Kalore Cao remembers the moment that sparked her interest in Catholicism.
"Visiting the British Museum and encountering the ancient religious paintings made me believe there is a spirituality that is beyond human understanding and the materialistic world," says Cao, who was baptized into the Catholic Church in 2015. Cao's family is mainly influenced by the Buddhist faith and Chinese communist values. "From that point onwards seven years ago, I started thinking about the meaning of life and got interested in the faith."
This experience with religious art marked the beginning of her journey to Catholicism, which led her to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Scarborough.
Iconographer Marianna Savaryn, left, stands with Kalore Cao, right, at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of Toronto's St. Michael's College, where Cao studied iconography techniques.
Every year, a convert's road to the faith culminates in their being received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. In 2018, approximately 1.500 people became Catholic in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
For Cao, art is the common thread woven throughout her path to Catholicism. She is currently studying illustration at OCAD University, and learned to create illustrations of icons under guidance from the Discalced Carmelite friars in Canada.
"The Provincial Delegate of the Discalced Carmelites order, Fr. Dominic Borg, introduced and encouraged me to write the icon as it is the 'window to heaven' that brings divine knowledge to the people. I enjoy sharing the faith through the images as they convey the direct message, which is a great tool for Gospel proclamation."
It was also the Church's focus on charity that appealed to her. "The dedicated religious sisters who sacrificially undertook so many social works in society greatly attracted me to Catholicism. By imitating their charitable deeds, I believe more justice can be brought to this world."
Looking forward, Cao is exploring the possibility of offering activities for Catholic students at her university.
"Converting to Catholicism is not the end of the spiritual journey, but a milestone of the truth-seeking process."
Fr. Stephan Kappler is the CEO and Chief Psychologist at Southdown, a centre dedicated to addressing the needs of religious and clergy around addictions and mental health issues. Below, he shares the path that led him to Southdown, along with the impact of faith on our mental health.
1. Can you share with us your journey to Southdown?
My journey started many years ago in Munich, Germany. I attended the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising. I eventually used an approved year abroad to enroll at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California, where I quickly fell in love with the diversity, multi-cultural character, and actively-lived faith of the Catholic Church in the U.S. I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Oakland on May 28, 1994. I returned to university and earned a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. For the last five years, I managed my own clergy-focused mental health practice in Oakland, while ministering as pastor at an urban parish. When the call came from Southdown, I felt very blessed to take on leadership of such a well-known, high quality organization that serves clergy and religious in Canada, the U.S., and around the globe.
2. Why is a place like Southdown important? Catholics love their hard-working, faith-filled, dedicated priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and seminarians. With fewer numbers, and with the ever-present, manifold stressors, help and support is very much needed. When professional support is required, a safe, welcoming, and holistic place like Southdown is an essential piece in seeking health of mind, body, and spirit.
3. How can faith help to improve mental health?
Over the past fifteen years, research consistently tells us that individuals who practice their faith, who are actively on a spiritual path, live healthier lives. Faith helps us with a sense of purpose and meaning, a deep sense of resilience, a sense of belonging to a community, and with overall trust in life.4. How can Catholics weave faith-based tools into their daily routines for improved mental health?
Taking time for prayer, fostering an attitude of gratitude, living a mindful life, practicing loving kindness toward self and others, meditation, prayerful journaling, using the psalms as a mantra in moments of anxiety (e.g. Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?), and making time to recognize God's unconditionally loving presence are useful steps for healthy mental/emotional health.5. Anything else to add on the link between faith and mental health?
Seeing meaning and purpose in our lives is key; knowing we are not alone on our journeys is key; feeling loved and accepted is key. Our Catholic faith tells us: God loves us unconditionally. That love we experience in the presence of Our Lord Jesus, our companion on this life's journey. Holding on to Our Lord's embrace can help us through any dark valley.
Erin Kinsella is the Director of Campus Ministry at the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto. She is launching the 54 Fridays initiative this Friday, March 8. Below, she shares an overview and tips on how to get involved.
1. What is 54 Fridays?
54 Fridays is an invitation to holiness. Participants are asked to pray and fast every Friday (excluding those that are solemnities) from the first Friday of Lent 2019 until Easter 2020 specifically for the intention of personal holiness and holiness of all the members of the Body of Christ. People are encouraged to do it with a partner or in a small group so that the length of the initiative is something that can be sustained through mutual encouragement.
2. How did the idea come to you?The idea came out of prayer and a sense of wanting to do something to support the Church I love in the midst of all the struggles present at this current time in our history. It isn't limited to issues of abuse (although it is certainly a response to them), but extends to issues of persecution in parts of the world, in the challenge of evangelization in increasingly secular cultures, issues of freedom of speech and religion, and any other challenge you can think of. A common response to all of them is simply holiness. Without it, we can change structures and policies, but it will not be lasting and effective change. With it, hearts become conformed to Christ and God can more freely accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished in His Church. We are all called to Sainthood, and 54 Fridays is an invitation to it.
3. You've started a Facebook group to encourage people to get involved locally. What the feedback has been like so far?
I've been off Facebook for about 3 years, but I reactivated my account specifically to be able to get more traction for this initiative. In just over a week, there were over 200 people who joined the group. Most of them are people that I don't even know! Those in the group have shared it with others they know, and I also invited people from various Facebook groups to participate. I know there are also a number of people who are not on Facebook who are also participating, so it's been exciting to see that there is a real desire from people to do something that is a very significant commitment. There are a lot of people who love the Church so dearly and want to participate in caring for Her, but aren't sure how, and this is certainly one very effective way. Jesus Himself commends prayer and fasting because they are powerful spiritual tools. In truth, they are something we're called to engage in on Fridays anyways. 54 Fridays just asks people to pray with a common intention, but also offers an opportunity to those who may not regularly pray and fast to make it a part of their lives.
4. How will you personally live out the call to fasting and prayer for 54 Fridays?
I will personally be living out this call to prayer and fasting by praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet Fridays for the intention of personal holiness and the holiness of all the members of the Body of Christ. My fast will be both in terms of food, but I'll also be fasting from connection on Fridays, meaning I won't be using anything relying on the internet (aside from work purposes) so that I can make more space for silence and prayer. I'm doing 54 Fridays with three other women. We formed a small group in the fall, and they've been a huge support to me (and I hope it's the other way around as well!).
5. What do you hope to achieve?
By taking part, I want to witness to my love of the Church in doing this with others, but most of all I want to grow in holiness. The more my heart belongs to Jesus, the more disposed I am to whatever His call is in my life. St Catherine of Sienna said, "Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire." My deepest desire is to be holy so that when people meet me, they meet Christ in me, and I know prayer and fasting support that desire.
6. If people want to get involved and connect with those taking part locally, how can they join in?
If people want to join in, they can find the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/54Fridays/. They are also welcome to email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are encouraged to undertake this time with a partner or a small group so that they can pray together and support each other, whether it's in person or not. In person, communal prayer is certainly amazing if that can happen, but mutual support in terms of reminding each other Friday has arrived, sharing graces that come out of fasting, etc., will be helpful even if they don't happen in person. I'll be posting articles, quotes and other helpful items regularly on Facebook, and people are welcome to email me if they have ideas of things to share.
Have a craving for pancakes or something sweet? Hurry. You may be running out of time.
Catholics and people in the Christian tradition will soon enter into the season of Lent – a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in anticipation of the great celebration of Easter.
For some parishes and groups from across the Archdiocese of Toronto, they will be marking the change in liturgical season and the start of Ash Wednesday with pancakes, sugar and other sweet items.
Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday – the official start of the Lenten season. Throughout the years, many people have asked about the significance and origin of Shrove Tuesday.
The word Shrove is derived from the English word "Shriven," which means to seek repentance and forgiveness for the actions that we have committed, encouraging people to go to reconciliation. In countries throughout the world, Shrove Tuesday celebrations can look quite different.
In North America, particularly New Orleans, Louisiana or other cities, revellers have come to celebrate Shrove Tuesday as 'Mardi Gras' – translated from French which means 'Fat Tuesday.' People can be seen dancing, singing and most commonly, eating, ahead of a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Shrove Tuesday was also a time for many people to use up all the supplies that they have, in preparation for a season of fasting. That included eggs, flour, sugar, cream and anything else considered decadent.
Throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto, parishes celebrated the lead up to Lent with Shrove Tuesday celebrations of their own - including both Holy Rosary and St. Edward the Confessor Parishes (Central), Precious Blood (Eastern) and St. Justin Martyr (Northern).
For Arnold Lee Wah of Markham, Ont., Shrove Tuesday is one celebration he doesn't pass up.
"I look forward to it each year," Lee Wah said. "It's an opportunity to think about the coming Lenten season and to celebrate our beliefs and traditions as a community of faith, while nourishing our souls and tummies."
Lee Wah is a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus. His council helped to serve up pancakes at his parish in Markham, Ont.
At Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough, Youth Minister Chico Nuguid was busy serving up plenty of sugar and fatty pancakes to his parishioners and families, in anticipation of the start of Lent. He believes that the celebration of Shrove Tuesday is a teaching moment for all in and out of the Church.
"I really appreciate how something as simple as pancakes can bring the parish family together in fellowship and service," Nuguid said.
"It allows us the opportunity to step back and think about the spiritual journey we are about to begin."
Maria and Vince Luca have been married for 42 years, with four daughters and seven grandchildren. Members of the Focolare's New Family Movement, the couple reflects on their journey together in light of Marriage Sunday, taking place on Sunday, February 10. To celebrate, they'll be in attendance at the Celebration of Marriage Mass with Cardinal Collins.
1. Why did you join the Focolare Movement? During our engagement, we experienced the happiness of falling in love. We were imagining how wonderful our life together would be, always in love, having many children and not too many problems. We can still remember our first year of marriage when life together was very beautiful, however, we could see our shortcomings and the incompatibility of our personalities. We began to think that the dream of a perfect marriage might not be achieved as easily as we thought. Soon after, we met people who lived the spirituality of unity of the Focolare, and we were impressed with the way that they put the Gospel into practice. We felt called to do the same.
2. Can you describe the work of the New Family Movement?We try to live the Focolare's spirituality of unity, "That they may all be one" (John 17:21) concretely in our own families. By coming together on a regular basis, we help each other as we try to be a light to other couples. Retreat days, talks on family issues and many informal events help us to grow in our relationship with God as well as work toward the unity of the whole human family.
3. How has being a part of the lay movement impacted your relationship as a couple?
It has had a huge impact. In the early stage of our marriage, we began to meet with a group of Focolare families. Our journey together helped us to love each other more deeply, along with those with whom we came in contact. After being married for a year or two, our dream of having a large family seemed to be shattered when we found out that we would not be able to have children. When we first heard this news, it was very difficult for us but little by little, as we shared it with these very close friends, they gave us courage and we were able to see this suffering as God's will for us. However, God's love is never outdone in generosity because, soon after, we were expecting our first child and three more followed.
4. Do you have any advice for married couples? Here are some points that have helped us overcome small and, at times, big difficulties.
January 24 is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of media. Below, John Paul Meenan, Assistant Professor of Theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, explains the significance of this well-known saint.
Why is St. Francis de Sales known as the patron saint of the media?
St. Francis de Sales was appointed Bishop of Geneva in 1602, then the centre of Calvinism. Over the two decades of his ministry, he utilized with great effectiveness the new media of his time, the printing press, sending out untold numbers of persuasive pamphlets, books and tracts, along with his sermons. This, along with the sheer sanctity of the man, a fruit of lifelong prayer and discipline, helped convert tens of thousands of people to the fullness of Catholic truth.
How did his use of media at the time – pamphlets and books – help to effect cultural change?
St. Francis was brought up in a well-to-do noble household, and given the best education available, to which he responded with a generous and zealous soul and mind. This made him a very effective thinker and writer. His father intended him to become a magistrate, inherit his fortune and marry well, but Francis, after a spiritual struggle, consecrated his life Christ through Our Lady, determined to become a priest and save souls. Ordained in 1593, he turned many away from error by his eloquent words and arguments, which were not condemnatory, as was oft the custom at the time, but by the charity, good sense and moderation of his words – not least his Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God, still immensely readable, applicable and popular to this day.
In today's world, how can Catholics use media to have a positive impact on modern culture?
The Church, especially in the Second Vatican Council, has encouraged Catholics to utilize the media to evangelize, not just with more formal and big-budget projects, such as books and films, but, especially in this connected age where everyone has access to 'media,' by all that we read, watch, write or post. At the very least, Catholics should have vigilance over what they consume, avoiding anything base or evil, itself a form of witness. But we are also called to produce works – regardless of how apparently insignificant, every article, essay, email, text and photo – that will in some way lead others to truth, goodness and beauty. Adopt the fine manners of St. Francis, who saw in each person a soul to be 'saved,' to be led gently to the fullness of truth which Christ offers. To paraphrase the good bishop: 'We attract more souls with a spoonful of honey than with a barrelful of vinegar.' With St. Francis and all the myriad of saints, we may well be surprised at what good we may accomplish.
St. Francis died on December 28, 1622, was canonized by Pope Alexander VII in 1665, and was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877. He continues to be one of the most exemplary models for priests and bishops – as well as an excellent guide for the laity – to this day. Saint Francis, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!
The Pope's Message for the World Day of Social Communications 2019, released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, is "We are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25) From social network communities to the human community. To read the full text of the Pope's address, visit http://bit.ly/SocialCommunicationsMessage.
The following excerpt on how to read the Bible more effectively comes from YOUCAT's Youth Bible of the Catholic Church.
The Bible is written for you. By reading it, you can let God's word become a part of your life. The following seven rules for reading can help that to happen.
Read the Bible...
1. ...and pray.
The Bible is Sacred Scripture. Therefore it is good to pray, before reading, to ask God for his Holy Spirit and, after reading, to thank him. How can you pray? Simply start with a short prayer: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps 119:105).
2. ...and allow yourself to be surprised.
The Bible is a book full of surprises. Even though you have heard many of the stories already, give them a second chance. And yourself, too! The Bible shows you the all-surpassing breadth and greatness of God.
3. ...and be glad
The Bible is a great love story with a happy ending: death does not have a chance. Life wins. You find this Good News again and again in all passages of the Bible. Look for it -- and be glad when you have found it.
4. ...and do it regularly.
The Bible is the book for your life. If you read from it every day, even if it is only a verse or a short paragraph, you may realize that the book does you a lot of good. Just as with sports and music: you make progress only by constant practice -- and once you have acquired a few skills, it is really fun.
5. ...and do not read too much.
The Bible is a gigantic treasure. You receive it as a free gift. You do not have to unpack it all right away. Read only as much as you can take in well. If something speaks to you in a special way, write it out for yourself and learn it by heart.
6. ...and allow yourself time.
The Bible is an ancient book that is eternally young and new. It is not supposed to be read from start to finish without a break. It is good to pause as you read. That way you can reflect and become aware of what God wants to say to you. And once you have read through the Bible, just start over again from the beginning. You will again discover completely different aspects of it.
7. ...and be patient.
The Bible is a book full of profound wisdom, but occasionally it seems puzzling and strange. You will not understand everything right away. Then, too, much can be understood only in terms of the time or the historical situation. Have patience with yourself and with the Bible. When something is not clear to you, then look at the context or at other passages that deal with the same subject. Your Bible gives you a lot of support.
To read the rest of the tips, check out the YOUCAT Bible, available through Ignatius Press. For access to the Canadian daily readings, visit the Our Catholic Faith drop-down menu on the archdiocesan and parish websites within the archtoronto.org network, or click here.
The below post was originally published in the
St. Maria Goretti Parish bulletin.
Catholics are familiar with the following verse from Luke 12:15: Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Mr. Mohandas K. Gandhi also warned us when he stated that the world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed. The statistics support his comments. According to a Credit Suisse report, we now live in a world where the richest one percent of the population owns more than half of the total wealth.
How did we end up this way? It was not always like this. For most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers. During this period, humans were relatively equal, each having a limited number of possessions. People only took what they needed to survive. Hoarding items was not an option because we were constantly on the move. We lived a nomadic existence.
But things changed approximately 12,000 years ago when we started domesticating plants and animals. This made our food supply more accessible and predictable. Farming enabled families to collect wealth and pass it on. The region with the first agricultural communities is known as the Fertile Crescent, a narrow strip of land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. The Greeks called this area Mesopotamia, which means “between the rivers”. In addition to agriculture and irrigation, technological advances in this region included the development of writing, glass, and the wheel. It should be noted, however, that the more technologically advanced a society was, the less equal it tended to be.
Cities started to form. Mesopotamian cities included Eridu, Uruk, and Ur. Early cities arose in the Indus Valley and ancient China, as well. Establishment of these urban areas further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Large cities are places that disproportionately reward the most talented people, while fail the least skilled [World Economic Forum].
Fast-forward to today and the inequality crisis is at a tipping point. After 12,000 years of “progress”, the most recent statistics show that 82% of the wealth created in 2017 went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity received nothing [Oxfam]. Clearly, this inequality is driven by greed. It is also obvious that the answer to most of the world’s problems is a fair allocation of the world's wealth.
Pope Francis summed it up as follows: “Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socio-economic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another, and it even puts at risk our common home.”
It was St. Francis of Assisi who made made the Christmas crèche popular and turned it into a familiar part of Christian homes around the world. He presented a Bethlehem scene with live animals on Christmas Eve in 1223 in Greccio, Italy.
Here are some nativity scenes from parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto, in no particular order.
Holy Family Parish in Whitby
St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Thornhill
St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Woodbridge
St. David's Parish in Maple
St. Clare Parish in Toronto
St. Marguerite D'Youville Parish in Brampton
Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough - outside
Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough - inside
St. Edward the Confessor Parish in Toronto
Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Toronto
St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Richmond Hill
St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in Mississauga
Newman Centre in Toronto
*These submissions were collected between Friday, December 7 up until publication on Thursday, December 20.
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.