TORONTO - On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi Toronto's Capuchin friars came courting "Lady Poverty" in Parkdale, where they've been courting her the past 25 years.

"Lady Poverty" was how St. Francis, in the courtly language of the 13th century, conceived of life with and among the poor. Today's Franciscan Capuchins serve "Lady Poverty" by dishing up ravioli, salad, chili con carne and bread with coffee and dessert for $2 at St. Francis Table in the heart of Parkdale, in the city's west end.

There were seven local Capuchins at St. Francis Table serving lunch on Oct. 4. They were there to share a Franciscan feast with the poor and to honour the 25th anniversary of the Franciscan restaurant.

Since it opened Christmas 1987 there's never been much doubt about the Franciscan and Christian foundations of St. Francis' Table, said provincial superior Fr. David Connolly. But "the neighbourhood is changing," he said.

It had always been the Franciscans' intention to hand St. Francis' Table off to lay people with the drive and the ability to sustain the work. That would free up the religious order to launch new ventures.

Watching new condo towers encroach and local businesses replaced with chi-chi restaurants, Connolly thinks that day may be coming soon.

"We would certainly consider moving where the poor move... when the time comes," he said.

In the meantime, St. Francis' Table is having no trouble filling the dining room with people who need a good meal, good company and some encouragement.

Robert Tait has been coming to St. Francis Table the last six months and describes it as "a good place to be."

"It grounds me. It helps me to stay strong in my faith," he said.

St. Francis' Table also has an important ministry to thousands of young volunteers, said Grade 10 religion teacher Mark Henry. On the Feast of St. Francis, Henry brought nine of his Our Lady of the Lake students from Keswick, Ont., to get a more realistic picture of poverty.

"It opens their eyes," he said.

Noting a couple with a child in a stroller who had come for lunch, Henry said he hoped his students understood that the poor are not so different from their own middle-class families.

"It's not the cliché thing. None of us are that far away from poverty," he said.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Dr. Karen Stel made the “wonderful discovery” of natural family planning during her medical residency and to this day the Toronto doctor refuses to prescribe birth control pills. Instead, she recommends the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning to her patients.

“It’s a a co-operative way of working with your body the way that God designed it,” said Stel. “To be able to control fertility is an amazing thing that God has given us.”

Stel was a participant at a Sept. 28 Billings Ovulation Method workshop for medical professionals in Toronto. She’d come to hear Dr. Mary Martin, of the Billings Centre for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine in Oklahoma City, who was in Toronto at the invitation of the Natural Family Planning Association, funded by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

But the workshops had a low turnout, with just five health professionals attending the breakfast session and eight at the lunch session. Stel, a general practitioner, was the only medical doctor to attend. Participants included Billings teachers, homeopaths, naturopathic doctors, nurses and a social worker.

The Billings Method teaches couples to observe the natural biological signs of female fertility and use that knowledge to postpone or achieve pregnancy, said Martin.

Christian Elia, acting executive director of the Natural Family Planning Association which organized the event, said the workshops were open for all medical professionals to attend.

“I’m disappointed but I’m constantly disappointed that more doctors don’t take the Billings Ovulation Method seriously despite the fact that it’s been around for decades and it’s already used successfully by millions of people around the world,” he said.

Elia said the majority of medical professionals in Toronto are not receptive to the Billings Method.

“It wasn’t part of their training so… most doctors just feel more comfortable doing what they’ve been told which usually involves prescribing birth control pills.”

To reverse that, Stel believes natural family planning should be taught in medical schools.

Struggling with the issue of contraception during her residency at Queen’s University, Stel got in touch with the natural family planning community in Kingston, Ont., and eventually carried out a research project on the efficacy of the Billings Method as compared to contraception.

“I presented in 2001 to my colleagues at Queen’s and received very good feedback,” said Stel, an evangelical Christian. “It was enough to convince me that I could practise medicine with integrity.”

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Recently, a patient filed a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario when Stel refused to prescribe birth control. It took about eight months to settle, but in the end, the college voted in her favour.

“I’ve had to be careful after that but at the same time it doesn’t change my conviction. If anything, it affirms it. If you’re getting opposition, they say you’re doing something right.”

Similarly, Martin said a lot of Catholic physicians don’t know how to practise gynecology without prescribing pills. She stopped promoting birth control after a conversion experience. For her penance, a priest made her research whether the pill can cause miscarriages and induce abortions. She discovered this was a possibility.

“I had learned in medical school that there was that potential,” she said. “But I had been assured by the drug companies over the years that was a very uncommon thing.”

By 1999, she had stopped prescribing birth control. She was worried her clients would leave.

“It was like standing on the precipice with my toes curled over the edge and my arms spread out saying, ‘Okay, God, catch me if I fall.’ And He did.”

Rose Heron, program director of the Natural Family Planning Association, said doctors are often introduced to the Billings Method by patients who practise the Billings Method.

“Keep in mind that we live in a society where, if a couple is trying to achieve pregnancy and they don’t within the prescribed time, many doctors just send you for in-vitro fertilization. So they move onto technological means. And many couples are looking for an alternative to that.”

Pauline MacCarthy Phelps, a visiting Billings co-ordinator from Trinidad and Tobago, says advertising of the Billings Method must be improved in order to attract more people to the option.

“It’s not common,” she said. “What’s common is contraception. Nobody wants to have 10 children and contraception is what they know about and it’s popular.”

Lori Canlas, a social worker and psychotherapist, also believes Billings needs to be promoted further. But what struck her was the negative impact of contraception on women’s health.

“It’s also highly interesting that doctors highly prescribe contraception without knowing other alternatives… There is an option for them to choose something more natural.”

Stel remains optimistic that medical professionals will become more open to natural family planning.

“They respect me for this… It will just take more doctors (to show others). And doctors that have time. The reality right now is that I don’t have time. But I do, wherever I can.”

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

Toronto - With Toronto’s universities heavily populated by students who live off-campus, on-campus Catholic chaplaincies work hard to keep commuters coming back.

“Everyone has a different experience with chaplaincy,” said Joseph Zambon, a pastoral assistant at York. “Some members just come for Sunday Mass while other members just go to one-time events held by the chaplaincy throughout the school year.”  

At the University of Toronto, the approach of the Newman Centre chaplaincy is to break it down into smaller, more focused groups. This builds a stronger sense of community with its members. There is also one major retreat for students each term as well as regular services such as Mass seven times a week and adoration after every Friday Mass. The Newman Centre also hosts “A Date to Remember,” a popular speed-dating night for single Catholic young adults.   

York University’s chaplaincy team, which is located on the Keele campus about an hour north of downtown Toronto by public transit, deals almost exclusively with commuters. Because of this, the chaplaincy has very little activity over the weekends, except for Sunday Mass.

The bulk of its services run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, when the campus is alive with students and when they can come and go depending on their class schedules. When the campus virtually shuts down on the weekend, so too does the chaplaincy team for the most part.

Despite the lack of weekend activity, the York chaplaincy enjoyed a successful welcome week on campus. It celebrated a “Blitz Week” handing out popcorn, doing surveys and questionnaires to raise awareness about the chaplaincy. The most recent event, Grill the Priest, was held on Sep. 18 and Sept. 20 in the early afternoon. Students had a chance to ask a priest any tough questions about the Catholic faith. 

The Ryerson University chaplaincy, located at the heart of downtown Toronto, estimates that 50 per cent of its student members commute more than 45 minutes to get to school. 

“It has been my experience that commuter students are eager and excited to get involved. They have a desire to join a student group precisely because they are a commuter student and they want to feel connected to the campus,” said Oriana Bertucci, chaplaincy director at Ryerson. 

Ryerson’s chaplaincy also takes on the role of “gathering the scattered.” The chaplaincy group meets students where they are: on campus, at a coffee shop, at a church or other places Ryerson students hang out. The concept allows the chaplaincy and its events to be more accessible to students regardless of whether they commute or live near campus.

The Ryerson chaplaincy plans most of its events during the day time or early evenings to agree with the schedule of its large commuter group. In addition, the chaplaincy provides a place for prayer in the large space of the St. Michael’s Cathedral. It also holds themed monthly Sunday dinners to encourage interaction with other student groups on the Ryerson campus.

“Our Sunday dinners often attract students who enjoy going to Mass with their friends and having the opportunity to break bread afterwards. Even if they have to travel a bit to come for Mass and dinner, they enjoy the fellowship,” said Bertucci.

“How we define growth in the chaplaincy is by answering: Are we meeting the needs of our students?” Bertucci said. “We need to be adaptable.”

(Jereza is a second-year journalism student at Ryerson University.)

Published in Youth Speak News

TORONTO - Being on the side of the poor means working to make sure the poor won’t always be with us — still poor, still desperate, trapped from generation to generation in a dispiriting cycle, said Society of St. Vincent de Paul Ontario president Jim Paddon.

The St. Vincent de Paul provincial regional council representing some 350 parish councils emerged from its annual meeting in Peterborough in early September recommitted to lobbying all three levels of government on behalf of the poor, pressing particularly for affordable housing.

“We have an obligation. We’re there to serve Jesus in the poor,” said Paddon. “The poor are suffering because of improper or lack of legislation. It (advocacy) is just an extension of what we do.”

Pushing the federal government to have a national housing strategy — Canada is the only industrialized country in the world without one — the provincial government to allow municipalities to zone for more subsidized housing through inclusionary housing by-laws, and municipal governments to incorporate more affordable housing in their official plans doesn’t mean the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is turning into a political player.

“We certainly don’t want to align with a political party. I don’t envision us ever doing that,” said Paddon.

But St. Vincent de Paul members, who visit the poor and help them out with small amounts to buy groceries and other essentials, see how expensive or inadequate housing is crushing families, Paddon said.

The Daily Bread’s Sept. 19 report, “Who’s Hungry: Faces of Hunger,” found that on average food-bank clients spend 71 per cent of their income on rent. The waiting list for subsidized housing in Ontario stands at 150,000.

St. Vincent de Paul members get discouraged when they see not only that they are serving the same people month after month and year after year, but also that they are serving second- and third-generation clients.

“Our members get just as frustrated as anyone,” said Paddon. “You tend to get a little cynical. What we need to do is direct feelings like that toward things like systemic change.”

For more than three years, St. Vincent de Paul has been part of the steering committee for the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, working with religious leaders of all faiths to keep issues of poverty in front of provincial legislators.

Up until now, most of the St. Vincent de Paul advocacy efforts have fallen to its Toronto council.

“It’s a good fit. When you want to talk to politicians, you find them at Queen’s Park,” said Paddon. “And there’s so many government offices located there.”

There are always a few worries that talking to politicians and demanding action for the poor will somehow distract Vincentians from direct service to the poor. But that sort of squeamishness about anything political was not part of the origins of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris in the 1830s. Founder Frederic Ozanam used his position as one of the most prominent intellectuals of his time to advocate for the poor and to push for a kind of Catholic democracy which could provide the social justice the French Revolution had failed to produce.

“Our system is always charitable works, addressing what you would call the end results of poverty,” said Paddon.

But by patterning its program more closely on the vision of Ozanam, Vincentians can add a kind of advocacy that is backed up by real, concrete charitable involvement in the lives of poor people, he said.

And there’s more to campaigning for affordable housing than just an economic calculation. The value of a home goes beyond family finances.

“Having a home, what does that mean to a family? I think it plays a huge part,” Paddon said.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

The traditional fall education campaign of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is on hold until Oct. 15 while staff and volunteers scramble to come up with less political material that will gain the backing of all of Canada's bishops.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Richard Smith and general secretary Msgr. Pat Powers informed Development and Peace Sept. 5 that several bishops had objected to the fall campaign and did not want the material distributed in their diocese. It is the first time in the 45-year history of the Catholic development agency that the bishops have intervened to block an education campaign.

Neither the CCCB nor Development and Peace could tell The Catholic Register how many bishops have objected to campaign materials, which have been printed but not yet distributed. Through a spokesperson, Smith declined to be interviewed for this story as "the bishops have not had a chance to discuss the issue."

Bishops on the CCCB's Standing Committee on Development and Peace were not consulted on the move to halt the campaign and have not seen the materials.

"I haven't had it explained to me, so I can't really comment," said Toronto's Bishop John Boissonneau, chair of the committee. "I was aware that the president of the conference sent out a letter, but there's been no follow-up with me directly."

"I kind of feel out in the cold on this," said committee member Bishop Richard Grecco of Charlottetown.

The last time the bishops' committee met was May 31 for a consultation with the Development and Peace liaison committee for relations with the bishops. Meanwhile, work on the fall education campaign had been delayed until June while the organization dealt with major restructuring to accommodate a drastic cut in Canadian International Development Agency funding.

The fall campaign was to have veered off-course from Development and Peace's five-year plan of environmentally themed education campaigns. This campaign, which included postcards addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was conceived as a national consultation on the direction of Canada's foreign aid policy.

A copy of a Development and Peace postcard addressed to Harper was obtained by The Catholic Register. It asks Harper to "launch a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance." The card also urges a "Special Parliamentary Committee to examine the new direction of Canadian assistance."

"The trend in how Canada's foreign aid programs are administered has changed quite dramatically," Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey told The Catholic Register. "The role for civil society organizations like us is becoming less apparent. More of the money is going to multilateral institutions, private sector development.... We wanted to see if a constructive critique of this policy from our perspective could get a hearing."

The campaign did not mention the $35-million cut over five years in CIDA funding to Development and Peace, said Casey, and is not an attempt to revisit the funding decision, he said.

"Concerns were expressed regarding the nature and methodology of the campaign with respect that it could create some divisiveness within the Church community and that perhaps there should be some more consultations within D&P and also with the broader Church," said Ronald Breau, Development and Peace national council president.

Archbishop Smith

Archbishop Smith

- Register file photo

Breau wrote to the Development and Peace membership Sept. 17 to explain the delay.

"We are fully aware that our decision will disappoint many of our active and engaged members," Breau wrote.

While the campaign will be modified, the fall action campaign will remain focussed on Canada's development aid policies. But the national council is heeding Smith's warning that the original campaign would "lead to division among our base, among bishops and among our supporters," Breau wrote.

"The bishops are concerned that ongoing dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Government of Canada on some important, timely and sensitive issues might be compromised by our approach at this time." 

Parish Development and Peace leader Greg Kennedy is left wondering what his group will do while it waits for the campaign to launch.

"Traditionally Development and Peace at the parish level operates basically two times a year — one in the fall with the education campaign and then the Share Lent or ShareLife in (the Toronto archdiocese)," said the Jesuit, who is studying for the priesthood and helping out at Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Toronto. "Without those bookends, really there's not much to do until Lent."

The appearance that the bishops are divided or opposed to Development and Peace has become a challenge for parish groups, said Kennedy. And the idea that the bishops' conference did not inform its own standing committee will be even more confusing.

"The bishops set up these avenues through which both they and Development and Peace would work and all of a sudden that gets over-ridden. That's disturbing," he said. "What's the point of having them if they're not going to be used."

But lobbying the government on policy does not amount to education, said Grecco.

"We can have that dialogue (on Canadian development policy). I just don't think it should be a campaign. That's not what D&P should be about."

Published in Canada

TORONTO - From your library to the confessional, from relics to rejoicing, the archdiocese of Toronto has lined up a year’s worth of ways to rediscover faith.

The Year of Faith kicks off inter- nationally on Oct. 11, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In Toronto, the year will start with a solemn opening Mass with Cardinal Thomas Collins at St. Paul’s Basilica on Oct. 14. All 223 parishes in the archdiocese are being encouraged to send representatives, particularly their RCIA catechists, youth leaders and parish council members, to the 4 p.m. Mass at the downtown basilica.

Collins will also dedicate this year of lectio divina programs to a biblical understanding of faith.

The Office of Formation for Discipleship wants to add the Catechism of the Catholic Church to your reading list. And they hope to introduce young people to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and the YouCat youth catechism produced for World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011.

“Exploring the Catechism: Faith Alive!” is an eight-part series, and the catechism-based six-part series “Basic Teachings of the Catholic Church” will be promoted in parishes by the Office of Formation for Discipleship. A Fr. Robert Barron 10-part video series called Catholicism will also be available.

The Office of Catholic Youth will run catechetical events based on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and YouCat.

A chance to visit with martyrs and saints will be coming to many parishes. Relics of 17th-century Jesuit martyrs from the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., and of St. Br. André Bessette from St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, will tour the archdiocese.

On Oct. 21 seven blesseds will become saints, including Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks. The canonizations will happen in Rome. Parishes are being encouraged to organize events to celebrate Canada’s first aboriginal saint.

Penance will lead local Catholics to faith with the all-day confessions event called “Return to Me With All Your Heart.” The program will be offered in many parishes during Lent.

“The renewal of the Church is also achieved through the witness offered by the lives of believers,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his October 2011 announcement of the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei. “By their very existence in the world, Christians are called to radiate the word of truth that the Lord Jesus has left us.”

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - When 21-year-old Tia McGregor sees the younger kids who like her have grown up in foster homes — kids who have to figure out life without a family to support them the day they turn 18 — she tells them to follow their highest ambitions and their most cherished dreams.

"Do what you love and the rest will follow," she says.

The fourth-year Queen's University drama student knows her message is pretty hard to take seriously when you're 18 and have just been kicked out of your foster home.

"It didn't help me when people told me," she said. "For youth in care, there is so much more you have to think about."

Most former foster kids think they can't afford ideals, dreams and ambitions, said McGregor. They've got to worry about the rent, groceries, tuition. They've got to walk the tight-wire of daily life without the safety net of a family.

McGregor attended her third annual Hope For Children Foundation awards dinner Sept. 19 at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus. She collected a $2,000 scholarship to help with another year of post-secondary education. In total, the Hope For Children Foundation gave out $140,000 this year in scholarships to Catholic youth who had been through the foster care system with Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto.

One-hundred-six young people collected scholarships this year in amounts of $1,500 for community college students and $2,000 for university students.

For these kids the scholarships are a very small part of their financial picture, said Catholic Children's Aid executive director Mary McConville.

"We wish it was more," she said.

Statistics Canada released a study Sept. 12 showing the average Ontario undergraduate pays $7,180 in tuition fees alone. Since 2006 Ontario tuition fees have increased by a cumulative 71 per cent, said the Canadian Federation of Students — Ontario. Add in modest living costs, books, transportation and the real cost of an academic year is more like $11,000, according to the Hope for Children Foundation.

But still, the high-achieving McGregor urges idealism and big dreams on younger foster students. A high school math and science whiz, McGregor began university in astrophysics, trying to pursue the safe science career people expected of her. She wanted to study a little theatre on the side, but chemistry got in the way of a drama minor.

"In the end, I couldn't lie to myself," she said.

She switched programs despite the expectations of her foster family and former high school teachers, because the alternative to following a dream is grim and lifeless. She's blossomed as a writer, comedian and actress and spent last summer with the Thousand Island Playhouse summer theatre program acting and leading writing workshops for high school students.

None of this success was built into McGregor's beginnings. Her mother discovered she was pregnant at 15, and because the father was black the family rejected their daughter and granddaughter. McGregor's mother developed a drug addiction and her father was mostly absent. At six McGregor took refuge at her best friend's house every day and then every night.

Eventually that best friend became McGregor's foster sister and by the time she was eight the neighbour family officially became her foster home. Soon afterwards, McGregor's foster family moved from Scarborough two-and-a-half hours' drive east to Campbellford, Ont.

Small-town life was stable, warm, accepting — all she could have asked for. Unlike many foster children, McGregor stayed in the same home until she went away to university.

But she never had to look far to see how much more difficult things could have been. One of her foster sisters turned 18 last year before graduating from high school. Under Ontario law foster children are no longer crown wards at 18 and must immediately move out. McGregor's foster sister found a place with a school friend 45-minute's drive from her school. The 18-year-old managed to finished high school despite the dramatic dislocation and is now attending college.

McGregor believes the things she's experienced and seen in her life as a foster child have done more than toughen her up for life. They've also made her a better writer.

"I have more life experience, maybe," she said. "And that makes for a good writer."

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - When Immigration Minister Jason Kenney walks into a room full of bishops in St. Adéle, Que., Catholic refugee agencies are hoping the minister gets an earful.

Five Catholic immigration and refugee organizations in Toronto have written to the bishops asking that they challenge the minister on changes to Canada’s refugee and immigration laws. Kenney will address the bishops between Sept. 24 and 28 in a private, off-the-record session at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual plenary meeting.

Romero House, Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto, FCJ Refugee Centre, The Mustard Seed and Becoming Neighbours want the bishops to ask Kenney:
o Why Canada is treating refugees from some countries differently than refugees from other countries?
o Whether it’s fair to rush certain cases through the system before refugees hire a lawyer and prepare a thorough case?
o Why the government is limiting basic health care for refugees?
o Why do so many of Canada’s 200,000 foreign workers have no stable pathway to permanent resident status?
o Why are refugees smuggled into Canada as a group blocked for five years from re-uniting with their families even if they are found to be legitimate refugees?

The CCCB won’t say whether these questions will be asked, but it has the potential to re-open an old feud between the bishops and Kenney. In November 2010 the bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission wrote to Kenney to complain of sections of “The Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Maritime Transportation Security Act.”

“Many of the clauses of this legislation may contravene international law and Canadian law, and penalize refugees more than the smugglers,” said the CCCB letter, adding that his anti-smuggling bill “risks creating serious obstacles to sponsorship and family reunification.”

Kenney did not welcome the bishops’ criticism, telling Canadian Catholic News Ottawa correspondent Deborah Gyapong the letter reflected a “long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops’ conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy.”

Romero House director Sarah Villiger hopes this approach to Kenney through the bishops will draw a warmer response.

“We knew that (Kenney) would be there, personally invited. I think that in itself is a bit of a different tone, as opposed to just writing him a letter,” she said.

In part, the refugee agencies wanted to remind the bishops of their own stand on refugee and immigration issues. The letter quotes the bishops own 2006 pastoral letter “We Are Aliens and Transients Before the Lord, Our God.”

“Openness should be shown to persons of all cultures and origins, no matter their immigration status. Christians are to be among those who refuse to let injustice toward migrants continue, let alone increase,” the bishops wrote.

“We thought it was important that they get the input of people who work on the ground with refugees,” said Villiger.

The organizations also took the opportunity to remind the bishops of the many refugees and immigrants who actually occupy pews on Sunday morning.

“The Canadian Catholic Church has historically been an immigrant Church, and today many of the Catholic faithful are immigrants and refugees who form a vital part of and make a significant contribution to the Church in Canada,” they wrote.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - When Barbara and Stephen Barringer decided to announce to their children that he would be working towards becoming a deacon, their son’s immediate comment was, “Oh wonderful. Dad’s always been great at preaching and now they’re going to give him a licence!”

Published in Features

TORONTO - There’s no denying that Deacon Kevin Brockerville is a communicator.

When he talks about his wife, he smiles wide. When asked how he balances family and his deacon responsibilities, he jokes about having two ropes tied around his neck, eyes lighting up in laughter. And when he describes the people who have helped him throughout his life, his emotion is clear.

And he communicates all of this while being deaf.

Not able to hear since age three, Brockerville credits his faith with moving him forward. And it all started with a teacher in his hometown in Newfoundland.  

“She would always take me to the church,” Brockerville said through an interpreter. “I didn’t really understand what church was. I would sit there and see people kneeling and praying but I didn’t know what that was.”

It was this teacher who also made sure Brockerville received the proper education.

“She found where the school for the deaf was that I could go to,” he said. 

The school was in Halifax, and moving there for Brockerville was a necessary step in his spiritual journey.  

“There I started understanding,” he said. “They taught religion, so I got the idea about my faith. It’s a struggle for the deaf to understand religion but I’m very happy that I had the education that helped me.”

Brockerville moved back to Newfoundland after school, and  met a missionary priest from the United States who could sign.

“My mouth was wide open, I was so shocked,” Brockerville said. “‘You mean there’s a priest that can sign?’ It really inspired my wanting to serve. He’s a priest and he’s serving us.”

By the end of the 1960s, then with a wife, Gertrude, who is hearing impaired but not deaf, and his first child, Brockerville moved to Toronto for work and started attending Holy Name Church at Pape and Danforth, where the deaf ministry in Toronto gathered at the time.

“Everyone was signing and the priest was signing,” Brockerville said. “Wow, it was so powerful to me to see that everyone would come.”

The ministry has since moved to St. Stephen’s Chapel in downtown Toronto, where Brockerville serves as a deacon.

“I just felt that God was calling me to serve the deaf people,” he said about his decision to join the diaconate.

But he described his studies — culminating in his ordination in 1984 — as a “real struggle.”

“I was the only deaf person,” Brockerville said. “It was harder (for me) than (for) the hearing people because I had a hard time understanding the language.”
Brockerville explained this is a common thread for all deaf people in grasping theology, and said homilies have to be very simple when signing.

In the end, though, he made his way through the four years of diaconate study.

“I kept listening with my eyes. I kept watching,” he said. “I know that I struggled. But I had to trust God and I trust Him.”

Today, there are four locations for the deaf ministry in the archdiocese of Toronto: in Toronto, Barrie, Oshawa and Mississauga. Brockerville, who spends his time at the downtown Toronto location, is the only deaf deacon, and so has much responsibility, not only with serving at Mass and giving homilies, but also in helping deaf people with further interpretation of the services.

“Some of the deaf have questions about their faith, and if they’re studying something or reading something, I help them,” Brockerville said.

But this man — who said above his responsibilities in the diaconate and in the deaf ministry is his responsibility to his family — is anything but boastful.

“I don’t look for rewards, I look to serve,” he said. “I just follow the faith. I’m here to serve and I serve the best way I can.”

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Published in Features

TORONTO - For nearly 30 years, George Jurenas patrolled the streets of Toronto, keeping people safe. Today, this retired cop patrols the hallways of hospitals, giving people hope.

Jurenas was ordained a deacon in 2008, and has spent most of his time since as a chaplain at Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga and with the Peel Regional Police. And while he said his main inspiration for entering the diaconate was his own parish deacon, he recognizes his years with the Toronto Police Service showed him he had what it takes.

“People would call me Father Confessor,” Jurenas laughed. “(After I arrested people) they’d be sitting in the back of the cruiser and just seemed to open up to me naturally.”

Meeting so many different kinds of people in his profession, Jurenas said, taught him some valuable lessons.

“Over the years, what I found was people aren’t evil,” he said. “No one wants to live on the streets, no one wants to rob a bank, no one wants to put a needle in their arm. There’s usually a reason why they did what they did. There’s a hurt or a pain or something behind that action that for one reason or another placed them there.”

It’s a lesson that has helped him in many situations, like once when he was faced with a patient who, to put it lightly, did not care for his help. 

“I introduced myself, said hi, I’m the chaplain, and I basically get, ‘eff off,’ ” Jurenas said.

“I said hey, no problem, God bless you. But you never know. Someone could be in a real bad place… and it’s not that they don’t ever want to talk to you, it’s just at that time.”

Jurenas never gave up on this man, and eventually they were able to turn a corner. But he’s not always so calm and collected, especially working in the palliative care ward. And it is in showing his true emotions that Jurenas sees the biggest difference between his former job and current work.

“I don’t have to pretend to be tough,” Jurenas said. “I can actually cry with people. There is strength as showing your weakness. As an officer, you (have to) play … tough, and there’s a reason for it. If you act mushy people will walk all over you.

“As an officer you’re always standing behind this façade. I’m tough, I’m in control. Then you realize none of us are really in control.”

This hit close to home for Jurenas when he was diagnosed with prostate and bladder cancer himself before becoming a deacon. He underwent an operation and radiation therapy and is now in remission, but he said the experience gave him insight into what people are feeling and going through in hospitals.

“I’ve laid in that bed,” Jurenas said. “No matter what faith you are, we’re all going through the same fears, the same worries and the same pains when we’re lying in that hospital bed.”

Jurenas uses this kind of non-denominational approach to spirituality in his chaplaincy work. 

“For me as a Catholic deacon, it’s really neat when I do go visit people from other faiths, whether it be Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, you name it,” Jurenas said.

“We meet together at a certain spiritual, emotional place. Some people say does it weaken your faith? I always tell them if anything, it strengthens my faith. There’s a face of Christ in all of us.”

Jurenas saw this as particularly true when he experienced what he described as a miracle — a man who was told he had months to live walked out of the hospital a year and a half later. Jurenas and the man’s wife, a Muslim woman, had been praying together every week, he with his rosary, she with her amber beads.

“There’s a sense of respect of each other, even though we’re from different faiths and backgrounds,” Jurenas said. “It just shows you when we concentrate on what we have in common, Christ finds a way.”

Jurenas has also found humour in many situations, such as the time he came across a patient and recognized him as a former biker — one whom he had arrested at least half a dozen times in downtown Toronto.

“I used to tell him, you’re not really good at (being a criminal),” Jurenas laughed. “If (I), this beat cop, can arrest you half a dozen times, you should probably look for another line of work!”

Even former arrestees, Jurenas looked to help.

“Here’s a guy, a big feared biker. When he’d walk down the street people would move out of his way,” Jurenas said. “And all of a sudden he’s like a baby, wearing a diaper, can’t really leave the bed. It really affected him emotionally, that self-esteem drop.”

And so Jurenas went out and bought this man Harley Davidson stickers for his wheelchair. 

“It was just beautiful to see, he went from this depressed state to laughing and joking,” Jurenas said. “Last thing I heard he’s at a long-term care facility and he’s scooting around.”

But ever humble, this devoted husband and father of four would never take too much credit.

“I’m basically a mirror, and I just show what you have inside of you,” he said. “At the end of the day you have to realize you’re not a superhero, you’re not a saviour. You’re just a very mortal human being.

“You do what do can.”

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Published in Features

TORONTO - Nobody disputes that forgiveness is the right thing to do, or that it might sometimes be difficult. Immaculée Ilibagiza has much more than that to say about forgiveness.

The Rwandan genocide survivor and best-selling author believes forgiveness can be the basis of our society — the foundation for a different kind of politics, a better sort of media, a more purposeful economy, higher ideals in education, stronger families and a new world order.

“It’s about understanding that forgiveness is peace. Peace starts in the heart. It starts in the family. It comes to the country,” Ilibagiza told The Catholic Register.

Ilibagiza will be at the Marylake Our Lady of Grace Shrine in King City, Ont., Sept. 28-29 to tell her story and nudge the audience into a deeper understanding of forgiveness.

Ilibagiza’s story of survival in the midst of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is as raw and inspiring as any. She and seven other women spent 91 days in silence hiding in a bathroom at the church rectory. She began those 91 days as a 52-kliogram (115-pound) 24-year-old surrounded by family everywhere she went. She emerged just 30 kilograms (65 pounds) as one of the last surviving Ilibagizas. Only one brother, who happened to be abroad during the orchestrated massacre of 900,000 Rwandan Tutsi and Hutus judged too friendly with Tutsi, survived.

In the cramped bathroom, Ilibagiza had a Bible, a dictionary and a rosary her father had given her. With the Bible and the dictionary she learned English. With the rosary she deepened her relationship with Mary.

Outside the church yard she confronted a man armed with a machete — the same man who killed her mother and a brother. She said to him, “I forgive you.”

In the aftermath of the genocide, Ilibagiza worked for the United Nations and eventually moved to New York to work at United Nations headquarters. She would quietly tell her story to co-workers and friends, but it wasn’t the sort of story that could stay quiet.

Eventually she wrote Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. No ordinary venture into religious publishing, Left To Tell became a New York Times best seller, has been translated into 15 languages and has been added to the curriculum for thousands of high school and university students around the globe.

By now, Ilibagiza has told her story hundreds of times. DVDs of her retreat talks sell online and she’s signed a contract with MPower Pictures to transform her story into a feature film. But the 42-year-old mother of two continues to be surprised by the effect her story has on audiences.

“I’m really more amazed by what people take from my story,” she said. “What people take is that forgiveness, in such a magnificent way, is in their hearts.”

Ilibagiza has been confronted with many audience members who, either at the end of her talk or weeks later, discover a capacity to forgive husbands, wives, parents, children, brothers and sisters. But Ilibagiza also emphasizes how personal and intimate acts of forgiveness within families and among friends can begin a process that reaches beyond that immediate circle.

The touchstone of Ilibagiza’s talks is the spirituality of the rosary. She has written a book about the apparition of Our Lady of Kibeho, a recognized Marian apparition from the early 1980s in a small town in Rwanda. The apparition included a vision of men with machetes and a warning about the dire consequences of turning away from God.

The economic and social implications of reconciliation and forgiveness are on display to the world in Rwanda today, Ilibagiza said. The number of universities and university enrollment have skyrocketed since the genocide. The economy is growing at eight per cent yearly and Africa’s most densely populated and deeply divided nation is discovering a new sense of citizenship that transcends ethnic identity, she said.

“People are building now more than ever, because they learned a lesson,” said Ilibagiza. “My reason to forgive is that I finally came to understand that people can change, people can learn, people are smart.”

Ilibagiza has taken her gospel of forgiveness to the Vatican and an audience with Pope Benectict XVI. She met with the Pope at the end of his Angelus address Sept. 4. She found the experience overwhelming.

Tickets to Ilibagiza’s talk at Marylake are $50 for general admission or $100 for reserved seating, a reception with her and a signed copy of Left To Tell. Call (905) 833-5368 or visit

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Not willing to admit defeat just yet, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA) will continue to push for changes to the Putting Students First Act.

"It is our intention to put forward some ideas and possibly have some input," said OCSTA president Marino Gazzola.

Under the legislation passed Sept. 11, Ontario's Catholic school boards are bound by the agreement the province reached with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) on July 4. That deal means a more restrictive set of rules in hiring rights and management oversight of diagnostic testing, which public boards don't face due to a deal Dalton McGuinty's Liberals had to strike with the Conservatives in order for the legislation to pass.

According to the Ministry of Education, Ontario boards will soon have more information regarding the Policy/Program Memorandum development process and further information about the hiring practice regulation.

"The ministry will begin the consultation process soon for the development of a Policy/Program Memorandum on effective use of diagnostic assessments," said Gary Wheeler, a ministry spokesperson. "In the coming days, the ministry will provide additional information to school boards on the fair and transparent hiring regulation announced in August.

"The regulation is based on the memorandum of understanding signed with OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association)."

"We'll have to see what those specifically say before we can say where we are going with this," said Gazzola.   

OCSTA is still very concerned about the two provisions within that deal that will reallocate managerial rights. The association will "put forward some amendments that we had that would help protect the voice of parents and the quality of education in Ontario,"  said Gazzola. "We thought it would be very important to the legislation (but) obviously those amendments didn't pass so we're very disappointed."

While OCSTA knows what it wants, how it plans to achieve it is still undetermined.

"Right now we are almost in a holding pattern," said Gazzola. "We'll have to sit down and then see what our next steps are going to be."

What does have to be taken care of is the local collective bargaining process for each board, at least what is left of it.

"We remain opposed to the legislation, a legislation that puts Catholic and public boards on inequitable footings and weakens the collective bargaining process for all employees," said Mario Pascucci, chair of the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. "We will, however, abide by the law and will move forward, seeking to bargain on the remaining local issues."

Although Gazzola encourages the conversation continue between trustees and teachers, he did caution against moving too swiftly.

"Boards are going to have to sit down and look at what they can still work with and talk about," said Gazzola. "I don't think anyone should take any rash actions or quick decisions. They're going to have to sit down and analyse everything and see where they have to go."

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - For the second time Tobias Enverga has made Canadian political history.

After being the first Filipino-Canadian to hold a publicly elected position in Toronto, the Catholic school trustee has been appointed to the Canadian Senate.

"I'm the first Filipino-Canadian (senator) and we have some unique values that the Senate doesn't have yet and I want to share that," said Enverga, who is now a former Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee after his appointment. "It's a big honour for me and a big honour for our community at the same time."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office announced Enverga's election to the Red Chamber on Sept. 7, which fills an Ontario seat vacancy. He, along with four other new senators announced the same day, will officially be sworn in on Sept. 25 in Ottawa.

The five new senators, who have an allegiance to the Conservatives, swells the majority government's chamber representation to 62 in the 105-seat Senate.

When Enverga received the phone call telling him he had been chosen as a senator, he was shocked. Not only did he not know he'd been nominated, Enverga, 56, didn't even really know what a senator did.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be in one of the highest positions in the land," said Enverga. "Like any other new position there will be new challenges. I'm not sure what the new challenges will be because this is the first time that I've heard about the position actually."

But treading unfamiliar waters is nothing new to Enverga, who arrived in Canada in 1981 seeking "adventure and a good job."

Employed by the Bank of Montreal since arriving here, most recently as a project manager, Enverga sought adventure again in 2010 when he ran for Catholic school trustee. 

As a senator Enverga had to give his two weeks notice to the bank and resign from his trustee position.

"According to the by-laws I cannot hold two jobs, especially as a senator and trustee," he said. 

Although Enverga said he feels bad about leaving the ratepayers who voted for him, this new position will allow him to help a broader range of people. And he believes his experience with the TCDSB can only help him in his new position.

"The good thing is that the Catholic school board has given me the experience to deal with issues and deal with people at the same time," said Enverga, adding that the economy will be a large area of focus while sitting in the Red Chamber. "It's a big challenge but God will not give me anything that I cannot do."

The TCDSB has not decided how it will fill Enverga's seat. It could call a by-election or appoint an interim trustee.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition and the Intercultural Dialogue Institute of Toronto are pulling together Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists to think and talk about social justice at a free dinner at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

The evening will be moderated by Salt + Light TV personality Deacon Pedro Guevara Mann, with opening remarks from Campaign 2000 national co-ordinator Laurel Rothman, and takes place Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. The Church of the Holy Trinity is tucked in next to the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto.
Campaign 2000 is the coalition of churches, unions and social work agencies that campaigns against child poverty in Canada.

Speaking on social justice from the point of view of major faith traditions are Sean Hillman, Buddhist PhD candidate in religion at the University of Toronto, KAIROS executive director Jennifer Henry, Muslim scholar Halil Simsek and Avrum Rosensweig, founding director and president of the Jewish volunteer agency Ve’ahavta.

To register for the evening go to Space is limited.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA