africa, rioting through Britain (and Vancouver), a child-hunting mass murderer in Norway, continued child abuse scandals within the Church, and despair ladled generously at almost any turn.

I am not a pessimist. Really, I’m not. I am not, as Oscar Wilde said, one who when given a choice of two evils picks both.

I am just trying to raise my spiritual and moral understanding during these troubling times. I doubt I am unique; merely an average person. (In fact, I was once described as a schmoe by one of my friends. An apt description, even if it came from an atheist.)

I am no scholar and I am no theologian. I am a husband and a father living in suburbia. But, probably like you, I often wonder why things happen. Why were those innocent little children hunted down and mercilessly killed in Norway? Where was God’s protection? Why can’t we get food to those hungry children in Africa?

Fr Stan Chu Ilo: World must step up for drought-stricken Africa now

A woman walks past carcasses of cattle in the drought-stricken Eladow area in Wajir, northeastern Kenya, August 4. The drought, the worst in decades, has affected about 12 million people across the Horn of Africa.Africa is facing another humanitarian crisis as the worst famine in recent memory grips Somalia’s Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions. According to the United Nations, tens of thousands of Somalis, mostly children and women, have already died and an estimated 3.7 million people — more than half the country’s population — face starvation in the next year unless relief is provided.

Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Somalia, said the country has the highest malnutrition rates in the world, reaching 50 per cent for children under five. In some cases, he said parents have thrown away children during the punishing trek to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Oxfam President Mary Robinson has called the humanitarian crisis an international disgrace. The situation is more painful because experts saw it coming and it could have been avoided. Many Somali women and children are crying for help and waiting for the rest of the world to save them from death.

Kitty McGilly: Dublin Eucharistic Congress a chance to move forward

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, left, stands with Cardinal Sean Brady as they announce plans for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The congress will take place June 10-17 next year.DUBLIN - The 50th International Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Dublin next June, is being anticipated locally with the same optimism that was experienced when the congress came to Ireland in 1932. That event was a critical moment in modern Irish history, healing many wounds after the Civil War and drawing together in unity the Irish population, predominantly Catholic, under the umbrella of the Roman Church.

On that occasion a million people gathered for Mass, celebrated by the papal legate, in Phoenix Park and famous Irish tenor John McCormick sang Panis Angelicus. After years of dissent the people of Ireland were challenged to move forward in faith and solidarity.

Such a unifying occasion, one to promote hope, is again very much needed as the Church in Ireland faces tremendous troubles. Rocked by the extensive clerical abuse scandals and consequent decline in Church attendance it is an unprecedented time of turmoil.

Peter Stockland: Church caught up in good news — for once

Fr. Thomas Dowd has been named as a new auxiliary bishop of MontrealMONTREAL - The Catholic Church was featured on the front page of my daily newspaper recently. Predictably, the page also overflowed with talk of corruption, scandal and child abuse.

This time, however, the sordidness was not another predictable media rehash of all that ails Catholicism. In fact, it involved something else entirely.

The story about the Church was — you might want to sit down for this — actually a very good news article about the naming of Fr. Thomas Dowd as a new auxiliary bishop of Montreal. Sure, there were the boilerplate paragraphs about the global sexual abuse scandal — I think all reporters’ computers are programmed to plug in such references by default — but the story on Dowd actually treated his appointment as a real event.

It was seen as eminently newsworthy that he is (a) an ecclesiastical stripling of 40 and (b) fully conversant in, and a ready practitioner of, social media such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook and so on.

Dorothy Pilarski: Some dos, don’ts when you enter the House of God

Dorothy PilarskiOne day at Sunday Mass a well-meaning dad arrived with a large plastic bag from a popular store. It contained a big, new toy for his young son. Something to entertain him during Mass. I can still see the bag’s big, green logo appearing from behind the kneeler, interrupting prayers.

Being a brand new toy, it was in plastic packaging that was torn open in the middle of Mass. What a racket! Several people nearby, including me, were mortified.   

I had to fight all my motherly instincts to lean over and give the man a scolding. What I really wanted to do was tug him out of the church by his ears and ask him: “What are you teaching your child? Do you want to teach him that no matter what is happening around him he is entitled to have fun?”

I often attend performances of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Massey Hall. I am inspired by the pages at the back of the program that detail standards of behaviour for symphony-goers. Sections under several categories define the expected etiquette and courtesy to be extended to others at the symphony. For example, it says latecomers and anyone leaving the hall will be admitted at a suitable interval. It asks patrons to refrain from wearing perfumes or colognes and forbids cameras and cellphones.

C. Gwendolyn Landolt: Judges should enforce, not interpret, law

Two Supreme Court of Canada judges have announced they will step down at the end of AugustThe announcement by two of the judges on the Supreme Court of Canada of their proposed retirement provides the opportunity to reflect on the role of judges in Canada. This is especially important since judges have assumed a powerful and influential role under the Charter.  The latter allows judges using the broad and vague words to rule on the merits of legislation, creating new laws and social policies.  

The vivid reality is that these Charter decisions are highly contingent on socio-political choices which the courts have been able to determine by applying, for example, the broad words of Section 7 of the Charter, (“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person”) and Section 15 (the Equality provision). These words mean whatever the judges want them to mean. That is, the broad words of the Charter have enabled the judges to promote their own, private, political attitudes and preferences, claiming it is for constitutional reasons.

Unfortunately, judges are ill positioned to make public policy decisions because they have limited access to social data and depend on the biased arguments of the litigants and unreliable information in the media. Isolated from society, judges are not exposed to differing perspectives, as occurs in Parliament, since there is no public debate. In short, judges may not be cognizant of all the relevant facts.

Robert Brehl: Kate and Wills should feel at home in PEI

The upcoming royal tour by Prince William and his new bride Kate is sure to be an exciting spectacle for Canadians, monarchists and non-monarchists alike. This young and vibrant couple has energized the increasingly stodgy royal family, and Canadians are eager to get an up-close glimpse.

Our family will be in Prince Edward Island when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive there July 3. My wife and 12-year-old daughter have already mapped out their “stalking route” to see the royals.

I predict the royal couple will find the tiny island, which is half Catholic, to be the most unique place on their tour. Nothing against Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary, but they’re cities — all with at least five times more people than the entire population of PEI. Urban areas are nothing new to this royal couple.

But PEI is different, even a little quirky. And that’s what we love about the place and why we bought a cottage there. Take honesty, for instance. Two years ago, PEI honesty made international headlines after a gust of wind knocked a $10,300 bag of cash out of the hand of a rental property owner on his way to the bank. Cars stopped. People jumped out of Charlottetown restaurants and stores. Everyone scurried to the street to collect the money. But no one pocketed a thing. Every last dollar was returned to the fellow. How’s that for honesty?

Remembering a father and the lessons he left behind

Ivan RebroffMy father died suddenly in 1983 while vacationing in Poland, so I was startled — and inspired — recently when he visited me.

I was in the car, driving to church, and plagued this particular day with all kinds of doubts about the wisdom of making a commitment to attend daily Mass. As a mother, wife and entrepreneur, there are so many other things that needed doing. There were business calls to return, emails to answer, articles to write, a dinner to plan, and Facebook friends and new followers on Twitter to attend to. Not to mention housework and grocery shopping.

I struggled with the thought: How did I become this way? Is attending daily Mass really necessary? God, can you send me a sign? I’m not usually so conflicted. Although I seldom listen to the car radio, at that moment I turned it on and was jolted by a long-forgotten but still familiar voice. It was a Russian folk singer, but not just any singer. It was my dad’s favourite singer from so many years ago.

Charles Lewis: The pro-life debate through posters

The first time I saw someone carrying a poster of an aborted fetus I was driving by a hospital in Toronto. I was stopped in traffic so had a chance to look over at the demonstrators but, at first glance, had no idea exactly what the images were.

Then it hit me. The colour red was the clue. It did not actually look like a fetus or anything human. It was more like the remains of a butcher shop. I shuddered and drove on.

For the past few months in Calgary, a group called Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform has been conducting rolling demonstrations in front of high schools using images of aborted fetuses. They have adopted the tactic of using shocking images as a way to convince people, particularly young people, that abortion is wrong.

“Our philosophy is if someone is old enough to have an abortion, they’re old enough to see the aftermath of an abortion,” said Stephanie Gray, the executive director of the group.

Glenn CJ Byer, SLD: Finding the missal’s beauty in the text

An image from the Last Supper in the new edition of the Roman Missal, which will go into use on November 27. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)“There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ.”

These words of Pope Benedict XVI have been a driving force behind our efforts as the  Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops completes its new edition of the Roman Missal. A column by Fr. Raymond J. de Souza  in the June 5 issue of The Catholic Register urged the creation of a missal that is “beautiful” and includes full-colour images. As the new missal nears completion, I want to assure Canadian Catholics that I have been truly moved by the beauty of the printer’s craft, by the attention to every detail in font and colour selections, by inspired page designs, by the talents of proofreaders, and by a concern for readability and avoiding odd page turns. Bishops have been involved in every stage of this process, ensuring that the new missal will reflect the preferences of clergy from across the country  and of the CCCB.

But all of this pales in comparison to the encounter with the Gospel. There is nothing more beautiful than the contents of the antiphons and prayers. The instructions we received from the Vatican made it clear: illustrative art in the missal needs to be in service of the liturgy. The words of Jesus at the Last Supper, the quotes from the Psalms and the allusions to the Scriptures: these are the stars of the book, not an abundance of colour plates.

Neil MacCarthy: Heritage designations can bind church’s hands

The next time you’re faced with an overwhelming home renovation, consider this: collectively, the Catholic, Anglican and United Churches own 3,000 buildings in the province that require a combined $30 million to operate annually. Another $30 million is spent on maintaining “historic properties.” That’s a lot of shingles.

Before there were town halls or schools, arenas or the local Tim Horton’s, parishes were the spiritual and community hubs of society, bringing people together to strengthen the neighbourhood. Over the years though, the role of the parish as community centre has changed, and so have the neighbourhoods they serve.

While many historic churches continue to thrive, others, sadly, are facing significant challenges, with little or no funds to maintain their facilities, often due to dwindling congregations. While desirable, maintaining all of these churches is just not feasible.   

A “heritage designation” from various municipal governments has been applied to about 12 per cent of the 3,000 churches in Ontario.

Designated churches require permission from their municipality to change in any way the parts of the building that are considered culturally significant, often including pews, windows, altars and other parts of the building used for worship. So if the bishops, priests and laity agree it makes sense to renovate or (as a last resort) demolish a church that is no longer viable, they don’t have a legal right to implement that option.