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Around the Arch
Mar 25
Parishes Continue Reaching Out During COVID-19 Pandemic

​The COVID-19 health crisis has changed the daily rhythms of our lives in so many ways. As we continue to adapt to the pandemic, it can be difficult to know what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. 

Although the routines of parish life have changed in recent weeks, many parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto have found innovative ways to continue their ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some creative things happening in the archdiocese that your parish may want to try doing: 


  • Many parishes are conducting telephone outreach to parishioners, especially to the homebound and vulnerable. A few pastors have even used robo-call technology to contact as many parishioners as possible with a short heartfelt message.
  • A number of priests are livestreaming Masses on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites. There are so many priests doing this that we can’t list them all. But long-time livestreamers (such as St. Maximilan Kolbe Parish in Mississauga) and new livestreamers (such as St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Vaughan or Saint Louis de France Parish in Toronto) are great complements to the other Masses being posted on the archdiocese’s COVID-19 site. See if your parish is livestreaming the Mass.
  • Fr. Liborio at St. Mary’s Parish in Brampton has been posting light-hearted daily updates on the parish’s YouTube channel. Father Neiman D'Souza at St. Joseph’s Parish in Streetsville has been offering daily reflections
  • Social justice ministries are finding creative ways to continue helping others. For instance, some St. Vincent de Paul volunteers continue to distribute food cards, but they now slide them under the person’s door instead of entering the person’s residence. And Good Shepherd Ministries has reduced its in-building meals and is offering bagged lunches instead.
  • And new charitable work is being done to respond to our times (for instance, parishes that have been asking younger parishioners to get groceries and medication for more vulnerable parishioners).
  • Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough is offering a live cam of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • St. André Bessette Parish in Vaughan is using its Instagram feed for live prayers, Mass and Eucharistic adoration. And Fr. Peter has taped selfies that his parishioners sent him onto chairs so they can be with him in spirit as he celebrates his private daily Masses. 
  • St. John the Evangelist in Weston has held two “drive-through” confession days. Parishioners participated in the sacrament through a fence to ensure both social distancing and the privacy of the confessor were respected. 
  • In-person events are cancelled at the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto. However, the chaplaincy is using Zoom, an online video conferencing system, to meet virtually for the rosary, bible study and social time.
  • Parishioners at Blessed Frédéric Ozanam Parish in Markham will be taking part in an online Lenten mission from March 29 to 31. The mission happens every night from 8-9:30 p.m. Eastern Time. You can learn more on the organizer's website, Casting Nets Ministries.  
  • Cristo Rei Parish in Mississauga has created a Stations of the Cross around the outside of the church. People are instructed to maintain social distancing and not to touch the crosses, but this gives the faithful a way to continue participating in the devotional. The faithful can even do a drive-through Stations of the Cross, since the parish is surrounded by parking!

There are certainly many more examples of parishes reaching out in new ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have other examples have parishes coming up with creative ways to do God’s work, please let us know at: communications@archtoronto.org. 
Mar 06
New Parish-based Program Puts Catholic Families at the Centre of Evangelization

Patrick Douglas, Associate Director of Family Life Ministry in the Office of Formation for Discipleship, shares exciting news below about the Early Catholic Family Life pilot project. This project invites parishes to support young families in the faith. Patrick and his wife, Carissa, are parents to 13 children and are passionate about new ways to evangelize with families.

It seems there are constantly new attacks on the family. We see the results all around us: marital breakdowns, young people engaging in socially destructive behaviours and an exponential increase in child and teen suicides. There are grim reports about the rise of the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated) and declining church attendance.

How are parents – and those on the forefront of evangelization efforts – to stem this tide and restore hope for families and the Church?

I believe a critical starting point is forming and equipping young parents to build an authentic Catholic family culture where they are able to pass the faith onto their children.

We know that new parents need support, but what support do parents want?  According to a 2015 survey by the Strong Catholic Families National Initiative, the top three messages that parents/grandparents want to hear from the Church are: 

  1. You are always welcome at our church 
  2. How can our church help you/your family live out your faith in the world? 
  3. Parents are the most influential agents of catechesis for their children

In short, belonging leads to believing. We all want to be known. That’s particularly true for young parents who don’t always know where they fit in the church. After all, it can be difficult enough to listen to the Word of God with babbling babies and/or testy toddlers. 

These young parents find themselves asking: Where can we find additional support and accompaniment?  Where can we find other parents who can relate to the joys and struggles of family life (and who can grow with us)?

Similarly, parish leaders are often unsure of how to engage young families. In the Office of Formation for Discipleship, we’ve consulted with many parishes and the consensus is there is a gap in connecting with families between Baptism and First Communion.

Support is Here

To help both new families and parishes with these challenges, the Archdiocese of Toronto launched a pilot project in 2018 called Early Catholic Family Life (ECFL). This program, which originated in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, equips parents and their children (ages 0-5) to learn about the Catholic faith and develop the skills to share it with others.

Fr. Warsito has a laugh with children attending an Early Catholic Family Life program
Fr. Warsito has a laugh with children attending an Early Catholic Family Life program.

ECFL is typically offered as an eight-week, two-hour class. It incorporates early childhood activities that are faith-based and fun for families. 

Each class begins with a parent-child interaction component focussing on a particular topic, followed by a snack break when parents slip away to a separate space for adult discussion time on the same faith topic. This is where the magic happens – participants share experiences, learn from each other and develop friendships in a supportive parent community. During this time, early childhood leaders and assistants lead the children through more engaging activities and songs. 

Participants learn about their vocation as parents, develop a vision for their family and are inspired to grow in their own faith, all the while deepening their relationship with the parish.

There is also an opportunity for authentic intergenerational ministry in the ECFL teams. Young adults who lead or assist in the early childhood activities get a taste of what family life looks like. And mid-life or mature adults who have a love for families can offer their gifts and mentorship. 

Parishes at the Forefront of Support

Currently, 12 parishes have been trained to offer this program, thanks to generous donors of the Family of Faith campaign. Those parishes are:
 
  • In Barrie: St. John Vianney 
  • In Mississauga: Cristo Rei, Sainte-Famille and St. Mary Star of the Sea 
  • In Newmarket: St. John Chrysostom 
  • In Oshawa: St. Joseph the Worker 
  • In Scarborough: St. Thomas More and St. Barnabas 
  • In Toronto: St. Patrick’s, St. James, Our Lady of the Assumption and Our Lady of Perpetual Help 

Impact on Parents and Parishes

Our initial evaluation results from participants in the pilot parishes have been overwhelmingly positive. All of the parents who completed the program said they would recommend ECFL to other parents.  

One parent shared:  “The program has helped in deepening our faith; it has brought about a new interest/eagerness. The discussions we had with other parents oftentimes resulted in us continuing the discussion (at home).” 

Fr. Aegidius Warsito, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, which participated in the ECFL pilot project, sees the fruits of the program starting to emerge in the life of his parish. 

"When a parent doesn’t know how to explain an aspect of the faith to their children, this program can help a lot,” said Fr. Aegidius. “Parents [in the program] have now offered to share their gifts and become catechists of the RCIA program.”  

St. Thomas More Parish plans to offer the program again in May and June this year.

We are Seeking More Parishes to Partner with Us  

I am excited to grow the ECFL program. Our office provides training and support to parish leaders to help them get started with the program and to teach them how to sustain their support of young parents after the training is over. I am moved by the deep faith and love the parish staff and volunteers have for the families they minister to. These core teams, rooted in prayer, have developed friendships through ECFL.

We hope your parish is interested in participating. We look forward to sharing more on this exciting initiative and other ways we can support families.  

For more information on Early Catholic Family Life in the Archdiocese of Toronto, please visit https://www.archtoronto.org/discipleship/Pages/ECFL.aspx or contact Patrick Douglas at pdouglas@archtoronto.org or 416-934-3400 ext. 509.

Feb 20
A Spotlight on Catholics of Jewish Heritage

Having been raised in Judaism and after having been part of a messianic congregation and then an Evangelical Church, Mark and Sue Neugebauer became Catholic in 2009.  Mark was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2018. They call themselves Messianic Jewish Catholics – someone who maintains a Jewish identity while acknowledging Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) is the Messiah.

Together, with a competent team, they have run the Toronto chapter of the Fellowship of St. Joseph of the Association for Hebrew Catholics. Below, Deacon Mark and Sue share with our readers their journey to Catholicism.  

1. What is the mission of the Association for Hebrew Catholics?

The official mission statement of the Association for Hebrew Catholics is as follows:

The Association of Hebrew Catholics [works] to preserve the identity and heritage of Catholics of Jewish origin within the Church, to enable them to serve the Lord and all people within the mystery of their irrevocable calling.

Our Toronto branch has expanded that mission to include all people who are interested in the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith. Our hope is to kindle an understanding of the origins of the liturgy, rituals, holidays and sacraments of Catholic observance to enrich the lives of the faithful. In so doing so, we combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel ideologies so rampant in the world today. We also want to make others aware of the need to pray for and support suffering Christians throughout the world.

Deacon Mark and Sue Neugebauer.

2. Who is the fellowship made up of?

The fellowship is made up of Jewish and non-Jewish people. While most attendees are Catholic, we welcome people from all ecclesial communities. We especially welcome Jewish people seeking to understand who Jesus the Jewish Messiah is, as well as provide a place of support for those Jewish people who have chosen to follow Jesus, Yeshua, in the Catholic Church.

3. How many Messianic Jews are there in Toronto?

Not sure! There are many Messianic Jews in messianic congregations and Protestant churches and there are several in the Catholic Church, as well as many "secret believers" who do not attend Christian services. There are also people of Jewish heritage who attend Christian congregations but do not necessarily identify still as Jews.

4. Are your beliefs the same as the rest of Catholicism?

Our beliefs are completely in line with the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. We fully support the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all the teachings of the popes and saints.

Our only differences are a matter of emphasis in the teachings of the Catholic tradition. We are especially influenced by the documents of Nostra Aetate and the other four Second Vatican Council documents concerning the Jewish people. We highlight the Catechism and papal teachings on the relationship between the Church and Israel, and we endeavour to have more Catholics celebrate these spiritual roots.

Along with the Church and Pope Francis, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. Because we love Israel, we seek to explain the history of the land and refute some misconceptions about it, although we refrain from the political disputes surrounding this topic. We work to present the Jewishness of the Scriptures and of Jesus himself. Also, we remind people that Mary and all the first apostles were Jews who lived their lives in the context of first century Israel.  

5. Anything else you'd like Catholics to know about Messianic Jews?

There are almost as many different expressions of practice among Messianic Jews as there are in the rest of the Christian world. Some Messianic Jews are more observant of traditional Jewish practices than others. Many pray in Hebrew, but some do not. There are Jewish Catholics, Jewish Protestants and Messianic Jews who worship in different ways and with different terminology. But we are united in our desire to see our people come to faith in our Messiah, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). We share a love for our people, our traditions and holidays, our land of Israel, and our culture.

We want Catholics to know the roots of our precious collective faith, rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. To discover the people of the Bible in the context and culture they really lived and worshipped in. And to help them understand that the Church that came forth from the upper room at Pentecost is rooted in a rich and beautiful tradition, a faith given by God to Israel and always with the intention of bringing that faith to all nations.

To learn more about Deacon Mark's and Sue's journey to Catholicism, please visit https://www.hebrewcatholic.net/neugebauer-mark-sue/.

For video and written testimony. https://chnetwork.org/story/messianic-and-catholic-conversion-story-of-mark-neugebauer/

To contact Deacon Mark and Sue: ahctoronto@gmail.com.

Feb 12
Proclaiming an Interfaith Festival of Creation

Join hundreds of worshippers from different faith backgrounds at the annual Interfaith Festival of Creation happening on Sunday, Februrary 16 at The Mary Ward Centre at 70 St. Mary St., Toronto.

The Office of Ecumenical & Interfaith Affairs, The Mary Ward Centre and many other faith organizations are c0-hosting an afternoon of music, prayer, food and much more.

To get a sneak peak as to what visitors to the Festival can expect, click on the below image.

For more information, contact the Mary Ward Centre at 416-483-2238 or visit the Facebook, Instagram or Twitter channels for the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs.


Feb 06
Statue Connected to Mother Mary’s Roots Visiting Toronto
Fr. John Mullins leads the Toronto Airport Catholic Chaplaincy at Pearson International Airport. For four decades, this special ministry in the Archdiocese of Toronto has been a spiritual refuge for travelers. From February 4 to 10, 2020, the statue of Our Lady of Loreto is visiting the airport chaplaincy all the way from Loreto, Italy. Fr. Mullins shares his thoughts below on the importance of Our Lady of Loreto and her significance for travellers.

1. Why is Our Lady of Loreto the patron saint of travelers by plane?
 
This year we happen to be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV establishing Our Lady of Loreto as the patron saint of air travelers.
 
During WWI, Italian aviators embraced her aid because of her connection to the "flying" house that was transported by angels from Nazareth to its present location in Loreto (around this house a magnificent basilica church has been built). Pope Benedict XV drew on this devotion seeing that airplanes are "flying houses" which carry passengers safely to their earthly destinations with the invisible help of God's grace, the angels and saints, especially Our Lady.


Airport chaplain Fr. John Mullins, alongside the statue of Our Lady of Loreto. 

2. Why is the statue so significant?
 
The statue in the Loreto Basilica has been a destination for Marian pilgrims for centuries. The present statue replaced the original statue which was destroyed by fire in 1921. Pius XI installed the present statue with a canonical coronation in 1922.
 
Toronto is receiving the only internationally travelling statue of Our Lady of Loreto. There are two other travelling statues but they only visit airports and military bases in Italy. The arrival of the statue here in Toronto makes real our connection to the Loreto Shrine and Our Lady's patronage of all air travelers, as well as airport and airline staff who serve their needs.
 
During this holy year, our airport chapels have received a special blessing from the Loreto Shrine and from our Holy Father Pope Francis to be a pilgrim site for the Loreto devotion.
 
Until the end of the jubilee year, those who visit our airport chapels will receive a plenary indulgence.



3. Galileo, Mozart, Descartes, Cervantes and St. Therese of Lisieux all travelled to the Holy House of Loreto. Can you describe the origins of the Holy House of Loreto – and how Mother Mary’s house came to be situated in Italy?

At the heart of the Loreto devotion is a fanciful story of the childhood home of the Virgin Mary (where she was visited by the Angel Gabriel) being transported by angels first to Croatia, and then to its present location in Loreto. This is said to have taken place in the 14th century as the Crusaders were withdrawing from the Holy Land.
 
Before coming to Italy, the Holy House, then in Nazareth, had been a pilgrimage site since the time of St. Helena.
 
Vatican archivists discovered that an "Angeli" family of Loreto may have overseen the safe passage of the Holy House to its present location, offering some historical context to the story of angels carrying the house from Nazareth to Loreto.


Pictured above is the marble casing that was designed to house the Holy House of Loreto in Italy. (Photo courtesy of Zorro2212/Wikimedia Commons)  

4. Why did the Catholic airport chaplaincy want to host the statue?

Catholic Pearson Chaplaincy is hosting the statue at the invitation of the Catholic chaplain of the Rome airport, working in co-operation with the Vatican.
 
Our city airport is also an airport city — there are 50,000 badged employees at the airport. Our chaplaincy serves them — and all Catholic passengers — with Mass every day at each terminal. We wanted to bring the statue for the employees to venerate in particular as she is their patroness who will protect them at work with all its dangers and toils. 
 
Toronto and New York City are the only North American destination north of the Rio Grande River that the statue will be visiting. We are privileged to have the special blessings she will bring to Pearson Airport, as well as Toronto and Canada.

5. Anything else to add about the significance of this visit? 
 
Growing up my mother would lead us in the family rosary with the Litany of Loreto and we would participate in parish processions with the statue of the Blessed Virgin, so I see the arrival of the Loreto Statue of Mary as a great honour. I believe the faithful of the archdiocese will draw inspiration and strength from her visit.
 
The flight into faith (pun intended) of the Loreto devotion connects us to Medieval Catholicism and the hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth. It stirs us into the reality of moving onward and upward into the life of holiness in Christ and His Church.
 
Our veneration of the Statue of Our Lady of Loreto allows us to add our love and prayers for her protection and intercession to the centuries of faithful who also participated in this devotion.
 
In Terminal 1, the Catholic Chaplaincy at Pearson Airport is located in in Domestic Arrivals, through Door A, near the Tim Horton’s. In Terminal 3, the chapel is located in Level 1 Arrivals. On the remaning weekdays the statue is visiting, it will be on display in Terminal 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (with Mass at 1 p.m.). The weekend hours are situated around Mass times: Saturday Mass is in Terminal 3 at 4 p.m. and Terminal 1 at 5:30; Sunday Mass is in Terminal 3 at 8 a.m. and Terminal 1 at 10 a.m. 
Jan 15
Reflecting on the Joys and Challenges of Five Years of Marriage

Norman and Marissa Tapangco have been married for 17 years and have three kids ages 16, 14 and 6. They are active members of both Worldwide Marriage Encounter and Couples for Christ, and are a certified natural family planning couple teaching for Serena Canada. In light of Marriage Sunday taking place on February 9, the couple reflects on the joys and challenges they faced five years into their marriage.  

1. You've been married for 17 years, but let's look back at the five-year mark in your marriage. What joys were you experiencing after five years of marriage?

Five years into our marriage, we were already blessed with our second child. This was the year we were stabilizing financially and relationship-wise, and our children were getting sick less often! We had jobs that let us to support our family, including sending both our children to daycare and enjoying some simple pleasures. We had some sense of relief in terms of our family's future.


2. Can you describe some of the challenges your family faced five years into your marriage that you didn't experience as newlyweds (and may not experience today)?


This was the year Marissa's dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. We needed to be with her parents quite often to offer emotional support and assist with medical appointments as well as everyday needs. 

While trying to help Marissa's parents, we had to start establishing a consistent routine for the children as they were starting school.

It was hectic but we just went with the flow.

We also found ourselves thinking of either moving closer to Marissa's parents or just moving in with them in order to ease the back and forth and achieve a consistent routine for the children. Unfortunately, this did not come to fruition before her dad passed away. 

3. What kind of impact did children have on your marriage? 

Our first child was a honeymoon baby. This put a lot of stress on our new marriage. Marissa was grieving that her plan to go back to school was not going to happen. We were not prepared at all for this life change. We did not even know how to live together, never mind raise a child. Our jobs were not so stable and we did not have much of a financial cushion. Concerns of job stability and child care costs became major stressors that affected our relationship.

4. How did faith strengthen your family after five years of marriage?

Our faith in God was very instrumental in keeping us together. We both were heavily involved in a religious community prior to getting married and continued to be members after we became husband and wife.

We valued the sacrament of marriage and held onto God's teachings about love, forgiveness and service. We made efforts to access supports such as marriage retreats and prayer groups when times were rough.

Even today, we repeatedly try to improve our communication and address attitudes or behaviours that displease each other. Most importantly, we try to make prayer a consistent practice in our household.

5. Do you have any advice for couples journeying together through this stage of marriage?

Marriage is a covenant that we make not only to our spouse but also to God. When times get rough, it is helpful to look beyond how we feel or what we think about the situation. We need to try to realize what God would like us to do and how He would like us to respond to what is happening. Forgiveness and respect are key regardless of how upset we may feel. 

The Celebration of Marriage Mass will take place on Sunday, February 9 at St. Isaac Jogues Parish (1148 Finch Ave., Pickering) at 3 p.m. Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, will preside. All couples are invited to attend but seating will only be reserved for couples celebrating their 25th, 40th, 50th and 60+ wedding anniversaries. For details on Marriage Sunday, including the Celebration of Marriage Mass, please visit https://www.archtoronto.org/marriage.

Jan 03
Deacon Robert Kinghorn: ‘Meeting Jesus in His Many Disguises’

Robert Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto. In his new book, The Church on the Street, he invites readers to walk with him as he ministers in a Toronto neighbourhood known for drugs, prostitution and homelessness. Below, he provides insights on his street ministry.

1. How did you come to start your street ministry?

It all started in 2003 when I was driving through downtown Toronto at 1 a.m. to drop off someone at their home. It was a wet night and the lighting was much too dim to properly see the street corners where shadowy figures stood negotiating a prostitution deal. Others were clearly on drugs as they purposefully walked while waving their arms as if to swat away imaginary flies.

"The people of the night," I thought to myself. "This is their existence. So where is the Church?"

I knew that the Church was in the drop-in centres such as Good Shepherd Refuge, St. Francis Table and Yonge Street Mission, caring for those who could find shelter there. But where was the Church on the street at 1 a.m.? 

It was this simple thought that found me two years later asking permission — first from my wife and then from Cardinal Thomas Collins — to walk these streets at night as my diaconal ministry.

My plan was as simple as that; to walk the streets each week at the same time and in the same area. Not as a social worker distributing money, clothing or food. But as a friend who would listen to the cares, dreams and hopes of the "people of the night" and perhaps through this, help them believe that God indeed loves them just as they are.


 2. What are the greatest challenges you face while ministering on the street?

Ministry on the street is the same as all ministries of presence. The rules are simple: Show up, listen, don't judge, don't fix.

One of the greatest challenges is continually reminding myself that the only "success" in this ministry is for me to continue showing up. That's it! If I start having an agenda, then I have lost the script that was laid down by Jesus many years ago and I will quickly burn out. If my agenda is to get people to stop doing drugs, to give up prostitution or to "come to Jesus" (whatever that means), then I will burn out quickly.

I have never heard anyone on the street say, "I am sure glad I am on drugs" or "I always wanted to grow up to be a prostitute." They don't want to be there and don't need me to tell them that. But for sure they need and want someone who will listen to them and accept them so they can see hope in their lives and one day leave this all behind.

Part of the "showing up" is committing to the ministry regardless of whether the temperature is plus 20 degrees or minus 20 degrees, since those on the street on these nights often have few other options.

I have often been surprised by the times I have met someone that I have no recollection of meeting, but they say, "I know you. I have seen you out there."

3. What is the most rewarding part of working with those on the streets? 

The rewarding part of this ministry is finding that people will accept me, share with me and allow me to be their friend.

One night, I was concerned about the way a man who was under the influence of drugs was coming towards me. But a drug dealer from the area intervened, telling me, "Don't worry, we will look after you and will not let anything happen." With that, in a flurry of expletives, my protector told the man in no uncertain terms that he was not wanted there.

On another occasion, a lady who often chatted with me on the streets, asked me what was wrong since I did not seem like myself that evening. She was a well-known addict and we had previously had many good conversations about her life. I told her I had just got off the phone with a friend who was dying of cancer and he said it was probably our last talk as he felt his end was very near. She said, "I keep forgetting that you are human too and need my support at times."

4. How has your perception of people on the street changed after your years of ministry?

After coming to know the life stories of the people I am with, I find it surprising that they still believe in God. Perhaps they hold onto a faith because they can no longer believe in people who have let them down so often.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these sisters or brothers of mine, you did it for me." Although I cannot always do it, I have come to see in my quieter moments the face of Jesus in some of these people on the street. I have a deep admiration for the way they can rise again and still believe when they have been beaten them down so often by childhood trauma or mental illness.

Fr. Greg Boyle, who has worked with gangs in Los Angeles for over 25 years, put it best, "Here is what we seek: A compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it."

 5. Can you suggest ways that our readers could be of assistance to those living on the street?

So often we meet people begging on the street and we wonder what we can do to help them. I would call your readers back to the simple ministry of presence, "Show up, listen, don't judge, don't fix."

Giving money or not is up to you. I don't, because that is not why I am on the street (in fact, it could be dangerous for me if I became known for giving out money). I always say that you can get anything on the street — drugs, a woman, a man, a knife, probably a gun if you asked around — but what people cannot get on the street is someone to listen to them. I would suggest that if there is someone you pass, then just look them in the eye and say "Hello, my name is ____. How are you today?" If you pass them regularly and do this each time, then there is a chance that a friendship will evolve.

Alternatively, if you have time, volunteer at a shelter such as the Good Shepherd. There you will start to meet people on a regular basis and start to understand their life through their stories.

There you will meet Jesus in his many disguises.

To purchase a copy of, The Church on the Street, please visit: https://www.catholicregister.org/item/30763

Dec 23
ShareLife and St. Michael’s Homes Offer Hope to Men With Substance Use Disorders

In 2019, ShareLife raised about $15 million to support 43 agencies that help our neighbours who are facing difficult times in their lives. One of those agencies is St. Michael's Homes, which provides holistic recovery programs for men with substance abuse challenges.

Robin Griller, Executive Director of St. Michael's Homes, explains how donations to ShareLife make a life-changing difference to men who are overcoming substance abuse disorders.

1. Can you describe the work done by St. Michael's Homes?

St. Michael's Homes provides support for men in the early stages of recovery from substance use challenges. We currently have five programs:

  1. Engagement Program: We work with men waiting to be admitted to our residential programs. A weekly engagement group and individual staff support prepare participants for admission into our treatment or housing programs. This individual support includes things like helping clients in accessing crisis and stabilization programs (such as detox or crisis beds), assisting men in accessing medical care and resolving problems with their prescriptions. The goal is to help men stabilize their lives so they can focus on getting well once they are in our residential programs;

  2. Residential Treatment Program: We offer a 30-day Treatment Program and an up to 60-day Extended Treatment Program. Individual care plans help clients achieve their treatment goals. We offer individual counselling sessions, meditation and a range of psycho-educational groups. Group sessions cover a range of topics: grounding techniques; education on substance use, mental health and stigma; and social and spiritual elements of recovery. Groups in the Extended Treatment Program are much smaller so the men can cover these topics in more depth.

  3. Transitional Housing: Our Matt Talbot housing program is a transitional housing program, offered in two buildings. One building houses a one-year program for men who have been through a Residential Treatment Program for substance use. The other building houses an up to four-year program for men whose co-occurring mental health challenges and histories of homelessness mean they require a longer period of support. The programs help the men stabilize in community living so they can start rebuilding their broader lives. If these men in recovery do not establish a joyful and meaningful life after substance use, they will struggle to sustain their recovery, so we help them reconnect with family, return to education and/or employment and identify their long-term housing location.

  4. Aftercare: We have one Aftercare worker, funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation for three years, who provides individual support to men leaving our residential services.

  5. Psychotherapy: Our psychotherapy program provides individual psychotherapy for 25-30 men. We have up to six part-time psychotherapists doing this work. Among the team are two therapists with backgrounds in spiritual or religious counselling who are available for individual work with men who self-identify as wanting those supports.



2. How is St. Michael's Homes' approach to addiction recovery different than what is used by most other programs?

We are different from other addiction services in a number of ways. Our program is based on a holistic psycho-social model of recovery that recognizes:

  1. Addiction is usually a consequence of other challenges (trauma, mental illness and so on);
  2. Recovery is an existential choice. People in recovery from substance use disorders are facing the need to choose living rather than avoiding the pains of life through substance use;
  3. People need holistic recovery rather than a narrow focus on the substance use;
  4. Recovery is not a straight line. People come in and out of use so our job is to support men through relapses and other difficulties.

    Some of the ways in which our program is quite different from other programs include:  
  1. We work through relapse where possible (many programs discharge after a relapse);
  2. We work with men on their external challenges (legal, medical, housing and so on) while they are in our treatment program so they are set up for success when they leave;
  3. We support the full range of addiction medicine supports — including methadone and suboxone — and we have an on-site physician at our treatment program every week;
  4. We do not encourage separation from real life during treatment, other than the expectation that clients will take time off work for their recovery. Our clients have cell phones, family and loved ones are in contact and they can go home regularly. If men can't manage their every day lives with our support, how will they do so without our support?
  5. A spiritual component is among the pillars of our recovery program, for those who are interested. For men who are interested in a spiritual component to their treatment, we help them explore what spiritual paths would be helpful for their recovery. One of our staff who provides individual counselling to men whose recovery is spiritually focused; he is both a registered psychotherapist and a published theologian (he is Catholic who converted following decades of ministry in another denomination).

3. Do you have a success story that you can share with us?

James (not his real name) grew up in Toronto, married young and had a child. He had a steady job and he had bought a house.

When James's marriage broke down, so did his happiness. James faced depression due to the loss of the marriage and not being able to see his child. He found himself jobless and alone.

The emotional turmoil that came with these problems led James to drugs. The drugs were an escape, allowing him to forget his problems. He was only happy when he was high.

James fell into a cycle: Find a low paying job, work for the first pay cheque and then get high on drugs until the money ran out. Each turn through the cycle ended in a worsening low that had James praying for death.

With his family's support, James completed a treatment program. However, afterwards he found himself without a support system in place and he ended up relapsing.

Back in the cycle of addiction, James's life revolved around unhealthy relationships. Isolated from his family, he once again thought about suicide. But the arrival of a second child made him think about his family and forced him to seek help.

He joined the treatment program at St. Michael's Homes and worked diligently on his recovery. After completing treatment, he entered the Transitional Housing Program. With his support system in place, he was able to work through issues with his family and build a new life.

James has been supported in helping his sick father and reconnecting with his mother, sisters and youngest son.

With the help of St. Michael's Homes staff he has come to realize that relapse is often part of recovery and has worked through stressful periods, learning how to recognize and avoid triggers. James has focused his energies on stabilizing his life, volunteering in the house and eventually returning to work.

James knows hope exists and says, "Help is there, but it's up to you to do the work. Nobody does it for you."

4. How does support from ShareLife help St. Michael's Homes do this work?

We couldn't accomplish our work without ShareLife. The housing program is the focus of Sharelife's funding. We have support from the Ministry of Health to pay for the buildings and administration. But ShareLife dollars pay for the staff who provide individual supports to the men in our housing program and the group activities (both therapeutic and social!) that make this a warm and supportive home environment. ShareLife ensures we are able to provide good food, bedding and all the other material things our men need as they move into a new life of recovery from substance use disorders.

Watch this video to learn more about ShareLife and St. Michael's Homes.

Thanks to your generosity, ShareLife can support agencies that live the Gospel mission in our community. Click here to support ShareLife and receive a charitable donation tax receipt.

Dec 18
Parish’s Crèche Collection Shows Our Connection to the Nativity

On the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter on the importance of Christmas crèches, also known as nativity scenes. His Holiness explained that crèches are a great family tradition that helps us reflect on how God "became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with Him." Pope Francis also encouraged crèches to be displayed in public places, such as schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons and town squares as a way of transmitting our faith.

Fr. Roy Roberts, pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Newmarket, shares insights on his collection of 83 Christmas crèches that he puts on display every year.

More than a decade ago, I was at the very multicultural parish of St. Francis de Sales in Ajax. We celebrated this diversity with international potlucks, displaying national flags and eventually we stumbled on the idea of acquiring and displaying nativity scenes from as many countries as we could get. 

Theologically it expands the notion that Christ was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago to the idea that Christ is still being born today in each and every culture.

  Malawi crèche, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Roy Roberts) 

Our crèche criteria was: it had to be authentically from the place it represented; and it had to somehow depict something unique about that culture and its peoples. 

Over the years the Internet became a great source for getting international crèches. And people would write to their family and friends in various countries requesting crèches or they would bring them back from their travels. 

When I left St. Francis I carried the same idea to St. Elizabeth Seton in Newmarket. When St. Francis discontinued the celebration, I was able to get a head start on the collection here in Newmarket. Now we are up to 83 scenes and counting! 

Crèche from the Dominican Republic, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Roy Roberts) 

We like to set them up after the Fourth Sunday of Advent but as our collection has become larger and more elaborate, we now start constructing the scenes after the Third Sunday of Advent. They remain up until the last Sunday of Christmas, typically the Baptism of our Lord (Sunday, January 12, 2020).

We don't advertise the crèche display outside the parish but word of mouth — especially in small towns — has spread pretty quickly and people from around the area will pop in.

It is a highlight for the parish and it is magical to watch families pointing out the various scenes from their country of origin. It is a great unifying celebration and it expresses our Eucharistic communion in a new and vivid way. 

It is hard to pick a favorite now that there are so many of them. Each crèche has its own story, which makes it intriguing and special. However, I do think our crèche from Malawi is exceptional. The artistry of the carving is exquisite. 

Also, the crèche from the Dominican Republic has a special place in my heart. It was donated by the students from Archbishop Denis O'Connor High School in Ajax as a thank you for the parish's support of their endeavors. 

Feel free to visit this Christmas!


Dec 13
Christmas Trees for a More Caring Community

​During this Advent season, many of us will stand comfortably next to a Christmas tree gazing out at the chilly weather.

On these days, volunteers at Toronto's Out of the Cold program will serve homeless people who need shelter from the winter conditions. And one family will continue their mission of getting "into the cold" to raise much needed money for Out of the Cold.

Bobbi Johnston-Flanigan runs a Christmas tree lot at St. Peter's Parish in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, alongside her siblings Corey and Lucas. Last year they donated $35,000 of their proceeds to Out of the Cold, an interfaith community program that began in 1988 after students at St. Michael's College learned that a local homeless man had died in the cold weather.

"It really is of benefit and great service to the community," Johnston-Flanigan said.

"Knowing that the less unfortunate among us can receive care and dignity through the proceeds we raise is heartwarming for us."

It all started 28 years ago, when Bobbi's father Sonny started selling trees at one location with the hopes of  raising money for charity.

The family has since acquired two more tree lots. Her mother Cathy and aunt Irene run a lot in the east end of Toronto, while a family friend runs another location on St. Clair Ave. West.

Bobbi and her family are happy to be back at St. Peter's for a third time now that a restoration project at the parish is nearly complete.

Fr. Michael McGourty, pastor at St. Peter's Parish, is thankful for their presence.

"They are a gift to our community and we are thankful for their great service and work," he said.

Through the years, Bobbi has seen what a blessing it is to sell Christmas trees at the parish.

Bobbi recounted how her father, Sonny, has volunteered with the Out of the Cold program for the last 25 years and was the driving force to give back, without expecting anything in return.

"Dad opened the Christmas tree lots with the intention of donating back and being as generous as he can," she said proudly.

"His children — both my brothers and I — are excited by the task of carrying on his legacy and continuing to donate."

Over the years, Sonny and the family have raised over $500,000, with proceeds going to help Toronto's homeless community.

Tree_4.jpg

Bobbi is confident they will reach their target of $30,000 by the end of this holiday season. As of December 5, they have pulled in about $7,125.

For more information on their efforts or to buy a fresh tree or wreath of your own, visit Sonny's Christmas Trees on Facebook.


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