Patrick and Carissa are the proud parents of eleven children, ages 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, 7, 4, 3, 2, 2, and 1, with five more in Heaven. Patrick works as the Director of Human Resources and Operations at Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto. Carissa is the author and illustrator of a Catholic children's book series, The Little Douglings. She is a homeschooling mom, Catholic speaker and blogger. The Douglas family are parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church in Sutton, Ontario.
1. What does a typical day look like in the Douglas family?
Carissa: Patrick breaks out his inner superhero and with the help of his side-kick older kids, making sure everyone is up, dressed and ready for morning prayers and breakfast. He heads off to work and passes the torch to me...in the form of a kiss and sometimes a coffee. The kids spend the morning doing schoolwork, usually finishing by lunch or shortly thereafter. We pray the Angelus, have lunch, and the five kids under five nap. Then, a lot of playing, reading and LEGOing ensues. Once chores are done, some days are crowned with attending daily Mass, and/or praying the rosary, ending with night prayers and age-appropriate group bedtimes. We allow for LOTS of parent down time in the evening, as well as a date night as often as we can.
2. What is the greatest joy and greatest challenge of raising a large family?
Carissa: We are surrounded by love, smothered by it - we wake up with love invading every last inch of our bed, even laying across our heads.
And during the day, if we're struggling in one moment with one of our children, we need only turn our heads and find we're met with a big, sloppy toddler smile, or a little one anxiously awaiting some snuggle time.
That's also one of the greatest challenges... it wakes you up a little too often, especially when you really would prefer to sleep.
Patrick: The challenges of a large family reside in its very nature: it calls you to die to yourselves daily, thrive in the mundane and to trust that God can help you rise to meet the many demands heroically and selflessly. It challenges you to trust in an almost supernatural way.
3. Why is it worth it?
Carissa: We're very aware that what we're doing (although seemingly insane) is a gift. It's a gift to ourselves, as each child helps to challenge, stretch, humble and refine us. God works very specifically through each of our children and I know, as much as I still need to grow, I would be a much more self-focused, stubborn comfort-seeker if it weren't for this vocation.
Patrick: It's also a gift to the world, as the children raised in large families have to learn to think of others from an early age. Large families naturally foster patience, selflessness and responsibility, as together we work to meet the needs of the smallest family members and contribute to the care of our home. You learn very quickly that, although you are loved beyond measure, the world doesn't revolve around you.
4. How do you afford it?
Carissa: It's mostly a lesson in prioritizing. We discern need verses want and find that we're able to save a lot when we detach ourselves from the spirit of materialism. We share, we pass down clothing and toys, none of our children have hand-held electronic devices.
Aside from swimming lessons, we don't have them enrolled in extra-curricular sports and activities, but that works out just fine as we seem to have enough members to form a few teams of in our own backyard.
Patrick: We've also learned that God is ready to sustain us when we offer Him our yes. Almost as soon as we have a need, we're often overwhelmed by God's prompt, faithful provision.
5. This year's theme for the National Week of Life and Family is "Love Grows by Giving." How does that play out in your family?
Carissa: For husband and wife: love abounds with mutual self-giving. It's that self-sacrificial love that gives completely, without holding back, and then that love does indeed grow in a very tangible way...until it's about to burst out nine months later! That has played out almost annually in our home.
Patrick: As far as the family goes: The blessing of large families is that they naturally foster a spirit of generosity. It's not always easy, but growth is often uncomfortable and challenging.
6. What does your family do to witness the joy of the Gospel outside of your home? What is your involvement in your parish or the broader community?
Carissa: We know that parenting, while a blessing, is also challenging, so we try to offer support to other families in any way we can. Patrick runs a dad's group for local families seeking to raise faith-filled kids, and I've authored a series of Catholic children's books that share ways we can foster a relationship with Christ, and offer an example of what it is to be an authentically Catholic, contemporary family.
Patrick: Our children are witnesses, in that they are joyful and very empathetic in nature. They enjoy visiting nursing homes and spending time with the elderly, who seem to crave the presence of children.
Angelica (8 years old): I love singing to them. One man calls me Miss Hollywood!
7. What do you do to encourage your children to make faith and a relationship with Jesus a priority in their lives as kids?
Carissa: Children are highly influenced by mom and dad. So, I've learned that if I want my children to have a relationship with Christ, then I have to work harder on my own relationship with Him. I need to pray wholeheartedly, I need to make Christ the center and highest priority in my life if I can even hope to have them do the same.
Also, I teach them to talk to Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I tell them to talk to Him as though He were their closest friend, and eventually, I've found that that's exactly what He becomes.
Patrick: We make use of the many gifts of our Catholic faith. We introduce them to the various saints, and they often find a special, personal saint that really speaks to them. We make use of holy water, icons, crucifixes and beautiful images that are given prominence in our home. We read stories and watch shows that have Christian themes. We really enjoy the discussions we have with the children afterwards.
8. What is your advice for other families looking to incorporate faith into family life?
Patrick: If you can somehow work daily Mass into your lives, we can assure you of the many graces that will come from the effort. Even one extra Mass a week has made a big difference in our lives.
Carissa: I would say, do everything you can to ensure that there isn't a separation between your faith life and everyday life. Your Catholic faith should flow seamlessly into all aspects of your life, it should direct your path and become the most important factor in any decision you make. Your children will notice if there is a big difference between Sunday Mom and Dad verses the person you are throughout the rest of the week, so let your faith be steadfast and integrity be one of your defining attributes.
Also, play with your kids, have game nights, laugh a lot, have dance parties, lip sync battles, let your children see that your faith, which is the driving force of your life, has not made you dull, or dreary, but alive and joyful.
After all, He came that we would have life, and have it to the fullest!
May 14-21 is the National Week for Life and the Family. The 2017 theme is "Love Grows by Giving." For more information, visit the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The following post was contributed by David Patterson, Chaplaincy Leader at St. Edmund Campion Secondary Scool in Brampton.
"We make hundreds of choices every day. Some are insignificant; others can impact our lives forever."
During Catholic Education Week 2017, St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton teamed up with the Sisters of Life and the Re:Generation Missionaries to bring the You&Me exhibit to Canada for the first time. The multimedia exhibit draws you into an encounter with six people facing challenging situations who discover the freedom and joy that comes from a love that is willing to sacrifice for the good of another.
The You&Me exhibit has been presented to thousands of people at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., at the largest English-speaking site at World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain, at the SEEK Conference in Nashville, TN, and at a number of college campuses across the U.S.
Throughout the day, St. Edmund Campion senior students were able to explore the multimedia exhibit. They concluded their journey at the school chapel, where Eucharistic Adoration was held throughout the day.
The testimonials from students spoke to the power of their personal experience of the exhibit and to their encounter with God:
"It's really amazing to see how God works in people's lives, and it gives me hope He can work in mine.""If that is what love is, I hope I experience it one day." "It was really powerful. It made me so grateful for what my parents have done for me." "It brought tears to my eyes." "This was eye-opening.""Honestly, I'm speechless.""It's amazing to see how God works."
This exhibit invited students to truly experience the power of hope and to discover the truth that Love never fails.
April 26 marks the feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel – a day of great significance to Catholics from a number of parishes and backgrounds in our local family of faith.
Devotion to the Blessed Mother under this name can be traced to 15th century Italy. In 1467, an icon miraculously appeared at a church dedicated to the Mother of Good Counsel about 50 kilometers southeast of Rome, in Genazzano. Townspeople heard a beautiful melody and saw a cloud descend on the church. When the cloud dissipated, an image of Our Lady holding Jesus in her arms remained on a wall of the church. In the months that followed, 171 miracles were reported.
The fresco is 40 by 45 centimeters and is on a layer of porcelain about as thin as an egg shell. It is believed to have miraculously been transported there from a church in Scutari, Albania. An icon of Mary and Jesus that had been venerated there for centuries disappeared around the same time as the miraculous apparition of the same icon in Italy. The delicate image has survived several earthquakes and a World War II bombing.
Our Lady of Good Counsel original fresco from the church at Genazzano c. 1356Public domain photo, via Wikimedia Commons
Over time, devotion to the image gained formal recognition from Rome. Several popes have made pilgrimages to the church and dedicated their service to the Mother of Good Counsel over the past 400 years. The Pious Union of Our Lady of Good Counsel was established by Pope Benedict XIV. Pope Leo XIII added the title "Mother of Good Counsel" to the Litany of Loreto.
In the Archdiocese of Toronto, Our Lady of Good Counsel holds prominence as patroness to the Augustinians, the Augustinian Sisters of Good Counsel, the Catholic Women's League and Our Lady of Good Counsel Caribbean Parish.
The Canadian St. Joseph's Province of Augustinians operate under the Midwest Augustinians Province of our Mother of Good Counsel. Augustinian brothers and priests serve in the archdiocese at the Marylake Shrine and Sacred Heart Parish, both located in King City. Marylake's beautiful 1,000-acre property is the site of a retreat centre and an outdoor rosary walk.
The Augustinian Sisters of Good Counsel are a religious order based in Mexico. Five sisters of this order serve the Marylake religious house in King City, where local Augustinians live and pray.
The Catholic Women's League of Canada adopted Our Lady of Good Counsel as its patroness in 1923. The league has had a long history of service in our archdiocese, with 98 councils and over 7,400 members. Recently, we have been very grateful for their work in promoting human dignity as they've advocated against the legalization of euthanasia in Canada and fought for conscience rights for doctors. Their prayers for life issues, vocations and much more provide spiritual sustenance to our archdiocese. The CWL is also well known for its hospitality in parishes and its promotion of the spiritual development of women.
Recently featured in the Catholic Register, Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish (867 College St., Toronto) provides a spiritual home to the Caribbean Catholic community in Toronto. The parish brings together elements of Caribbean culture, such as upbeat music and Caribbean refreshments after Mass to create a "home away from home."
On this feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, we ask for her intercession:
Mary, Our Lady of Good Counsel: filled with the Holy Spirit, you were a faithful disciple of Jesus, your son. Intercede with your son for us that we may be faithful to our baptism, fervent in prayer, and generous in the service we give to our sisters and brothers. May the spirit of the living God, who graced you with the gift of counsel, lead us in the way of truth and love. With the help of your prayers, may we come to rejoice forever with you and the great company of saints in the kingdom of heaven. Amen
Mary, Our Lady of Good Counsel: filled with the Holy Spirit, you were a faithful disciple of Jesus, your son.
Intercede with your son for us that we may be faithful to our baptism, fervent in prayer, and generous in the service we give to our sisters and brothers.
May the spirit of the living God, who graced you with the gift of counsel, lead us in the way of truth and love.
With the help of your prayers, may we come to rejoice forever with you and the great company of saints in the kingdom of heaven. Amen
Prayer from cwl.ca.
Marlena Loughheed is a Communications Coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.
Benjamin Turland is a full-time missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach at Ryerson University. Below he shares about the important work of spreading the Gospel on university campuses.
1) What is Catholic Christian Outreach and what is your mission?
Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization. We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world. We reach out on university campuses to those that don't know Jesus or don't know Him well enough. We proclaim the Gospel to them, equip them with skills to share their faith and send them out to their city, parish, home and workplace to reach out to others with this message. CCO is a non-profit organization and has 100 full-time missionaries. We serve on campuses across the country from BC to Newfoundland.
2) How long have you been in Toronto and where do you serve?
CCO missionaries have been in Toronto for four years. We currently serve at Ryerson University.
Ryerson Catholics and CCO run outreach tables to invite students into faith studies at the beginning of each semester.
3) Why are university campuses a good place to spread the Gospel?
University is when young people are making decisions that shape the course of their lives. university campuses contain our future leaders: mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses, politicians, teachers, journalists….
4) How have you seen CCO's work impact students on campus at Ryerson?
Our work at Ryerson includes outreach and small group faith studies. In four years, we have seen the club grow to 200 students. We are constantly seeing lives changed. But more than numbers, we care about the individual encounter of faith and reaching one person at a time. One student said "I felt alone. I didn't feel like I belonged. I was lost in my faith and I didn't even know it. I first came to the [Ryerson Catholic Student Centre] house and was encouraged by a CCO missionary to join a faith study and I said I would try it out. At first, I was hesitant to join, but I just felt like it would be a nice thing to try out. It was during that faith study that I put Jesus Christ at the center of my life. That lead me to a place of peace and knowing I am loved. I finally found the love that I was looking for." This is the impact we constantly see.
Ryerson Catholic Campus Ministry and CCO operate out of the Ryerson Catholic Student Centre, located next to St. Michael's Cathedral.
5) How does CCO work in partnership with existing campus ministries in Toronto?
We work in partnership with Ryerson Catholic Campus Ministry. Together we make a team of five (three CCO missionaries and two Ryerson Catholic staff). We have seen this collaboration bear amazing fruit and are grateful for what we can offer students together.
Ryerson Catholic Campus Ministry staff (far left and far right) and CCO staff (centre).
CCO also has partnered with the Newman Center at University of Toronto through our CCO Connect program, which is designed to help grow our efforts on campuses where CCO doesn't have an official presence. CCO staff provide remote training and mentorship to two students who use CCO's methods and materials within their campus ministry.
CCO materials are also used at York University, U of T Scarborough and various parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Want to learn more about CCO? Come to their Toronto "Founders' Dinner" on Wednesday, April 26 at the Columbus Event Center in North York. For more information and tickets, visit cco.ca/torontogala.
The following reflection on the significance of the Easter Vigil is written by Fr. Michael McGourty, Pastor of St. Peter's Parish, Toronto.
For Christians, the celebration of Easter is the high point of our year of faith. We celebrate that because of Christ's resurrection, we shall not die. We are all invited to spend eternity with our loving God in Heaven. Easter is the greatest celebration of God's unconditional and undying love for each of us; a love so strong that death cannot destroy it.
The good news of Christ's resurrection and destruction of death is so overwhelmingly joyful that it sometimes overshadows another aspect of Christ's victory. Christ's resurrection does not just announce God's desire to be with us in Heaven; it also proclaims His passion to love and live with us today. The Father raised Jesus up so all people at all times and in all places could live in communion with Him and the other persons of the Holy Trinity. Easter celebrates the fact that God will not let anything stand in the way of His love for us. All that is required from us is to open our hearts to His presence.
The Easter Vigil is made up of four essential parts:
1) The Liturgy of Light
The Easter Vigil begins with the blessing of the Easter Fire and the Paschal Candle and the singing of the Exultet, the great hymn of our Easter victory. As the Easter Candle is lit, we celebrate that Christ has destroyed the darkness of sin and death and become the light of the world. By sending the Holy Spirit to the Church as tongues of fire, the Father illumines the hearts of the baptized. We enter the Church following the Paschal Candle, which represents Christ, just as God once led His people through the desert out of slavery in Egypt with a pillar of fire. The candles that are held by the baptized testify to the gift of the Holy Spirit that we all received in baptism and to the fact that God wishes to dwell within us today and lead each of us by His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ as the light by which we are to guide our pilgrim journey to Heaven, testifying to the world through our Christian witness. The Paschal Candle used at the Easter Vigil is also used at baptismal and funeral liturgies to proclaim the love of our God who wishes to be with us always.
2) The Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil recalls the history of salvation. While this part of the Vigil may be shortened, when the seven Old Testament readings are proclaimed, an account is given of the extent to which God will go to love and relate to all of us. Everything God has done to reveal Himself in the Old Testament has been a preparation for that final victory over all that divides us, which we celebrate at the Easter Vigil. The emphasis that is placed on God's Word reminds us how important it is that we pray and study the Scriptures in order to know God and understand how to relate to Him today. The Word is proclaimed at the Vigil and at each Mass because Jesus does not want to wait to speak to us only when we get to Heaven. He desires to speak to us today in His Word and invites us to come to Mass every Sunday to hear it proclaimed in His community, which is the Church.
3) The Liturgy of Baptism:
At the Easter Vigil, the Church welcomes adults through the sacrament of baptism. All who are baptized share in the death and resurrection of Christ; they are freed from original sin and receive the grace of the Holy Spirit so that they may live in communion with God now and for all eternity.
The renewal of our baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil and all of the Easter Masses is a powerful reminder that we are already living in relationship with God. Every time we cross ourselves "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," we recall the words with which we were baptized and established in a relationship of grace with the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Water at the entrance of every church reminds us it is by Baptism that we were brought into the Church and called into relationship with God.
4) The Liturgy of the Eucharist
Nothing speaks more powerfully of God's desire to begin to spend eternity with us today than the gift of Christ's Body and Blood which He gives us at every Mass. Every Sunday, Christ invites us to celebrate His resurrection and to receive His Body and Blood so that He might share His life with us today.
God loves us now and forever. He invites us to be in relationship with Him now, to give Him a place in our lives now and to open our hearts to the transforming power of His grace now. Because He does not wait to share His love, we are invited to accept His invitation to be with Him for all eternity – not when we get to Heaven, but now. Easter is a celebration of God's offer of salvation and an invitation to respond to this offer. As the Easter Vigil shows us, we can do this by: 1) allowing His Holy Spirit to be the light by which we are guided on our pilgrim journey to heaven; 2) listening to His Word and being guided by the Scriptures; 3) living our baptismal faith in relation to God and our brothers and sisters in Christ; and 4) opening our hearts to Christ's presence in our lives today by remembering Him every Sunday at the Eucharist where He gives us His Body and Blood so that we may love others as He has loved us.
May God bless all of us this Easter with an awareness of His love today so that we might spend all eternity with Him, starting right now.
On Tuesday, April 11 at 11 a.m., the archdiocesan Chrism Mass will take place at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica (65 Bond St., Toronto). All are welcome. This is an annual Mass to bless the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm and holy chrism, which will be used in the administration of the sacraments throughout the archdiocese for the year. Learn more below (click on graphic to enlarge).
Here are some photos from past Chrism Masses in the Archdiocese of Toronto:
The Chrism Mass is a clebration of our family of faith, bringing together clergy from across the Archdiocese.
Blessing of the holy oils
For more photos, check out these Facebook albums:
ShareLife is more than a charitable appeal. It's how Catholics in our archdiocese can live out the Gospel by bringing the hands of Christ to those in need.
Each year, thousands of people turn for help to ShareLife's network of over 40 agencies. One such agency is Silent Voice, which is the focus of ShareLife's 2017 Parish Campaign video. In this inspiring new video, you'll learn how Silent Voice is helping the Deaf community overcome barriers every day.
For more details about this year's $13.1 million parish appeal, visit the ShareLife website.
This year, the Archdiocese of Toronto is celebrating its 175th anniversary. This two-minute video gives a quick history of the archdiocese and includes an invitation from Cardinal Collins to mark this anniversary through acts of service, in the spirit of those who have gone before us.
For more information on the 175th anniversary, visit www.archtoronto.org/175/. This site will be updated throughout the year with information on events and pilgrimage opportunities.
We look forward to celebrating this milestone with you this year!
About 90 years ago, a young boy was told he was going to lose his mother to double pneumonia. The woman was fighting for her life at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital after giving birth to a baby girl, the boy's sister.
He begged God to spare her life. "If my mother recovers," the boy prayed, "I will do my best to become a priest."
The woman recovered and the boy remained true to his promise; a promise that he kept a secret for the duration of his mother's life.
Monsignor Vincent Foy eventually became the longest-ordained priest in the history of the Archdiocese of Toronto. He died Monday, March 13, 2017 at the age of 101 after spending almost 78 years as a preist.
Hearing his life story, it is clear that a long priesthood was part of God's plan. "I was near death on several occasions," Monsignor Foy admits.
In the 1940s, he contracted a case of tuberculosis that left him out of commission for over two years. He once came close to dying of pneumonia but was saved by medication administered every four hours for a week. When on vacation as a young priest, he was involved in a serious car accident but narrowly avoided hitting a tree. And he can't help but wonder what would have happened if someone hadn't have saved him and his cousin from a runaway raft while they were playing in Lake Simcoe as young boys.
Msgr. Foy as a young priest. Photo from Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.
Against all odds, he lived a long and inspiring life of service to the Church. Over the course of 78 years, he was a humble witness of faith. Having faced death a number of times, he appropriately became an advocate of life, spending his priesthood championing the pro-life cause. Monsignor Foy experienced a variety of priestly duties. A learned man with a doctorate in canon law, he spent time working in the Archdiocese of Toronto's marriage tribunal, served as Vice Chancellor, ministered to orphans and pastored several parishes.
While he was working at the Marriage Tribunal, an archbishop from Rome visited Toronto and asked for a tour of the tribunal. Years later, Archbishop Montini became Pope Paul VI. "I always said that if I had known he was going to be the pope, I would have offered him a cup of coffee!" Monsignor Foy joked.
In his free time, he learned card tricks and wrote books about magic. This hobby served as a bridge with young people he encountered in his ministry. "I remember one time at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto, there was a man who was begging for money for something to eat. I bought him a hot dog and gave him a dollar. And he said 'you look very much like a priest I knew when I was in Holy Name School. He used to do magic tricks for us!' He remembered the magic."
Through this pastoral nature, Monsignor Foy left a legacy everywhere he went. And in the midst of perfecting card tricks, meeting future popes, serving the pro-life movement and overseeing a number of roles for the chancery, his gaze always remained focused on Jesus first. His favourite part of being a priest was simple and profound: "Saying Mass is my greatest joy."
Msgr. Foy (second from left) concelebrating Mass at Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence in 2016.
Monsignor Foy lived his final retirement years at the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence alongside other priests who faithfully served the Archdiocese of Toronto. In his retirement, he continued to live his number one joy: daily, he concelebrated Mass for the residents.
What began as the prayer of a child became an inspiring legacy of loving service.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy is a documentary produced by the Knights of Columbus. It airs Sunday, February 26 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 1 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 9 at 8 p.m. on Salt + Light Television. Below, Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P., Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development for the Knights of Columbus and Executive Producer of the Mercy Centre at World Youth Day Krakow shares his experience of World Youth Day 2016 and how its message and spirit was captured in this film.
1. Tell us about the Mercy Centre at Tauron Arena in Poland. What was its mission and purpose within the greater context of the World Youth Day festivities?
The Mercy Centre at the Tauron Arena in Krakow served as the international English-language catechesis and youth festival site during the Krakow World Youth Days drawing over 100,000 pilgrims from around the world.
Highlights included catechesis and Mass offered by Cardinals O'Malley (Boston), Tagle (Manila) and Dolan (New York); the opportunity to venerate the first-class relics of Saints John Paul II, Faustina, Bro. Albert Chmielowski, Maximilian Kolbe, and Bl. Jerszy Popieluszko; School of Mercy lunchtime breakout sessions; a panel on the Persecuted Church; and the Night of Mercy with a Eucharistic Procession around the arena, preaching by Bishop Robert Barron, and music by Matt Maher and Audrey Assad.
The experience of Krakow as the city of saints meant that pilgrims, walking on the same streets and praying in the same churches where a young Karol Wojtyla walked and prayed, would be reminded of the gift of mercy that is the purpose or vocation of one's life. Following Pope Francis' invitation to "be protagonists of mercy and service," the mission of the Mercy Centre was that pilgrims would come to know the Mercy of God - as revealed on the Cross and witnessed to by the saints of Poland – and therefore make a sincere gift of self and live in true freedom as a disciple of Christ. This witness and testimony was given in word, song, and performance at the Mercy Centre by priests, religious, married couples and young adults.
2. What was your role at the Mercy Centre and how did you get involved?
After graduating from college, I spent a year living and working in Poland. I encountered God's merciful invitation to become a Dominican priest while praying at the tombs of the saints of Krakow as a 23 year-old. Later, as a college chaplain, I led student pilgrimages to Krakow in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II. In hindsight, it seems providential that I was asked to serve as the Executive Director overseeing the partnership and collaboration of the Knights of Columbus with the Sisters of Life, Salt + Light Media and over twenty other organizations. Cardinal Dziwisz (Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow) invited the Knights of Columbus to organize the Mercy Centre due to our past efforts in running similar efforts at WYD Sydney and Madrid, and because of the presence of the K of C in Poland, where we have over 4,000 members.
Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P. (center) with Cardinal Tagle and friends at the Mercy Centre, Krakow.
3. What was the most powerful or beautiful moment for you during the events that took place at the Mercy Centre this summer?
We wanted to highlight the witness of the suffering church in the Middle East. Many people advised us that there would not be sufficient interest on the part of young people to showcase the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters from the main stage of the Tauron Arena. However, as seen in the documentary, when the panel on religious freedom began from the main stage, just after Pope Francis' plane had landed in Poland, the Mercy Centre was packed. When the moderator introduced Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, he was given a standing ovation by over 15,000 youth who were present to hear his witness.
On another occasion, a young woman who was a refugee from Iraq shared her testimony of overcoming persecution and learning to forgive through her own encounter with mercy. When she prays the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, she has been given the ability to say: "have mercy on ISIS, and on the whole world."
Finally, during the Night of Mercy, Bishop Robert Barron preached about the power of the cross to overcome evil, violence, and hatred through love. After the Eucharistic procession, and as Matt Maher led the gathered pilgrims in a concert of joy, a young woman waving an Iraqi flag handed me a card that read: "We are N and we are praying for you."
4. Why do you think it's important to capture the spirit of the Mercy Centre in video as was achieved in World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy?
All important events are worthy of preservation. World Youth Day Krakow was the largest single gathering of the Body of Christ during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It took place on the same streets and churches where the history of the twentieth century left an indelible mark. John Paul II in his last book, Memory and Identity, wrote that Divine Mercy is God's answer to the evils of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the horrors of Soviet communism. "The limit to evil is Divine Mercy."
For over two million young adults who attended World Youth Day, the first part of their pilgrimage was coming to Krakow to encounter the Lord of Mercy and verify His truth in their lives. Pope Francis reminded us in Krakow, that: "When Jesus touches a young person's heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things." We are talking not just about an important event but about a breakthrough, of groundbreaking moments – that give their lives new meaning and dimension - for almost everyone who was present in Krakow during these days.
Our goal as organizers, was to prepare a spiritual space or sphere of freedom – so that each pilgrim could find answers to the most important questions in their lives. The second part of any pilgrimage is the return during which the pilgrim is called to testify to what she/he saw and witnessed, and to verify the presence of the encounter with Mercy to those who could not go or who prayed and supported them. Our documentary World Youth Day Krakow: A Pilgrimage of Mercy is one way for pilgrims to share the fruits of their personal encounter in Krakow with others.
5. Who should watch this documentary?
Everyone can be inspired by this documentary, because as Pope Francis said, "Mercy always has a youthful face!" Those pilgrims who had the opportunity to be at World Youth Day now receive a postcard from the past, a great souvenir - not in the form of a photographic image, which can collect dust on a shelf - but rather in the form of a digital notepad with experiences and the teachings of mercy, fraternity, and community.
Besides showing the pilgrim experience, we also showcase the message that Pope Francis and the Church wanted the world to learn about in Krakow, including solidarity with the persecuted church, forgiveness, the Night of Mercy, and the power of the Cross.
The documentary is great for viewing by youth and young adult groups. For those who were not in Krakow or perhaps have never participated in World Youth Day, they will see the phenomenon of millions of youth witnessing their love Christ and His Church. We do not realize on a daily basis how large the young Church is, and our documentary is evidence that the Church is alive with hope for the future.
Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P. with World Youth Day pilgrims in Poland, summer 2016.
6. What is your greatest hope for those who visited the Mercy Centre or who benefitted from its events through video?
To know that they are not alone. John Paul II's first visit to Poland in 1979 sparked the nonviolent solidarity revolution that led to the eventual overthrow of communism by the simple fact that people who were held under oppression could look around and see how many thousands of people believed in God and wanted something more. They could be counted. He later founded the World Youth Days to inspire solidarity among the youth of the Church against the prevailing sense of moral relativism, indifferentism, and the spirit of the world. At the Campus Misericordiae in Krakow, Pope Francis similarly challenged the young people "to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and…to blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy."
We have heard from many pilgrims whose lives have been transformed by WYD and the Mercy Centre. It is our hope that those who watch the film will be open to the graces of mercy that the pilgrims received, and that God who loves to exceed our expectations, will surprise all of us! So we invite the viewers to join us on a spiritual pilgrimage to Krakow. And to be open to the new dimensions of mercy it may open in their lives.
7. What is your experience of mercy and why do you think young people today should seek Divine Mercy?
Mercy is the greatest gift of God – and by gift we must underline that it can never be earned, never 'deserved' - but is freely given by God to all who humbly seek it. It also costs. We must never forget that the 'price' of mercy was the life of the Son of God. And therefore it can never be possessed but always must be freely given away. As a priest, there is no more humbling moment than to say the words of sacramental absolution, giving the eternal gift of freedom from sin, all the while being a sinner oneself. To know that God Himself will not ask the penitent about the sins she/he has confessed at their final judgment is truly stunning.
Yet, mercy remains a dimension which our world continuously needs. We do not always realize this, but at times we fail to 'use' mercy. I mean not only that we are not merciful, do not show mercy, but also that we sometimes do not accept mercy from God or others. Sometimes young people suffer for a long time, even though God has already forgiven them through the sacrament of confession. Many young people are wounded and refuse to believe that they are worthy of God's love and His mercy. That's why we can never cease to proclaim the message of hope that mercy is always available, and as our Lord Jesus said to St. Faustina, that an "inestimable treasure of grace" awaits all those who simply seek out this gift of mercy in the sacraments. We must speak of His infinite love for each of us and of the sensitive gaze, which He has for me even when I fall. It is a reality that awaits every person. And this is precisely the good news of salvation which must be proclaimed to the world.
Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P. and Fr. John Rozembajgier at WYD Poland