Pius XII’s actions spoke louder than words

The conduct of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War, specifically in regard to Jews and the Shoah, has been a bone in the throat of Catholic-Jewish relations for some time now. Recent developments may point, however tentatively, to the possibility of a way forward.

In late June, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, made a remarkable statement in the course of the ceremony in which Fr. Gaetano Piccini was named “Righteous among the Gentiles” — a designation given to those who were heroic in saving Jews during the Shoah. Ambassador Lewy noted that after the Nazis rounded up Jews in Rome in October 1943 for deportation to the death camps, Catholic convents and monasteries opened their doors to shelter Jews — something risky and dangerous under Nazi occupation.

“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” he said. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true.”

Lewy added that the fact that the Vatican couldn’t stop the deportation of Jews from Rome’s ghetto on Oct. 16-18, 1943 “only increased the will, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its own sites as refuges for the Jews.”

Some people miss mail

The recent disruption in Canada Post service has produced news stories about the unimportance of mail delivery that are at odds with my own experience, but presumably reflect the view of many others.

When Canada Post was on strike 14 years ago, even a few days without mail was big news. But during the recent disruption, settled on June 28, I’m not aware of a single newscast that made the work stoppage the lead item, and most days it has not even been front-page news. True, the growth of the online world has undoubtedly reduced most people’s reliance on mail delivery, but newscasters and pundits who think the letter carrier is dispensable are mistaken.

For those of us with a greater than average reliance on mail delivery, it was galling to see editorial content such as: “Postal strike looms — will anyone notice?”;  “In 20 years no one will remember what a mailbox looks like” or “I think there’s a packet of stamps in the house some place.” Even after almost a month, Lorne Gunter of the National Post claimed that “almost no one cares yet that the mail is not being delivered.” Trust me, if a good chunk of your income takes the form of cheques in the mail, you will care.

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?

Cyber judgment

If the hockey riots of Vancouver needed a face an unlikely one was found in 17-year-old Nathan Kotylak.

Kotylak skipped his high-school graduation ceremony in Maple, B.C. so he could turn himself into police and confess that he was the person shown attempting to torch a police car in a widely-distributed photograph. The photo was taken in the aftermath of the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, when mobs vandalized and looted their way through the streets of downtown Vancouver.

The first reaction to all this is that Kotylak and the rest of the mob are hooligans who should probably be tossed in jail. They terrorized a city and brought shame to the country and should be held to account. In due course, the police and the courts will settle all that.

Meantime, though, we are left to try to understand why this happened. Why did so many young people run with the mob? And how to explain the public response, when the initial shock understandably became anger before taking an inexplicable turn to rage and calls for vengeance.

God’s call still shaping Pope Benedict’s life 60 years later

The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, is kept with suitable solemnity in Rome, with the Holy Father offering Mass at St. Peter’s on the patronal feast of his diocese. Ten years ago, in 2001, Blessed John Paul asked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to celebrate the Mass in his stead. It was the 50th anniversary of Ratzinger’s priestly ordination, 29th June 1951, and the honour of offering the patronal Mass in the Holy Father’s presence was thought both a tribute to Ratzinger’s long service, and, perhaps, a prelude to a farewell earnestly sought by Ratzinger himself.

The farewell never came; the long service continued. Now, on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Ratzinger will offer the Mass for the two princes of the apostles, not in place of anyone, but as Bishop of Rome himself.

Sixty years of faithful service in any vocation is a remarkable testimony of cooperation with God’s grace. The 60 years of Pope Benedict are all the more remarkable given that, since being called from his professor’s chair to the episcopate in 1977, he has been labouring in a section of the vineyard that he did not choose. On April 19, 2005, the cardinals chose him to be pope.

Joseph Ratzinger has long desired to devote his life to scholarship. Had it been up to him, his 60th anniversary would be spent, if not in heaven, in retirement in his library, studying and writing theology. But even as a young man Joseph knew that God might be calling him to something different.

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.

Priests from abroad serve as fathers to Canadian Catholics

On Father’s Day, many Catholics take time to say a kind word to priests – their spiritual fathers. Might I suggest that this Father’s Day, a special word of gratitude be extended to those priests from foreign countries – India, Poland, Philippines, India, Nigeria and other nations – who are working in Canadian parishes, hospitals, prisons and universities? To extend the familial metaphor, they have become fathers to Canadian Catholics left orphaned by our own lack of priestly vocations.

It’s hard to overstate the catastrophic decline in priestly vocations. A senior Holy See diplomat, intimately familiar with the Canadian situation, once reported a devastating statistic: In one recent year there were more bishops in Canada than there were seminarians.

“A Church where there are as many bishops as seminarians is dead,” he told me. By that standard, if not dead, the Church in Canada is at least in intensive care.

Aboriginal anguish

For Canada’s First Nations people, last week’s auditor-general’s report must evoke deja vu.

In her farewell report to Parliament, outgoing auditor-general Sheila Fraser took the government to task for repeated and ongoing failure to address numerous barriers preventing First Nations people from sharing in Canada’s prosperity. It is Canada’s shame that so many native people live without such basic needs as a warm home and safe water.

The auditor general itemized what previous reports had said about the failure of successive governments to improve living standards on native reserves. Yet these observations barely made the news. The headlines went to the splashier findings about outrageous expenditures from last year’s G8/G20 summits and, in particular, excessive spending in the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding of Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement.

As the new Treasury Board president, Clement is expected to introduce spending efficiency to a cash-strapped government. Today, that seems a bit rich. Clement was rebuked by the auditor general for blowing some $45 million tax dollars in his  riding, using funds approved for border security on local projects without proper oversight or an appropriate paper trail. While he was authorizing gazebos and other projects in Ontario’s cottage country, First Nations people were living in mould-infested homes, boiling drinking water to avoid disease and sending children to ramshackle schools.

D&P has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars

It was about two months ago that I wrote about the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P), and the serious questions about its pro-life commitment. It was just after Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Ottawa had cancelled the speaking tour of a D&P partner organization in Mexico which collaborated with groups promoting abortion rights. Since then the most frequent question I have been asked by pastors is: What should we do about raising money for D&P?

My view is that D&P has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars because, aside from fundraising in Catholic parishes, they have a tenuous relationship with any distinctively Catholic mission. In their operations they are largely — and by their own proud design — indistinguishable from any number of peace and justice NGOs working in the developing world.

Developments since April have underscored how weak their Catholic identity really is. The controversy in Mexico centred on D&P’s relationship with the  Centro PRODH. As reported in these pages this week, the archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, wrote to the Canadian bishops saying that the Centro PRODH supports “activities that are an affront to Christian values.”