Downtown Toronto campus opens multi-faith room

Published in Education

Each year thousands of high school students seek the next step in their educational journey — and there are plenty of options.

Published in Education

VATICAN CITY - The sick, their caregivers and any Catholic who prays for or lovingly assists someone who is ill can gain an indulgence with prayers and service on or around the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which the Catholic Church marks as World Day of the Sick.

Published in International

TORONTO - The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) has launched a public awareness campaign to promote and help ensure the preservation of publically funded Catholic education.

Published in Education

VATICAN CITY - The universal church needs Catholics in the Americas who are joyful missionaries

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - When the Catholic Church affirms the importance of how all the faithful understand matters of faith and morals, it is not saying Catholic beliefs are open to a popular vote, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Published in Vatican

WASHINIGTON - Dave Brubeck, the influential and prolific pianist whose composition "Take Five" became a standard in the annals of jazz, died Dec. 5 at age 91, one day before his 92nd birthday.

Published in Music News

KOKRAJHAR, India (CNS) -- Besides her family, the most valuable things Majoni Bibi has these days are a few clothes, medicated mosquito nets, cooking utensils, water storage buckets and sleeping mats.

Bibi, a Muslim refugee forced with her family from their home as fighting erupted in July between tribal Bodos and Muslim settlers in Assam state, praised Catholic relief workers for the donations as her family continues to live in a camp for internally displaced people.

"We are very happy the Christians have helped in a big way. But for them, our life would have been miserable," said Bibi as she held her infant, who was born the camp at Basagaon.

Bibi is among hundreds of thousands of people displaced by months of ethnic clashes. She told Catholic News Service that had it not been for Catholic-run charities and the efforts of the Missionaries of Charity sisters, she and her family would have little.
"These sisters cared for us and (church workers) gave valuable and useful things," said Bibi, pointing to Sister Jacoba, superior of the Missionaries of Charity convent in nearby Bongaigaon.

Church workers have visited the camp and several others in the region, providing food and a variety of services and supplies.
The fighting has left more than 90 people dead and about 500,000 homeless in Kokrajhar region. More than 200,000 refugees -- the majority of them Muslims -- languish in 130 relief camps scattered across four districts.

Several Muslim refugees shared their appreciation for the workers' dedicated service in the camps in the Bodo heartland.

"The only people who came out to help us were the Christians," said Jahanara Begum, living in a riverbed camp in Basagaon.
Begum told the church workers that she had lost thousands of pounds of raw rice she had stocked in her home for sale when she, her husband and five children fled Dewalguri, a village attacked July 23.

"The church workers have shown real love for us and visited the camps regularly and attended to our people," Begum said.

Father David Napoleon, director of the Bongaigaon Diocese's social service program, said he has coordinated his work with Catholic Relief Services and Caritas India. More than two dozen emergency workers, including medical teams from St. Augustine Hospital in Bongaigaon joined the Missionaries of Charity sisters in visiting the camps.

"But it has not been easy. Nearly 15,000 Christians among the Bodos have also become homeless and some of our people have been strongly objecting to reaching out to the Muslim refugees," he said.

"But we told them that this was a humanitarian crisis and as true Christians, we have the duty to help all those in need," he added.
Harun Rashid Mondal, coordinator of a relief committee distributing rice and other food to refugee families, told CNS that "whatever may be the international talk of conflict between Muslims and Christians, here Christians are helping us like real brothers."

"The care and attention the Christians have shown to our people has helped change their attitude to the Christians. Real friends are those who help the people in need. The sisters have shown us what is real love," Mondal, a Muslim, said of the Missionaries of Charity who had helped bathe refugee children.

The anxiety of the Bodo community over Christians reaching out to Muslims was evident during a visit to Bodo relief camps in the town of Kokrajhar.

"My husband was stabbed (to death) and how can we can go back and live in the same place?" asked Korida Sanhala of Fakiragram village, who was at the Bodo camp.

"Sister, why do you still go to the camps of those (Muslim) people?" posed another Bodo woman to Missionaries of Charity Sister Leo Therese, even as men of the Bodo community rejected the plea of government officials to return the refugees to their village.

"They should not be helped," a young Bodo refugee woman reminded another nun when the church workers reached the Catholic relief camp at Kailo Mailo, more than 60 miles from Basagaon.

"Now our main focus is on youth-centered programs to deal positively with their trauma and anger and foster healthy interpersonal relationship," said Kaplianlal Thangluai, program officer for CRS in northeast India.

The program is facilitated by CRS-trained volunteers selected from among the refugees and residents of the host villages.

"We are also running a child-friendly space for children in the relief camps, as the children do not go to school," Thangluai added.

Published in International

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - The newly appointed leader of the world’s Anglicans is a former oil executive who said his spiritual director was a Catholic monk.

Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, who will become the new archbishop of Canterbury, did not name the monk, but told a Nov. 9 news conference at London’s Lambeth Palace that he was influenced by both Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality. He also told reporters that he would be voting in favour of the ordination of women as bishops when the General Synod will decide the matter at a two-day meeting beginning Nov. 19.

Welby’s appointment as the primate of England and the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion was announced Nov. 9 following selection by the Crown Nominations Commission and approval of Queen Elizabeth II, the supreme governor of the Church of England. The 56-year-old will be enthroned as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury in Canterbury Cathedral March 21 in succession to Archbishop Rowan Williams, who leaves the post in December.

Welby has been described as an Anglican evangelical with sympathy for the Catholic tradition. A Nov. 9 press release by the Church of England said he has “frequently said that the Roman Catholic approach to Christian social teaching, beginning with the encyclical of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, up to Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas Veritate, has greatly influenced his social thinking.”

Welby told the Lambeth press conference he knew the Church of England was “facing very hard issues.” 

“In 10 days or so the General Synod will vote on the ordination of women as bishops, and I will be voting in favour and join my voice in urging the synod to go forward with this change,” he said.

The archbishop-designate also noted that the Anglican Communion was divided over issues of sexuality but said that it would be wrong to tolerate “any form of homophobia in any part of the church.”

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Sacred music can bolster people's faith and help lapsed Catholics rediscover the beauty of God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Sacred music can, above all, promote the faith, and, what's more, cooperate in the new evangelization," he told participants attending a conference and pilgrimage sponsored by the Italian St. Cecilia Association. St. Cecilia, whose feast day is Nov. 22, is traditionally honored as the patron saint of musical performers.

"Music and singing that are done well can help (people) receive the word of God and be moved in a positive way," the pope said in his address Nov. 10.

Many people, including St. Augustine, have found themselves attracted to God because of some profound experience prompted by the beauty of liturgical music and sacred song, he said.

In the church's missionary outreach, he said, it urges Catholics to recognize, respect and promote the musical traditions of the local people.

Traditionally Christian countries, like Italy, have a rich heritage of sacred music which can help lapsed Catholics rediscover God and be drawn again to the Christian message and the mystery of faith, he said.

Because of their important role in new evangelization, he urged church musicians to dedicate themselves "to improving the quality of liturgical song, without being afraid of reviving or emphasizing the great musical tradition of the church, which has two of its highest expressions in Gregorian and polyphony."

"Show how the church may be the place in which beauty feels at home," he said.

"Sacred song united to the words, form a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy," he said, quoting from the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

The reason why sacred music is "necessary and integral," Pope Benedict said, isn't simply for aesthetic purposes, but because sacred song "cooperates in nourishing and expressing the faith and, therefore, in glorifying God and sanctifying the faithful."

Sacred music "is not an accessory or embellishment of the liturgy, but is the liturgy itself."

The pope thanked the men and women musicians and singers for helping the faithful "praise God and make his word sink deep in their hearts."

That evening, in the Sistine Chapel, the pope attended a concert with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who was the director of the Regensburg Boys Choir for decades.

They listened to music from a Mass composed by Msgr. Ratzinger, as well as to pieces by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Msgr. Massimo Palombella -- the director of the Sistine Chapel Choir -- and Colin Mawby, a contemporary British composer who has served as director of music at Westminster Cathedral.

Published in Music News

WINDSOR, ONT. - Much has changed since the controversial 1960 campaign when John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, ran for the American presidency.

For starters, the United States has become both more secular and more tolerant in accepting non-Protestant religious groups, such as Roman Catholics. At the same time, the country has become more politically partisan and seen religion take on a greater role in electoral politics than it did 50 years ago, according to Dr. David Campbell, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

“Kennedy faced at least a potential stained glass ceiling,” said Campbell, an expert on religion, politics and civic engagement. The native of Medicine Hat, Alta. was speaking at Windsor’s Assumption University as part of a series examining the current presidential campaign.

He said that in becoming America’s first Catholic president, Kennedy overcame the obstacle of his religion after a historic speech in which he declared “Catholicism will not guide me” in policy decisions.

Today, a Catholic candidate such as John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, or vice-president Joe Biden, might be questioned because they aren’t “Catholic enough” on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Catholics are now fully accepted in the political mainstream. But according to public polling, that’s not the case for candidates from all other religions, including Buddhists, Muslims and Mormons. Fifty-two years after Kennedy, Mitt Romney is attempting to become America’s first Mormon president.

Campbell said that “almost everyone” has a family relation, friend or neighbour who is Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, and recognizes them as “good people.” But that’s not the case for smaller faith groups. For Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, “that’s a problem.”

Campbell said that while Jews, for example, make up about the same proportion of the population as Mormons, they have integrated into society over the years by “building bridges” to other faiths. That isn’t the case with Mormonism, which Campbell says has a huge degree of internal “bonding” or “sticking together.”

Although Mormonism might not be fully tolerated, Campbell said religion generally plays a more important role in American politics, particularly among the political right.

“Religion has become a very powerful force shaping how Americans vote,” he said.

So, Campbell said, Romney has to walk a fine line between showing he fits into mainstream America without alienating the Republican base, which includes many Evangelicals.

Campbell said Romney has echoed Kennedy by emphatically declaring that his church will not “exert influence on presidential decisions.” In the second presidential debate Romney affirmed his belief in Jesus Christ and implied that voter acceptance of his faith will be a “test of our tolerance.”

The presidential campaign is “Romney’s moment,” Campbell said. If the Republican is elected, his Morman faith, like Catholicism 50 years ago, could start to be recognized as a more conventional religion.

Published in International

A recent study has reported that Catholic school graduates view the role of faith in the public square similarly to graduates of public schools.

Cardus, a Christian think tank that focuses on bringing faith into public life, conducted the study, called “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.” It covers grads from schools in all provinces except Quebec, which the report covers separately.

The study compares graduates now ages 24 to 39 from government-run public schools with grads in the same age group from various kinds of schools: Protestant private schools, non-religious private schools, religious home schools, Catholic separate schools (government-funded), and Catholic independent schools (private with some government subsidies). Catholic schools in B.C. are independent.

Graduates were compared on a wide range of topics in addition to religion. However the study gives little information about what their actual responses were; it just reports how other grads compared to grads from public schools.

In total, 1,868 graduates were surveyed. In addition, the results were controlled for family socioeconomic and religious background.

The study revealed some interesting facts about faith in the public square.

“What struck me the most was that Catholic schools were the same as public schools in many respects,” said Ray Pennings, the study’s project leader and the director of research at Cardus.

The study showed grads from both kinds of Catholic schools were less involved in volunteering their time with their congregations than grads from Protestant schools, religious home schools and public schools. But they scored the same as public-school grads on their views on the importance of religion in public life.

“You would have expected to find some spiritual differences, but they weren’t there (for Catholic grads),” Pennings said, “which is distinct from the Protestant schools, where we were getting measurable differences.”

Pennings added graduates from Protestant schools said their faith made an impact on their cultural engagement.

They gave more time to their church than Catholics, but were less political. Catholic-independent-school grads volunteered more than Catholic-separate-school and public-school grads outside their congregation, but were less politically engaged.

“I am surprised by the results,” said Doug Lauson, superintendent of the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA). He said he would have expected religious training provided by schools would have an effect on how students lived their faith after graduation.

But Lauson noted that the sample size for Catholic-independent-school grads was low.

“Only 23 were sampled from the whole of B.C., and I don’t know how many of those were from our diocese.”

However, he added, secularization in society is a factor not only for Catholic schools but for Protestant ones as well.

He said CISVA is looking at ways to address this issue with students.

“Young people are in a bit of a difficult situation, because in school they learn one set of values, and then they go to the shopping mall and they’re surrounded by a different set of values,” he said.

“Our graduates should be aware of the world out there and should be prepared to defend their faith in a world that is very secular, and where the practise of your faith is allowed but frowned upon.”

With regard to employment, the study showed grads from both types of Catholic schools were similar to public-school grads. All three groups obtained managerial occupations (managerial professionals, lawyers, scientists, architects and university teachers) at the same rate.

With regard to how workplaces are run, the three groups held the same views on ethics and efficiency.

Catholic independent grads scored well in post-secondary education. They came in second to non-religious independent grads in total years of education, but were more likely than any other grad in the study to have a university degree. They also scored the highest in obtaining masters degrees.

Lauson said CISVA schools always aim to prepare students for university.

“We general ly provide education to students to enter university if they choose to,” he said. “Our graduates are required to obtain more credits because we offer more subjects than government-run schools.”

He also said CISVA focuses on developing “skill sets” for students to learn for the 21st century. The Ministry of Education recently recognized them for their unique teaching methods.

The complete Cardus survey is at http://www.cardus.ca/research/education.

Published in Youth Speak News

THORNHILL, ONT. - A financial analyst turned priest, Fr. Mario Salvadori is marketing an unorthodox and unapologetic formula of evangelization — and youth are flocking to it.

Salvadori, the only priest at Thornhill’s St. Joseph the Worker parish, jokes that he has “more degrees than a thermometer.” He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, a master’s degree in theology and a master’s in business administration. Before he was a priest, Salvadori was a businessman. In many ways, he still is.

“I used to be able to sell a glass of water to a drowning man,” he said. “Now I sell Jesus Christ.”

His congregation in this Toronto suburb seems to be buying it.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Vlad Mamaradlo, the lay minister Salvadori hired to work with youth. Mamaradlo said every Mass is standing room only. “Even the foyer is full.”

And in the five years since Salvadori joined the parish, he’s paid off a $1.3-million renovation and $600,000 more off the mortgage.

Salvadori’s success stems from his approach to Mass. For him, evangelization is no different than marketing. “It’s just a different word,” he said. He and Mamaradlo look at Catholicism as a product they are selling. Something that, they say, the Church has failed to sell.

“In society, people are given options,” Mamaradlo said, “so let’s give them options.”

What Salvadori has given them is a refreshing twist on the traditional Mass. When he ordered the church renovation back in 2009, he made sure it would accommodate his style for delivering just that.

“We’re competing against 60-inch TVs, iPods and every other stimulation that’s out there,” Mamaradlo said.

So, Salvadori brought the technology to Mass. Every homily, his laptop is plugged into the pulpit, at the ready to bring up a clip on the two huge screens on either side of him.

He invites guest speakers and tackles current and controversial topics that many priests tend to shy away from — topics that weigh heavily on everyday life. One homily he delivered in May included a clip of U.S. President Barack Obama speaking about gay marriage. That homily has collected more than 300 views on YouTube as have some of his other videos posted on the site.

There are other options too, opportunities to connect with the congregation outside the now lessthan-traditional construct of Mass. There are trips downtown to feed the homeless, youth groups, parish events, even retreats in the United States that young people can sign up for.

Mamaradlo’s role as a paid youth minister is rare in Canada. It is part of a model Salvadori discovered in the United States. Seventeen other people were interviewed, flying in from places like Montreal and Philadelphia, in hopes of landing the position.

In fact, Salvadori runs the entire parish based on the U.S. model. He was first exposed to it 18 years ago when he attended a conference in Steubenville, Ohio.
“The first thing that stunned me was that they used video,” he said. “I remember thinking ‘Wow, you can do this in the Catholic Church?’ ”

When Salvadori came to St. Joseph with plans to use the technology, he was met with that same sense of uncertainty. Then, only days after ordering the renovation, the Pope spoke out in approval, advocating the use technology to evangelize youth.

The initial reluctance at the parish is not the only resistance he’s encountered. Salvadori is known for a direct and unbending approach to Catholicism that can sometimes be hard to swallow.

“Just look at some of the comments he’s got on YouTube,” Mamaradlo said.

For example, a few weeks ago Salvadori asked the entire congregation to call one MP to voice their support for an anti-abortion motion. When the motion was denied he called it a “sin of omission” and asked everyone who didn’t call to complete a penance.

Salvadori doesn’t shy away from this criticism — he welcomes it. When asked about this, his voice perked, as if he wasn’t the only priest in a parish who’d been running around all day before a 9:45 p.m. interview.

“Many words have been used to describe me, but nobody has ever used the ‘B’ word,” he said. In more than 15 years and after hundreds of good and bad e-mails from parishioners, no one has ever described a Mass with Salvadori as “boring.”

(Bronca, 21, is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

Published in Youth Speak News

I was taken aback in early October when I went to a local drug store to pick up some medication and was confronted with rows and rows of Halloween merchandise. Even with trick-or-treating just around the corner, the costumes, candies and other accessories seemed so out of place in a drug store. Then again, I’ve seen the stuff in hardware stores, too. It seems to be everywhere.

Halloween has become big business. The Retail Council of Canada says “Halloween is one of the most anticipated days of the year for Canadian children.” During October, it’s estimated that nearly $600 million worth of goodies and snack-food items will be sold. A recent statement from the National Retail Federation stated that a record 170 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year and they’ll spend $8 billion on decorations, costumes and candy. That includes 25 million people who will dress their pets in a costume.

As a businesswoman with a marketing background, I understand the business opportunity of Halloween. It’s hard to knock retailers for trying to make a buck from the holiday. But as a Catholic mother I have long wrestled with the spiritual fallout of society’s increasing infatuation with this day.

Should we be dressing up our daughters and sons as monsters, witches, devils and skeletons? When we celebrate Halloween this way, do we risk glorifying violence and evil? Are we sending the wrong message, a non-Catholic message, when we give so much attention and spend so much money on a holiday with pagan origins? Surely, that money could be better used to feed the poor or support our local churches.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I should pull down my blinds, lock my door and ignore Halloween altogether. Or maybe we should just dress our children in wholesome costumes, give them proper warning and reluctantly let them join in the fun.

I used to run a saints club in a local Catholic elementary school. The purpose was to teach children about the lives of saints and encourage them towards saintly virtues. It was mostly rewarding but the end of October was always a troubling time.

It was sad to see the attention given to the secular celebration of Halloween, the costumes, the parties, the snacks, while absolutely nothing was done to mark the Catholic feasts of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2). It struck me as odd that a Catholic school would mark a festival with pagan roots and then the next two days virtually ignore important feasts on the Church calendar. (Actually, it was rare to hear teachers mention the liturgical calendar or any feast days.)

I’m not suggesting that Halloween be banned in Catholic homes and schools. I’m not opposed to children having fun. But there are several ways educators can use the season of Halloween to teach the Catholic faith to children. Here are some examples:

o Make All Saints Day a school event and ask students to dress up as saints. Offer prizes for those who do. Rather than receiving treats, this could be a day about giving.

o Have students do a short presentation on a saint of their choosing.

o Teach the Irish folktale of Jack O’Lantern and the Catholic origins behind the custom of burning a candle in a carved pumpkin on Halloween.

o Take students to a Catholic cemetery and pray the rosary for the deceased.

o Study the history and evolution of Halloween but with a focus on it being of secondary importance to the two days that follow it.

o In high schools, use Halloween to discuss Catholic teaching on the occult and why the catechism rejects such things as magic, sorcery, horoscopes, clairvoyance and astrology.

One year I asked kids in our saints club to do a project on a saint. On the day the project was due, All Saints Day, our club had 25 bristol-board projects that covered an entire wall of the school. There were projects on Padre Pio, St. Bernadette, St. Anthony and St. John Bosco, to name just a few.

The project prompted other students to start asking questions. What does levitate mean? What is incorruptible? Do I really have a Guardian Angel? The entire experience was an absolute joy.

Along the hallway that morning the focus shifted from ghouls and goblins to the great saints of the Church. It was a reminder that Halloween costumes come and go but the saints are with us always.

Published in Guest Columns
October 24, 2012

Catholic Montreal lives

Within 20 minutes of my house are shrines to Canada’s two newest saints. To the south, visible across the St. Lawrence, is the spire and façade of St. Francis of Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, the simple little church that honours St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Heading in the opposite direction for a few minutes brings into view the unmistakable dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory, the imposing shrine to St. Brother André Bessette.

Both, of course, have been elevated to sainthood in the past two years — St. Kateri on Oct. 21; St. Brother André in October, 2010. I wish I could say this fresh and welcome bursting forth of sanctity has had an immediate beneficial effect on the city of Montreal, or even my neighbourhood. That might be hoping for too much too soon. Perhaps the power of the communion of saints obliges dutiful patience at least equivalent to that required for the process of sainthood itself.

What has been notable is the attention paid to both canonizations in a city that normally prides itself on its smirking, cynical secularism and its contempt for all things related to the Church. With Brother André’s elevation, particularly, there was a genuine buzz that was amplified by official civic and media interest. The interest in St. Kateri, the Lily of the Mohawks, was more muted. Her church, after all, is on the city’s south shore across the rickety Mercier Bridge, not in fashionable Outremont.

Still, significant attention was paid in quarters that might have been otherwise expected to ignore it. It was, if nothing else, an opportunity to flay the Church yet again for its sins against the aboriginal population. There was also the irresistible attraction of working in pop culture references to Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers, in which Kateri is the object of a character’s obsession.

The enduring appeal of at least local saints, even if only as a morbid fascination with the Church’s purported eccentricities, confounds the authorized Quebec attitude toward Catholicism and, indeed, Christianity itself.

For generations now, Quebecers have been taught to regard their historic, foundational faith as if it were grandmother’s corpse in a rocking chair in the attic: if we ignore it eventually the smell will go away. But what ho! It turns out there is plenty of life in the old girl yet.

Recognition of that life would unquestionably have a salutary effect not just on the future of the Church as an institution, not to mention the souls of the faithful yet-to-come, but also on Quebec’s connection to, and understanding of, its past. Research being done by a young scholar I know provides a sense of how clouded that understanding is, and the larger cultural damage that is the result.

The researcher has become fascinated by the role of religious women, particularly the Ursuline nuns, in the development of early New France. While popular depiction smothers the landscape of that era with Jesuits in black robes, he is discovering how much even cloistered women religious were able to contribute to the establishment of the settlement and, more importantly, to peaceful interaction with indigenous peoples.

His research is in the early stages yet so he is shy about attention, but the evidence is starting to show that the first Ursuline teaching and nursing sisters were a focal point for the exchange of knowledge in arts such as weaving and basket making as well as in botany and chemistry. He has found a treasure trove of personal letters and official reports revealing that pivotal role. It has turned up not in Montreal or Quebec City, where one might expect to find it, but in archives in Paris and other French cities.

What’s fascinating is not just that the French archival material has gone untouched for so long, but why it has been ignored. Quebec academics, he says, don’t like to go outside Quebec to research their own history. And if it involves the Church? Well, they’d rather tiptoe past the door to the attic than enter and find out how grandmother’s doing in her rocking chair. Why not? It’s what they’ve been taught to do for generations. Yet if all history is ultimately local, as a wise man once said, what happens to a people when the very institutions that shaped its locale are declared verboten?

All we can do then is pray that the saints in the neighborhood will preserve us.

Published in Peter Stockland