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Sitting around the table at the meeting at Thomas More Church, Darlene Smigelski felt a smile start to soften her face. "Lord, you are funny. When you want to communicate with me you hit me with a two-by-four, don't you?" Smigelski had just agreed to be coordinator of the RCIA program for the church. That was 15 years ago. "I have been doing this since the turn of the century. That is what I like to say."
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Jean Vanier, the Canadian Catholic author and philosopher who founded L'Arche, an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize. L'Arche is dedicated to the creation and growth of communities, programs and support networks for people with intellectual disabilities across the globe. The movement began quietly in northern France in 1964, when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to come and live with him as friends, and has grown to include 147 L'Arche residential communities in 35 countries. As well, there are more than 1,500 Faith and Light support groups in 82 countries that urge solidarity among people with and without disabilities.
Father Romano Venturelli grew up on a farm in Italy. He put so much dedication into his farm chores that people thought he would make a good farmer. But the young boy's heart was in the priesthood. He wanted to be a missionary in Latin America and minister to indigenous people. However, the young Venturelli was recruited by the Salesians of Don Bosco and ended up in Canada instead. In fact, he has spent most of his priestly vocation in Canada, primarily in Montreal and Edmonton.
Within sight of Winnipeg's shiny new IKEA store lie dozens of abandoned buildings on acres of desolate land that First Nations are eager to transform into a neighbourhood with green space, retail shops and commercial property. But the federal government refuses to give up the land to the First Nations, and some residents of the affluent bordering communities of Tuxedo and River Heights may not want a so-called urban reserve in their backyards. "As Christians we are compelled to foster dialogue that crosses the divides of humanity," David Balzer said during a March 5 panel discussion at the nearby Canadian Mennonite University.
Seeing the elderly only as a burden "is ugly. It's a sin," Pope Francis said at his March 4 weekly general audience. "We must reawaken our collective sense of gratitude, appreciation and hospitality, helping the elderly know they are a living part of their communities" and sources of wisdom for the younger generations, he said. "An elderly person is not an alien," the 78-year-old pope said. "The elderly person is us. Soon, or many years from now – inevitably anyway – we will be old, even if we don't think about it."
Faith is at the heart of Therese McDonald's home, where learning and the formation of the whole child go together. The mother of four has been homeschooling for 20 years and says, "All the formation we give our children in reason, in reading, in mathematics, in writing, in conversing and in creating are all bound up in the faith." McDonald was one of several speakers at the Western Canadian Catholic Homeschool Conference at Providence Renewal Centre in Edmonton.
When Pope Francis went out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica for the first time, he said he did not prepare what he was going to say, but "I felt deeply that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also of his people." He did not know if it was right to explicitly ask the thousands of people in St. Peter's Square to bless him, so instead he asked them to pray that God would bless him, he said. And he bowed for their prayers. Marking the second anniversary of his election March 13, Pope Francis spoke about the conclave that elected him in 2013, about his life the last two years and about the future in an interview with Valentina Alazraki of Mexico's Televisa.
The pope's comments March 8 preceded a five-hour celebration in the Vatican of the ways Christian women minister to their sisters who are poor, sick, excluded from education, victims of human trafficking and exploitation. The celebration, Voices of Faith, also included a session in which participants expressed their hopes and dreams for fuller involvement of women in Church decision-making. Chantal Gotz, executive director of the Fidel Gotz Foundation and chief organizer of the celebration, told Catholic News Service, "It's not about arguing doctrine or wanting something; it's highlighting the contributions women already are making.
Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church's "mission to be a witness of mercy." "No one can be excluded from God's mercy," the pope said March 13, marking the second anniversary of his pontificate by leading a Lenten penance service in St. Peter's Basilica. "I frequently have thought about how the Church can make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy," he said during his homily. So he decided to call a special holy year, which will be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016.
Brazil is said to have one of the world's strongest economies. The problem is that the Brazilian economy is designed to favour the rich, keeping millions of Brazilians in extreme poverty. That's according to Bishop Eugenio Rixen of Goias, Brazil, who is the Share Lent visitor of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. He was in Alberta March 11-16 for a number of public events. "Brazil is the world champion in inequality," Rixen, who is originally from Belgium, said in a March 13 talk to staff at the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices. He spoke in French and his lecture was translated into English by Holy Cross Sister Sylvia Landry.
Catholic officials are welcoming new Alberta legislation which will give students the right to establish gay-straight alliances in the province's schools. "We see this legislation as something we can work within," Father Stefano Penna told reporters March 12. Likewise, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association (ACSTA) issued a prepared statement saying "Catholic schools will be able to work with the legislation." Penna, vice-president of college development and advancement, spoke at a news conference to give a Catholic perspective on Bill 10, which the legislature passed March 10.
OTTAWA -– The first national Pope John Paul II Day falls on April 2 to mark the day the new saint died 10 years ago. On Parliament Hill, the national day will be celebrated April 1. Conservative MP Wladyslaw Lizon, who put forward the private member's bill that became law last year, said Parliament is celebrating a day early because April 2 is Holy Thursday. Many MPs and senators will be traveling back to their ridings that day for the Easter break, he said. "We're going to have a reception hosted by the speaker of the House," Lizon said. The reception will include parliamentarians, and people from a range of different communities to commemorate the life of a great world leader.
Six months after his death at the age of 42, Father Mike Mireau's spirit is very much alive in the classrooms of the city's Catholic schools. He is the talk of the town as a wooden cross made in his honour tours Catholic schools in the city. On March 9, the travelling cross came to St. Justin School, where it began a tour of every classroom. Led by teacher Laurie Wojcichowsky, the Grade 3 class held a lively discussion on Mireau and the cross, which stood tall in a corner of the classroom. When Wojcichowsky asked the class what they had learned about Father Catfish, as the priest was widely known, several hands went up.
VATICAN CITY – Don't pack it in or shift into cruise control, Pope Francis told his fellow seniors. Today's frenetic world, especially young people and families, needs the older generation's prayers, wisdom and gifts to give them the encouragement, hope and faith they often lack, he said at his weekly general audience March 11. "We, older people, can remind ambitious young people that a life without love is barren," he said to those gathered in St. Peter's Square "We can tell fearful young people that worrying about the future can be overcome. We can teach young people who are in love with themselves too much that there is more joy in giving than receiving."
EDMONTON – Although homeschooling falls mostly on the mothers, fathers also play a big role, says a homeschooling dad from Derwent. "The way a father can help is, one, to be of support and in unity with their spouse in the decision to homeschool," explains Glenn Spies, who homeschools three children aged nine to 19 with his wife Susan. "The father also provides not only for the spiritual needs of the family by leading in prayer but also providing for the material needs. My job is going to work but also to provide for the material needs of the family."
Pope Francis had it right when he told the Ash Wednesday audience, "Alms are given to someone from whom you would not expect to receive anything in return." Father Martin Carroll, rector of St. Joseph's Basilica, agrees we should help those in need but says it should be done with the aim of fostering social justice. "What I see for people for Lent is to make sure we help the social agencies. The big need is to the social agencies to meet the needs of the underprovided and the hard times. Here in Edmonton."
VATICAN CITY – The number of women working for Vatican City State has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, while the number of women in leadership positions in the Roman Curia remains low, with only two women serving as undersecretaries. Gudrun Sailer, a journalist at Vatican Radio, conducted a study of the Vatican employment situation and published the results March 5 in preparation for the celebration March 8 of International Women's Day.
The disease of indifference to others. This is where each individual thinks only of himself and loses sincerity and warmth of human relationships. When the most knowledgeable person does not put that knowledge at the service of his less knowledgeable colleagues. When we learn something and then keep it to ourselves rather than sharing it in a helpful way with others. When out of jealousy or deceit we take joy in seeing others fall instead of helping them up and encouraging them.
EDMONTON – Born a Catholic, Adam Mickelson left the Church in his teens, but came back "because it was comfortable, familiar." His wife Trisha was "United, but not part of a church-going family." She had Mormon friends, started to think about faith, but never found anything that fit her. "Even after we were married. I was drawn to the Mormon church because that was more familiar to me."
EDMONTON – The five Roman Catholic dioceses of Alberta and the Northwest Territories have integrated their marriage tribunals into one body based in Edmonton. In making the announcement, Archbishop Richard Smith, moderator of the newly-established Interdiocesan Tribunal of Edmonton, said the bishops hope the new body will "offer better and more timely service to anyone who requires a declaration of nullity before entering a new marriage within the Catholic Church." The new interdiocesan tribunal has its main office at the Pastoral and Administration Offices of the Edmonton Archdiocese, and an auxiliary office at the Catholic Pastoral Centre of the Diocese of Calgary, Smith said.
Pain-wracked, 19-year-old Jennifer MacDonald said, "OK God, you can take me now. I can't do this anymore. "I'll always remember this moment, looking at the wall and thinking, 'I am going to die now.' I've always been very scared of death. . . . Sometimes it's hard to face our own mortality." Looking at the turquoise wall in the Stollery Children's Hospital she told her mother, "I love you Mom." Her mother whispered in her ear. "I love you, and Jesus and Mary are with you."
North America is at a "perilous point in history," if it loses a sense of shared moral consensus, says Father Robert Sirico. The co-founder of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty said society's moral roots form the foundation for who we are as well as the basis of civil society. "Are we simply living off the illusion of the past?" he asked at a March 7 session of the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa.
As the second anniversary of Pope Francis' election approached, an international group of philosophers, sociologists and theologians gathered to discuss how to renew the Church in a secular age. Many said that is exactly what Pope Francis is doing. "I think the Church had gotten into the stance of defending itself against its critics and trying to convince them, but that's not a stance of dialogue," said Charles Taylor, professor emeritus of philosophy at McGill University in Montreal. "Pope Francis is going out and reaching out." Taylor was one of the main speakers at a conference, Renewing the Church in a Secular Age, March 4-5 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.
EDMONTON – Naamah and Ted Leischner say they believe it's God's intention that they homeschool their children. "We homeschool to instill faith into them and to help them with their own learning styles," Naamah said. "I think we take our responsibility as primary educators of our children very seriously," added Ted. "At this point we believe that this is what God wants us to do." The couple has four children aged three to 10 and have been homeschooling for five years.
Rome – Pope Francis will celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at a Rome prison and wash the feet of male and female inmates. The Vatican announced March 11 that the pope will visit the Rebibbia detention facility on the outskirts of the capital April 2, then celebrate Mass in Our Father Church on the grounds of the complex. During the Mass, the pope will wash the feet of male inmates from Rebibbia and female inmates from a nearby women's prison.
OTTAWA – When Sister Lorraine Desjardins was growing up in Kapuskasing, Ont., she yearned to enter religious life but faced one major obstacle: her parents. An only child, the superior general of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa recalled a warm, God-filled family life. Desjardins had felt the stirrings of a religious call from the time she was eight or nine years old. The Sisters of Charity taught at the elementary school she attended, and Desjardins early on wanted to be a religion teacher or a teaching religious.