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.

Peter Stockdale: Only in Canada do we challenge the self-evident truth

Canada’s Supreme Court has been asked to adjudicate whether religious freedom means the freedom to actually say something is really true that you believe to be really true.

It’s true. We’re that far gone. We’re that far down the path toward a state of total social incoherence. We are at the point where it takes the top jurists in the land, and a small army of lawyers, to decide whether what is staring us in the face is also right in front of our noses.

The case in question is Catholic parents in Quebec who objected to the provincial education ministry imposing a mandatory ethics and religion program on all schools, public and private.

At the surface level, the program is dishwater comparative religion. People who go to synagogue believe this. People who go to Catholic Mass believe that. People who go to mosque believe something else again. We’d like to teach the world to sing in neutral harmony.

Dorothy Pilarski: For mothers, their time belongs to the family

Surrendering to Motherhood, Loosing Your Mind, Finding your Soul by Iris KrasnowSonia Commisso is one of the most remarkable mothers I know. The first time I saw her she was with her young family in the first row at St. Patrick’s Church in Mississauga, Ont. Immediately, I was drawn to her. She prayed devoutly but, more than that, she radiated joy. I wanted to introduce myself, to learn more about her, but something held me back.

A short while later I read her story in the Toronto Star. I was stunned. Only then did I introduce myself. Her story of mother’s love and sacrifice had to be shared, so I invited her to join a Catholic mother’s group that meets regularly at my house.

Sonia’s husband has multiple sclerosis. Her son has a learning disability and seizure disorder. Her daughter Jesse passed away in 2001. She was 2 1/2 years old. Her other daughter Alessia, who uses a walker and wheelchair, has been diagnosed with the same disease that Jesse succumbed to. She recently celebrated her first Holy Communion.

When Sonia arrived, our mother’s group started as usual, with prayer. Then Sonia spoke to us about her life. She is her family’s sole caregiver. Despite the family’s obvious trials, her voice was without bitterness. It was a voice of optimism, fortitude, understanding and, above all, a voice of love. A mother’s love.

Where others might be angry, Sonia was cheerful. She was gracious, not resentful; embracing, not withdrawn. But above all she was faithful, trusting without question God’s providence. Her story touched each of us in a different way. But we were all humbled — and inspired.

Mother’s Day is a time to acknowledge our mom’s for all they do for us, but for me it is also a day of reflection. I became a mother in the middle of a thriving career — and embarked on a spiritual quest that was like none other I’d ever experienced. I sensed God calling me to radical change, a change I was unsure how to embrace. What type of mother would I be? I thought and prayed about it. I wanted to know what makes a good mother and who was God calling me to become now that I was a mother.

My search led me to a book titled Surrendering to Motherhood, Losing Your Mind, Finding your Soul by Iris Krasnow. Krasnow, a prominent journalist and a professor of journalism, brilliantly described the often frenetic experience of balancing a career with motherhood. Her book touched the deepest recesses of my heart and, although she is Jewish, we seemed to be undergoing the same profound experience. We both felt a divine call to the vocation of motherhood.  

That book helped me realize I needed to turn to my Catholic faith to discern this exciting chapter of my life. I poured through, and was inspired by, hundreds of practical spiritual resources available to Catholics. But I think my real saving grace in this spiritual adventure has been my mother’s group. It has been a blessing and grace to journey with other mothers who love God, the Church and are prayerfully doing their best to fulfill the divine vocation of being a wife and mother.

Based on the meetings of our group, Salt + Light Television produced a television series called Mothering, Full of Grace. It abounds with inspirational stories from mothers who live out their vocation of motherhood counter culturally. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve prayed, we’ve learned and together we’ve changed.  The 13-episode series still airs on Salt + Light and is available on DVD.

At our next mother’s group meeting, we will discuss one of the most serious challenges confronting busy mothers today — the lack of time.

I was touched by Blessed Mother Teresa’s words: “I think the world today is upside down. Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children, we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”

Moms like Sonia already live these words. Her time belongs to her family. She is the embodiment of the divine vocation we call motherhood. Selfless, courageous, faithful and, above all, loving, she has shown us what it means to be a mother in a way that TV programs and books can only begin to describe.

(Pilarski, a professional speaker and consultant, can be reached at

Marisa Casagrande: I will believe in the truth of Fr. Joe

There was not a dry eye at Mass as Fr. Joe LeClair delivered his public apology at Ottawa’s Blessed Sacrament Church. This, following an article in the Ottawa Citizen that disclosed the most personal of Fr. LeClair’s financial records, described the lax financial control measures at Blessed Sacrament and insinuated that parish funds had been used to support his gambling habit. The picture was dire, the tone accusatory.

And I can just imagine the many conversations which have ensued. The debate might be about the merits of the Church, the priesthood, the number of priests being called out for wrongdoings.

There was a time when I too would have reacted to this story in such a way. For many years I had left the Church, believing it to be an outdated institution, way too top heavy to attract its future and imploding by its incessant focus on rules and ceremony. And then I attended Blessed Sacrament. The church was full — of young people, of music, full of good energy, or dare I say Spirit. And there was Fr. Joe and his gift of bringing the Gospel to life, of making it relevant to us today.

I had witnessed these things before. But this didn’t seal the deal for me. For me, it was the depths of Fr. Joe’s humanity and his humility that stood out. He was not only a priest, he was human, just as I. Struggling, just as I. And at times hopeful and joyful, just as I. This was not just one way. He was not all knowing and all perfect. He was being honest about who he was.

Charles Lewis: A religious voice is — frighteningly so — second-class in society

We are living in a society with a secular set point. Any issue that is raised can only be considered if it is within a secular context. Anything that might smell of coming from a religious point of view is not welcome and even feared.

Such issues as embryonic stem-cell research, the large number of abortions taking place in Canada or the rampant use of pornography in society is expected to be discussed in non-religious terms — even if religion has something to say of value for the broader good.

This was made clear to me in an unusual way not long ago. I was writing about the debate on euthanasia. I happened to interview a woman, a physician and professor, who gave some very rational and secular reasons for opposing euthanasia.

An anti-euthanasia activist was furious at me for speaking to her. He said I had undermined his cause because the woman also happened to be a nun and her objection to euthanasia would just confirm to the society at large that this was another case of religious people trying to impose their values on secular society.

The next generation of Catholic artists face some great challenges

Mags won the Wellesley Idol competition at the age of 15.It is with sadness that I am announcing this to be my last column for The Catholic Register. It has been a tremendous 14 years and I am humbled to have had this opportunity. I am also happy to finish with the privilege of introducing a new generation of young Catholic artists. I pray that they can follow in the footsteps of Matt Maher by breaking through into the general Christian market and perhaps even the secular market.

First, there is Mags (, who is my daughter. After winning the Wellesley Idol competition at the age of 15 as well as being a finalist in the Faith FM shining star singing competition, she recently released a jazz Christmas jazz album,Dreaming of Christmas.  

Kathleen Dunn ( has released two albums, the most recent His Saving Love.  Among her accomplishments are ministering for 13,000 at the National March for Life on Parliament Hill.

Canada is paying the cost of inaction on poverty

Faith communities are on the front lines of service to the poor, right across Canada. Most of the volunteers at soup kitchens, drop-ins and other street-level programs are members of communities of various faiths. And these services are (unfortunately) needed more and more.

As only one example, in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood, the St. Joe’s Supper Table experienced an 18-per-cent increase in people needing to be fed in 2009, up to 130 guests per evening. It got worse the next year: between August 2009 and August 2010, demand grew another 26 per cent. St. Joe’s recorded its highest-ever number of guests, 191, on Sept. 14, 2010. That was an incredible load for a facility that can only seat  24 people at a time.

Estimates of Canadians living in poverty ranged up to 4.3 million during the height of the recent recession. Almost one in 10 Canadian children live below the poverty line. People of faith are becoming increasingly aware that such high levels of poverty are far beyond piecemeal or charitable solutions. So they are starting to speak out, demanding change. The most senior leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths gathered in Ottawa in early March to urge federal politicians to respond to this growing crisis by taking concrete action. Bishop François Lapierre of St. Hyacinthe represented the Catholic bishops.

Singing Bernadette's beautiful song

Bernadette Soubirous was a French peasant girl who went out with friends to gather firewood for her family one February morning in 1858. Bernadette lived in Lourdes in stunning poverty. She was a terrible student and there was nothing about her or her family that was the least bit notable.

She was also sickly, suffering all her life from debilitating asthma. That ailment prevented her from carrying on with her friends to gather firewood that February day. So she waited by a grotto.

Most know what happened next. She saw a beautiful woman, with roses on her feet. No one else had ever seen this vision but over the following weeks crowds came to see Bernadette as she knelt in front of the grotto. It was the transformation in Bernadette’s face that transfixed the crowd. For reasons not explained by the intellect, those who gathered knew they were witnessing something extraordinary.