At the risk of sounding a bit like my parents, Christmas is upon us again. So soon!
The pace of the days picks up at this time of year. The to-do lists get a bit longer and our tempers get a bit shorter. It is an annual irony of Advent, leading into the festivities of Christmas, that the worst character traits of our society come to light. And many of us find peaceful respite in the Mass – remembering the reason for the season, as they say.
I tend to be a back, left pew Catholic in my current parish. I attend Mass, sometimes the Vigil, sometimes the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass but most often the 11 a.m. Mass, after getting some early morning things checked off my list for the day.
It's a testament to our desire for routine, being creatures of habit, that we head for the same familiar space every time we visit our parishes. When I retake the approximate piece of pine that I have been visiting in the pews for a couple of years now, I take comfort in seeing the same faces week in and week out, and shaking the same hands, offering that peace be with them.
There is comfort in the ritual, the routine of seeing the altar from the same angle and glancing at the same stained glass window that has been beside you every week.
But I need to remember… and we all need to remember… another part of Christmas. Thankfully, by the grace of God, our churches will be full to the rafters again this year, as they have been for more than 175 years in the Archdiocese of Toronto. You shouldn't be surprised. It happens every year.
And, this is our chance to shine as Christians.
This is the time of year, when Catholics who haven't been with us regularly throughout the year and those visiting us from other places will join us. Many feel hurt or abandoned or disillusioned with the Church but they come back at Christmas. Let's welcome them warmly, with smiles and genuine friendliness. No matter where they have been throughout the year, their hearts are warm to the message of our faith when they come and we should do all we can to ensure they want to return again soon, hopefully next Sunday.
Christmas is the time we should create the most welcoming websites (so they remember where to go and at what time), the friendliest ushers (reminding us that our jackets don't need a space beside us) and the most compelling homilies of the year (so father's voice echoes in our heads, along with dancing sugar plums). This is the time when we can help people remember all the reasons they belong with us throughout the year.
This is the time when we should readily welcome the strangers among us.
And, if it means that my back, left pew is full at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, I'll try to remember to smile at the people keeping my seat warm as I find a place to sneak into a pew beside a family's pile of coats. Then, we will all celebrate, together, the blessings we have received with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Another successful year of bright lights is nearing an end at Midland's Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.
Since 2000, both Sainte-Marie as well as Martyrs' Shrine, located across the street, have offered to the public "First Light" – a series of magical evenings guided by candlelight, which features a host of family activities, music, artisans, ice sculpting, fireworks and more.
The concept of First Light first originated with an idea from a previous General Manager of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, who wanted to give the community a non-traditional event.
"The concept of creating an evening event built around candlelight emanated from their Moon of Wintertime program and to teach the ideas of the Huron Christmas Carol and the Indigenous story created about the crèche," said Allex Laurin, Marketing & Communications Manager at Martyrs' Shrine.
Rated a "Top 100 Event" in Ontario for nine consecutive years now, First Light is a candlelight event, open to everyone, that showcases Ontario's history and culture, thus creating important family traditions.
Since its inception, First Light has grown to become Sainte-Marie among the Hurons' signature event for the year, allowing them to accommodate over 15,000 visitors annually in the nine nights that the program is offered.
The program has a deep spiritual meaning to it.
"For people of faith, the opportunity to link this event to the light of the earth, and Christmas through an expanded visit that includes Martyrs' Shrine, offers them a chance to deepen their faith spirit alongside St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions," Laurin said.
Families can enjoy a Christmas craft and photos with St. Nicholas in the home of the Relics, and know that the martyrs are present to support them and their family through the Christmas season as they deepen their relationship with Jesus. A glimpse inside the church of St. Joseph highlights the true meaning of Christmas with a nativity front-and-centre.
This year's presentation of "First Light" ran November 30, December 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9.
For more information on all other programs offered at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, visit www.saintemarieamongthehurons.on.ca.
As Christmas draws closer, it's easy to get wrapped up in the giving spirit of the season. It's also worth reflecting on what we read and how we consume various forms of media in our leisure time. At St. Augustine's Seminary, four professors have written books on topics ranging from spirituality and Scripture to history and preaching. First, it's a tremendous blessing that we have four published authors within the last year on the faculty of St. Augustine's Seminary. Secondly (and more selfishly), if you're looking for a book for the Catholic bibliophile on your shopping list, below are a few ideas.
In light of the second annual World Day of the Poor on Sunday, November 18, Deacon Pat Colangelo reflects on the work of the Welcoming Arms ministry for low-income community members in Aurora – an initiative brought to life by churches of different denominations working together. 1. What is the mission of the Welcoming Arms ministry, and how did it begin?Welcoming Arms believes in the inherent dignity of all people. Reflecting Christ's love, we seek to help Aurora's residents in need to experience a fuller participation in society by providing social, economic and spiritual support. We launched in October 2006. This concept originated through a discussion between churches in Aurora. Families, individuals, unemployed and those on social assistance were looking for financial assistance to get them through the month. Church leaders believed that if resources were pooled – both from a financial and volunteer perspective – the low-income and marginalized members of our community would be better served. 2. Which churches are involved in supporting the ministry?We have six churches supporting this ministry, including: Aurora Cornerstone Church, Aurora United Church, The Campus Church, Trinity Anglican Church, Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. 3. What services and programs are offered?· Bridging the Gap: Visitors have access to toiletries, YRT (York Region Transit) tickets, grocery gift cards and referral to community agencies. Mondays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesdays: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.· Welcome Table: A community dinner welcoming more than 100 guests each week. Wednesdays: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. · Martha's Table: A community luncheon offering a hot meal and fellowship. Thursdays: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.· Seasonal: Free income tax preparation, Christians Against Poverty money management, Giving Garden, Christmas assistance and Christmas Dream Dinner, which provides a meal and fellowship on Christmas Day. 4. What kind of an impact have you seen on those whom you serve?I would like to share a comment made by one of our visitors:"I just wanted to express my gratitude to Welcoming Arms. And also commend you and all the volunteers/staff for what you're doing. Helping people in need! I recently just came from lunch at Martha's Table. I am full of nourishment right now. I am glad that I went. I almost didn't godue to embarrassment, I'm so glad I let go of that feeling and went in! Yesterday evening I attended Welcome Table and Bridging the Gap. I was welcomed with welcoming arms and without judgment and right now that's exactly what I needed. I'm able to keep going with my job search as having ate a decent meal it gave me the energy I so desperately was seeking…You're all angels in my eyes." 5. Anything else you want to add about being a part of this ministry?Being part of this ministry has given me the opportunity to get in touch firsthand with the reality that surrounds us. We may be living in a place where everything is available to most of us, but there are many to whom even the most basic needs are denied. This ministry has given me the opportunity to put into practice Deuteronomy 15: 7-11, which tells us, "If there is among you anyone in need…I therefore command you, open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land." Through this ministry I receive more than I give.
For more information on Welcoming Arms, or to get involved, visit www.welcomingarms.ca.
Felipe Bezera is the Ontario sub-office coordinator for Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need in Canada – an organization whose mission was inspired by the commandment, "Love thy neighbour." Given the upcoming Red Wednesday event in Toronto to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world, Bezera shares his insights on the charity's work.
1. What is Aid to Church in Need's origin story? Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was established in 1947 in Belgium, when its founder, Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, launched an aid initiative to help the 14 million people expelled from East Germany, while appealing for reconciliation with the "enemies of yesterday." Soon after, the movement shifted its scope to encompass the oppressed Church behind the Iron Curtain. In 1969, the current name, Aid to the Church in Need, was adopted. And in 1975, now under direct Papal authority, the head office or International Secretariat settled in Königstein, Germany. Growth continued with the creation of national offices in many Western countries and, in early 2012, the charity was elevated to the status of Pontifical Charity. ACN was established in Canada more than 30 years ago, with its first office in Montreal. It has grown to employ a full-time staff of six and one part-time employee, as well as one full-time development officer in Toronto.
2. What is the organization's mission?Our mission is to bring assistance to the Church wherever it is in need in the world by praying, informing and giving. We now operate 23 national offices in as many countries, including Canada—working in over 140 countries and supporting over 5,000, mainly pastoral, projects per year.
3. Whom does Aid to Church in Need currently serve? We are a global family of benefactors and project partners – with ACN offices bridging the two to support the Church in its work with the poor, the persecuted and the displaced. We have projects on every continent; much of our support goes to African countries, such as the Central African Republic, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have projects in Eastern Europe, such as in Ukraine and Bulgaria, and in South America – Venezuela, Columbia and Brazil. These are but a few of the countries where we have been active in projects involving construction, motorization, subsistence aid, Catholic media, pastoral care and humanitarian aid and programs supporting refugees. For example, we have raised a great deal of funds to help in the Nineveh reconstruction plan, an immense effort to help the Christians of Iraq return to their ancestral lands.
4. What is the most pressing issue facing Christians internationally?Religious freedom. The persecution of Christians is a global issue. Christians are the group who statistically experience the highest percentage of persecution on a global level. ACN publishes a comprehensive document called the Religious Freedom Report every two years. A new report will launch in November in conjunction with the Red Wednesday campaign, created to raise awareness of the issue around the world by floodlighting important religious structures and cultural buildings in red to highlight the persecution of Christians around the world. In Toronto, we're hosting a Red Wednesday Prayer Vigil at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica on November 21, at 6:30 p.m.
The Colosseum, pictured above, was lit up in red last February to raise awareness of Christian persecution worldwide.
5. What inspires you to keep going in your work?We are inspired when we see the tangible results of our efforts. It is our great privilege to support the priests, consecrated persons and lay people of the Church in the poorest reaches of our planet, living out Christ's message of love, hope, faith and reconciliation. When everyone else is gone, the Church remains to care for those who are also too poor or sick or disabled to leave. When people are displaced and on the move or have to flee their homes, it is the Church that reaches out to them in the spirit that Christ taught. It is up to us to ensure they can continue to be there, bearing witness to Christ's message. For more details on Red Wednesday, please visit http://bit.ly/RedWednesday2018.
As Blessed Oscar Romero is being canonized this Sunday, October 14, we recognize that his legacy has spread far and wide from his home in El Salvador. For this reason, we are featuring local not-for-profit Romero House, whose name was inspired by this soon-to-be saint's heart for those in need.
Romero House is a haven for refugees in Toronto that provides housing, settlement and advocacy services. It started when a small group took over a refugee shelter threatened with closure, back in 1991. Twenty-seven years later, Romero House is a fixture in the city's West End – located at Bloor and Dundas Streets. Over the years, Romero House has welcomed several waves of refugees: from the Horn of Africa, from Eastern Europe after the breakup of the Soviet Union, from Iran, Columbia and Mexico.
Romero House helps refugees in need. (Photo courtesy of Romero House)
On a day-to-day basis, Romero House serves as a bridge between shelters and long-term housing for refugees. Their programs include transitional housing and walk-in services, such as help accessing food banks, settlement assistance, legal aid, education, clothing and finding lawyers.
Their four houses are divided into 10 units where families can live until their refugee hearings – most of these families spend the first year of their new life in Canada living at Romero House. Staff members provide a variety of programs for families, including a Kids' Club and Women's Group, retreats throughout the year, and a summer camp.
One of the non-profit's most unique features is that their staff live in their houses, alongside the newcomers. The organization's origin story asserts that "at the heart of Romero House is a fundamental decision to say 'I trust you' by choosing not to lock our internal doors."
Their current structure exemplifies a heart of service. Much of the work at Romero House is done by a team of interns, who choose to spend a year living in community, assisting the residents.
Before his assassination in 1980, Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador, spoke out against injustice, poverty and torture. According to the organization's website: "He exemplified the hope for faith and justice, and the inclusivity that Romero House was to embody."
For more information on Romero House, please visit www.romerohouse.org. To follow the pilgrims from Romero House throughout their pilgrimage to Rome for the canonization,visit www.twitter.com/house_romero or https://www.instagram.com/torontoromerohouse/. The canonization ceremony will be broadcast on Salt and Light Television this Sunday, October 14 at 9:30 a.m. As well, Romero House will be hosting a viewing of the canonization at the same date and time at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School located at 1515 Bloor St. W. All are welcome.
Aid to Women has been serving women in the Greater Toronto Area since 1984. On September 26, they are celebrating their 30th anniversary with an evening reception at the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto. Below, Executive Director Mary Helen Moes shares her thoughts on the ministry's mission and vision.
1. Tell us about the ministry and work of Aid to Women.
Aid to Women (ATW) is an absolutely beautiful registered charity, located in Toronto, that moves mountains. We clear the obstacles in front of a women facing an unplanned pregnancy and offer her real solutions and caring support, as a real option to aborting her baby. Since the beginning, ATW has helped thousands of women and are committed to providing information and non-judgmental support needed for young mothers to make life-affirming decisions about their pregnancy. We believe that pregnant mothers should never feel alone. With that in mind, we then accompany the mother through birth and into the early years of parenting. We assist with needs such as counselling, accommodations, diapers, baby clothes, strollers, car seats, etc., while networking them into the community for additional services. We also offer post-abortion recovery and support. All of our services are free and confidential.
2. As Aid To Women looks back over the last 30 years, what is the organization most proud of?
Aid to Women has been serving women in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond since 1984 as the only crisis pregnancy service located beside an abortion clinic in Canada. While it is easy to say a woman should not abort her baby, it is significantly more important to do something about it. The founders of this organization knew it would be hard and did it anyway. Their dedication as volunteers is unsurpassed. They made commitments and sacrificed and it was worth it. Every mother has been profoundly grateful for the assistance of Aid to Women. And now in 2018, we have seen an over 120 per cent increase in clients. I am proud that Aid to Women has such a strong reputation that social service agencies and health care professionals are now referring women to us who are undecided on aborting their baby.
3. What has been the most challenging part of your work as Executive Director?
With every charity, there is the worry of raising enough funds to meet the budget. But here at Aid to Women, financing the increase of support we are called to give was secondary to the reality of what happens when we don't support a mother in crisis with an unplanned pregnancy. Personally, I've shed a tear a number of times, watching women walk by our office door and walk into the abortion clinic beside us. I pray, also, that I never stop being bothered by it. It propels me to switch my tears into a double effort of trying to save the babies that I can in the most creative ways possible. More than that, the women that come to our office get the best and latest information and are offered the best support. All in all, I've quickly realized that I must rely heavily on God to help me celebrate each life we save and to trust His guiding hand. If that continues to happen, we will make Aid to Women an example of what being pro-life really means. It is an honour to do this work.
4. What would you recommend and/or say to someone who wanted to support the work of Aid to Women?
Thank you. Really, thank you! Thank you for contacting us and accompanying us in this life-giving work.
"Pray, hope and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayers." This is perhaps St. Pio's most well-known saying – encouraging us to trust in God at all times. Trust in God is what guided Padre Pio through his earthly journey bearing the painful stigmata one century ago.
From September 18 to 19, the relics of St. Pio will be coming to the Archdiocese of Toronto for the first time. Some of the relics on display at St. Philip Neri Parish in Toronto will include St. Pio's mantle – the brown cloak worn by Capuchin friars – as well as one of the gloves he wore to cover his wounds and a lock of his hair.
St. Pio's glove, pictured above, is one of the many relics coming to the Archdiocese of Toronto from September 18 to 19. The revered saint wore these protective gloves to conceal his stigmata wounds. (Photo courtesy of the Saint Pio Foundation)
Capuchin Franciscan Brother Joseph S. Lourdusamy, pastor of St. Philip Neri, calls St. Pio a great confessor – as he was well-known for hearing confessions for hours on end every day – and healer.
"More than ever, today's world is wounded, and needs people like Padre Pio who – through the stigmata – experienced not only the pain of the Saviour, but the pain of the world, too."
Fifty years after his death, the message of St. Pio's "Pray, hope and don't worry" mantra is still relevant, he adds.
"It is a challenge to live out this message. To become aware of one's woundedness is the first step towards healing. Everyone is called to be a wounded healer."
A relatively new saint, St. Pio was canonized by St. John Paul II in 2002, and there are still many people alive today who have met him personally.
"Most of us who have not seen, can recall and relive the holy life lived by Padre Pio when we visit and venerate these relics. A visit to the relics can confirm and invigorate faith in God and in the saints."
Public veneration of the relics will take place at St. Philip Neri Parish (2100 Jane St., near Wilson) on Tuesday, September 18 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., followed by a Mass at 7:30 p.m. celebrated by Bishop John A. Boissonneau, and will continue on Wednesday, September 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
As a new group of seminarians begin their formation at St. Augustine's Seminary in Toronto and others continue on their vocation journey, Archdiocese of Toronto Vocations Director, Fr. Chris Lemieux, shares his own reflections on working with those discerning a call to the priesthood.
Cardinal Collins and I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days at Mount Mary Retreat Center with most of the seminarians for the Archdiocese of Toronto. This was an opportunity for our seminarians already in formation to meet the 11 seminarians joining them this year. We are blessed, truly blessed. The Archdiocese of Toronto has 56 men in formation in various years at two major seminaries; St. Augustine's Seminary (which includes Serra House Pre-Theology Seminary) and the Redemptoris Mater Seminary.
In light of the current challenges facing the Church, especially related to the behaviour and example of clergy, it's important to ensure that we prepare those pursuing the priesthood faithfully and responsibly. I truly believe that we have very good men who desire holiness, who are servants and who really do seek to be shepherds after the Heart of the Good Shepherd.
These men are not perfect but I can assure you they are self-reflective, honest and generous men and who live in this world but desire something greater than this world can ever offer them: a life always in Jesus Christ, sharing His love with their sisters and brothers. These men need to know and accept God the Father's love first and have a good sense of what it means to be a father to people in this world, modeled on St. Joseph, other saints and other fine examples of fatherhood in the world, often their own fathers.
One of the most important things Cardinal Collins shared with them was a sense of the Lord's mission with them and assured them that they are an important part of that mission in the Archdiocese of Toronto. I am deeply grateful to the Lord to be their Vocation Director. I am aware that this is title given to me to define a role I have – because Jesus Christ is and always will be their true Vocation Director.
One of the challenges most Vocation Directors face today is a reluctance on the part of many to come forward. In many places, Vocation Directors resist the urge to take just anyone when they don't have a lot of men presenting themselves in the first place. Most Directors also hear from many people that they should be more open to the men who do come forward. We don't have as many men entering as represents our Catholic population of over 2 million in the Archdiocese of Toronto. We could have more than double the men in formation that we have right now but I want to be sure to have strict enough requirements to help the right men enter formation, but not so strict that I discourage an authentic and true calling because of my own limitations. That is why it is important to empower a team to help me in this task.
We are truly blessed that these men are the men the Lord has given to us, to discern for us and please God to serve us in the future. To have an abundance of diocesan priests is not the Lord's desire, but to have the right ones – is. That's what I hope and pray for, and I hope it's what you will pray for too. As seminarians being another year of formation, May the Lord who has begun the good work in them, bring it to Glorious Fulfillment.
It was a marriage proposal that set the wheels in motion to establish the St. Francis Catholic Deaf Community 100 years ago this month.
In 1918, Frank Crough, a young deaf man, proposed to his girlfriend – a non-Catholic member of the deaf community. As a part of their marriage preparation, he wanted her to learn more about his faith, so he reached out to one of his old teachers, Rev. Mother Columbiere.
"She was very happy to meet with Frank," explains Carol Stokes, Co-ordinator of Deaf Ministry in the Archdiocese of Toronto. "After their conversation, she said she was worried about the Catholic deaf who were finished school. She lost no time in asking Frank to find and bring community members to Loretto College, where she worked as a bursar."
Pictured above, members of the deaf community attend the 2017 Easter Vigil at St. Stephen's Chapel.
As a next step, Columbiere contacted the archbishop at the time, Bishop Neil McNeil, who put her in charge of the Religious Services for the Deaf. From there, she got in touch with the Paulist Fathers at St. Peter's Church, who began delivering a sermon for the deaf every Sunday.
From these humble beginnings, the deaf ministry has blossomed through the years to ensure the deaf can fully participate in Mass and the sacraments, through the assistance of an American Sign Language interpreter. At present, there are four regularly interpreted Masses in the Archdiocese of Toronto: St. Stephen's Chapel in the central region; St. Maximillian Kolbe in the western region; St. Gertrude's Parish to the east and Holy Spirit Parish in the northern region.
Stokes estimates there are about 600 deaf Catholics actively practicing their faith in this region – and she prays that number will continue growing, as has been the trend in recent years.
"During my time as co-ordinator, I have seen the deaf grow in their faith. Their feeling of acceptance and involvement with the family of faith in the archdiocese has, I think, made them feel they are members of a larger community – and has encouraged them to learn more about their faith, through monthly Bible study, workshops and retreats."
In 1974, a public grant enabled them to create the first summer Sign Language Camp for children in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
"I benefitted from attending Silent Voice Camp because it provided me a space to interact and socialize with other children within the deaf community," says Sarah Avarell, whose mother is deaf, while her father is hard of hearing. "Going to a camp with other children who had deaf parents or who were deaf or hard of hearing themselves provided me with a sense of community and better understanding of our culture. I was able to enjoy summer activities but also learn about compassion, understanding and acceptance."
The 14th International Catholic Deaf Association Canadian Section conference runs from August 22 to 26 at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto, with a Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Collins, on August 25 to mark St. Francis Catholic Deaf Community's centennial.