Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register

Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register

Erin Morawetz was an interning reporter with The Catholic Register.

She holds a BA Honours from Queen's University and is currently working towards her Master of Journalism at Carleton University. Erin previously completed an editorial internship at Where Ottawa magazine.

By the time Alexandria Lepore was finishing up her honours degree in Catholic studies and history from King’s University College in London, Ont., this spring, she knew she wanted to become a youth minister.

So when the opportunity came up to take a 12-day trip to do some youth programming, she jumped at the chance.

“It just sounded like the perfect opportunity to feel out what the job would be like,” Lepore said.

But this was no ordinary trip. Lepore and 13 other students, 11 from King’s College, two from St. Peter’s Seminary, along with Fr. Michael Bechard and Sr. Susan Glaab, headed out on June 28 to the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation reserve in northern Saskatchewan, close to the border with the Northwest Territories. It took three planes from the southwestern Ontario city to reach the reserve, located on Lake Athabasca, 1,275 km northwest of Prince Albert.

Bechard, director of campus ministry and chaplain at King’s, had visited the reserve the summer before with Glaab, and decided to organize this trip.

“I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for some of our young people to work with some of the young people up there and be involved in some sort of exchange,” he said. “They saw a part of Canada that very few Canadians will ever see.”

The group spent the better part of a week on the reserve, getting to know the community and joining its members in prayer. Then, they accompanied the Fond du Lac people on a 40-minute boat ride to a little island called Pine Channel. It is there that Bishop Murray Chatlain of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith — and a graduate of London’s St. Peter’s Seminary — leads an annual pilgrimage for the Fond du Lac people along with two other nearby nations.

Chatlain, with assistance from Bechard, led the adults in liturgical and devotional experiences while the students from King’s focused their attention on the kids, leading activities and crafts, and providing different educational programs.

Lepore, a youth minister at King’s, has plenty of experience working with children. But this time, she said, was different — simpler, less structured.

One day, she said, she was trying to lead the children in an activity of making knotted twine rosaries, and instead saw some of them using the twine as a jump rope.

“It was a little hard to deal with the organized chaos,” Lepore laughed. “It was frustrating at first but in the end, that’s what we’re called to do — love unconditionally and just be present.”

Lepore said the children took to the King’s students immediately — a sentiment echoed by Jolene Smith, a masters of divinity student at St. Peter’s.

“They made it very easy (to bond),” Smith said of the children. “They came to us. They were very kind and welcoming.”

Both young women say some of the best moments of the pilgrimage were when everyone spent time in prayer together.

“They have a really deep faith,” Smith said.

And Lepore notes that a highlight for everyone was a confirmation ceremony for 125 young people.

As for Bechard, he couldn’t be prouder of his students.

“They did a really, really good job in terms of the program they did for the children,” he said. “Kids were there waiting for us when we got up in the morning and we had to send them home at night to go to bed.

“There was a real interaction and mutual respect.”

Keeping camp, of course, had its challenges — “I didn’t really enjoy my shower in the lake,” Lepore laughed — but Smith notes that they were more prepared than they thought they were, and they all found themselves missing the island upon returning home on July 10.

“At the end of the trip, we all still wanted to be together,” Smith said. “Four days later, we were having a reunion. The experience really bonded us and it’s something that we share with each other.

“It’s still with us. It’s something that I’m constantly thinking about,” she added.

For Lepore, the trip, which Bechard is hoping to turn into an annual journey, just might change her life’s plan.

“Just seeing the genuine love and the faith and the welcoming of the children, it reinforced that this is where I want to be,” she said. “I don’t know if there (are) any jobs available but… I’d really consider staying there (to work). I fell in love with the culture in northern Saskatchewan. I’d really like to go back.”

TORONTO - When Fr. Fernando Couto talks about St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown Toronto, it’s as if he’s talking about a beloved friend.

“The building is talking, if anyone is listening,” he said. “It needs our help.”

One of the oldest churches in Toronto, St. Mary’s is crumbling, said Couto, who has been pleading with the archdiocese since he arrived at the parish in 2008 for more money to complete its restoration.

“It has structural osteoporosis,” Couto said of his church at Bathurst and Adelaide. “We’ve been basically ignoring it.

“The damage every year is great.”

The current St. Mary’s is the third building of the historically Portuguese parish. Built in 1885 and completed four years later, it is older than Casa Loma, the Ontario Parliament buildings and City Hall, and is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Toronto.

But there hasn’t been much upkeep, Couto said, evidenced by the sinking foundation and crumbling walls, rotten wood and cracked slates.

“One day, bricks fell from the tower,” Couto said. “Rain (was) coming in through the windows.

“We (had) to address this sooner or later before (the) structure (became) too damaged or people got hurt.”

For his part, Couto would like to see St. Mary’s restored to its former glory.

“There’s lots of history here,” said Couto, who has been collecting old photographs of the building, both inside and out. He said he would like to put the outer pews back to their original position, facing into the middle of the church, as well as fix up many other nooks and corners.

But first, the basics, like the tower, the roof and the outer structure.

“It’s like a car,” Couto said. “I can live without a phone, a good radio, leather seats. (But) I need good brakes, an engine.”

The archdiocese of Toronto lent St. Mary’s $3 million, which helped to fix most of the tower, and the parish itself has raised an additional $1.2 million. But according to Couto, it’s not enough.

“It’s like trying to buy a car with (enough) money for a bicycle,” he said. “The work we’re doing is not curtains and flowers. This is serious structural work.”

Couto said the church will need a minimum of $6 million to be properly restored, which is why he is still appealing to the archdiocese as well as parishioners, who, he said, have been very generous and understanding despite many not having much to give.

“St. Mary’s (is) one of the nicest buildings in Ontario, in Toronto,” Couto said with obvious pride. “It’s time to pay back for the neglect on many years.”

Couto acknowledges that times — and demographics — have changed: this church that used to be filled with Portuguese Canadians is becoming more and more English as the cost of living downtown has increased and condominiums have “sprung up like mushrooms after the rain.”

But all the more reason, he said, to preserve St. Mary’s.

“We’re losing it,” he said. “And once we lose it, we can’t get it back.

“There’s the busy downtown (right there),” he said with a wave to Bathurst Street. “And you come in here, and here’s the peace.”

TORONTO - A Toronto Catholic school board initiative has kids off their couches and away from their computers this summer and has them scrubbing walls, planting flowers and helping out those who need it.

It’s called the Summer Community Service Hours Program — a simple title for a program that’s affect has been anything but.

Anna Paolitto-Primiani from Monsignor Fraser Alternative Secondary School and Linton Soares from Neil McNeil High School are the two teachers in charge. Both have experience helping high school students finish their mandatory 40 service hours before graduation.

This year, Paolitto-Primiani became aware of how many graduating students were getting stuck on their service hour requirements.

“What they do, they stay in their school and ask their teacher, ‘can I help you do this,’ ‘can I stay after school to do that,’ ” she said. “There’s so much more. There are non-profit organizations out there that need another pair of hands or eyes, energy, smiles.”

So the board, Soares and Paolitto-Primiani put together a summer program for these kids to head out to different places around the city to roll up their sleeves and really help. Half of the 30 students that came out weekly spent their days at either the Good Shepherd Centre, an overnight shelter, or the Good Neighbour, a day shelter for homeless people in downtown Toronto. The other half rotated between several organizations including the humane society, a food bank, seniors homes and shelters and transitional homes.

Originally the program was just open to students who needed their 40 service hours, such as Martha Sanusi, from Father Henry Carr Secondary School. She came out to volunteer at the Good Shepherd homeless shelter to complete her hours so she could graduate by January. But in reality, Sanusi has gained so much more.

“I like the opportunity to give a helping hand to the needy,” Sanusi said. “The Lord said do unto others how you want me to do unto you, so I’m living up to that expectation of the Lord.

“It’s also giving me a chance to work with other teens.”

And those other teens are no longer necessarily trying to graduate as soon as possible. Soares and Paolitto-Primiani opened up the program to younger high school students who wanted to get a head start on their hours or just do something productive this summer.

Chelsea Oosthuizen, a Grade 10 student from Notre Dame High School, was in the rotation group. Though many students only stayed for one week, Oosthuizen participated all four weeks, with a goal of getting 100 hours by the time it came to an end.

But in the beginning, she didn’t even want to come out.

“My summer school got cancelled so my mom (told me) I had to do something,” Oosthuizen said. “I started not knowing or believing that I would enjoy this program (but) honestly it’s changed so much.

“As Canadians and as Christians and Catholics we all… have to get out in the community. You always have a purpose to give.”

It’s a sentiment reflected by Aaron Benwic, a Grade 10 student from Marshall McLuhan Secondary School, who wants to continue to volunteer throughout the summer.

“This whole program has been a really great opportunity to … give back to the community,” Benwic said. “I realized that there is, in fact, a need in downtown Toronto.”

Soares and Paolitto-Primiani hope the program can continue next summer.

“It’s a new program, so it’s going to be trial and error,” Paolitto-Primiani said. “But it’s gone really well.”

“The students have loved it,” Soares added. “This was a perfect way for a lot of students to get their foot in the door (to volunteer opportunities).”

MaterCare International has created a “Charter of Maternal Rights” it hopes will be adopted by leaders and decision makers around the world to help stem the high number of maternal deaths.

According to MaterCare’s Dr. Robert Walley, mothers in most of the world are treated with neglect, and changing this has “hardly been a high priority with anybody.” Walley is the executive director of the St. John’s, Nfld.-based MaterCare International, an international group of Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists that treat mothers and babies around the world that’s hoping to do something about this.

The preamble to the charter makes the case that “Mothers and their babies are among the poorest of the poor and are the most vulnerable physically.”

“They’re marginalized,” Walley told The Catholic Register. “There’s about 330,000 mothers (that) die every year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa” from complications during pregnancy, labour and delivery, and the six weeks following.

The charter, which pulls its substance from statistics as well as Catholic documents including the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council, focuses on the human rights of mothers, maternal health care and necessary steps that must be taken by obstetricians and midwives. It says, “The causes of maternal deaths are well known, are readily preventable and can be successfully treated at comparable low cost. Proper measures, availability of skilled personnel at the time of birth and prompt emergency obstetrical care if things go wrong may save the lives of 90 per cent of the mothers.”

But Walley said too many world leaders are focused on population control as opposed to making giving birth safer and healthier worldwide, and he is not hopeful that world leaders will hear MaterCare’s message.

That said, he does point positively to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statements at the 2010 G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ont. There, Harper announced Canada would pledge $1.1 billion towards a new global effort to improve maternal and child health in developing countries (dubbed the Muskoka Initiative).

In January 2011, the United Nations created the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, co-chaired by Harper and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

For the third straight year, Chalice, a Catholic charity based in Nova Scotia, has been awarded an overall “A” rating by MoneySense magazine in its “Charity 100” list. 

The Canadian business magazine annually publishes its ratings of the biggest 100 charities in Canada based on four categories — charity efficiency, fundraising efficiency, governance and transparency and reserve fund size. And each year, Chalice, primarily a sponsorship program between Canadians and children in developing nations that also runs mission trips and raises money for disaster relief, has received top marks.

For Chalice marketing manager Sehne Connell, the rating means the world.

“We look forward to this magazine and we really hope that we continue with our A rating,” Connell said. “It’s really, really important to us because it confirms to our existing sponsors and donors that they are part of an organization that can be trusted with their donations.”

It’s also an extra marketing boost that makes a difference to this small charity, which relies primarily on word of mouth. 

“It allows others to get to know who we are,” Connell said. “We don’t spend a lot of money on … advertising. We rely on people to spread the word and let others know about Chalice.”

Connell said the main reason Chalice is so tight with its advertising budget is because of the “golden ratio” — that is, sending 92-93 per cent of all donations overseas, to the children.

“Every decision we make and expense we have to incur, we make sure upfront that we are going to be able to send (that percentage of) money to the children,” he said.

It’s also why, according to Connell, the charity only received a B rating in the “reserve fund size” category.

“We just don’t believe that we should keep money back and have a big reserve,” Connell explained. “The money we do have — four months reserve — is where we want to keep it.”

But the B rating in the “governance and transparency” section is something Connell says Chalice will be working on.

“We need to look at improvement. We’re not showing enough (financial information) on our web site,” he said. “We just need to get up there. That’s not something we would ever hide. It’s open to anybody.”

In the other two categories, “charity efficiency” and “fundraising efficiency,” Chalice received two A+ grades. In the section of International Aid and Development charities, in which Chalice fit, the only other organizations to receive an overall A rating were Free the Children and Compassion Canada, another sponsorship program.

For Connell, it’s not just about awareness, but also acknowledgment of hard work. 

“We love the work that we do and we get to see the results in the field and the difference that it makes,” he said.

“It’s rewarding to see that you get recognition.”

Ontario's Catholic Women's League has put its support behind infrared breast screening thermography while expressing opposition to youth indoor tanning.

These resolutions were passed at the 65th annual Ontario provincial convention of the CWL, which took place in Kingston, Ont., July 9 to 11.

Marlene Pavletic, president of the provincial council, told The Catholic Register that each of the resolutions passed with little debate.

“What we try to do is focus on the actual material, ensuring that we’ve got good Canadian material (that’s) current,” Pavletic said. “We’ve gone in depth to make sure our briefs are solid.”

The first resolution, prepared by the St. Catharine’s Diocesan Council, looks at infrared breast screening thermography as an alternative to mammograms.

“There is a concern about the extra radiation that women are getting from mammograms, and thermography doesn’t have any radiation,” Pavletic explained.

This cancer detection treatment has not been approved in Ontario, but the council will now be insisting the Ontario Ministry of Health take another look.

“We would like them to re-do some studies on it with the modern technology of thermography,” Pavletic said.

For the second resolution, which was prepared by the Kingston council, the provincial council is joining many other advocacy groups pressing the government to prohibit the use of indoor tanning equipment by youth.

“It’s a public health issue,” Pavletic said. “Our concern is that melanoma is one of the most serious cancers and the most common types of cancers.

“We thought that if we could urge the government to prohibit the use of it before the age of 18, that might perhaps decrease the incidence of it.”

Local MPP John Gerretsen was on hand to address the delegates at the opening ceremony. He said efforts like those of the Ontario CWL will slowly but surely make a difference.

“I urged them to continue advocating,” he said. “One of the things that they’ve done over the last two or three years is have information sessions at Queen’s Park with members of all political parties, and I urged them to continue with that.”

The Sisters of Providence in Kingston, Ont., are hopeful there may be more “food in the budget” some day soon after a positive response from local MPP and Attorney General John Gerretsen to an organized “food tour” of the eastern Ontario city.

Tara Kainer, social justice advocate with the Sisters of Providence, planned the event for the MPP for Kingston and the Islands so Gerretsen could “spend a few hours in the shoes of someone on social assistance, to see what it’s like.”

TORONTO - Peter Grbac heads to Oxford University in October, leaving behind a legacy of volunteerism at his alma mater Harvard University.

A former St. Michael’s College School student, Grbac took part in The Catholic Register’s Youth Speak News program during his high-school years. His faith followed him to Harvard University in Boston where he just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies. At commencement, Grbac was a nominee for the prestigious Ames Award for helping others in the community and inspiring leadership. 

“Harvard is an interesting place,” he said. “It’s a place where you are exposed to very different people and very different ideas, and it’s easy to lose track of your faith. If there (was) one constant in (my) four years and going forward it would be my faith community,” referring to St. Paul Catholic Church in Harvard Square.

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