One church, many faces

{mosimage}Congratulations to Canada’s two new auxiliary bishops, Bishops William McGrattan, 53, and Vincent Nguyen, 43. Their recent ordinations and calls to serve the archdiocese of Toronto provide an injection of new ideas and fresh energy that can only benefit a Catholic community undergoing rapid growth both in sheer numbers and in challenges associated with the region’s ever-widening cultural mosaic.

Their backgrounds are strikingly different. McGrattan, the oldest of two children, was born and raised in the comfort of London, Ont.; Nguyen, one of nine children, was born near Saigon during the Vietnam War and fled to Canada with other “boat people” refugees in 1983. But they carry the same reputation of being skilled at listening, understanding and caring, essential qualities as they become vicars of an archdiocese in transition.

Discovering Jesus in the sounds of the Deep South

I first heard black gospel singing in the fields of my father’s cotton farm, deep in the American South. No sound was more Southern: slow, serious and melancholy, like the lives of those hard-up blacks who worked in the cotton patch.

In one sense, this sad, unforgettable music was foreign to a white child spending the day with his father in the fields. Yet in another, it was close, familiar: for Southern rural religion in those days, whether black or white, was very much a matter of supplicating the beloved Jesus for deliverance from the sorrows and tribulations of life. It probably wasn’t exactly orthodox, this near-exclusive adoration of Jesus and corresponding neglect of the remote Father and ungraspable Spirit. But such religion sprang from a true place in the heart, especially the hearts of rural black Southerners, and found expression in their sincere and devout melodies.

Security conundrum

{mosimage}The recent security measures announced by Ottawa may be good and ultimately necessary but they represent a troubling infringement on privacy and should be stalled until they can be brought to Parliament for a full and proper debate.

But that debate is not in the cards. Parliament was prorogued in December and will not resume until March. By then, according to Transport Minister John Baird, travellers in eight Canadian cities could be facing full body screening — virtual strip searches — as scanning machines are installed at airports.

Canadian government dishonest on KAIROS

{mosimage}By linking KAIROS with anti-Semitic organizations, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has probably revealed more about the Conservative government than the church-based agency that has blindly (maybe naively) wandered into the government cross-hairs. None of it is flattering.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Dec. 18, Kenney told the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism that the government had implemented zero-tolerance standards for anti-Semitism. Laudable so far. But when Kenney rhymed off several organizations that lost their funding due to unacceptable practices, the list included KAIROS, the multi-faith partnership of church groups that includes the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Lots of work needed to save vulnerable

{mosimage}Rimbocchiamoci le maniche is something my Italian father always says when there is much work to be done. Literally, it means to roll up one’s sleeves, but the idea behind it is to prepare ourselves for the hard work ahead. This could well be what we are being asked to do as Christians at the close of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

Depending on whom you ask, the accord that came out of the climate summit could be considered “realistic,” as maintained by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an “essential beginning,” as stated by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, or “a weak and morally reprehensible deal,” according to the Catholic Church through its international development agencies CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis .

Blair's non-Catholic approach in Iraq

The year comes to an end with what may well be one of the most significant political admissions in recent history. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that even if he had known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction he would still have declared war on Iraq. In other words, the WMD casus belli is, as many of us assumed, utterly bogus. It also seems likely that Blair never believed that there were any such weapons and that intelligence experts had told him and U.S. President George W. Bush this for months before the invasion.

It’s particularly important in the case of Blair because, unlike Bush, he still enjoys enormous international prestige, has a thriving political career and is known to be a highly sophisticated man. He was also received into the Roman Catholic Church with little scrutiny or apparent formation by a notably liberal British hierarchy. He had led Britain through a period of infamously anti-family, anti-marriage and anti-Catholic legislation and has never shown any contrition for his failings.

Obama upsets Catholic right - again

{mosimage}Whatever you think of the current U.S. president, one thing is beyond dispute: Barack Obama certainly makes life interesting for the Catholic right.

The latest kafuffle started with the appearance in early December of a New York Times profile of White House social secretary Desirée Rogers. In this piece, we learned that the Obama family had toyed with the idea of breaking with White House tradition and not putting up an antique manger scene in the East Room of the executive mansion. (A White House official later confirmed that there had indeed been a discussion of whether to make Christmas more “inclusive” — apparently by excluding the crèche.)

Most understand Christmas is the season

Most of the advertising media and much of our public space at this time of year is devoted to Christmas. While creches, angels and peace candles are often part of the mix, there is no doubt that most messages are concerned with the cultural holiday, not the religious one.

It’s no wonder that Christians have been expressing concerns for half a century or more that Christmas has become too commercialized and that religion has been pushed to the back of the line, if not out of the public space altogether. Since much of the grumbling seems to concern exchanges in shops and restaurants, I suspect merchants aren’t the only ones who regard the season as a business event. We’re all part of it.

Welcome publicity from creche controversy

{mosimage}It was petty of Toronto bureaucrats to demand that a tribute to Fr. Ted Colleton be removed from a Nativity scene outside Old City Hall. But like the Grinch, their mean-spiritedness provided a timely, if inadvertent, reminder of the spiritual truth of Christmas.

The brouhaha erupted when a local do-gooder became upset because he noticed a Nativity scene that was  associating Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the virtues of life and family. That mankind’s holiest family are the standard for the sanctity of family life would seem as obvious as city hall itself. But, this being the 21st century, a letter was fired off to the mayor and, quicker than you can say Big Brother, the Nativity scene was  stripped of its pro-life endorsement.

Changing government priorities close the door on KAIROS

{mosimage}Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) has cut off funding to KAIROS, Canada’s main ecumenical social justice group which, for decades, had maintained a stable and respectful relationship with CIDA. KAIROS brings together 11 national churches and faith-based organizations that collectively represent 18 million Canadians. But due to CIDA’s abrupt about face the future existence of KAIROS is now in doubt.

The decision to wholly terminate a long-standing program relationship (a four-year cost sharing arrangement worth about $9 million, of which CIDA contributes  about $7 million) means KAIROS must make sharp funding cuts to more than 20 ecumenical and citizens’ organizations around the world. CIDA says that KAIROS was just not a “fit” with the agency’s emerging priorities. But those who watched this story unfold think KAIROS was a victim of CIDA’s moving goal posts.

Court gets it right

{mosimage}Christians living in several Middle East, African and Asian nations are routinely persecuted and often killed. It is a serious issue that is generally overlooked amid the many international and domestic matters that occupy our media and political leaders.

So it was as welcomed as it was rare to see a Federal Court judge overrule an immigration department official and grant a temporary order last week allowing a Catholic convert from Guinea to remain in Canada. Lamine Yansané is seeking permanent refugee status claiming that his father, a fundamentalist imam, had ordered his death — declared a fatwa against him — if he is returned to Guinea.