To mark the end of the first phase of investigation into the possible canonizing of Sr. Carmelina Tarantino, Cardinal Thomas Collins will preside at the 4 p.m. Mass this Sunday, October 20, at St. Leo's Parish at 277 Royal York Rd., Toronto.
Sr. Carmelina could very well become Toronto's first saint. Born and raised in Liveri, Naples, Italy, she immigrated to Toronto in 1964, at the insistence of her siblings who were concerned about her health. Doctors suspected she had a rare form of cancer and gave her months to live. Sr. Carmelina, however, lived for another 24 years – bedridden in hospital, where she counselled thousands about their daily trials and tribulations.
Fr. Claudio Piccinini, Sr. Carmelina's confessor and spiritual director, weighs in below on her lasting impact.
1. How did you come to meet Sr. Carmelina?
On September 23, 1973, Fr. Luigi Malorzo, CP, and I participated in a radio call-in show called, "Let's Talk About It Together," on CHIN Radio. Not being able to answer all the callers, we gave the monastery's phone number so listeners could call us there. Sr. Carmelina was one of the listeners and she called me from her bed at Riverdale Hospital where she had been suffering from cancer since 1969. She called to compliment me on how I addressed faith issues.
Sr. Carmelina Tarantino, left, pictured with her spiritual director Fr. Claudio Piccinini. (Photo by Guido Capotosto)
2. How did you become her spiritual director?
I was deeply impressed with Sr. Carmelina's acceptance of her great suffering and I asked to meet her. During that meeting we spoke about our lives and what we were doing. Out of this conversation, Sr. Carmelina heard the scope of Società Unita - The United Society and Teopoli which is meant to promote family unity and to better fulfill our Christian vocation. She became a member and volunteered by spreading the news to her numerous family.
On New Year's Day 1974, I decided to spend the whole afternoon at the hospital in Sr. Carmelina's company. I brought the book Journal of a Soul: The Autobiography of Pope John XXIII and other religious reading materials.
In 1976, I called Sr. Carmelina to see how she was doing. I felt bad because I realized that we had not been in touch since January 1974. I met with her the next day. During that conversation, knowing that she was writing a diary, I asked if I could see it and she agreed. She presented me with the diary and there I learned for the first time that on June 2, 1975, Jesus had come to see her. I felt the need to ask Sr. Carmelina to ask Jesus whether or not I should be involved in her life. As a result of this discovery, I became her confessor and spiritual director.
3. What kinds of miracles did you see unfold at the hands of Sr. Carmelina?
As someone who was intimately involved with Sr. Carmelina's life, the first thing that comes to my mind is how day in and day out in that hospital room Sr. Carmelina accepted her suffering and used that acceptance for the greater glory of God and His mysterious love for every one of us.
This understanding was verified by other things that happened outside of her life. For example: an incident that took place in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where I was stationed at Our Lady of Sorrows Monastery.
A lady came to speak to a priest at our retreat house. I noticed that she was really distressed and was crying uncontrollably. She told me that she had come from her family doctor who had told her that she was never going to have a child because, as she put it, the doctor said there was no room in her womb to host a child.
She continued to cry uncontrollably. Not being a doctor, I really could not say much about what she had shared with me. I simply tried to say that she needed to have faith in God because if God meant for her to have a baby, she will have a baby.
As I said this, knowing that I could not help the lady in any significant way, I thought of Sr. Carmelina.
I mentioned to the woman that I had a friend in Toronto and I would ask her (Sr. Carmelina) to pray for the woman. I do not know exactly what she heard but she must have thought it was positive because she wiped her eyes, stood up, took her purse and was ready to leave.
I went to my room, called Sr. Carmelina and tried to explain this woman's situation to her. I asked if she could pray for her because of the tears she was shedding. Sr. Carmelina told me that she would pray for the woman.
About a week later, I called Sr. Carmelina and she told me to tell the woman that she would have a baby.
I was not surprised at what Sr. Carmelina was telling me. But I was concerned about calling the lady and telling her without any doubt that she would have a baby. I told the woman to trust in God and be grateful.
About a couple of months later, the woman came back to the retreat house wanting to speak to the Italian priest with a beard. I happened to be the only one fitting that description. There we were in the same room we were in previously but this time she was not crying. She proceeded to tell me that she was coming from her family doctor and the doctor told her she was expecting — even though the doctor did not believe it.
The doctor told her that he hoped the birth would be by cesarean so he could see where this baby was because, according to his conclusion, there was no room for the baby in her womb.
Nine months later, the woman was hospital about to have her baby by cesarean birth. Her husband was waiting outside of the operating room when its doors swung open, the doctor came out still wearing his operating uniform, approached the man and asked him, "Do you believe in miracles?"
The husband answered, "Yes, I do."
"Well, you just received one," The doctor concluded. "You are the father of an eleven pound baby."
The doctor walked down the corridor shaking his head incredulously.
I saw the baby a few days later and he was a big baby. Many years later, I saw the young man again and he was towering over his mother at over six feet tall.
There is no question in my mind that Sr. Carmelina intervened in a very beautiful and miraculous way. Such incidents happened more than 30 times when I stopped counting them.
4. What was Sr. Carmelina like?
I would describe Sr. Carmelina as prayerful, patient, welcoming, prudent, selfless, determined, strong and courageous.
5. She lived in pain for 24 years. What kept her going throughout that suffering?
She was deeply aware of the presence of God in her life and she knew that whatever happened to her was willed by God. She desired to respond to God's love by suffering in union with Jesus on the Cross.
6. What is the greatest lesson Sr. Carmelina taught to those around her?
Her patient suffering and constant trust in God's will gave those who visited her the desire to imitate her courage and accept whatever happened in their lives as God's will for them. It's important to understand and I quote:
"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." Romans 6:5 (NRSV)
Even if we have never been called to suffer, the fact that we know that one day we will die will make us suffer. Suffering is a straight channel to God's heart.
Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic lay evangelist, speaker and creator of Me & My House, a DVD series that offers advice to parents who are raising their children in the faith. He and his wife, Kyla, have eight children. In the post below, he tackles the topic of how parents can help their kids have a healthy relationship with technology.
According to a report on the "Digital Well-Being of Canadian Families," 43 per cent of parents surveyed reported that their biggest source of conflict with their children across all ages is excessive use of screen time.
The report highlights some of the worries that parents have about their children using digital technology, including them encountering sexual content, violent content and cyberbullying.
As if raising a child in the faith wasn't challenging enough before smart phones!
Technology is a tool like many others but our interaction with it is not predetermined. In other words, technology may be used for entertainment or communication or research or simply to perform a mechanical function. That being said, parents need to decide when and in which ways they want their family to interact with any technology.
To guide those decisions, I find it helpful to keep three points in mind:
1. You are your child's original hero. Long before they eyed screens filled with various pajama wearing figures, your kids looked to you to see the best way to live. And even though they have grown, your kids still look to you to understand the best way to interact with technology. In short, practice what you preach. If you don't want your kids being entertained by a flickering screen for hours on end, then your actions need to be a model of a healthy relationship with technology.
2. If you can't discuss it, try not to digest it. This may seem obvious but your kids do not have the same reasoning and filtering systems that you do. While you can consider the merits of any message provided by any media at any time, your children do not exactly have that luxury. So make this your goal. If you cannot watch the program or game or show and discuss what you find there with them, then it is off limits to your kids.
3. Have that very adult conversation about addiction in child-friendly tones. Our kids need to know that their behaviour can and often does lead to unhealthy habits, the kind we can have difficulty changing. So let them know and bring it up often. If our habits with technology are proving that we are beginning to love the creations more than the Creator, then it is time to take a break.
To read Patrick's previous reflection on the theology of parenting, click here.
The Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, Ont., continues to be a place of pilgrimage and prayer for the thousands of faithful who come here from around the world. They worship in Canada's only national shrine outside of Quebec, built to honour the Jesuits who were killed in the area in the 1640s.
But in its 93rd year, the shrine faces an incredible challenge which it is working to overcome.
The Martyrs' Shrine, together with the Jesuit fathers and local community, are hoping to raise a significant amount of money to cover the cost of a new specialized dry-air fire suppression system that is required for the church to remain open to the public.
When the church was first completed in 1926, it was adorned with wood, stone, glass and gold. Its very design sought to express the mission of St. Jean de Brebeuf and his companions.
The church, however, was never insulated and is not heated throughout the winter months. The shrine has thus identified a pressing need this year: A new fire suppression system, including replacing its pipes that are at the end of their life.
Memories of the historic fire at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 has pushed the shrine to be pro-active in their efforts, hoping to avoid a situation where the church — which is mainly built out of wood — has to be shut.
Fire suppression systems channel water to sprinklers throughout a building. It will cost upwards of $225,000 to replace the current system, which was installed in 1980.
That sounds like a lot of money, but if every pilgrim who came through their grounds contributed an extra $2.00 on top of their admission fee, the shrine would have enough money by the end of the season to begin this significant project.
Allex Laurin, Manager of Marketing and Communications for Martyrs' Shrine, spoke about how the shrine has a responsibility to care for the incredible beauty and history that has been left to them to preserve.
"The shrine continues to be a living legacy for many people, especially the martyrs who have gone before us," he said.
"We are excited about this Toonie Challenge and hope that many of our benefactors and supporters will participate enthusiastically."
Laurin remarked that the campaign is picking up momentum and that many have contributed throughout the season. Some benefactors, as well, have opted to demonstrate their support with larger donations.
"We are grateful and look forward to a successful result."
Besides the fire suppression system, there is much more to maintain and look after. The shrine has identified more opportunities to rebuild and expand on the mission of the martyrs' in the years to come.
For more information about the Martyrs' Shrine, its programming throughout the year and their ongoing Toonie Challenge, visit www.martyrs-shrine.com.
This weekend – August 10/11 – parishioners are asked to support a special collection to help Catholic Missions in Canada (CMIC) further their work of keeping the faith alive in remote and poor mission communities across the country. CMIC President Fr. David Reilander shares with us below his thoughts on the importance of supporting the needs of the north.
1. Can you tell us about the needs of the Catholic missions in the north?
The Canadian situation presents us with a vast country with a sparse population where some communities have few resources. Most of those communities are Indigenous. In these northern communities, employment is low. But food, travel and heating cost are incredibly expensive for everyone who lives in these communities, including the missionaries. For these reasons, bishops need help from the wider Canadian church to subsidize these missionaries' expenses along with educational programs.
Residents of Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet in the Northwest Territories, open their donation box from Catholic Missions in Canada, filled with clothing, books and toys.
2. What is the most pressing issue?
CMIC deals most with a lack of awareness that Canada is a mission country. Our history is such that we've never lost this mission status. The illusion is that we are a "first world" country and that is true along the American border. But when you get to the high north, most communities can easily be labelled "third world." Making Catholics aware of this reality is a challenge that we are striving to overcome.
3. Can you tell us about your most recent visit up north?
At Easter, I flew more than 1,000 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife to an island where the Inuit village of Gjoa Haven sits on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Being mid-April, I was surprised that the temperature was still in the -30s °C and it was not dark outside until 10 p.m. The priest for the area has four communities to look after, so I filled in for him at one of them. Though the attendance was small — there was a group of seven highly trained lay people who administered the liturgies of Holy Week. CMIC funded their training.
4. What challenges do priests who venture north face?
Long and cold winters, isolation, darkness, and social issues are the greatest challenges. What's interesting is that many of the missionaries come from equatorial countries where it's 40°C only to arrive in the Canadian Arctic where it's -40°C. They also face language barriers – such as English being their second language, as well as the locals' language of preference often being Inuktitut. Cultural differences can also be challenging.
5. What gives you hope for the church in northern Canada?
Our donors are our greatest hope. It never fails to amaze me how generous they are. Canada's northern-most dioceses would not exist without help from CMIC grants. Parishioners of the archdiocese are fantastic donors and we are very grateful for their support.
Lisa Canning is a parenting, lifestyle and interior design expert who helps moms arrange their lives around what matters most. She's the mother of seven (with an eighth baby on the way). A parishioner of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Lisa's book, The Possibility Mom, hit bookshelves on July 16. In the below post, Lisa gives an overview of her approach to work-life balance.
1. What does "The Possibility Mom" mean? A possibility mom is a mom who isn't afraid of looking for other options when it comes to pursuing her dreams and being a great mom at the same time. I think far too often, we think success, or the pursuit of work-life balance, needs to be a certain way – possibly influenced by our parents, by our teachers, by friends or by ourselves. But what if success could look totally different? What if you could do things that work for you, and your unique family, but might look different, or undesirable to others? I think a possibility mom is also someone who is constantly asking what is God's design for her life. What is God's version of success for you? A possibility mom is not afraid to take the necessary time, steps, quiet and patience to listen to His voice and really hear what He wants. And a possibility mom is one who takes action on His plan, even though it might be scary.
2. Can moms "have it all?" Do you think that having it all means something different for dads, in your experience? I 100 per cent believe a mom can "have it all" but she cannot do it all herself. Here's what I mean: I believe a mom can live out her vocation as a loving wife, live out her vocation as a present mom, pursue the passions God has placed in her heart whether they bring her to an office, a volunteer position or focused on her home, but if she is to do this all with success, she cannot do it all by herself. For example, if a mom is going to work in some capacity outside of the home and dinner needs to be on the table for her family at 6 p.m., how does this successfully happen? Does she ensure she leaves the office by 4 p.m., so she can pick up children at 4:30 p.m. and prepare a meal ready for 6 p.m.? Or does she prepare dinner in a slow cooker in the morning so there is no work when she gets home? Or does she enlist the help of a nanny, or other domestic help, to have dinner prepared for her when she arrives? I bring this up because everything comes at a cost. There is a cost to our energy when we work, there is a cost to our energy when we are juggling a baby on our hip and cooking dinner and it's important that we are cognizant that energy is a finite resource. It's important we recognize this, so we use our energy in the areas that matter most and find creative ways to delegate (or even delete) the rest. I truthfully think the exact same thing applies to dads. I think that in our current culture, moms traditionally bear more of the "mental load" of parenting: they keep track of many things that other people might not even observe – and to me that is not necessarily a bad thing. I do think that there is a difference in the way men and women have been designed and this is just a part of that difference. But I think a dad who wants a great marriage, and a great relationship with his kids, and feel fulfilled in the work he does outside of the home, and does not want to feel guilty and burned out all the time, needs to examine the way he spends his energy as well. 3. In your book, you write about limiting beliefs that moms have. Can you describe what those are and how moms can overcome them?
Limiting beliefs are anything that stops your movement towards a goal. The best way to identify these limiting beliefs is to examine anytime you use the phrase, "I could never do that because…" For example, perhaps you want to start a blog, but you catch yourself saying to yourself, "I could never do that because I have no time." And then I would challenge this mom to examine:
1) Is this really true?
2) Is this only true right now, will it be this way forever?
To unpack this example, I would ask this mom if it was really true if she had no time and ask her if there were current activities that she could either reduce, or eliminate, in order to pursue her goal of writing a blog. I think if we all look hard enough, and are honest enough with ourselves, we can find pockets of time that could be spent doing more worthy things. 4. How does viewing parenthood through the lens of vocation impact the conversation? God's design for our life is the best design. He has showed this to me time and time again in my own life, with soon to be eight children! Children are a gift, and parenting them well is our duty, our call and our vocation. Therefore, it cannot come as a "second class" activity after our career or other pursuits. We need to pursue the vocation of parenthood with the same excellence, and the same commitment, we do in our careers. 5. Do you have any tips for moms who feel they can't redesign their life in a balanced way, due to financial pressure? We must trust God with every single detail of our lives, including financial. There have been MANY times in my life where I have felt the pressure of finances and I felt tempted to allow this pressure to stop any pursuit of a more balanced life. But what I would suggest to anyone who feels this pressure, is to first entrust this burden to God. Pray that He give you a heart of surrender when it comes to your finances and show you the path that makes the most sense. The second thing I would suggest, is to view the stewardship of your finances as empowering. If you would like to afford a babysitter so you and your husband can go on a weekly date night, how can you reallocate your available funds in a way that would make this possible? Or can you trade babysitting hours with a neighbour, or friend, and give them a night off when they need it? But really, I think everything needs to begin with a surrender to God and ask Him to show you what IS possible, as opposed to what is not. 6. Anything else you want to add? There was a time when I thought having children would be the death of my dreams. But for me, it quite literally was the birth of them. When I began my career in television and interior design, I was told in basically these words: that having children (never mind eight children) would be career suicide. For a long time, I really struggled to reconcile the two roles – career woman and mom. I became desperate to prove you could do both well – and the result was years and years of exhaustion, trying to copy other people in my profession, trying to copy all the "good moms" I saw, never having the confidence or courage to chart my own course and do things entirely differently when it came to the balance of family and other priorities. It took me the near utter breakdown of my health, and dare I say my marriage, to realize that there had to be another way. That success could be defined in a way that is unique to every mom – whether that uniqueness is working in an office, being home full-time, working part-time when kids are in school or some other wild and incredible adventure. It's your life. You get to define it for yourself and your family. You get to write your own story. And it can be better, wilder and more beautiful than you ever thought possible. And for me, that includes this beautiful group of little people I have been entrusted by God to care for. You CAN be a great mom, and pursue your dreams at the same time, and when we invite God into all aspects of our life, anything is possible.
The post below is the first in our summer travel series – chronicling local day-trips in the Archdiocese of Toronto that will get you out of the house and deepen your faith.
If you're looking to venture off on a day trip in the Archdiocese of Toronto this summer, Marylake is a faith-filled oasis located amidst the serene backdrop of nature 30 minutes north of Toronto. Run by the Augustinians in King City, Ont., it is touted by its founders as being the site of "the world's largest living rosary."
Here are some of the highlights of a visit to Marylake:
The Rosary Path – which officially opened in 2016 – is a 1.5 km walkway winding across an open field that follows the outline of rosary beads that are large enough to kneel inside.
In front of the beads that kick-off each decade, there is a board outlining the mysteries of the rosary – offering a visual as you walk and pray.
Alongside the Rosary Path runs the Stations of the Cross – brought to life through stained glass panels. The artist behind the panels, Toronto-based Stuart Reid, travelled to Germany to make the glassworks. Bonus: You'll likely spot some local wildlife (see goslings below).
As part of the Stations of the Cross, there is an empty tomb – which is a visual representation of the tomb from which Jesus rose from the dead. The Resurrection comes to life through the beautiful stonework.
The grounds are also home to the Marylake Shrine of Our Lady of Grace.
Marylake is a great local mini-pilgrimage spot if you’re looking to slow down and enjoy the tranquility of nature. It was a welcome reprieve from city life and offered the most creative way I've ever prayed the rosary. The grounds – including a vast picnic area – and shrine are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Parking costs $10, which support the ministry of the Augustinians at Marylake, including grounds maintenance. For more information on Marylake, please visit www.marylake.com.
As summer gets underway, parents start thinking of fun and educational things they can do with their children. If you are looking for suggestions, Anna Boyagoda, Co-ordinator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the Archdiocese of Toronto, has some thoughts. She shares below her top five Catechesis of the Good Shepherd-inspired activity ideas for kids on summer vacation.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) is a Montessori-style method of catechesis that responds to a child's silent request: Help me to come closer to God by myself. In the CGS, a catechist works to respond to this request by preparing an environment for the child — a special room at a parish — where everything is just their size, where all materials are handmade just for them and where they are free to work at their own pace, all the while being exposed to Scripture passages and moments of the liturgy. This room, called the atrium, is made to help them come closer to God. Since its inception in Italy in the 1950s, the program has spread to 37 countries — with 2,500 children participating in Canada.
1. Planting Seeds
Summer is the perfect time for planting seeds. As you watch the seeds grow, reflect on the nature of God's Kingdom and the mystery of life, and how these two things are interconnected.
Read the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Growing Seed together (Mark 4:30-32; Mark 4:26-29).
2. Care of the Environment
Summer is also the perfect time to focus on the "care of the environment," an important Catholic and Montessori principle, that develops concepts of stewardship and communal life.
Outside the home, provide opportunities for gardening, watering, sweeping, raking.
Inside the home, provide opportunities and child-sized materials for:
How can you be like leaven in the Kingdom of God this summer? Take time to bake bread together. Reflect on how we must participate in the building of the kingdom, but that only God can bring growth. Are there acts of service that you can perform in your own neighbourhood that might be like leaven for God's Kingdom?
Reflect on the Parable of Leaven (Matthew 13:33).
4. Outdoor Time
Spend time at the beach or in the woods; look for delightful shells and rocks that speak to us of the many gifts of the Heavenly Father. Ask, who has prepared all this for me?
Reflect on "the God who gives" and the covenant relationship through 1 John 4:19, Isaiah 46:3-4, Jeremiah 31:3, John 15:11, Romans 1:20. Pick a different passage for reflection each week for a month.
In August, plant a flower garden for our Blessed Mother in honour of the Feasts of the Assumption and the Queenship of Mary.
Research the Marian legends connected to each plant, so that each one carries a story. Consider planting:
Try to find an inexpensive statue of the Blessed Mother that you can place among the flowers and plants to make it a true Marian garden.
If you like these suggestions, consider giving the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd a try. For a list of parishes with CGS programming, please visit: http://bit.ly/AtriumsArchToronto.
Patrick Sullivan is a Catholic lay evangelist, speaker and creator of Me & My House, a DVD series that offer advice to parents who are raising their children in the faith. He and his wife, Kyla, have eight children. With Father's Day around the corner, we asked Patrick to share his top Catholic parenting tips.
1. What are your top tips for raising a child in the faith?
The first tip is more or less a reminder that though our faith is something we all hold in common, faith is also deeply personal. This means that although it is extremely important for parents to pass on the faith (its creeds, its liturgical life, its salvation history), our children also need room to meet God in their own way.
Which leads to tip number two: Ask your children often, "Who are you praying for and how are you praying for them?" The first question ensures that your child understands your fundamental belief that a child's prayers matter. And the second question drives home the point that there are ways to communicate with God outside of the usual time and prayer method.
So you might say to your three year old, as we do with our Caleb who just turned three this past May, "Caleb how do you pray for grandpa?" And when he is not sure what I mean by 'how' we follow-up with an example like, "When I pray for Hannah, I like to walk around in our garden and say, 'thank you Jesus for my little girl.'" Now at his age, Caleb may still follow that with a physical prayer action — such as squeezing his hands together and closing his eyes or any number of things — but our child is now learning slowly and effortlessly that the Catholic faith requires a personal response from each one of us, and he is free to explore that with the help of those who love him.
2. It's Father's Day this weekend. What do you think fathers, in particular, offer to the family?
Fathers have the awesome gift of revealing a truth about God that is little discussed today: That God is both powerful and playful. Think about what this means. Through their relationship with the mother, especially in the early years, the child is already learning that there exists a love that is all encompassing, an ever-present comfort, which of course speaks volumes about this Trinitarian God.
But, through a child's eyes, the father's love can sometimes be more intimidating. His love comes through a lower vocal range and it is 'rougher' as both the body and possibly calloused skin leave fewer places to 'cuddle-up' than that experienced with mommy.
Be that as it may, as the child grows and experiences daddy through many playful interactions, countless acts of tenderness and care, the child learns that this love is also powerful and playful.
It is through fatherhood that we once again have a chance to encounter what the ancients saw quite clearly: That the divine life (and, indeed, the divine One Himself) is dangerous. And yet, as Abraham learned millennia ago, everything we love, everything we are and hope to be, even our very lives, are safe with God.
So this is what every dad offers the family. Simply by being himself, simply by loving his wife and children in the way that he understands and feels in his bones, he teaches the next generation about the love of God in a truly paternal way, and that is an awesome gift.
3. What advice would you give to someone who feels he is struggling to be a good father?
I would say, "You're not alone." When we realize the immense privilege of being a dad, the task can seem overwhelming and sometimes nearly impossible. But remember, God has chosen you for these particular children. Being a good father is not about letting your strengths outdo your weaknesses, or about becoming a 'better' father than those around you. It's about finding ways to show your kids that you love them. Do that and you will be a dad after God's own heart.
4. Do you have a favourite Catholic dad joke?
There are so many good jokes that Catholic dads tell. Here is one I love sharing with the little kids:
A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt."
His son asked, "What happened to the flea?"
Msgr. Edmond Putrimas, Associate Pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Etobicoke, Ont., has been part of a Vatican commission studying human trafficking over the past five years. During that time, he has been working closely with the Archdiocese of Vancouver to help raise awareness of the issue. He's now setting his sights on helping to educate parishioners in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Below, he shares his journey to date.
My awareness of human trafficking began seven years ago when I was invited to the Vatican by the Archdiocese of Westminster (London, UK). As the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference delegate for Lithuanian Catholics abroad, I had a desire to learn about the increasing number of Lithuanian human trafficking victims in London and other regions in the United Kingdom.
Shortly after this invitation, with the blessing of Pope Francis, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols began an anti-human trafficking movement called the Santa Marta Group.
The purpose of the Santa Marta Group is to co-ordinate the anti-human trafficking activities of the Catholic Church, governments, police services, diplomats, politicians and non-governmental organizations. This way they can to curb the epidemic of human trafficking and better assist victims by integrating them back into society.
It is a pleasure to support the initiatives of Evelyn Vollet and Sister Nancy Brown in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, who in the spirit of the Santa Marta Group, are leading a movement to counter human trafficking. Their focus is on raising awareness of the victims of prostitution, not only in their own diocese, but they're also reaching out to other dioceses across Canada.
The greatest preventive measure against human trafficking activities is information — especially for youth — explaining the risk factors that can lead to becoming trapped in the cobwebs of human slavery. Equally important is the need to inform the public that there are different types of human trafficking and that the victims of each type require help.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion) for an improper purpose, including forced labour or sexual exploitation.
Realizing the potential of the Santa Marta Group, I helped establish this movement in Lithuania, with the support of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference. We've had great success. For instance, in 2018 a Lithuanian film producer released a documentary film called Mulai (or Mules in English — the documentary is in Lithuanian but there are English subtitles). It chronicles the many Lithuanian "mules" (someone who smuggles drugs across borders) who are being held in prisons across South America. We were able to visit Peruvian prisons and interview some Lithuanian nationals who were convicted as "mules."
A prisoner being held in a Peruvian prison who was convicted of being a drug mule. (Photo courtesy of Mulai)
Unfortunately, these prisons hold a number of Canadians who are convicted of the same crime.
Many people don't realize that "mules" are victims of human trafficking and usually are not drug users themselves. They were lured into smuggling drugs by "drug lords" who made false promises of substantial monetary rewards. Once they agree to participate in such illegal activities, there is no way out.
Msgr. Edmond Putrimas, on-site at the Peruvian prison during filming, where he met with imprisoned drug mules who he says are victims of human trafficking (Photo courtesy of Mulai)
Pope Francis has repeatedly urged Catholics around the world to pray for the victims of human trafficking and, through awareness, bring an end to this scheme, which generates multi-million dollar profits for traffickers every year.
Here in Canada, human trafficking is a very real issue. But since Canada is such a large and diverse country, it is a challenge to implement the Santa Marta Group movement here. But to start tackling this problem, every diocese and police service needs to define the forms of human trafficking that are plaguing their region and then join other local organizations in creating a Santa Marta Group.
To learn more about human trafficking and slavery, please read Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking, a document published by the Vatican. It's the first step on the journey of awareness, as education leads to action.
The Catholic veneration of saints is a distinctive and frequently misunderstood aspect of the Church. Why does Catholicism have such an attachment to the saints? How does a particular saint become connected to a place, vocation or situation? John Paul Meenan, assistant professor of theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, explains.
The Church canonizes some of her faithful as 'saints' — those who lived a Christian life more perfectly, practising charity in a 'heroic' way. This is done for two reasons. First, so they may act as exemplars for the rest of us on how to live a Christian life more perfectly, above and beyond the bare minimum. Second, the saints also act as intercessors, so that we may pray to — or more properly through them — to the Triune God, so that "Christ may be glorified in His saints" (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
Every canonized saint may also act as a 'patron' of some aspect of the Christian life, whether this be for particular places, dioceses, parishes, needs, purposes, vocations or anything else that may be required for salvation.
For more official purposes, such as for the patron of a diocese, these patrons are chosen through the Holy See — specifically the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments — in dialogue with the diocese and the local church. The saint decided upon is usually in accord with its people and history. For example, my own diocese of Pembroke, in eastern Ontario, was first populated by Irish immigrants; hence, the choice of Saint Columbkille, the great missionary who brought the Faith from Ireland into Scotland via the isle of Iona (a small island that was once the burial ground of kings but is today a popular Catholic retreat location).
The Holy Father may also choose patrons, such as: Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of the Americas, as well as the unborn; Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as the patron of youth; Saint Thomas Aquinas of Catholic schools and education; and so on.
Then there are the not really formally approved patrons who are adopted by custom and tradition, such as, Saint Veronica, as the patron of photographers, for the perfect 'icon' left on her veil. There is also Joseph of Cupertino, patron of test-takers, a struggling seminarian, who knew only one Scriptural passage for his final exam before ordination; and wouldn't you know, it was just the very one the bishop providentially chose!
Parents choose a patron for their children, in the name they bestow at baptism, which should laudably be the name of a saint, or at least not "foreign to Christian sentiment," and, years later, the same young people choose their own confirmation sponsor to help guide them through life. I would add the custom of adopting the saint on one's baptismal day — our spiritual birthday, along with our natural one — as fitting intercessors and exemplars. Of course, we should add our guardian angel, whose names, as Samson's parents were told, are 'mysterious,' for powerful they are indeed.
Then we may choose our own patrons saints for all that life entails, for our houses, our schools, our sports teams. Quebec, the most historically Catholic of our provinces, is filled with towns, cities, villages and streets named after saints. These are now often, ironically, decided by secular municipal councils across Canada; hence, why there are fewer saints connected to recently-named Canadian places. Although there is a back road I know of, which, by vote, was not long ago named after the Sacred Heart.
We may even choose patron saints for a particular occasion, such as: a journey; a marriage; expectant mothers (Saint Gerard!); a funeral; a hike; a get-together; or a pilgrimage. There are the popular go-to saints, such as: Anthony for lost objects; Jude for desperate causes; Peregrine for cancer patients; Joseph for the universal Church and a happy death; Our Lady, well, for just about everything!
In this fair dominion, we should develop a devotion to Saint Joseph as the patron of Canada. We should also recognize the eight Jesuit martyrs — Jean de Brébeuf and his companions — as our nation's secondary patrons. Then there is, of course, the mighty Saint Michael looking over the Archdiocese of Toronto, its cathedral and all of its apostolic work.
In this time of grace, we should adopt patron saints for all our needs, for the whole panoply of saints are waiting to hear from and intercede for us. For the kingdom of God is not far off, but all around us, in our very midst.
And, I might add, a blessed Easter season to one and all. Christus surrexit vere, alleluia!