South Sudan’s first steps

The world’s 193rd nation entered the world on July 9 as predominantly Christian, optimistically democratic, oppressively poor and facing a tenuous future.

The Republic of South Sudan became a sovereign state with the inauguration of a new constitution and the swearing in of its first president, Gen. Salva Kiir, a Catholic. Kiir had fought for independence since Sudan’s Islamic government imposed Sharia Law in 1983 on the predominantly Christian south. That edict sparked a 22-year civil war, Sudan’s second since 1956, that resulted in some 1.5 million deaths. It saw the Muslim north accused of murder and torture of men, women and children on orders from Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Sadly, atrocities are not new to the former colonies of Africa. Much less common is the type of conciliatory response Kiir is advocating now that the guns are silent.

Buy a beautiful missal

A few weeks back I wrote in these pages that the new Roman Missal, which will come into effect this Advent, should be beautiful, worthy of being on the altar during Mass. The missal is the book used by the priest which contains all the Mass prayers. A new English translation of the missal has been done, and so new missals are required in every Catholic parish.

The current missal produced by the publications service of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is most unworthy, lacking even the creative design of a low-end recipe book. Canadian priests were hoping that the new missal published this fall would be a true work of art, not a mere functional instruction manual. We saw that publishers in England, Australia and the United States had sample pages posted online, drawing upon the long tradition of Catholic art adorning the altar missal. I wrote that if the CCCB version was as unimaginatively plain as their existing work, Canadian parishes should consider buying a British or American missal. All the prayers are exactly the same and the minor adaptations for Canada — local saints and variations in the rubrics for Mass — are easily enough obtained elsewhere.

C. Gwendolyn Landolt: Judges should enforce, not interpret, law

Two Supreme Court of Canada judges have announced they will step down at the end of AugustThe announcement by two of the judges on the Supreme Court of Canada of their proposed retirement provides the opportunity to reflect on the role of judges in Canada. This is especially important since judges have assumed a powerful and influential role under the Charter.  The latter allows judges using the broad and vague words to rule on the merits of legislation, creating new laws and social policies.  

The vivid reality is that these Charter decisions are highly contingent on socio-political choices which the courts have been able to determine by applying, for example, the broad words of Section 7 of the Charter, (“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person”) and Section 15 (the Equality provision). These words mean whatever the judges want them to mean. That is, the broad words of the Charter have enabled the judges to promote their own, private, political attitudes and preferences, claiming it is for constitutional reasons.

Unfortunately, judges are ill positioned to make public policy decisions because they have limited access to social data and depend on the biased arguments of the litigants and unreliable information in the media. Isolated from society, judges are not exposed to differing perspectives, as occurs in Parliament, since there is no public debate. In short, judges may not be cognizant of all the relevant facts.

Bishops’ straight talk

Finally, some straight talk from the Church about same-sex attraction.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops should be commended for releasing an overdue but welcomed pastoral letter on same-sex attraction. The letter from the bishops’ Commission of Doctrine clearly enunciates Church teachings on this contentious topic while offering frank advice to priests, parents and educators on how to support young people who may be troubled by society’s mixed messages on this difficult issue.

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.