Changing government priorities close the door on KAIROS

{mosimage}Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) has cut off funding to KAIROS, Canada’s main ecumenical social justice group which, for decades, had maintained a stable and respectful relationship with CIDA. KAIROS brings together 11 national churches and faith-based organizations that collectively represent 18 million Canadians. But due to CIDA’s abrupt about face the future existence of KAIROS is now in doubt.

The decision to wholly terminate a long-standing program relationship (a four-year cost sharing arrangement worth about $9 million, of which CIDA contributes  about $7 million) means KAIROS must make sharp funding cuts to more than 20 ecumenical and citizens’ organizations around the world. CIDA says that KAIROS was just not a “fit” with the agency’s emerging priorities. But those who watched this story unfold think KAIROS was a victim of CIDA’s moving goal posts.

Court gets it right

{mosimage}Christians living in several Middle East, African and Asian nations are routinely persecuted and often killed. It is a serious issue that is generally overlooked amid the many international and domestic matters that occupy our media and political leaders.

So it was as welcomed as it was rare to see a Federal Court judge overrule an immigration department official and grant a temporary order last week allowing a Catholic convert from Guinea to remain in Canada. Lamine Yansané is seeking permanent refugee status claiming that his father, a fundamentalist imam, had ordered his death — declared a fatwa against him — if he is returned to Guinea.

King Tut's glory bought at great human price

{mosimage}In the enormously rich drama of dynastic Egypt, the pharaoh Tutankamun played a very minor role. He was born around 1343 B.C., a century after the traditional date of Israel’s Exodus from Egyptian subjugation and during the period when the People of God were settling in Canaan. He assumed the crown of his politically troubled empire at age nine, and died when he was just 19. During his short reign, Tutankhamun (“living image of the god Amun”) appears to have backed a restoration of Egypt’s elaborate polytheism, which had been forcefully suppressed by his father, the pharaoh Akhenaten. If so, Tutankamun was still never forgiven for being the heretic Akhenaten’s son: His statues were defaced after his death and his name was largely written out of Egyptian history.

But despite his long obscurity, no ancient Egyptian is more popular today or more familiar to us than this royal young man. We know his serene and handsome face from the portrait-casket of solid gold that enclosed him in death. We know the games he liked to play, the beautiful wooden boxes he handled, even the bed he slept on. We know Tutankhamun so well because, in 1922, the British archeologist Howard Carter broke the seal on his tomb and found its treasury of grave-goods unplundered. The discovery of this trove of household furniture, jewellery, statuary and much else — interred for the king’s use in the afterlife — made headlines around the world. It also set in motion a wave of Egyptomania that persisted through the 1920s and, in some sense, has never subsided to this day.

Faith groups' hiring rights under the microscope

Arguments will begin Dec. 15 in Ontario Divisional Court in the appeal of the decision by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against Christian Horizons . The tribunal ruled against the social service agency in April, 2008, stating that it cannot insist on faith requirements in its hiring, nor require employees to sign agreements attesting to such requirements.

The decision raised significant concerns about the freedom of all religious organizations to require employees to pledge to adhere to tenets of a religious faith. Christian Horizons operates more than 180 residential homes for people with developmental disabilities and provides support and services to about 1,400 people. It is funded almost entirely by the province, receiving about $75 million each year.

Do right by nature

{mosimage}World leaders are descending on Copenhagen this week for a UN climate conference that seeks an aggressive strategy to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Their ultimate goal is a new international agreement to replace the failed 1990 Kyoto accord.

It is an ambitious undertaking and, even before it starts, Canada has been cast among the villains. The UN General Secretary has singled out Canada as lacking stringent reduction targets. Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore has been targeting the Alberta tar sands as a threat to the planet’s survival. The left-leaning Guardian newspaper of London published a column that called Canada a “corrupt petro-state” that, more than any other nation, has been trying to sabotage a new climate agreement.

Church seeks media fairness

{mosimage}Perhaps the only thing tougher for a New Yorker than fighting city hall is taking on the mighty New York Times. So all Catholics should applaud New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan for publicly criticizing the anti-Catholic bias found not only on the pages of the The Times, but pervasive throughout the media. 

Dolan wasn’t speaking for Canada when he wrote an essay recently that labelled media prejudice against the Catholic Church “a national pastime.” But his comments apply on both sides of the border. Canada’s mainstream media, like its southern cousin, often operates with one set of rules for minority religions and another for the Catholic Church. Maybe it’s time we also got angry.

Recognizing the beauty of the Latin Mass

{mosimage}Earlier this autumn, the Oratorians who operate Toronto’s St. Vincent de Paul Church, my liturgical home base, decided to make the principal Sunday service, at 11:30, a celebration of the 1962 Latin Mass.

At first, I was dismayed by the strangeness of it all. The Mass in English had always seemed entirely reverent and otherwise satisfactory, at least the way the Oratorians do it; and it surely is a satisfactory way to thank God for His many blessings. (I have fortunately never witnessed one of those eccentric vernacular Masses the fervent Catholic bloggers complain about.)

Web's culture of opinion must not be ignored

{mosimage}John Gabriel, an Internet games theorist/programmer, in 2005 developed what has become known as the Dickwad Theory of the Internet. It can be expressed as follows: One person + anonymity + audience = one “dickwad” opinion.

This theory is often used to discount opinions posted in the comment sections that accompany most news web sites. The often virulent and brutish tone of such postings has resulted in most authors, analysts and commentators developing a tin ear to these virtual opinions. Fr. Raymond de Souza, a columnist for the National Post, expressed this well: “I could write a column on mowing the lawn and before long the comment threads would degenerate into cracks about pedophilia….” 

End indifference

{mosimage}In the time it takes to read this sentence, somewhere on the planet a child will die of starvation. That’s one dead child every five seconds, six million children this year, out of one billion undernourished people in the world, according to statistics from the United Nations.

Those are the eye-popping numbers rolled out at the opening of a three-day world food summit in Rome. Organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , the summit was convened to study how to replace inadequate and inefficient aid programs with well-funded initiatives to make poor nations self-sufficient in food.

May we hear the voices of our African brethren

{mosimage}They say we are running out of water, but I wonder if we should also be worried about running out of listening. Who these days would ever take several weeks out to listen to anyone about anything? But that’s exactly what several hundred of us did last month in Rome at the second Synod for Africa.

The theme was The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: “You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world.” Pope Benedict attended 13 of the 20 General Congregations (plenary sessions) and, except for prayer and a greeting, he just listened attentively.

Euthanasia is not appropriate care

{mosimage}It was bound to happen but it nonetheless came as a shock to hear doctors endorse the position that, when other treatments fail, it may sometimes be acceptable to simply kill the patient.

In effect, that is the position of the Quebec College of Physicians in a policy paper that says euthanasia can be an ethical and viable option for doctors when a patient, facing “imminent and inevitable” death, is suffering extreme pain. As put by one doctor: “We are saying death can be an appropriate type of care in certain circumstances.”