Quebec's purge of religion reaches the youngest levels

At the nursery school my children attended, parents were assigned duty days to maintain the required adult-to-child ratio. If you were assigned to group time or snack time you had to be prepared for any and all sorts of conversation.

One morning, I listened along with four pre-schoolers as a little boy told how his family had gone out to buy a Christmas tree on the weekend. It was no ordinary trip to the Boy Scout lot or the garden centre, but a drive to the country where the perfect tree was selected. Dad chopped it down, they brought it home, set it up and put a star on it.

What's in a word? Plenty when it comes to religious liberty

Religious freedom cannot be reduced to freedom of worship.

That’s the subtle, but essential point at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the annual World Day of Peace. For nearly 50 years now, the Holy See has designated New Year’s Day as a special day to pray for peace. Each year the Holy Father selects a theme for his annual message, and for 2011 he selected religious liberty.

Don't pin the message on the messenger

When the message is displeasing, shoot the messenger. That old saying came to mind when I was reading Fr. Raymond de Souza’s final Catholic Register column (Dec. 26) for 2010.

The messenger who got shot, in this case, was Globe and Mail correspondent Michael Valpy, the lead author of a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada that ran in the newspaper before Christmas.

Young Catholics RiseUp to be counted

An annual highlight arrives in the last days of the year. That’s when Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) holds its annual conference for university students. They call it RiseUp, and it begins each year on Dec. 28 and runs through New Year’s Day.

I first went in 2004 in Toronto, in my first year as chaplain of Newman House at Queen’s University. Completely conquered by the experience, I have returned every year since as it has travelled around the country — Vancouver, Quebec City, Calgary, Toronto again, Winnipeg, and this year in Montreal.

Not all Catholics in Canada know about CCO, but they should. It is one of the most powerful works of the Holy Spirit in our country and a testament that the Gospel has not lost its power to attract souls — even those of the young. Andre and Angele Regnier founded CCO in 1988 in Saskatoon, realizing that the university campus was indeed mission territory. While in previous generations it would have been enough to merely provide services for practising Catholic students, the current situation requires evangelization. CCO’s premise is that most students on campus, including those from Catholic homes, have never heard the “Gospel preached simply and clearly.” So they do it.

CCO full-time missionaries are usually recent university graduates themselves, and they raise all of their own income personally. Can you imagine the zeal for the Gospel and the trust in Providence required to accept that mission? There are dozens of them at campuses from Vancouver to Halifax, and they are evangelizing thousands of university students. To be with some 500 of those students in Montreal was a pure gift and why I have already booked the 2011 RiseUp in Vancouver on my calendar.

“CCO is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization,” says the mission statement. “We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world.”

A key word there is fullness. They invite students to be more Catholic, not less. They understand that at the heart of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. They teach people to pray. They encourage reception of the sacraments, especially promoting confession. Eucharistic adoration is central. The Holy Spirit is not neglected. They read the Scriptures devotedly. They present the magisterial teaching of the Church with confidence in the truth, not a grudging attitude. They present the Catholic faith as a joy to be embraced, not a burden to be borne.

They are a model for how the Church should evangelize a culture where God is at the margins. And if all this can be done on the university campus, where hostility to religion and scepticism about truth often dominate the local culture, then there are sure grounds for hope that the Gospel has not lost its power.

Bringing 500 faithful young Catholics to Montreal is a challenge. Montreal is likely the least-practising major city in the Catholic world. For generations in Montreal the only real question has been whether the Church would withdraw from the culture before it was pushed out, or vice versa. The grand Notre Dame in Old Montreal now charges admission, exempting those who come to pray. Just like the admission charge at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s signals the collapse of the Church of England as a culture-shaping institution, so too does Notre Dame indicate a general attitude that what used to be is not and never shall be again. A culture that cannot support its principal shrines converts them to de facto museums, but they stand as tombstones — markers of places where the faith is dead.

So when a number of students at RiseUp went to Notre Dame for Mass, the cashier was sceptical that so many young people would actually want to do so. Surely it was some kind of trick to avoid paying the fee. Yet they prevailed, and it stands as a symbol of what these marvellous young Catholics do — overcome the scepticism of so many in the Church that the fullness of the Catholic faith still attracts souls to Jesus Christ.

To see the Oratory of St. Joseph and Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral both filled with young people on fire for their faith, this is what the Church in Canada needs. Whatever travails each year brings, at RiseUp the year ends full of Christian hope.

A Haitian solution

Haiti new generationHaiti’s late-afternoon earthquake last Jan. 12 devastated the impoverished nation in less than 60 seconds. Twelve months and many promises later reconstruction has barely begun.

That sad reality is a reflection of Haiti’s political fragility and the world’s inability to rapidly respond to a catastrophe that killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 more and left more than one million homeless. As Haitians mark the first anniversary of the tragedy it remains imperative that the international community neither forget nor abandon them. 

This edition of The Catholic Register includes a nine-page section that revisits Haiti one year after the 7.0 earthquake focused world attention on the shattered nation. Associate editor Michael Swan went to Haiti to report on whether the world has lived up to promises made in the aftermath of the quake, when the international community pledged $5.7 billion in aid. Canadians sent more than $200 million in emergency relief, much of it collected through Catholic charities.

I still don’t care what atheists think of my faith

Earlier this month, I wrote a story for my paper’s religion blog, Holy Post, about the non-stop debates between atheists and the religious. I called it: “Dear Atheists: most of us don’t care what you think.” I have been a journalist for close to three decades but nothing I have ever written came close to the kind of negative reaction that piece garnered.

Christmas time is here, prepare for the Globe’s seasonal religious cheer

Just in time for Christmas, The Globe and Mail ran a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada. In its unflagging service to the nation, the Globe customarily marks the Christmas season with depressing religion stories. This year’s contribution was rather more ambitious than most, and worth a read.

Christian realism energizes Narnia film

Hollywood has long been looking for a new blockbuster magic series to rival the commercial successes of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the string of Harry Potter movies. When C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe came to the screen in 2005, many observers thought that the studio bosses had once again hatched a winning idea for a long-running fantasy franchise.

A Church under attack

Polp fatimaThe year 2010 will be remembered as months when religious intolerance repeatedly made the news and Catholics were often asked to stand up for their faith.

Perhaps a similar sentiment is expressed at the close of many years. But for various reasons these calls to action seemed more pressing in 2010 and were embodied in four stories that shaped the headlines in the Catholic press.

When is your midnight Mass?

What time is midnight Mass? It’s the season for that question, and the answer is not predictable.

Over more than a generation, we Catholics have fumbled away one of our most distinctive customs. Indeed, the Christmas Mass schedule has become something rather different than what the Church intends, and what our tradition refined over centuries.

Peace and joy

nativityEvery December the media runs stories on corporations or individuals who deliver bah-humbugs regarding the religious truth of Christmas. And without fail many Christians take the bait and allow anger and frustration to dilute their sense of peace and goodwill of the season.

As an example, this year a billboard battle has erupted on either side of the Lincoln tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York City. On one side, a group calling itself American Atheists purchased space to declare: “You Know it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason.” Across the river, the Catholic League responded with a billboard that proclaims: “You Know it’s Real. This season, Celebrate Jesus.”