The following post has been contributed by Arthur Peters, Executive Director of ShareLife and the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto.
It seems quite simple. We go to church on Sunday morning (and/or during the week) at our local parish or, if we are out of our community, at another parish. If our church needs to be renovated, we raise the funds to do so, or if a church needs to be built we will conduct a campaign to raise funds, and the archdiocese will loan an amount to the parish to complete the construction of the church.
But what if it wasn't like that? What would it be like if we were building a church and we faced threats to have it bulldozed, or even set on fire to before it is completed?
Over the past few days I have visited the Diocese of Galle and Kurenegala in Sri Lanka, where Catholics are the minority population. (In Galle, there are only 8,000 Catholics out of a population of 2.4 million people.) There, I met Father Michael Rajendran, pastor of St. Sebastian’s parish, which serves 20 families within the community and another 50 from neighbouring towns who attend Mass. His church, while close to 70 years old, has been a parish for only four years, having served as a mission before this. When the mission was turned into a parish, the church building was reduced in size to accommodate a small rectory for the pastor.
A mission or substation is a location away from the parish where Mass is celebrated. Sometimes it may be a building, but it can also be a cottage or even a place under a tree, depending on the area. Many parishes have substations and priests will travel to these areas to celebrate Mass.
At St. Sebastian’s, it was determined that the church building needed to be expanded. Here is where things became a challenge. To expand the church, approval was needed from the largely non-Catholic government. In many places in Galle, the church does not own the land, but is given permission to use the land by the government. In the case of St. Sebastian’s, the land is owned by the government and leased to a multi-national, who uses the land for agricultural purposes. (Tea, palm oil and cinnamon are crops in the area.) It is important that the multi-national partner be on-side with the church; the government needs to approve, as well.
When plans were presented by the previous pastor to expand the building, there was stiff opposition from extremists and the pastor was driven out of the parish. Father Michael came to the parish this year. Working with the local government, he has managed to get the deed for the land where the church is and is now planning to build a new rectory, as well as to expand the church. He still faces opposition, but has his plans approved and feels comfortable to proceed.
After four years, St. Sebastian's Parish received a deed to their land and permission to build a new rectory and expand the sanctuary.
In the schools, while the government requires religion to be taught, it is mostly the Buddhist religion and not the Catholic faith. To provide formation for children, the Holy Childhood Society is involved in parishes. There are local Sunday school programs that work with them, as well. Our support from the Mission Co-operative program in Toronto helps to provide faith formation for the youth of the parish when there are no Catholic teachers in the schools. We do this by training leaders (teachers) to provide formation in the Catholic faith.
The Diocese of Kurunegala operates three orphanages where children from broken families are cared for. Food, education, boarding and counselling are provided.
I met with the Bishop Raymond Wickramsinghe, the Bishop of Galle. He explained that Buddhism and Hinduism have been rooted in Sri Lanka for over 2,500 years. He mentioned that most of his parishes are subsidized by the diocese. He relies on the support of some benefactors as well as mission appeals to help evangelize in Galle. On the day I met with him, His Excellency had been out in the community most of the morning meeting with parishioners and non-Catholics in the community where there had been flooding recently, sometimes giving them money for food. His Excellency explained that when there is a need, the church does not ask the religion of a person when determining need. They bring “Kingdom values” into the community.
The next day I visited the Diocese of Kurunegala, where a shrine is being built to St. Joseph Vaz, the first Saint from Sri Lanka. In the late 1600s, he travelled from India to Sri Lanka, disguising himself as a labourer, to evangelize the Catholic faith. After the Dutch took over the island from the Portuguese, the Catholic faith was expelled from the island and there were no priests for a century. Father Vaz brought the Eucharist and sacraments back to the island. By the time of his death in 1711, he had managed to rebuild the church in Sri Lanka. He was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis.
Father Sagara Perera welcomed me as he told me about his diocese. While the Archdiocese of Colombo has a strong Catholic presence, other dioceses do not and, as such, must work with the government, which is largely non-Christian. He told me of one substation that is being built; after construction started, the church building was burned down. While the parish community is now re-building, they now face threats of it being bulldozed.
The government took over the Catholic schools in the 1960s and declared how much percentage of each faith could attend the schools. Thus, while a school has a name like Holy Angels, the large majority of students are non-Catholic due to the government requirements.
Thalassemia is medical condition that is very prevalent in this diocese. This blood disorder, which causes low red blood cells, affects a large number of children in the area. Children come for treatments at the hospital and then require a special needle to give themselves transfusions at home. The government supplies the medicine for this but not the syringes needed to administer the medication. This is one of the ways the Mission Co-operative program of the Archdiocese of Toronto is making a difference. With our support, they provide these needles to families who are unable to afford them.
We then visited three orphanages that are run by the diocese. Many of the children are living with their grandparents, who are poor and cannot afford to provide for their education. Our support through the Mission Co-operative program is helping bring Gospel values to these children in the formative stages of their lives.
We also provide support for a home for unwed mothers, who are helped regardless of religion. Finally, we visited the Juniorate, a minor seminary, where young men are in formation before entering the seminary.
I met with Bishop Perera later in the day. He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Toronto for their support of the parishes of his diocese.
Here, Arthur meets with Most Rev. Harold Perera, Bishop of the Diocese of Kurunegala in Sri Lanka.
In my visit to Sri Lanka, I saw firsthand how our support is making a difference. In Ontario we are fortunate to have Catholic schools and the freedom to practice our religion. Many places in the world don’t have these rights, so we should never take them for granted at any time. The next time you are in a parish, imagine if you're told the church will be destroyed simply because people don't want you there. Or, try to fathom being told your child needs to have medical attention at home, but the government won't provide the syringes needed to do so.
When we hold our Mission Co-operative collections in the summer months, we are doing more than providing funds – we are bringing the hand of Christ to the greater world. Over the past few days I have seen this first hand. This served as a reminder of the generosity of our parishioners in the Archdiocese of Toronto!
Now, off to India…
December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas. Below, Subdeacon Brian A. Butcher, a lecturer and research fellow at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, shares insights on the saint so engrained in our Christmas traditions.
1. Who was the historical St. Nicholas?
St. Nicholas was born on March 5, 270 CE and died on Dec. 6, 343. Thus, as with most saints, we celebrate St. Nicholas' memory on the day of his death – his birth into eternal life. St. Nicholas served as bishop in the Greek city of Myra which is today's Demre, Turkey. Myra was part of what was then called Asia Minor, a region which also included such famous biblical places as Ephesus and Galatia.
2. How did the reputation of St. Nicholas as a gift-giver become so popular?
There are many stories of the magnanimous deeds of St. Nicholas and at least some of them are undoubtedly true. The uniform impression they give is of a shepherd who exercised a great concern for his flock, caring for not only their spiritual but also their physical needs, to the extent that it was within his power. The most famous story, and the one from which his reputation as a gift-giver principally derives, involves him bestowing his own personal wealth upon three poor daughters whose widowed father lacked the means to secure their welfare. In order to be married, a young woman needed her family to provide a dowry for her. Having become aware of the dire circumstances of the family in question, St. Nicholas is to have secretly deposited sufficient gold for each dowry.
3. How do his generous actions live on in customs today?
There are various versions of the story of the three gifted dowries, which correspond to the distinctive customs we see today: Germans and Dutch, for example, put out their shoes, since some say St. Nicholas threw bags of gold into the shoes of the three sisters (and, on other occasions, those of other children also). The British, by contrast, have the practice of hanging stockings by the chimney. St. Nicholas is also celebrated for discreetly dropping the bags of treasure down the chimney of the house—such that they fell into the hung stockings!
4. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of many causes. Tell us about them and why he represents such a wide spectrum – from lawyers and pharmacists to teachers and travelers.
A full list would also include children, orphans, students, sailors, bankers, pawn-brokers, labourers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers and even law-breakers. To some extent, these are simply the kind of people who appear in stories about St. Nicholas. On a voyage to the Holy Land, for example—we know that St. Nicholas lived for three years near Jerusalem—he is remembered for calming a troubled sea (and the similarly disturbed hearts of those on board) through his prayers.
5. Any other fun facts related to St. Nicholas that might be of interest to Catholics?
One remarkable medieval custom found in different parts of Western Europe—and even observed in a few churches today—is that of the "boy bishop." On St. Nicholas' Day, a chosen boy would be vested as a bishop and given the (temporary!) right to rule, to preside at liturgical services (except the Mass), even to command alms to be given to the poor. Thus the original bishop of Myra's care for the needy—and love of children—are combined. Perhaps the practice also conveys the deeply Christian sense that true holiness really can turn the world topsy-turvy, showing us how off-kilter our usual priorities may be, and how we need to radically re-adjust so as to live worthily as citizens of the Kingdom.
We are blessed in the Archdiocese of Toronto to have the support of our parishioners toward the work of the church, not only locally, but also in the greater world. Our parish communities, when asked, respond generously toward various second collections for international development work, as well as humanitarian relief efforts.
In 2014, I had the chance to visit the Philippines for two weeks to see the recovery efforts after the typhoon, as well as to visit some of the projects supported through our Pastoral Mission Fund (a ShareLife funded agency) and Mission Co-operative programs. This gave us the chance to see firsthand the activity of the Catholic Church across the globe.
During his visit to the Philippines in 2014, Peters (in back of group) visited a ShareLife-funded catechism class run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Carmel.
I am about to do this again.
Starting on November 27, I will be travelling to Rome, followed by a short visit to Sri Lanka, and then an extended trip to India, to visit projects that are supported through the international programs of the Archdiocese of Toronto. During this time, I will be visiting seventeen different projects that are carried out by Catholic dioceses or religious orders. This will be a great opportunity to see how we bring the hands of Christ to those in need across the world.
I encourage you to follow the ShareLife blog, through our website –
www.sharelife.org – during this time. I’ll be sharing reflections of my experiences, as well as photos of some of the work that we have supported through our contributions to second collections that take place in our parishes.
Join me as we visit the work of the Catholic Church in Rome, Sri Lanka and India!
The parishioners at Cristo Rei parish are hard at work raising money for new washrooms for their church – but not in a conventional way. There won't be a dinner dance, a pancake breakfast or even a community car wash. Instead, they are having a concert for the new commodes. The parish is hosting its first-ever singing competition: "The Voice of Cristo Rei."
Five families will be sharing their vocal talents with the community to help the cause. Competing in the finals on Saturday, November 25 will be the "De-Mello Siblings," "MTV Kids," "R&B Family," "The HotRodz" and "One Harmony." In the lead-up to the finals, an elimination round was held in mid-October with 12 families competing for a spot in the finals – including a grandfather and granddaughter duo.
The five families set to perform in the "Voice of Cristo Rei" family singing competition Nov. 25 are pictured above, alongside pastor Fr. Carlos Macatangga. (Photo courtesy of July Photography)
With the goal of bringing families together, spreading joy to the parish community and helping parishioners to share their talents for a good cause, the family singing competition was the brainchild of Fr. Carlos Macatangga, pastor at Mississauga-based Cristo Rei parish.
For him, the best part of the planning process has been meeting with parishioners and admiring their willingness to support the fundraising initiative – especially the youth.
"I've enjoyed praying together with the parish council and asking our almighty God to bless, lead us and inspire us to work together and to be able to bind families and the parish community together."
The finals take place on Saturday, November 25 at Cristo Rei Parish Hall, located at 3495 Confederation Parkway in Mississauga. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $10 for children. For more information, please visit http://www.cristo-rei.com/the-voice-of-cristo-rei/.
Below is a post by Michelle Sawyers, Project Archivist, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (ARCAT). This article was originally written for The Shepherds' Trust newsletter accompanying the November 18-19 collection.
The Archdiocese of Toronto's foundations of faith begin with the story of a handful of pioneer priests who weren't afraid to live on the frontier. In 1842, the diocese stretched from Windsor to Oshawa, and from Lake Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie and beyond, to the borders of Rupert's Land. The territory was vast and Catholics were a small percentage of the population. Though many Catholics lived in the established areas of Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor, there were others who lived hundreds of kilometres away from any settlement. An 1844 letter lists one bishop, 18 diocesan priests, five Jesuit priests and one Redemptorist priest administering the diocese and serving over 50 "stations" (parishes or missions). It was up to these few brave men to bring the grace of the sacraments to the pioneers who lived in the wilds of Canada West (now the province of Ontario).
Before the establishment of the diocese, Fr. (later Bishop) Macdonell traveled extensively between his base in Glengarry, near Cornwall, and Fort Erie, about 600 kilometres to the west, seeking Catholics and establishing missions. In May 1806 he wrote to Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis of Québec:
"I arrived last night from my tour through the upward parts of the Province … I visited both going and coming the district of Johnstown, Kingston, Bay of Quinty [sic], and York … I should be able to find out all the Catholics that had spread themselves out in the extensive tracts of country. The numbers I found were as following: The District of Johnstown 23, Kingston 78, Bay of Quinty [sic] 29, York and its neighbourhood had 37. Several of those had not an opportunity of coming to the sacraments since the year 1779 and their children had never seen a priest yet they taught them their prayers very correctly and made them come to confession. I wished to say mass in different places on the Bay of Quinty [sic] but could not get a cruet of wine nearer than York or Kingston."
Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto
Almost 40 years later, as first Bishop of the diocese, Michael Power expanded on Macdonell's travels. He wanted a true understanding of the territory in his care. In July of his first year as Bishop, he travelled to Manitoulin Island, sailed north to Sault Ste. Marie, and returned south via Penetanguishene and Coldwater, travelling by cart, canoe, wagon and foot over some 1500 kilometres. He continued to visit the far reaches of his diocese during each summer of his episcopacy.
In such a vast territory, clergy could scarcely avoid extensive travel. In the 1840s each priest had in his care at least three stations; in addition they were compelled to visit isolated Catholic families who did not live near a parish or mission. Before cars, trains or reliable roads, priests had to travel by foot, horse, or boat to visit their missions. The journey took time and had many perils. For example, when Fr. Edward Gordon travelled north in 1830, he wrote,
"I left York on the 16th [of last month] on a mission through the Townships of Toronto, Albion, Mono, Adjala, Tecumseth, west Gwillimbury. In this latter Township, which was never before visited by a Catholic Clergyman, I found 19 Catholic families comprising a population of 75 souls with whom I remained two days, and then proceeded on towards Thora by Lake Simco, where I lost my way on the ice and after straying a part of the night along the shore, fortunately came to a path which brought me to a house within 10 miles of Thora. I stopped 4 days in Thora and then returned to York. The difficulties, hardships, and expenses of my mission were forgotten when I witnessed the fervour of our poor people in complying with their spiritual duties, their willingness to contribute to the support of a clergyman, and the fervent prayers they offered to Heaven for your eternal welfare in thus giving them the means of complying with their duty."
It is clear that the early clergy in this part of the country took their vocations seriously. They knew it was up to them to bring the faith and sacraments to the pioneers who were building the nation. Their work helped to establish the Archdiocese of Toronto as a place where Catholics from all over the world can build new lives while remaining connected to their faith – it's a legacy that has lasted 175 years.
Today, the priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto continue to minister to Catholics from all over the world who now call this place their home. While they don't have the same travel challenges that Fr. Gordon faced when he visited northern outposts, the responsibilities of diocesan priests remain complicated and all consuming. While Fr. Gordon and his brother priests served dozens of families, priests serve thousands today, often providing pastoral ministry well into their 70s. And, just as Fr. Gordon relied on "the fervour of our poor people in complying with their spiritual duties, their willingness to contribute to the support of a clergyman", the diocesan priests of 2017 rely on your prayers and support.
The circumstances in our diocese have changed immensely over the past 175 years, but many of the spiritual and temporal needs of our family of faith remain the same. After a lifetime of service, the Shepherds' Trust appeal ensures diocesan priests who have dedicated their lives to serving the frontier Church of today are provided lodging and support as they rest in their retirement.
Below is the text of a statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, regarding cremation as an option in funeral and burial arrangements. This communication was sent to all parishes of the Archdiocese earlier this month.
My dear friends,
It is never easy to discuss funeral and burial arrangements with loved ones. Yet as Catholics, it is important that we learn and appreciate how our legacy of faith can be embraced in every moment of our journey, even in death.
Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church asks that the faithful, in preparing their funeral and burial arrangements, ensure that the bodies of Catholics are buried in cemeteries or other sacred places.
Many Catholics are unaware that since 1963 the Church has also accepted cremation as an alternative to burial. The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of our loved one does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God from raising up the deceased body to new life. Thus, cremation does not deny the Christian doctrine of the soul's immortality nor that of the resurrection of the body. Concern about cremation being chosen as a way of denying these doctrines was the reason the Church formerly opposed it, but in our time this is not an issue, and so cremation is now allowed.
Over the years, the number of people being cremated has increased in many countries for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, with this increase come practices that are not appropriate or acceptable.
When cremation is chosen, this choice must never violate the wishes of the deceased.
According to Church teaching, scattering cremated remains on the sea, in the air, on the ground, or keeping them in the homes of relatives, does not display appropriate reverence.
When, for legitimate reasons, cremation has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place, that is, in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area set aside for this purpose, and so dedicated by the bishop. This shows fitting respect for the one who has died.
There is also a spiritual and emotional benefit when cremated remains are laid to rest in a proper place of burial. It gives the bereaved and the Church community a place to focus remembrance and to pray for the deceased. Such a sacred place will also make it easier to memorialize those that have been called home to God.
Within the Archdiocese of Toronto, Catholic Cemeteries & Funeral Services, as a ministry of the Church, has the responsibility for providing cremation to our Catholic faithful according to the faith tradition of the Church, for those who wish to have this alternative to burial. I encourage you to visit www.catholic-cemeteries.com to learn more about this ministry and to have your questions answered from a Catholic perspective.
Be assured of my ongoing prayers for you and your loved ones.
Yours sincerely in the Lord, Thomas Collins Archbishop of Toronto
"Open wide the doors for Christ." Those famous words of St. John Paul II in 1978 have been taken literally, decades later, by the Office for Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto. ORAT is opening its doors for a special Open House to share news with the community concerning their ongoing work and efforts.
ORAT will host its 2017 Open House and Volunteer Appreciation Event on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. The event takes place at ORAT's office, located at 1220 Yonge St., Suite 203. Their doors will be "open wide" to the public from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a formal Volunteer Appreciation Event scheduled for 5 p.m.
This provides an opportunity for ORAT to thank the many people who have helped them address the plight of thousands of refugees who have found shelter and security in Canada, especially those affected by the recent turmoil in the Middle East.
In a special way, ORAT will acknowledge the leadership and vision of Cardinal Collins, Toronto's four auxiliary bishops, pastors throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto and an army of Resettlement Group volunteers, all whom have worked to address one of the greatest humanitarian crises in recent history.
During the Open House, the efforts many volunteers who sacrificed their time and talent for this important project will be recognized.
According to ORAT, there are a lot of reasons to be grateful. In 2017, their office welcomed over 670 refugees to Canada.
So want to celebrate? Don't miss out on the festivities. Be sure to RSVP at https://oratopenhouse2017.eventbrite.ca.
All are welcome.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, sent the following letter to parishes to thank them for their generous efforts on behalf of the ShareLife Campaign.
Many people in society today continue to think faith and the Church are irrelevant; something people should stay away from. However, countless teens and young adults from across the Archdiocese of Toronto think otherwise.
This past January, Pope Francis called for a synod of bishops to take place in October 2018 at the Vatican on the topic of, "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment."
For the past month or so, the Archdiocese of Toronto has been engaged in a "live listening process" – seeking input from youth and young adults from various regions of the archdiocese, with the intent to collect and amalgamate their views into a document that Synod participants can use them.
Sponsored by Faith Connections, together with the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Catholic Youth, multiple sessions have taken place already across the region. Cardinal Collins and all of the auxillary bishops have committed to taking part and listening to the many voices that are expected to take part.
Allison Belen had the chance to share her thoughts concerning the Church's outreach to young people at the most recent discussion group at St. Stainslaus Parish in Toronto. Allison commuted in from Scarborough, as a Youth Minister and newly-expecting Mom, to hear the Cardinal's personal comments.
"I had a desire to connect with fellow young adult Catholics to really hear and share our passion, concerns, and Concrete future hopes for the Church," Belen said.
"Pope Francis invited us to speak and assured we'd be heard— I felt it my Catholic duty to be actively involved in the process designed for dialogue and enrichment of the Church and collective Body of Christ."
All dioceses, including Toronto, have been asked to provide input, which will be used to help draft the Instrumentum Laboris, the working paper for the synod participants.
As Director of the Office of Catholic Youth, Fr. Frank Portelli has had a front row seat for all of the pre-synodal discussions so far. Portelli says the response has been favourable from the various Catholic campus ministries across the archdiocese. Many of them have sent in their responses and he's been encouraged by the entire Speak Up! process.
"I think it has confirmed the spirit of the age and the missionary spirit that the last few popes, since Pope Paul VI, have been encouraging the Church to adopt. We need to be making and equipping disciples," he said.
Portelli is tasked with writing the final report on behalf of the Archdiocese of Toronto.
"This is a new experience for me," he added. "I will be attempting to synthesize the feedback from all participants in the 16-29 age range, and then to have data attached so that the Vatican can read my report but rely on the feedback as well."
For Belen, her hopes for the Synod are clear and concise.
"With this coming Synod on Young People and Vocations, my hope is that the Pope and Bishops will listen to the Young people's suggestions with an open, earnest and prayerful heart."
Still want to jump in on all of the action? Join Faith Connections and the Office of Catholic Youth on October 11 and November 1 for their last two sessions in this unique series. That way, you can give your take on the place of faith and the Church in modern society.
"Teaching is a beautiful job as it allows you to see the growth day-by-day of people entrusted to your care. It is a little like being parents, at least spiritually. It is a great responsibility."
It is fitting to reflect on these words from Pope Francis this week as we recognize World Teachers' Day, an annual celebration that honours the dedication and commitment of educators around the world.
The fruits of a Catholic education are numerous. In addition to an education infused with the teachings of the Catholic faith, students have the opportunity to be involved in a wide array of social justice activities while building a solid moral character that will guide them for many years to come.
To help equip Catholics on how to take action in their support of the Catholic education system, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association has launched the "Together in Faith" campaign, in partnership with the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
The campaign provides an opportunity to learn more about publicly-funded Catholic education, to celebrate the incredible work of both staff and students and to share our story with the broader community!
If you simply want to stay in the know, the website offers a subscription form for users to sign up in order to receive timely updates about Catholic education in Ontario.
This World Teachers' Day, consider getting involved in showing your support for the distinctive faith-based mission of Catholic education. And while you're at it, be sure to reach out to the educators in your life to let them know you appreciate all they do.