Online world can be a very unfriendly place

For five years I fought my daughter tooth and nail over Facebook.

She is an incredibly persistent, articulate, well-grounded teenager who used every negotiation tool in the book. I countered with all of my middle-age wisdom, determination and business savvy. Not only was I critical of Facebook, I was determined to keep technology to a minimum in my household.

    Progress made

    Maternal HealthIf you look past the crazy billion-dollar price tag, the trampling of civil liberties and the street thuggery that marked the G8 and G20 meetings, it’s possible to see light in the summit tunnel.

    Of course, ignoring the excesses is a challenge. To have almost a billion dollars spent on security and still see gangs of petty criminals terrorizing shopkeepers, torching police cars, smashing windows and drowning out legitimate peaceful protests is beyond scandalous. And to have police, in addition to arresting real criminals, round up hundreds of citizens solely because they lacked the common sense to stay indoors is appalling.

      A harsh exposé on trashy celebrity media

      I have seen a play that I wish every Catholic with a strong stomach could see. It says more about sick contemporary culture than anything I’ve seen on stage for a very long time.

      The plot is based on the story of Jack Unterweger, an Austrian convicted of the 1974 murder of a girl. While serving a sentence for this crime, Unterweger took up writing. His stories and autobiography — all twaddle, it appears — won him fans and even the support of the literati.

        A lesson in spiritual poverty

        Over the years, I have come to appreciate two great examples of Jesuit missionaries in action.

        The first was the one given by St. Francis Xavier in India, Japan and finally attempting to enter China. Francis’ great love for God and God’s people, and his desire to do everything for the greater glory of God, consumed him until the end.

        The second was that of the Jesuits in the Paraguay Reductions, which were portrayed in the film The Mission. Francis and the Reductions exemplify for me the zeal, determination and dedication which every missionary must possess.

          Let the truth be told

          TRCC logoCanadians often express pride in building a nation that respects and celebrates cultural diversity. But as true as that might be today, our national back-patting takes a short view of history. For most of Canada’s existence, Ottawa directed a cruel policy at aboriginal peoples that is rightly likened to cultural genocide.

          Canadians are being asked to confront that dark era at a series of public events organized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools. The first of seven meetings, held recently in Winnipeg, saw dozens of survivors and their families courageously step to a microphone and have their personal stories preserved as a paragraph in Canadian history.

            Put people first

            The billion-dollar cost for the upcoming summits of world leaders is obscene and the disruption the meetings will cause is outrageous. Ottawa is rightly being roasted on those scores. But the real tragedy from the gathering of G8 and G20 leaders is that, once again, there seems to be a famine of big ideas among the world’s most powerful statesmen.

            We’re not so naive to believe there are quick fixes for a world that is broken in so many ways. Most of society’s problems are either made or exacerbated by man. That is true whether speaking about oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, war in Afghanistan, famine and disease in Africa, poverty among North American aboriginal peoples, blockades in Gaza and international financial turmoil. The list goes on.

              Seeking truth

              What is the role of Catholic media in modern society?

              Several hundred journalists from across North America were invited to ponder that question during the  Catholic Press Association annual conference, held recently in New Orleans.  

              These have been difficult days for the Church and challenging days for Catholic media. Not only has the news been filled with stories of clerical sexual abuse and alleged Church coverups, but the technology-challenged Church hierarchy has often stumbled in offering a timely defence or authoritative explanation of Church positions.

              Instant communication in a digital age has put pressure on traditional media such as newspapers and television to rethink how they conduct business. The result is often a softening of fundamental values  as the old media strains to keep pace with the new, a manic technological beast of web sites, blogs and various social media tools that, collectively, disseminate information instantly but not always accurately.

                Catholic bashing seems to always be fair game

                The recent call by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast for government to provide aid to pregnant women who want to keep their babies was widely ignored. A week earlier, comments by Ouellet on the issue of abortion provoked a venomous political and media response.

                There was nothing startling in either of the remarks, but one was shrugged off and the other drew an unusual degree of vitriol, highlighted by one columnist wishing the cardinal  “a slow and painful death.” It was an extreme comment, but not exceptional in its derision.

                In researching 25 years of anti-Catholic media hostility, I’ve been struck by how often Church participation in debates on the moral issues of the day spark such prejudice. The reaction is probably strongest on abortion, but also colours discussions about the re-definition of marriage, euthanasia, faith-based schools and bioethical research. No one minds too much when the Church tells us to help the poor, but statements about when life begins or what is meant by family are often lightning rods. Nor is prime time entertainment immune; while the Church is mostly ignored, script writers know they can always count on the Catholics when they need a tireless charity worker, a backdrop for sacred art and music or a deranged person to bomb an abortion clinic.

                  How I found the furnace of love of the Catholic Church

                  Conversion from a Protestant church to the Catholic Church, such as mine 12 years ago, usually has complicated results. It often makes the people left behind angry and bewildered. So you try to explain what happened, what made conversion necessary and inevitable — only to find quickly that words do nothing to ease the hurt and confusion others feel.

                  But words and images and gestures are the only things we possess to communicate our experiences to others. So I am using what I have, and will try to put into words what happened to me 12 years ago at the Marian shrine at Lourdes.

                  I do so because I have been asked, once again, to explain myself. This time the request came from a Christian acquaintance, appalled at the narrative of my conversion that appeared in The Globe and Mail on Holy Saturday. You may recall the op-ed piece. Its occasion was the sex-abuse accusations rocking the Catholic Church. Asked by The Globe whether these shocks had ungrounded my Christian faith, I tried to explain in the article why they had not.

                    The religious voice is one that needs to be heard

                    At a recent conference on religion and the media, a colleague from the Toronto Star announced his paper was getting rid of its full-time religion beat. That should have been a grand moment for me and the National Post, the paper I write for.

                    When he told the assembled group of about 50 esteemed representatives from various churches of the Star’s decision, it was a perfect opening for me to discuss how the Post was putting an even greater emphasis on religion. It was hard not to crow.

                      Don't fear faithful

                      fearThere is an unfortunate trend in Canada to try to deny religion its rightful place in the debating rooms of the nation.

                      We’ve seen this tendency manifest recently in the publication of an alarmist book about the so-called Christian right’s influence in Ottawa, in attacks on Cardinal Marc Ouellet for affirming Church teaching and, most recently, in shrill reaction after the head of Opus Dei accepted an invitation to dine on Parliament Hill with MPs.