Dec 18, 2014

Peace building: No experience Required

Fr. Nawras Sammour, SJ

In the autumn of 2010, Fr. Nawras Sammour, SJ was appointed Regional Director for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Middle East and North Africa, based in his home country of Syria. In response to his reservations of being inexperienced for the role, he was told not to worry. “It’s just a small region with no major problems. This is nothing compared to our larger projects in Africa.”

Four months later, in March 2011, the Syrian Uprising began. This “small region” overseen by JRS now accounts for almost 35 per cent of the organization’s financial and human resources. Fr. Sammour spends his days overseeing programs aimed at establishing peace in a conflict zone.

JRS began its work in the Middle East and North Africa in 2008 in response to the huge number of Iraqi refugees fleeing conflict in their country. Since 2011, JRS Syria has focused primarily on emergency and medical relief to those in need and educational activities to enhance reconciliation and co-existence among people of different socio-economic and faith backgrounds.

JRS Syria operates on the premise that children are the gateway to peace-building. “Parents care a lot about their children,” Fr. Sammour said. “When they come to our centres and talk about being hungry, they say ‘our children are hungry.’ The most important thing for them is the children. Once we get the trust of children, we get easy access to families, to adults, to parents. [Then] we can organize something for adults: informal meetings or breakfast for 20 families in one of our centres. We discuss everything except politics.”

Fr. Sammour has witnessed adults eradicated from the same village who would have been hostile to each other months earlier, sharing a meal together and engaging in friendly conversation. Establishing relationships that bridge cultural gaps is the first step to creating a peaceful future in the Middle East, he says.

In Damascus, where Fr. Sammour lives and works, JRS’ short-term goal is to help children cope with the unimaginable trauma caused by war. JRS enrolls students in “catch-up studies” and engages them in sports and the arts. These activities provide opportunities for normal and healthy childhood experiences. They also oversee literacy and other training groups for mothers.

The work undertaken by JRS in Syria has strong ties to the Canadian Church and to the Archdiocese of Toronto. A JRS clinic in Aleppo is primarily funded by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) -- a ShareLife agency and the Canadian arm of Caritas Internationalis. During this time of crisis, Syria has experienced a serious “brain drain,” with doctors, engineers and other professionals now in short supply. Providing a clinic with access to reliable medical care is a huge asset to the community.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the faithful of the Archdiocese of Toronto have responded with great generosity, donating over $123,000, which has been distributed to aid agencies on the ground. To date, Canadians have given $2.7 million to CCODP, which, in turn, has helped over 200,000 people affected by the crisis.

In 2013, Canada’s federal government pledged to resettle 1,200 Syrians by the end of 2014. As of mid-November, about 700 refugees had arrived. Some refugee advocacy groups argue Canada needs to loosen restrictions to welcome more Syrian refugees. In the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Office for Refugees has helped over 130 parishes bring refugees from around the world to Toronto through private sponsorship. Many of these Middle Eastern families, including the Makhoo Family, featured in our blog last year, come to Canada by way of Syria.

Fr. Sammour emphasizes escape isn’t the solution for everyone. Ideally, Christians in the Middle East would stay in their homeland with their own people, customs and traditions. And some have decided to stay, even though they are free to leave. However, with an uncertain future and constant danger, seeking refuge abroad is the right decision for some.

“When I’m in front of someone who says ‘I’m going to leave’ I say nothing. When they say ‘I’m going to stay’ I say nothing. Except, ‘did you think very well about that opportunity so that you are able to face the consequences of your decision?’ That’s my only question.”

As a priest who lives under constant security risks and provides pastoral care for children who are the casualties of war, the lives of Canadian Catholics must seem far removed from Fr. Sammour’s raw experience of a lived faith.

But not so.

While our primary daily concerns differ, we all have an important role to play to establish peace. The crisis in Syria shows no signs of improvement. Both Fr. Sammour and CCODP staff urge Canadians to continue their generosity in prayer and material assistance. Together, we can lay the foundation for peace.

Fr. Sammour speaks highly of Canada’s longstanding tradition of welcome and peace building. He admires our priority of peace over progress and urges us to continue this practice. “Please do everything for building peace, not for doing war.”

Despite the ongoing conflicts in the region today, Muslim and Christian children are playing peacefully alongside one another as their parents share a meal at the JRS centre in Damascus.

In the depths of the coldest winter, there is hope of spring.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Public Relations and Communications. She spoke with Fr. Sammour in Toronto on his Canadian visit to JRS partner organizations and government officials.

To donate to CCODP’s work in Syria, click here.

Dec 11, 2014

How Good It Is That We Are Here

Eduardo and Nina Wijangco are parishioners at St. Patrick's Parish in Markham. Below, they share memories of their recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Eduardo and Nina Wijangco

This November, local Catholics joined a Gideon Travel-organized Holy Land Pilgrimage, bringing together 44 participants from the GTA, including Father Thomas Lim, formator at Serra House. Our group was diverse in ethnicity and age, including singles and married couples. Our common thread was a shared spirituality. We travelled as one pilgrim family, walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Our days started with prayer led by group leaders and the rosary and reflection by Father Thomas. At scheduled times at a designated holy places, Father Thomas said Mass for the group.

Our trip allowed us to explore many important locations referred to in the scriptures, which brought the Bible to life in a new way.

In North Jordan, we began at the Jabbok River, the birthplace of Israel (Genesis 32:28-30) and then on to the Roman ruins of Jerash. Next, we visited the Shrine of the Lady of Mountain in Anjara where Jesus Christ and his disciples, including the Virgin Mary rested in a cave. We ended the day at Mount Nebo where God showed Moses the Promised Land.

Crossing into Israel, we stayed in Tiberias, Galilee. We visited Mount Tabor where God transfigured Jesus in the presence of St. Peter, who replied: “Teacher, how good it is that we are here!” We indeed felt it was good to be there. Our hearts were bursting with joy in this holy place.

In Nazareth, we stopped at the Church of the Annunciation, the Church of St. Joseph and the church where the miracle of the wedding at Cana took place. Father Thomas blessed and renewed the wedding vows of the couples in our group. We experienced an overwhelming feeling that Jesus was present during that renewal!

We went to the Shepherds’ Field Church, Basilica of the Nativity and the Church of the Flaggelation where our Way of the Cross began. All of us took turns carrying the Cross of Christ and the words “Christ crucified, help us” filled the air as we re-enacted Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the Roman soldiers. It was incredibly humbling.

The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was unlike any other church we had seen. It houses the Golgotha rock where Jesus hung on the cross, the stone slab where He was laid to be cleaned and His tomb. It seemed as though the events of 2,000 years ago could have just happened. It was surreal, queuing up for our turn to venerate these objects. The experience will remain with us forever.

On top of a barren hill, overlooking the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Father Thomas said Mass surrounded by unending hills of golden sand, glistening under the hot sun. It was mesmerizingly serene.

Fr. Thomas Lim celebrates Mass overlooking the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Father Thomas’ words from that Mass have stuck with us: “Go to the foot of the cross and hold on to the feet of Jesus. The blessings from the Holy Land will help nourish and sustain us through trials and tribulations.”

The pilgrimage experience was unique for each of us. Some pilgrims were overcome with joy at visiting the holy places. Others felt the presence of the Lord while touching and kissing the Holy Relics. Some strongly felt Jesus’ presence during the marriage vows renewal in Cana. Others felt the weight of Jesus’ cross on their shoulders.

We began as half-pilgrims and half-tourists. By the end, we were full and enriched pilgrims whose hearts were open to God’s will.

The pilgrimage group

Dec 6, 2014

Find Forgiveness at the Day of Confessions

Thousands of Catholics will experience God’s forgiveness during the Day of Confessions on Wednesday, December 10.

At most of the 225 parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto, a priest will be available to hear confessions at scheduled times. Those who have not gone to confession in many years are welcome to participate.

In an interview last year, Pope Francis famously said, “I am a sinner,” reminding us all of our human frailty. He again demonstrated that self-awareness in April, when he went to confession publicly in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope’s example highlights a profound truth of the Christian tradition: it is through humbly acknowledging our failings that we find mercy, encouragement and a fresh start. 

According to the official teaching, the church calls Catholics to confess serious sins at least once a year.​ Traditionally, many go to confession in the liturgical season of Advent to prepare for Christmas.

The Archdiocese has prepared a Day of Confessions website that includes times and locations for participating parishes. It also features a how-to guide in eight languages and a series of short videos, including the above message from Cardinal Thomas Collins.

Kris Dmytrenko is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Dec 5, 2014

Your "Vaticanation" Awaits

Winter weather has officially arrived in the Archdiocese of Toronto. As we dig out our snow shovels, heavy coats and windshield scrapers, many of us are thinking the same thing: when can I take a vacation?

If you can’t take a trip this winter, or you just can’t wait until your departure to take a break, there’s good news for you: on December 10 (which also happens to be the Archdiocesan Day of Confessions), you can experience the beautiful Vatican Museums in 3D at a theatre near you. SKY Productions’ The Vatican Museums 3D is a strikingly beautiful and dramatically realistic look into the sixth most visited museum in the world. Additional shows will be in select theatres December 11 and 14.

Filmmakers used the same advanced 3D cinematic techniques used in Hollywood to create a realistic experience of some of the world’s most famous artwork contained in a museum that boasts seven kilometers worth of exhibitions. Paired with powerful music, these paintings come alive in a new way.

For Catholics, these masterpieces are much more than just pretty pictures and statues. As Professor Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, notes in the film, art is a great analogy for God’s handiwork. Just as God created the world from the void, the artist creates something new from the matter shaped by his hands.

A particularly powerful segment outlines Michelangelo’s personal sacrifice to paint the striking ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Having endured grueling hours perched high atop scaffolding in the heat and cold, the artist lived the remainder of his life with a crooked back and dimmed eyesight. The result is a masterpiece that will forever draw visitors into the awesome mystery of humanity, made in the image and likeness of God.

Upon returning from the 2013 papal conclave that ultimately elected Pope Francis, our own Cardinal Collins often spoke of his experience sitting in the Sistine Chapel before the painting of the Final Judgement and feeling the magnitude of the task with which he was entrusted.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo

The Last Judgement, completed in Michelangelo’s old age nearly 25 years after he finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is said to portray the reality of the human condition in a way that was rare at the time. Other paintings in the Vatican Museums also reflect this shift to realism. The film recalls that Caravaggio painted the saints as being noticeably hardened and Giotto's Stefaneschi Altarpiece similarly shows faces “marked by real life and shaped by faith.”

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio

Giotto's Stefaneschi Altarpiece

Last year, in an address to 350 patrons of the Vatican Museums, Pope Francis spoke about the power of art to bear “witness to the spiritual aspirations of humanity, the sublime mysteries of the Christian faith, and the quest of that supreme beauty which has its source and fulfillment in God.”

If you can’t get away this winter (and even if you can), we encourage you to take a “Vaticanation.” Treat yourself to a cinematic experience that virtually transports you to Rome, where you can experience art’s power to bring you into deep contemplation of things Divine.

For more information on The Vatican Museums 3D, visit this site, find show times in your area and view the trailer above.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Dec 3, 2014

Full Text: Cardinal Collins' Address, All Party Interfaith National Breakfast, Ottawa

Parliament Hill – December 2, 2014

Good morning. I am so pleased to be with you today in this historic building that is the visible sign of the parliamentary democracy which we all treasure. Here, on Parliament Hill, we are at the centre of Canadian civil society, where legislators entrusted with care for the common good of our nation debate, discern, and decide the path forward for our country. Theirs is an immense responsibility.

To all the organizers of this special gathering, especially co-chairs Nathalie Thirwall and Member of Parliament Mark Adler, I extend my gratitude for your efforts in coordinating the necessary logistics involved in such an impressive undertaking.

I am grateful to those who have chosen to embrace the noble vocation of public life. I know there are members here this morning from the House of Commons, as well as from the Senate, in addition to representatives from a number of embassies, and also the Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi. Greetings to you all.

Public service is not an easy vocation, with many days spent away from family, the need to prioritize so many diverse issues, and difficult decisions to reflect upon. It can all seem overwhelming at times. I know I speak on behalf of the many faith communities represented here this morning when I say to you, our legislators, that we pray for you. We pray for you every day, that you may make wise decisions to advance the common good in our country.

To the many diverse faith communities in attendance today, I thank you for all that you do. We are blessed to live in a country where we can enjoy freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Ever since the earliest days of Canadian history, the principle of the co-operation of Church and State has enriched our life as a civil community. Peace, order, and good government flourish when there is a richly diverse political and social ecology in which the state does not presume to do everything, but in which countless voluntary associations, such as religious communities, are vibrantly active in the service of the people. Biodiversity is essential to the health of the great forests of our country, and something analogous is essential to the health of civil society.  In so many ways, often very quietly, faith communities across our country lead the way in outreach and care for those on the margins, whose plight has so frequently been highlighted by Pope Francis. For people of faith, caring for the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers is a public witness to our beliefs. It is what we are all called to do. At the municipal, provincial, and federal level, our country would be a harsher and colder place without the loving witness of people of faith.

I have been asked to speak for a few minutes this morning on the theme of “Faith in Times of Crisis”. It is an intriguing topic. Upon reflection, it could be interpreted in many ways. Faith in Times of Crisis – is our world at a point of crisis, from violence in the Middle East, to strife in Ukraine, to the depredations of Boko Haram in Africa, and to dozens of college students killed in Mexico?

Or perhaps it is Faith in Times of Crisis in our own country – mere weeks ago the very halls of this Parliament were a scene of violence, and not far from here ruthless murder was perpetrated at Canada’s most sacred national shrine, the tomb of the unknown soldier. We pray for the two noble soldiers who gave their lives, here and in Quebec, and for their families.

Or perhaps Faith in Times of Crisis speaks to our own personal journey, in which each of us can experience the pain of broken relationships, jealousy, envy, greed, and despair.

For our legislators, and for all in public service, apart from the pressures of life that are especially challenging for those who must constantly be travelling, and living far from home, and working at irregular hours, there is the burden of making a right judgement on matters that affect us all. This can become a severe crisis of conscience if there is pressure put upon a public figure to forsake the most profound principles which define him or her. As Edmund Burke reminded the electors of Bristol, those who are elected are not merely passive representatives of the views of their constituents, but are chosen to exercise their intelligence and free will. They must be faithful to their conscience.

Navigating these turbulent waters of crisis can be most difficult. I suggest two ways in which faith can help all of us, and especially those in public office.

First, we can learn from the example of those who have gone before us, whose faith has given them the stars to steer by in the midst of the crises of life.

And second, we can reflect fruitfully upon the virtue of humility, a virtue rooted in faith, which protects us from becoming disoriented and shattered by the crises we all face.

The first example I would offer of a person who demonstrated the effect of faith as a sure guide in times of crisis, is St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, judges, and politicians. He was also an ambassador, and so he can serve as well as patron saint of those engaged in diplomacy – indeed he wrote his masterpiece, Utopia, while on a diplomatic mission.

Thomas More lived in a time of extraordinary social upheaval, at least as turbulent as our own, and as violent. He lived with integrity – that is, he was an integer – a whole number: not divided as a fraction, with the public part of him following and conforming to the shifting whims of his monarch, or public opinion, and the inner personal part of him guided by faith and reason to seek the truth. No, to live like that in public life is to be a fraction, not an integer: integrity means being whole: what he said and what he did and what he believed were one. He did not personally believe one thing, while publicly doing another.

It should be noted about Thomas More, for the benefit of those who think that faith is a simply matter of feeling, like taste, that while his was a life of faith, it was not a merely subjective faith. He flew, as must we all, with the two wings of faith and reason, each needing the other. He would not sign an oath that expressed what, after much thought, he did not believe to be objectively true; and so he gave his life, a martyr to freedom of conscience. Like Thomas More, we all need to be people of integrity – integer-ity -  and to look to both faith and reason as we seek to respond to the crises of life.

A second example of faith guiding the way through the crises of life is found in St. John Paul II, who visited our own country on several occasions. His was a most turbulent life, as he confronted the violence and oppression of both Nazi and communist dictatorship, and survived the shock of an assassination attempt. Those were grave external challenges, and undeniably dramatic; but in many ways the greatest crisis he faced was personal, at the end of his life, in his experience in old age of the frailty of the human body. In that struggle, he drew upon the reserves of wisdom and serenity that well up from profound and reasoned faith.

In declining health, the pope was hardly the robust, active and engaging pontiff of the 1980s. He was dying in front of the world, reminding us of the dignity that is found in every moment of life to the very end, even in those filled with pain, whose bodies no longer exhibit the beauty of youth. There is a greater beauty, a deeper beauty, than the beauty of youth and superficial physical perfection, and it is found in the human spirit shining through a disfigured body. Our human dignity comes from within, from the fact that each of us is a child of God.

In a society that is increasingly all too eager to embrace the most convenient and efficient way to end life, because this or that life is deemed to be not worth living, by whatever criterion one chooses, in the crisis of his last illness the late pontiff reminded us that every human being can live in dignity, regardless of their circumstances, until their last breath, until finally called home to the house of the Father. In his final years, even more than in his vibrant youth, Pope John Paul was a humble witness, a powerful witness, an authentic witness to the dignity of the human person. He never spoke more eloquently than when he could not speak.

We look to the example of those who have navigated through the crises of their lives guided by the light of faith. But we can also learn from a simple virtue, rooted in faith, which helps us all to transcend the crises we face: the virtue of humility.

At all times, and especially in times of crisis, we need to be grounded – not to be lost in a fog of illusion, but to see honestly the reality of our human frailty and of our need for God and one another. We need to see ourselves and the world around us accurately, as they truly are, not as we might wish or fear them to be.

When we get disconnected from reality, and caught up in illusion – whether it falsely exalts or falsely depresses us -  we cannot handle crisis in our personal lives, or in the public responsibilities entrusted to us. Faith helps us in times of crisis, because it gives us the perspective that leads to humility, as we recognize “God is God, and I am not” – a most sane way of seeing things. It has been said most wisely: what I am in the sight of God, that I am indeed, no more, no less.

The humility that is a fruit of faith helps us to deal with all of the crises of life, including the daily stress of decision making, and the awareness – which grows over the years – that there is very little in life that we really control, and that what we do control is usually not worth controlling.

Humility tames the ego, and so gives us the resilience to face both triumph and disaster with serenity. In our pride we are brittle, and self-referential. Humility makes each of us a more magnanimous person; when we are all wrapped up in ourselves, we make a very small package, and one that falls apart in times of crisis.

Different religious traditions have various ways of helping people to become grounded in humility – and humility literally means being in touch with the humus, with the earth. It means being down to earth.

In the Catholic faith, we have a great treasure in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, known to many as Confession, as a way to become grounded, to humbly recognize our sins, and in the experience of God’s mercy to begin again. Recently Pope Francis presided over a great celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Vatican, but before hearing the confessions of others, he went to a priest and knelt down and uttered that great opening line: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

In my archdiocese next week, we are having something akin to a Confession marathon. On December 10, we will have the Day of Confessions where every one of our 225 churches opens its doors all day long and late into the night to invite each member of the Catholic community to acknowledge weaknesses and frailties, to meet with a priest to confess their sins and then to be forgiven and begin anew.

I am a strong advocate of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need to seek forgiveness. It is easy to become caught up in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. It is not as easy to acknowledge that often, we are part of the problem. In an interview published last year, Pope Francis was asked to describe himself. This is what he said: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” His motto, taken from the words of the English Saint Bede, is: “It is in the experience of mercy that we are chosen.” Wise words, that can benefit us all, of whatever faith.

Most of us would not, when asked to describe ourselves, lead with being a sinner. We would tend to talk about qualities that are admired, accomplishments, educational achievements, things like that. I cannot imagine an election sign that read, “Elect Bob Smith, Sinner”. But that’s exactly what we are. Sinners.

I go to confession myself frequently. It is a true grace in my life. I am reminded constantly of the saying, “Be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet.” We are works in progress and we need to check in, so to speak, for regular maintenance. We don’t let our cars go for years without an oil change; at times we can take better care of our cars than of our immortal souls.  By confessing our sins we become accountable, and grow in humility, and in compassion for others, whose sins are so obvious to us. Love means saying “I’m sorry,” and perhaps if we do that then we can begin to heal the fractures in our own relationships.

In my own faith tradition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a precious pathway to growth in humility and the experience of mercy, both fundamental in confronting the crises of life; I encourage everyone here present to look to the ways in your faith tradition that lead to humility, and the experience of mercy.

Faith guides us and gives us the perspective that helps us to survive and flourish in times of crisis. My prayer for our legislators, and all gathered here today, is that we may learn from those who have overcome through faith the crises of personal and public life, and that we may become grounded in the humility that allows us to do the same.

May God bless you.

Nov 30, 2014

Sharing #ouradvent Traditions

This Advent, we encourage you to share your personal or family Advent traditions on social media using the hashtag #ouradvent. Feel free to share pictures or stories! Below, a sampling of people from around the Archdiocese share their favourite Advent memories and traditions.

I am fortunate to be a world traveler, or food tourist, if you want to know my real agenda! Born in Montreal, and still a regular visitor, I was always inspired by the museum of 300 creches (nativity scenes) from around the world, on display at St. Joseph’s Oratory. The Holy Family depicted in different races and cultures resonated with me. I began collecting local nativity scenes on my travels instead of conventional souvenirs. It's eye-opening to learn how the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph are viewed and treated in different countries (In Ecuador, everyone brings their own baby Jesus to Midnight Mass to lay at the altar for an extra blessing). From pregnant Mary riding a donkey in Chile, to coyotes howling beside an adobe hut in New Mexico, to stacking matryoshka Russian dolls that reveal tiny angels: the symbolic journey to Bethlehem – via many stopovers on the global map – has been fun and rewarding. (N.B. If you are an armchair traveler or just want to enhance your Christmas decor, I recommend you shop at Ten Thousand Villages, a Fair Trade source of excellent global nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes).
Genevieve Anderson, Parishioner, Newman Centre

While it’s at the end of Advent, a great Christmas tradition in our family is to have a birthday cake for “Baby Jesus” on December 25th. It gives a chance for kids, both young and old, to remember the true meaning of the season, as they sing Happy Birthday and welcome the “newborn King” into our home.
Neil MacCarthy, Director of Public Relations and Communications, Archdiocese of Toronto

When I was a kid, my brother and I were allowed to add a piece of straw to Jesus’ manger in our nativity scene every time we did a good deed during Advent. This prepared a comfortable bed for baby Jesus (who would make his appearance on Christmas morning) and taught us that giving to others is a gift to Christ and “prepares the way” for His birth.
We also took turns moving the Mary and Joseph figurines around the living room one small step every day in Advent until they made their eventual arrival at the nativity scene in the dining room on Christmas Eve. For the record, getting Mary to balance on the donkey wasn’t easy but added legitimacy to the process. Sometimes we misjudged just how long it would take to travel the expanse of the living room and the last day’s journey ended up being particularly arduous for the Holy Family and their trusty donkey. But, they always made it on time with our help.
Marlena Loughheed, Communications Coordinator, Office of Public Relations and Communications, Archdiocese of Toronto.

We use different Advent resources, some video, some written, as part of our prayer time as a family each night, and do a reflection on the daily Gospel.
We consciously do any and all shopping for Christmas before Advent, so there is no distraction of the material “to do” list and we can enter the Advent season freed up to focus on the spiritual components of the liturgical season without the distraction of the buying/budget balancing roller coaster.
 John MacMullen, Associate Director, Office of Catholic Youth and father of five.

We had a makeshift Advent wreath that my mom made using giant flower-shaped candles. Every evening before dinner, my mom would light a candle. We would then sing the song “Candle, Candle Burning Bright.” And every evening of Advent, my siblings and I always fought over who would snuff out the Advent candles after dinner was over. We had a silver double-sided candle snuffer, which we all found very impressive to use. It made it easier once we hit week three since we could each snuff out one candle.
One tradition that I have started as an adult has been to read a reflection every day of Advent. I received a booklet with reflections a few years ago, and each year I enjoy taking the booklet off my bookshelf and delving into it.
 Michelle Duklas, Communications Coordinator, Family of Faith Campaign

I once was involved with a youth group at St. Anthony’s Church and one of the members suggested we visit those in prison. We contacted the Don Jail and we ended up Christmas carolling for a number of years in a row. Incredible memoires for all involved. We would also go Christmas carolling door to door for those who received communion at home. I believe it was one of my first interactions with my wife. Our youth group would also visit patients at St. Joseph's Hospital, we would go from room to room, wishing the patients and their families a Merry Christmas and delivering Christmas cards.

Steve De Quintal, Teacher, St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School

Upon discovering resources, such as Fr. Robert Barron’s Advent Reflections, I found myself preparing my heart for the greatest Christmas gift this world has or will ever see, the birth of my Saviour. Like Lent, Advent is a time to shed ourselves of the many distractions of this life, in order to encounter the true person of Christ. As I await the birth of Our Lord, I in turn try to give more of my time to Christ, in order to prepare a crib for Him in my heart. 
Angela Ferguson, Parishioner, Our Lady of Peace, Etobicoke

Nov 28, 2014

The Year of Consecrated Life

The weekend of November 29/30 marks the launch of the Year of Consecrated Life. Pope Francis called for this year of commemoration after meeting with 120 superior generals of religious orders, consecrated men and women and heads of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. The year will conclude on the World Day of Consecrated life on February 2, 2016.

The purpose of the year is twofold. First is to look back in gratitude at the history of consecrated life since the decree on the renewal of consecrated life “Perfectae caritatis” (Perfect Charity) was published by Pope Paul VI 50 years ago.

The second objective is to “embrace the future with hope.” Cardinal Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, described this objective when the year was announced in January 2014:
We are well aware that the present moment is ‘difficult and delicate’ … and that the crisis facing society and the Church herself fully touches upon the consecrated life. But we want to take this crisis not as an antechamber of death but as … an opportunity to grow in depth, and thus in hope, motivated by the certainty that the consecrated life will never disappear from the Church because ‘it was desired by Jesus himself as an irremovable part of his Church.’
Every four months throughout the year, the congregation will publish a newsletter on themes related to consecrated life. Other documents are slated for publication throughout the year.

A full schedule of official events and celebrations can be found on the Vatican website. Some highlights include:

  • Ecumenical colloquium of religious men and women in January 2015
  • Seminar for consecrated life formators in April 2015
  • Workshop for young consecrated persons in September 2015
  • Thanksgiving vigil in January 2016

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we recognize the incredible contribution of consecrated men and women who pray for our diocese and tirelessly serve in our parishes, schools, hospitals and other social service institutions. 

The Sisters of Life are a vibrant order of sisters present in our archdiocese. Their Visitation Mission in Toronto provides practical assistance and spiritual and emotional support to pregnant women in crisis.

Cardinal Collins and the Sisters of Life at a youth rally in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Did you know that 120 different religious orders are represented in our archdiocese? This number symbolizes a great diversity of charisms and nationalities that enrich our family of faith. For a full list, visit this page.

The Missionaries of Charity have been present in Toronto for over 25 years.
The religious order was established by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. 

Check out this infographic, which shows more stats about religious orders in the Archdiocese of Toronto:

To the consecrated men and women we are blessed to know and those whose work and prayer goes unseen: thank you for all you do! Thank you for your sacrifice, love and witness of holiness. May God bless you abundantly during this Year of Consecrated Life by renewing and affirming your vocation.

Prayer for the Year of Consecrated Life (From USCCB)
O God, throughout the ages you have called women and men to pursue lives of perfect charity through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. During this Year of Consecrated Life, we give you thanks for these courageous witnesses of Faith and models of inspiration. Their pursuit of holy lives teaches us to make a more perfect offering of ourselves to you. Continue to enrich your Church by calling forth sons and daughters who, having found the pearl of great price, treasure the Kingdom of Heaven above all things. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Resources related to the Year of Consecrated Life
Forms of consecrate life (information from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as gathered by the USCCB)

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Nov 19, 2014

Coffee with Mary

While she didn’t arrive on donkey, as she is historically known to do, the Archdiocese of Toronto was pleased to welcome Mary of Nazareth this week as she entered the chancery office on foot.

To be more specific, Alissa Jung, the actress who plays Mary in the film Mary of Nazareth, stopped by to chat about a new book, Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures, which features still images from the movie. Jung included Toronto as her last stop on a North American promotional tour, organized by Catholic marketing company, Carmel Communications.

Alissa Jung shows off the book at the Archdiocese of Toronto's Catholic Pastoral Centre

The hardcover, over-sized, glossy volume features more than 60 photos and a series of reflections written by Marian scholar Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. It’s the sort of book you could leave on the coffee table during the Christmas holidays as a reminder of the true reason for the season. The attractive and reverent images are sure to spark impromptu tree-side catechesis this Advent. Even the younger members of your family will appreciate the striking and colourful graphics.

But this is not just a book for the Christmas season. Those who have seen the film know it follows the whole life of Mary, from her life as a young girl right through to the Resurrection of Jesus. So if the book hung around on that same coffee table after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when Christmas officially ends, its images and reflections will remain relevant in every liturgical season.

Essentially, clear a permanent spot on your coffee table.

Jung says the book can serve a different function for different readers. Some may be drawn to the reflections while others may just focus on the beautiful pictures. “People who have seen the film will like this book and people who like this book should see the film,” she said.

As Jung flipped through the book during her visit, she recalled some behind-the-scenes moments that took place while filming Mary of Nazareth.

Jung pointed to the photo of Joseph leading a donkey carrying pregnant Mary. Five minutes before they filmed the scene, the donkey stepped on the foot of Joseph (Luca Marinelli).

“He was really injured but was trying to say ‘I’m ok, I’m ok!’ and continue the scene.”

Jung’s recollection of these human aspects of filming ties in with her call to humbly portray the role of Mary. In the book’s foreword, she speaks of some of her hesitations in initially saying yes to the role:

How will I portray the mother of Jesus? What if I’m not precise? What if I’m not able? 
But then, after this period of sinking feelings and self-doubts, I suddenly recognized and was inspired by the idea that I was not supposed to portray an untouchable icon, but rather to portray Mary as a real human being.

This humility shines through in both the book and the movie. Is it strange to have a book of images of your face that are supposed to draw people into prayer? For Jung, that’s all part of the job.

“I am just an actress. I try to do my best in my portrayals, but it’s not me. It’s Mary. Still, it’s an honour.”

Mary of Nazareth: The Life of Our Lady in Pictures is published by Ignatius Press. For more information on how to order and a preview of the images, visit

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Nov 14, 2014

Typhoon Haiyan: One Year Later

November 8, 2014 marked the one-year anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan. The record-breaking tropical cyclone devastated parts of Southeast Asia, killing 6,300 people in the Philippines alone.  

This week seemed an appropriate time to look back in thanksgiving at how our local community assisted our brothers and sisters in need on the other side of the world.

Toronto-area Catholics responded with overwhelming generosity, raising $2.5 million dollars for Caritas Philippines, the official Catholic presence assisting victims on the ground. 

We also gathered as a faith community, uniting in prayer for those affected by the disaster. A Mass in support of typhoon victims was celebrated by Cardinal Thomas Collins on November 15, 2013 at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, a spiritual and community hub for many local Filipino Catholics. Considering the significant Filipino population in our city and our parishes, this was a disaster that struck close to home for many in the GTA.

Thank you to all those who offered prayers and material support. Although making a donation or saying a prayer seems like a small gesture, we've been blessed to have local representatives who have seen firsthand how your efforts have significantly benefited those in need in the Philippines.

This week, Development and Peace (CCODP) released a report on the organization's response to the disaster in the year that has passed since disaster struck. CCODP is the official international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada and the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis.

Arthur Peters, Executive Director of ShareLife, had an opportunity to travel to the Philippines with representatives from CCODP this summer to visit some of the sites benefiting from Canadian aid. We invite you to visit the ShareLife blog to read more about Peters' experience.

Speaking about his opportunity to visit homes that had been rebuilt using Archdiocesan-raised relief dollars, Peters shares the following reflection:
You could see the happiness in the faces of the people in having us visit them as we learned of their plight and their gratefulness to have a new place to live. In Giporlos, the community lined the main road into the Barangay, and greeted us with songs as we exited our vehicles. 
Your contribution means that you have ‘purchased a home’, so to speak – made possible because we contributed to a humanitarian relief appeal that took place to help people we will never know or meet. 
This week, I met some of the people who have directly benefited from our generosity, and I am proud to be part of a Catholic community whose care for one another has made it possible to bring home ownership and hope to those whose lives were impacted by the strongest typhoon ever to cross the Philippines.
Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, leaving thousands homeless.
Photo courtesy of Arthur Peters.

A church in ruins nearly a year after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines.
Photo courtesy of Arthur Peters.
Although a year has passed and we can see the tangible results of significant relief efforts, those affected will spend much longer rebuilding their lives. Please continue to keep the people of the Philippines in your prayers.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations & Communications.

Nov 10, 2014

Full Text: Cardinal Collins' Address, The Theologian with the Smell of the Sheep

University of Toronto St. Michael’s College Theology Faculty Convocation: November 8, 2014

I: The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian

At his first Chrism Mass, Pope Francis spoke of the mission of priests to be true spiritual shepherds of the people of God: “This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “smell of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock ...”.He emphasized that the pastors of the Church have an ecclesial mission: they must not be self-referential, but always act, and be internally disposed deep in their hearts, in a way that shows that they are aware that they are in the service of others, of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They, and not only the Pope, are called to be “servants of the servants of God.”

But this is not a Chrism Mass, or a pastoral assembly of priests or of bishops. This is the convocation of a Theology Faculty. It is a time to celebrate the years of fruitful intellectual labour that have led to the granting of the degrees and other signs of recognition which have been bestowed in this solemn academic ceremony. It is a time to rejoice with those who are completing their studies, or at least a significant stage in their formal studies, to wish them well, and to pray for God’s blessings upon them in the years ahead. This is a time to thank all of those in the Catholic Christian academic community which is the University of Saint Michael’s College who have assisted those who are graduating today, and to thank our friends and academic colleagues in the Toronto School of Theology and the University of Toronto, many of whom are present today to share in this celebration.

Nonetheless, on this celebratory academic occasion, it is most fitting to reflect, not perhaps on the image of the priest or bishop with the smell of the sheep, but of the theologian with the smell of the sheep. This is because all who are engaged in theological studies, or in the different ways in which the fruits of those studies are shared once the student graduates, have an ecclesial vocation. They too have a responsibility for the flock which is the People of God, which is the local Church (in parish or Diocese), or which is the Universal Church.

Teachers and students of theology come from among the people of God, and go to the people of God, to help them grasp more fully the deeper meaning of the action of God in their lives and in the world. I recall that in the foyer of the ancient theological University in which I studied there is a statue of Christ the Teacher, with the words “Go make disciples”, and those same words are written over the tabernacle in the University Chapel. The final exhortation of Jesus at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel is addressed to us all, but in a most emphatic way to those engaged in the study of theology: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the Age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

When faith seeks understanding, the natural gift of reason is treated most reverently when it used most effectively. The method of theology must reflect the most stringent requirements of academic integrity. The academic standards of the secular universities which have developed over the centuries from those which centuries ago arose out of the heart of the Church need to be met and surpassed by the theological faculties of the Church.   We must not trifle with God’s gifts, and especially the gift of reason. But theological faculties need not be intimidated by the narrow secular field of vision that can be encountered in the academic world. Pope Benedict jokes, in one of his writings, that the German secular intellectuals he encountered in his professorial life were puzzled at the existence of two theological faculties at the university at which he taught: why have even one, they mused, to study a reality that does not exist?  Theology of the highest academic standards has a rightful place in academia, but its mission encompasses more than academic legitimacy or productivity. Its mission is to help nurture the community it serves.

When the community which is the Church created universities in the Middle Ages for the service of the people of God, the consciousness of ecclesial vocation was strong. Universities are not for self but for other; to use another favourite expression of Pope Francis, they are not to be self-referential. If that communal identity and mission is true of Universities -  and for a profound examination of this theme I refer you to “The Idea of a University” by Cardinal Newman - then it is even more true of theological faculties. It is noteworthy that a good portion of Newman’s great work is devoted to insisting on the importance of theological study in any University worthy of the name.

Theology does not exist in a vacuum; it is an ecclesial vocation. Indeed the 1990 Instruction “Donum Veritatis”, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is subtitled “ On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian.” Referring back to the great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the Instruction notes that “… the Lord sent forth His apostles to make "disciples" of all nations and teach them (cf. Mt 28:19 f. ). Theology, which seeks the "reasons of faith" and offers these reasons as a response to those seeking them, thus constitutes an integral part of obedience to the command of Christ, for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14 f.). ” ( Donum Veritatis 7) A key mission of theology is to use the gift of reason to reflect upon the truth of the word of faith, and to offer to fellow disciples and to all people the service of presenting that truth more clearly. This is an ecclesial service, not an self-enclosed intellectual endeavour .

That is why, building on the image used by Pope Francis, I will offer some reflections on the theme of “The Theologian with the Smell of the Sheep.”

II: There are two ways

I have always loved the opening line of the Didache, that great early Christian text. It is even more striking than “It was a dark and stormy night.” The Didache begins: “There are two ways, the way to life, and the way to death, and there is a great difference between them.”  We must not be simplistic, but from the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy, to the two paths outlined in Psalm 1, to the beatitudes and woes and the sheep and the goats of the Gospels, to the contrast of Jerusalem and Babylon in the Apocalypse, to the Didache, and beyond that to the Ignatian choosing which standard to follow in life: the highlighting of contrasting paths helps us to navigate through life. Like the dye used in medical tests to reveal what is happening in the body, such artfully constructed contrasts reveal a reality which might otherwise escape recognition.

So here are a few contrasts chosen to reveal something about the ecclesial mission of theologians, and of a theological faculty.

The way of individualism and the way of community. This contrast touches on the idea of an ecclesial vocation. There is a solitary dimension to the scholarly life, and that is both necessary and healthy; the scholar, the theologian, reflects as an individual on what he or she studies. To be fruitful, however, the theological enterprise must be set in a communal context. Obviously, in one sense, that is true of all scholarship: the scholar engages in discussions with colleagues and students, and so refines initial ideas, benefits from the intellectual cross-pollination of scholarly discourse, and must be ready to submit to the critique of scholarly peers.  There is a further communal dimension, however, to theological scholarship: the theologian is engaging in the study of the common faith of the Church, and often is preparing laity and clergy for the service of the community of faith.  Not only that: in these days theological speculations are communicated instantly, unlike in the past, when professors debated one another Latin in the enclosed context of academia. This communal dimension places a burden of responsibility upon the individual theologian.

The way of abstraction and the way of concreteness. By its very nature, intellectual activity is abstract. It is a matter of ideas. But more than in the case of subjects such as mathematics, theological intellectual activity engages the whole person. We do not live from the neck up. So theological activity, if it is to be fruitful, and truly of service to the community, needs a leavening of experience and a broadening of perspective. Newman was a better theologian because he did not focus entirely on theology, and indeed saw much of his most profound intellectual work as a humble effort to help people in their daily struggles as believers in the midst of an increasingly secular world. The work of the theologian will be fruitful as theology to the degree that the theologian is not simply learned or intellectually brilliant, but is actively engaged, in parish, in family, in the service of the needy, and in the life of the diocese. Engagement in the life of the scholarly community of university or college itself is also, of course important, but the horizon afforded within academia is not, in itself, broad enough to enliven scholarly work in theology. The mixed life, the varied life, the engaged life: these are necessary conditions for fruitful theology.

The way of self-sufficiency and the way of repentant adoration. The primordial flaw of academia is pride. Smart people, and learned people, have to watch out for that. Pride, of course, is the chief of the seven deadly sins, and all of us, no matter what our vocation in life, must battle with it daily, whether it comes in its most harmless form as vainglory or whether it comes more subtly and more dangerously as an unconsciously hardened ego. Among religious folk it can be tinged with the arrogance of the false prophet, when “Thus says the Lord …”  gives added legitimacy to the enforcement on others of what are really no more than the dictates of the ego of the prophet. Whether in the pulpit or in the classroom, one can get drunk on the experience of pontificating to others. A writer on preaching describes a preacher finishing a homily, and being told by a parishioner “That was a wonderful homily!”  The preacher said “You are the second person to tell me that.” “How can that be? You have just finished speaking.” The preacher replied: “The devil told me first.”  Those who are caught in the web of words, and engage in the trade of language and ideas, need to be especially alert to the demon of pride. Pride leads to blindness, to self –absorption, to arrogant posturing, to gossip, to intrigue, to hardness of heart towards the sufferings of others, and to isolation from the wider community and its needs. So, especially because it can have a great effect upon the life of the whole community of faith, theology must be done in a spirit of repentant prayer. Priests are urged to get to confession frequently, for they suffer temptations similar to those of theological scholars. Students and professors of theology should do the same.

III: Models for Theologians

The lives of the saints instruct us, which is why the popes recently have been canonizing more saints. There are many theologian saints who can show us different aspects of how to do theology, conscious of the essential ecclesial context: to be theologians with the smell of the sheep. Here are a few:

Saint Augustine: he was learned, brilliant, and creative, and his writings have shaped western civilization. But theology was not all that he did. His theological writings are profound, not just because of his natural gifts and his diligence, but because he spent a lot of time settling mundane disputes between his parishioners. Some of his most profound writings were sermons preached while he literally sat in the midst of the congregation on Sundays in his cathedral in Hippo.

Saint Teresa of Avila: she was a sublime mystic, and was lifted up in rapture as she prayed. But she also was a hard headed administrator, constant traveller across the plains of Spain, and loving though feisty letter writer, engaged in profound affective friendships with men and women in all states of life. She is a Doctor of the Church, but she did her writing when she could, as a sideline to her day job.

Blessed John Henry Newman: not yet a Doctor of the Church, he did almost all of his writing as a response to pastoral needs. He did not set his own agenda, but used his astonishing intellect and remarkable human sensitivity in the service of individuals and of the Church. I mention sensitivity: it might more accurately be called excessive sensitivity – yet from this human flaw, from this grain of sand in the oyster, Newman by God’s grace produced the pearls of wisdom which he shared with his contemporaries, and continues to share with us. Because in his suffering he knew his own heart, he could see into the hearts of others: Cor ad cor loquitur – heart speaks to heart. He was massively learned, and astonishingly brilliant, but his theological writings were a humble offering of love for God and neighbour. That is why he is great.

III: Implications

Today we celebrate the Convocation of the Theological Faculty of the University of Saint Michael’s College, and congratulate those whose academic achievements we acknowledge with joy. It is indeed a time to rejoice, but also to think deeply of the purpose of the study of theology. A great book on the priesthood by Bishop Sheen is called “The Priest is not his Own”, a sharp reminder to priests that their life finds meaning in humble service of God and neighbour.  In a similar way, the scholarly community that forms a theological faculty finds meaning by moving outward, and by adopting a spirit of humble service to the wider community of the Church, which provides the fundamental context within which it lives and flourishes. That spirit of humble engagement of the theologian with the smell of the sheep is what we celebrate above all today, as we hear the prayer of a truly great theologian who understood profoundly the meaning of his intellectual vocation as a servant of the community of faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes, in his prayer before study:

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of your wisdom,
Have established three hierarchies of angels,
Have arrayed them in marvellous order above the fiery heavens,
And have marshalled the regions of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed the true font of light and wisdom,
And the primal origin raised high beyond all things.
Pour forth a ray of your brightness into the darkened places of my mind;
Disperse from my soul the twofold darkness into which I was born:
Sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech and pour forth upon my lips the goodness of your blessing.

Grant to me
Keenness of mind,
Capacity to remember,
Skill in learning,
Subtlety to interpret
And eloquence in speech.

May you guide the beginning of my work,
Direct its progress,
And bring it to completion.
You who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign, world without end. Amen.