The COVID-19 health crisis has changed the daily rhythms of our lives in so many ways. As we continue to adapt to the pandemic, it can be difficult to know what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.
Although the routines of parish life have changed in recent weeks, many parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto have found innovative ways to continue their ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some creative things happening in the archdiocese that your parish may want to try doing:
Patrick Douglas, Associate Director of Family Life Ministry in the Office of Formation for Discipleship, shares exciting news below about the Early Catholic Family Life pilot project. This project invites parishes to support young families in the faith. Patrick and his wife, Carissa, are parents to 13 children and are passionate about new ways to evangelize with families.
Having been raised in Judaism and after having been part of a messianic congregation and then an Evangelical Church, Mark and Sue Neugebauer became Catholic in 2009. Mark was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2018. They call themselves Messianic Jewish Catholics – someone who maintains a Jewish identity while acknowledging Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) is the Messiah.
Together, with a competent team, they have run the Toronto chapter of the Fellowship of St. Joseph of the Association for Hebrew Catholics. Below, Deacon Mark and Sue share with our readers their journey to Catholicism.
1. What is the mission of the Association for Hebrew Catholics?
The official mission statement of the Association for Hebrew Catholics is as follows:
The Association of Hebrew Catholics [works] to preserve the identity and heritage of Catholics of Jewish origin within the Church, to enable them to serve the Lord and all people within the mystery of their irrevocable calling.
Our Toronto branch has expanded that mission to include all people who are interested in the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith. Our hope is to kindle an understanding of the origins of the liturgy, rituals, holidays and sacraments of Catholic observance to enrich the lives of the faithful. In so doing so, we combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel ideologies so rampant in the world today. We also want to make others aware of the need to pray for and support suffering Christians throughout the world.
Deacon Mark and Sue Neugebauer.
2. Who is the fellowship made up of?
The fellowship is made up of Jewish and non-Jewish people. While most attendees are Catholic, we welcome people from all ecclesial communities. We especially welcome Jewish people seeking to understand who Jesus the Jewish Messiah is, as well as provide a place of support for those Jewish people who have chosen to follow Jesus, Yeshua, in the Catholic Church.
3. How many Messianic Jews are there in Toronto?
Not sure! There are many Messianic Jews in messianic congregations and Protestant churches and there are several in the Catholic Church, as well as many "secret believers" who do not attend Christian services. There are also people of Jewish heritage who attend Christian congregations but do not necessarily identify still as Jews.
4. Are your beliefs the same as the rest of Catholicism?
Our beliefs are completely in line with the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. We fully support the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all the teachings of the popes and saints.
Our only differences are a matter of emphasis in the teachings of the Catholic tradition. We are especially influenced by the documents of Nostra Aetate and the other four Second Vatican Council documents concerning the Jewish people. We highlight the Catechism and papal teachings on the relationship between the Church and Israel, and we endeavour to have more Catholics celebrate these spiritual roots.
Along with the Church and Pope Francis, we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. Because we love Israel, we seek to explain the history of the land and refute some misconceptions about it, although we refrain from the political disputes surrounding this topic. We work to present the Jewishness of the Scriptures and of Jesus himself. Also, we remind people that Mary and all the first apostles were Jews who lived their lives in the context of first century Israel.
5. Anything else you'd like Catholics to know about Messianic Jews?
There are almost as many different expressions of practice among Messianic Jews as there are in the rest of the Christian world. Some Messianic Jews are more observant of traditional Jewish practices than others. Many pray in Hebrew, but some do not. There are Jewish Catholics, Jewish Protestants and Messianic Jews who worship in different ways and with different terminology. But we are united in our desire to see our people come to faith in our Messiah, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). We share a love for our people, our traditions and holidays, our land of Israel, and our culture.
We want Catholics to know the roots of our precious collective faith, rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. To discover the people of the Bible in the context and culture they really lived and worshipped in. And to help them understand that the Church that came forth from the upper room at Pentecost is rooted in a rich and beautiful tradition, a faith given by God to Israel and always with the intention of bringing that faith to all nations.
To learn more about Deacon Mark's and Sue's journey to Catholicism, please visit https://www.hebrewcatholic.net/neugebauer-mark-sue/.
For video and written testimony. https://chnetwork.org/story/messianic-and-catholic-conversion-story-of-mark-neugebauer/
To contact Deacon Mark and Sue: email@example.com.
Join hundreds of worshippers from different faith backgrounds at the annual Interfaith Festival of Creation happening on Sunday, Februrary 16 at The Mary Ward Centre at 70 St. Mary St., Toronto.
The Office of Ecumenical & Interfaith Affairs, The Mary Ward Centre and many other faith organizations are c0-hosting an afternoon of music, prayer, food and much more.
To get a sneak peak as to what visitors to the Festival can expect, click on the below image.
For more information, contact the Mary Ward Centre at 416-483-2238 or visit the Facebook, Instagram or Twitter channels for the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs.
Norman and Marissa Tapangco have been married for 17 years and have three kids ages 16, 14 and 6. They are active members of both Worldwide Marriage Encounter and Couples for Christ, and are a certified natural family planning couple teaching for Serena Canada. In light of Marriage Sunday taking place on February 9, the couple reflects on the joys and challenges they faced five years into their marriage.
1. You've been married for 17 years, but let's look back at the five-year mark in your marriage. What joys were you experiencing after five years of marriage?
Five years into our marriage, we were already blessed with our second child. This was the year we were stabilizing financially and relationship-wise, and our children were getting sick less often! We had jobs that let us to support our family, including sending both our children to daycare and enjoying some simple pleasures. We had some sense of relief in terms of our family's future.
This was the year Marissa's dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. We needed to be with her parents quite often to offer emotional support and assist with medical appointments as well as everyday needs.
While trying to help Marissa's parents, we had to start establishing a consistent routine for the children as they were starting school.
It was hectic but we just went with the flow.
We also found ourselves thinking of either moving closer to Marissa's parents or just moving in with them in order to ease the back and forth and achieve a consistent routine for the children. Unfortunately, this did not come to fruition before her dad passed away.
3. What kind of impact did children have on your marriage?
Our first child was a honeymoon baby. This put a lot of stress on our new marriage. Marissa was grieving that her plan to go back to school was not going to happen. We were not prepared at all for this life change. We did not even know how to live together, never mind raise a child. Our jobs were not so stable and we did not have much of a financial cushion. Concerns of job stability and child care costs became major stressors that affected our relationship.
4. How did faith strengthen your family after five years of marriage?
Our faith in God was very instrumental in keeping us together. We both were heavily involved in a religious community prior to getting married and continued to be members after we became husband and wife.
We valued the sacrament of marriage and held onto God's teachings about love, forgiveness and service. We made efforts to access supports such as marriage retreats and prayer groups when times were rough.
Even today, we repeatedly try to improve our communication and address attitudes or behaviours that displease each other. Most importantly, we try to make prayer a consistent practice in our household.
5. Do you have any advice for couples journeying together through this stage of marriage?
Marriage is a covenant that we make not only to our spouse but also to God. When times get rough, it is helpful to look beyond how we feel or what we think about the situation. We need to try to realize what God would like us to do and how He would like us to respond to what is happening. Forgiveness and respect are key regardless of how upset we may feel.
The Celebration of Marriage Mass will take place on Sunday, February 9 at St. Isaac Jogues Parish (1148 Finch Ave., Pickering) at 3 p.m. Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, will preside. All couples are invited to attend but seating will only be reserved for couples celebrating their 25th, 40th, 50th and 60+ wedding anniversaries. For details on Marriage Sunday, including the Celebration of Marriage Mass, please visit https://www.archtoronto.org/marriage.
Robert Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto. In his new book, The Church on the Street, he invites readers to walk with him as he ministers in a Toronto neighbourhood known for drugs, prostitution and homelessness. Below, he provides insights on his street ministry.
1. How did you come to start your street ministry?
It all started in 2003 when I was driving through downtown Toronto at 1 a.m. to drop off someone at their home. It was a wet night and the lighting was much too dim to properly see the street corners where shadowy figures stood negotiating a prostitution deal. Others were clearly on drugs as they purposefully walked while waving their arms as if to swat away imaginary flies.
"The people of the night," I thought to myself. "This is their existence. So where is the Church?"
I knew that the Church was in the drop-in centres such as Good Shepherd Refuge, St. Francis Table and Yonge Street Mission, caring for those who could find shelter there. But where was the Church on the street at 1 a.m.?
It was this simple thought that found me two years later asking permission — first from my wife and then from Cardinal Thomas Collins — to walk these streets at night as my diaconal ministry.
My plan was as simple as that; to walk the streets each week at the same time and in the same area. Not as a social worker distributing money, clothing or food. But as a friend who would listen to the cares, dreams and hopes of the "people of the night" and perhaps through this, help them believe that God indeed loves them just as they are.
2. What are the greatest challenges you face while ministering on the street?
Ministry on the street is the same as all ministries of presence. The rules are simple: Show up, listen, don't judge, don't fix.
One of the greatest challenges is continually reminding myself that the only "success" in this ministry is for me to continue showing up. That's it! If I start having an agenda, then I have lost the script that was laid down by Jesus many years ago and I will quickly burn out. If my agenda is to get people to stop doing drugs, to give up prostitution or to "come to Jesus" (whatever that means), then I will burn out quickly.
I have never heard anyone on the street say, "I am sure glad I am on drugs" or "I always wanted to grow up to be a prostitute." They don't want to be there and don't need me to tell them that. But for sure they need and want someone who will listen to them and accept them so they can see hope in their lives and one day leave this all behind.
Part of the "showing up" is committing to the ministry regardless of whether the temperature is plus 20 degrees or minus 20 degrees, since those on the street on these nights often have few other options.
I have often been surprised by the times I have met someone that I have no recollection of meeting, but they say, "I know you. I have seen you out there."
3. What is the most rewarding part of working with those on the streets?
The rewarding part of this ministry is finding that people will accept me, share with me and allow me to be their friend.
One night, I was concerned about the way a man who was under the influence of drugs was coming towards me. But a drug dealer from the area intervened, telling me, "Don't worry, we will look after you and will not let anything happen." With that, in a flurry of expletives, my protector told the man in no uncertain terms that he was not wanted there.
On another occasion, a lady who often chatted with me on the streets, asked me what was wrong since I did not seem like myself that evening. She was a well-known addict and we had previously had many good conversations about her life. I told her I had just got off the phone with a friend who was dying of cancer and he said it was probably our last talk as he felt his end was very near. She said, "I keep forgetting that you are human too and need my support at times."
4. How has your perception of people on the street changed after your years of ministry?
After coming to know the life stories of the people I am with, I find it surprising that they still believe in God. Perhaps they hold onto a faith because they can no longer believe in people who have let them down so often.
In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these sisters or brothers of mine, you did it for me." Although I cannot always do it, I have come to see in my quieter moments the face of Jesus in some of these people on the street. I have a deep admiration for the way they can rise again and still believe when they have been beaten them down so often by childhood trauma or mental illness.
Fr. Greg Boyle, who has worked with gangs in Los Angeles for over 25 years, put it best, "Here is what we seek: A compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it."
5. Can you suggest ways that our readers could be of assistance to those living on the street?
So often we meet people begging on the street and we wonder what we can do to help them. I would call your readers back to the simple ministry of presence, "Show up, listen, don't judge, don't fix."
Giving money or not is up to you. I don't, because that is not why I am on the street (in fact, it could be dangerous for me if I became known for giving out money). I always say that you can get anything on the street — drugs, a woman, a man, a knife, probably a gun if you asked around — but what people cannot get on the street is someone to listen to them. I would suggest that if there is someone you pass, then just look them in the eye and say "Hello, my name is ____. How are you today?" If you pass them regularly and do this each time, then there is a chance that a friendship will evolve.
Alternatively, if you have time, volunteer at a shelter such as the Good Shepherd. There you will start to meet people on a regular basis and start to understand their life through their stories.
There you will meet Jesus in his many disguises.
To purchase a copy of, The Church on the Street, please visit: https://www.catholicregister.org/item/30763.
In 2019, ShareLife raised about $15 million to support 43 agencies that help our neighbours who are facing difficult times in their lives. One of those agencies is St. Michael's Homes, which provides holistic recovery programs for men with substance abuse challenges.
Robin Griller, Executive Director of St. Michael's Homes, explains how donations to ShareLife make a life-changing difference to men who are overcoming substance abuse disorders.
1. Can you describe the work done by St. Michael's Homes?St. Michael's Homes provides support for men in the early stages of recovery from substance use challenges. We currently have five programs:
2. How is St. Michael's Homes' approach to addiction recovery different than what is used by most other programs? We are different from other addiction services in a number of ways. Our program is based on a holistic psycho-social model of recovery that recognizes:
3. Do you have a success story that you can share with us?
James (not his real name) grew up in Toronto, married young and had a child. He had a steady job and he had bought a house.
When James's marriage broke down, so did his happiness. James faced depression due to the loss of the marriage and not being able to see his child. He found himself jobless and alone.
The emotional turmoil that came with these problems led James to drugs. The drugs were an escape, allowing him to forget his problems. He was only happy when he was high.
James fell into a cycle: Find a low paying job, work for the first pay cheque and then get high on drugs until the money ran out. Each turn through the cycle ended in a worsening low that had James praying for death.
With his family's support, James completed a treatment program. However, afterwards he found himself without a support system in place and he ended up relapsing.
Back in the cycle of addiction, James's life revolved around unhealthy relationships. Isolated from his family, he once again thought about suicide. But the arrival of a second child made him think about his family and forced him to seek help.
He joined the treatment program at St. Michael's Homes and worked diligently on his recovery. After completing treatment, he entered the Transitional Housing Program. With his support system in place, he was able to work through issues with his family and build a new life.
James has been supported in helping his sick father and reconnecting with his mother, sisters and youngest son.
With the help of St. Michael's Homes staff he has come to realize that relapse is often part of recovery and has worked through stressful periods, learning how to recognize and avoid triggers. James has focused his energies on stabilizing his life, volunteering in the house and eventually returning to work.
James knows hope exists and says, "Help is there, but it's up to you to do the work. Nobody does it for you."
4. How does support from ShareLife help St. Michael's Homes do this work?
We couldn't accomplish our work without ShareLife. The housing program is the focus of Sharelife's funding. We have support from the Ministry of Health to pay for the buildings and administration. But ShareLife dollars pay for the staff who provide individual supports to the men in our housing program and the group activities (both therapeutic and social!) that make this a warm and supportive home environment. ShareLife ensures we are able to provide good food, bedding and all the other material things our men need as they move into a new life of recovery from substance use disorders.
Watch this video to learn more about ShareLife and St. Michael's Homes.
Thanks to your generosity, ShareLife can support agencies that live the Gospel mission in our community. Click here to support ShareLife and receive a charitable donation tax receipt.
On the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter on the importance of Christmas crèches, also known as nativity scenes. His Holiness explained that crèches are a great family tradition that helps us reflect on how God "became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with Him." Pope Francis also encouraged crèches to be displayed in public places, such as schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons and town squares as a way of transmitting our faith.
Fr. Roy Roberts, pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Newmarket, shares insights on his collection of 83 Christmas crèches that he puts on display every year.
More than a decade ago, I was at the very multicultural parish of St. Francis de Sales in Ajax. We celebrated this diversity with international potlucks, displaying national flags and eventually we stumbled on the idea of acquiring and displaying nativity scenes from as many countries as we could get.
Theologically it expands the notion that Christ was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago to the idea that Christ is still being born today in each and every culture.
Malawi crèche, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Roy Roberts)
Our crèche criteria was: it had to be authentically from the place it represented; and it had to somehow depict something unique about that culture and its peoples.
Over the years the Internet became a great source for getting international crèches. And people would write to their family and friends in various countries requesting crèches or they would bring them back from their travels.
When I left St. Francis I carried the same idea to St. Elizabeth Seton in Newmarket. When St. Francis discontinued the celebration, I was able to get a head start on the collection here in Newmarket. Now we are up to 83 scenes and counting!
Crèche from the Dominican Republic, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Roy Roberts)
We like to set them up after the Fourth Sunday of Advent but as our collection has become larger and more elaborate, we now start constructing the scenes after the Third Sunday of Advent. They remain up until the last Sunday of Christmas, typically the Baptism of our Lord (Sunday, January 12, 2020).
We don't advertise the crèche display outside the parish but word of mouth — especially in small towns — has spread pretty quickly and people from around the area will pop in.
It is a highlight for the parish and it is magical to watch families pointing out the various scenes from their country of origin. It is a great unifying celebration and it expresses our Eucharistic communion in a new and vivid way.
It is hard to pick a favorite now that there are so many of them. Each crèche has its own story, which makes it intriguing and special. However, I do think our crèche from Malawi is exceptional. The artistry of the carving is exquisite.
Also, the crèche from the Dominican Republic has a special place in my heart. It was donated by the students from Archbishop Denis O'Connor High School in Ajax as a thank you for the parish's support of their endeavors.
Feel free to visit this Christmas!
During this Advent season, many of us will stand comfortably next to a Christmas tree gazing out at the chilly weather.
On these days, volunteers at Toronto's Out of the Cold program will serve homeless people who need shelter from the winter conditions. And one family will continue their mission of getting "into the cold" to raise much needed money for Out of the Cold.
Bobbi Johnston-Flanigan runs a Christmas tree lot at St. Peter's Parish in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, alongside her siblings Corey and Lucas. Last year they donated $35,000 of their proceeds to Out of the Cold, an interfaith community program that began in 1988 after students at St. Michael's College learned that a local homeless man had died in the cold weather.
"It really is of benefit and great service to the community," Johnston-Flanigan said.
"Knowing that the less unfortunate among us can receive care and dignity through the proceeds we raise is heartwarming for us."
It all started 28 years ago, when Bobbi's father Sonny started selling trees at one location with the hopes of raising money for charity.
The family has since acquired two more tree lots. Her mother Cathy and aunt Irene run a lot in the east end of Toronto, while a family friend runs another location on St. Clair Ave. West.
Bobbi and her family are happy to be back at St. Peter's for a third time now that a restoration project at the parish is nearly complete.
Fr. Michael McGourty, pastor at St. Peter's Parish, is thankful for their presence.
"They are a gift to our community and we are thankful for their great service and work," he said.
Through the years, Bobbi has seen what a blessing it is to sell Christmas trees at the parish.
Bobbi recounted how her father, Sonny, has volunteered with the Out of the Cold program for the last 25 years and was the driving force to give back, without expecting anything in return.
"Dad opened the Christmas tree lots with the intention of donating back and being as generous as he can," she said proudly.
"His children — both my brothers and I — are excited by the task of carrying on his legacy and continuing to donate."
Over the years, Sonny and the family have raised over $500,000, with proceeds going to help Toronto's homeless community.
Bobbi is confident they will reach their target of $30,000 by the end of this holiday season. As of December 5, they have pulled in about $7,125.
For more information on their efforts or to buy a fresh tree or wreath of your own, visit Sonny's Christmas Trees on Facebook.