Questions still

Four months ago the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace announced procedural changes to stop donor money going to organizations sympathetic to abortion. Those changes, which came after a bishops' investigation revealed some D&P funds had gone to groups hostile to Church teaching on life issues, seemed to turn the page on a bumpy chapter in D&P's history.

So it's difficult to comprehend last week's unseemly events in Ottawa where Archbishop Terrence Prendergast had to intervene to cancel a D&P initiative because the speaker from Mexico, a priest, runs a human rights organization that is chummy with a pro-abortion group. The archbishop must be wondering how in heaven's name this could have happened. How could D&P, his own staff, fellow bishops and the priest himself, Fr. Luis Arriaga, put the Archbishop in such an awkward position.

Prendergast is one bishop unreservedly on the front line in the anti-abortion crusade, whether it be in his public statements, joining the annual March for Life or, last year as Quebec bishops were noticeably absent, standing with Cardinal Marc Ouellet when Canada's then-primate was under attack for unequivocally defending life. So he would have been rightfully perplexed and perturbed at reports that his archdiocese was welcoming a speaker from a D&P partner agency that is linked to a pro-abortion organization called Right to Decide.

Openness to grace makes reconciliation possible

Michael O’Brien, the leading Catholic novelist in the English language, has sent millions of words into print. He has painted numerous sacred images which tell their own stories, pictures being worth thousands of words. Yet the words he spoke on March 28 at Saint Paul University in Ottawa had an uncommon power, for they were a personal testimonial of grace.

“I am proud to say that I am a Roman Catholic. It is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful that we have a Saviour who dwells with us in this magnificent Church. This is our home. The Church is full of Judases, but it is overwhelmingly full of saints.”

Regarding the Judases, O’Brien knows of what he speaks. The artist was speaking as part of a panel organized by the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal, Canada’s leading Christian think tank, and Conversations Cultural Centre, a project of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. The panel addressed the Indian residential school system under the title, “From Darkness of Heart to a Heart of Forgiveness.” The evening was sombre, with the weight of sin clearly felt, and also hopeful, with the liberation wrought by mercy also evident.

Fulfill our duty

A sorry trend of modern times is that election campaigning often exposes the ugly side of democracy. As voters, we should stand on guard to prevent that ugliness from overtaking us.

Instead of a busy spring session of Parliament the nation has been dragged into an election campaign that already is typified by anger. Many voters are rightfully peeved to be called to the polls for the fourth time in seven years at a cost of more than $300 million for a five-week exercise that portends the status quo, another Conservative minority. Canadian armed forces are fighting in Afghanistan and Libya and the country faces a lengthy list of social, environmental and economic challenges as it climbs out of the recession.  The times call for strong leadership but instead our MPs, just 29 months after the last election, are out on the hustings and Ottawa is all but deserted.

Piled on top of all that annoyance is exasperation at the schoolyard behaviour of many candidates, particularly the party leaders. The campaign was less than an hour old last week before the honourable members were calling each other liars.  That was followed by the inevitable attack ads that individually offend candidates and collectively degrade our democracy. It’s enough to drive any voter to despair and cynicism.

This time, it's right that the bombs fly

At the time of this writing, missiles and bombs launched by the United States, Britain and France are raining down on Libya, provoking yet another crisis in the political conscience of the West. We must ask ourselves hard questions. Is such military intervention by our governments justified in this instance? By what authority, and under what circumstances, does any sovereign power have the duty to attack another country?

Catholic citizens must also ask themselves what, if anything, in the Church’s social teaching prepares us to deal with the urgent possibility that many Libyans could be killed if the regime in Tripoli succeeds in crushing the current rebellion.

The set of principles for the conduct of just and justifiable warfare was crafted in the Middle Ages in a bid to govern international conflicts. The idea behind the doctrine of just war was noble and optimistic. It held that, in a fallen world where war is a constant fact of life, some semblance of civilization could prevail even in violent confrontations.

Canada is paying the cost of inaction on poverty

Faith communities are on the front lines of service to the poor, right across Canada. Most of the volunteers at soup kitchens, drop-ins and other street-level programs are members of communities of various faiths. And these services are (unfortunately) needed more and more.

As only one example, in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill neighbourhood, the St. Joe’s Supper Table experienced an 18-per-cent increase in people needing to be fed in 2009, up to 130 guests per evening. It got worse the next year: between August 2009 and August 2010, demand grew another 26 per cent. St. Joe’s recorded its highest-ever number of guests, 191, on Sept. 14, 2010. That was an incredible load for a facility that can only seat  24 people at a time.

Estimates of Canadians living in poverty ranged up to 4.3 million during the height of the recent recession. Almost one in 10 Canadian children live below the poverty line. People of faith are becoming increasingly aware that such high levels of poverty are far beyond piecemeal or charitable solutions. So they are starting to speak out, demanding change. The most senior leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths gathered in Ottawa in early March to urge federal politicians to respond to this growing crisis by taking concrete action. Bishop François Lapierre of St. Hyacinthe represented the Catholic bishops.

Libya intervention brings no clarity to the duty of moral intervention

Canadians have entered another war. This time in Libya, along with a range of allies, led diplomatically by Europeans and Arabs, and militarily by the Americans.

The Holy Father was circumspect in his comments on March 20, saying that his heart was full of “trepidation” and “apprehension.” But should Pope Benedict have been celebrating this latest war instead?

The world does not need the Church to be a cheerleader for war, which always represents a failure of politics to secure liberty and justice. But what of those occasions when armed force is necessary to secure liberty and justice against a malevolent regime — as is the case in Gadhafi’s Libya? While war itself brings its own horrors, if it is a moral duty, ought not the attempt to discharge that duty bring encouragement from Christian pastors?

Singing Bernadette's beautiful song

Bernadette Soubirous was a French peasant girl who went out with friends to gather firewood for her family one February morning in 1858. Bernadette lived in Lourdes in stunning poverty. She was a terrible student and there was nothing about her or her family that was the least bit notable.

She was also sickly, suffering all her life from debilitating asthma. That ailment prevented her from carrying on with her friends to gather firewood that February day. So she waited by a grotto.

Most know what happened next. She saw a beautiful woman, with roses on her feet. No one else had ever seen this vision but over the following weeks crowds came to see Bernadette as she knelt in front of the grotto. It was the transformation in Bernadette’s face that transfixed the crowd. For reasons not explained by the intellect, those who gathered knew they were witnessing something extraordinary.

A sad dispute

It was a sad day for the pro-life movement when Alberta’s bishops announced a boycott of Edmonton’s March for Life because some participants insist on hoisting placards displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses. It was sad because, while sympathy abounds for the bishops’ concerns, their leadership is essential in this struggle. And sad because their withdrawal underlines a deepening rift that is harming the pro-life movement.

In a letter on behalf of the Alberta bishops, Archbishop Richard Smith said they disapprove of the large images of aborted fetuses that have become increasingly prominent at the annual march. Such images, said Smith, offend the dignity of the aborted baby and can be upsetting to women who had experienced abortion and to children attending the march.

He said the bishops felt compelled to withdraw from the May 12 event when organizers admitted they were powerless to ban graphic imagery. “It is not that they will not do so; they simply can’t because it is beyond their control,” Smith said. ”We want to make it clear that the bishops are not affiliated in any way with such expressions and do not approve of them.”

Finding a balance between sacred and secular

Those who follow the public voice of Pope Benedict XVI will know that secularism and its negative influence on religion has moved front and centre in his vocabulary. The fact is that when the Pope speaks the Catholic world does listen, but of course not all obey.

As a result of Benedict’s attention to secularism, many Catholics and other Christians, not to mention the inter-religious world, have become more keenly aware of the negative presence and influence of secularism within our communities and our family life. We do not have a full and complete treatise of secularism by the present pontiff. We can expect, however, that Benedict will use every opportunity to be a voice of opposition to secularists.

Perhaps one of his most scathing criticisms is his view that secularism is a modern-day heresy. Secularism contends that government, society and other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious beliefs. Clearly, such was not always the case in the past. For several generations in Quebec, for example, religion clearly sought to override secular society. As a result of the backlash to that imbalance, Quebec today is struggling to maintain its religious identity and the imbalance now favours the secularists.

Help your kids to be a little ray of sunshine in a dark world

I often think of Lent as a spiritual boot camp, a 40-day period to make a deliberate daily attempt to get closer to God by eliminating the distractions that are a barrier to forming a better relationship with Him.

As a mother, Lent is also a time when, in addition to rededicating my own spirituality, I do my utmost to get the entire family to put their spiritual lives on the front burner.

So this year the family began Ash Wednesday at 8 a.m. Mass. We ended the evening with a family rosary. In between I had a 10-minute conversation with my teenagers at the kitchen table while my husband was out of town on business.

Pass bill, save lives

The World Health Organization estimates 15 million people in the developing world need HIV medication but only five million can get it. That leaves 10 million forsaken souls, mostly women and children, denied life-sustaining drugs that abound in rich nations.

So we commend the 172 Members of Parliament who voted in favour of  private member’s Bill C-393 to make cheaper, generic drugs available to the world’s poor. The bill amends the Access to Medicine Regime which launched in 2004 like a fresh breath but ultimately got choked by red tape. The new legislation promises more drugs to more people in less time.

To become law, however, the bill must be passed by the Conservative-dominated Senate, which means the Senate must act immediately because in the event of a spring election the legislation will die. Although the bill could be reborn with a new Parliament, it would begin at the bottom rung of a long legislative ladder with no guarantee of ever reaching the Upper Chamber. Meantime, people are dying.