A special thank you from Bishop McGrattan and all Catholic Alberta & NWT Bishops to all parish volunteers!
Please read the Pastoral Statement from the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, called On the Impact of COVID-19 & the Call to Christian Renewal | Download here
In particular, the bishops are inviting Catholics to review the impact of COVID-19 within their homes, schools, workplaces, and society in general, in light of the gospel and the social teaching of the Church. Which values, attitudes and behaviours will we want to hold on to going forward? Which may be in need of remedy or renewal? Through a process of reflection and discernment, the bishops are using this time as an opportunity to inspire and lead a renewal of Christian life in the Church that will impact society in positive ways.
The goal is for all of us to gain insights into living our faith at home and at work, and in our parishes and communities. “Our Catholic faith has much to contribute with respect to promoting human, social and spiritual values for the common good of society,” the bishops note in their letter. “We trust that you, like us, see the urgency to discern wisely the signs of the times and to “reset” our lives so that our collective experience in moving forward accords with the Gospel.”
WEEK 1: Inherent Dignity of Every Human Life
The situation of this pandemic invites us all to re-discover the inherent dignity of every human life and to re-awaken a sense of gratitude, affection and responsibility towards all people, particularly the most vulnerable in our society. #CatholicYYC
Moderator: Dr. Bonnie Annicchiarico (Director, Grateful Advocates for Catholic Education (GrACE)
Panelists: Patrick Dumelie (CEO, Covenant Health, Edmonton) Dr. Troy Davies (CEO, Catholic Social Services, Edmonton) David & Cathy Ann Bouchard (Magdalene House, Red Deer) Sr. Alinda (Mother Superior, Missionaries of Charity, St. Paul, AB)
Parishioners and all viewers are invited to respond to the prepared reflection questions or otherwise to send thoughts/comments to email@example.com
Weekly reflections (PDF) can be downloaded with the links below:
Watch Discussion PanelsParishioners and all viewers will be invited to respond to the prepared reflection questions or otherwise to send thoughts/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, September 16, 2020 is Mexico's Independence Day!
To celebrate and to help support Mission Mexico, an outreach program of the Diocese of Calgary, from September 14 through to September 20, the following Mexican Restaurants are collecting donations. We encourage everyone to support these great restaurants (even if its just through take out or delivery) and also support Mission Mexico. Through this initiative, you are helping support not only our these local restaurants by eating their fantastic food, but you are also able to support the dignity-affirming projects that Mission Mexico carries out in one of the poorest regions of the world, helping improve the education, health care, human rights, women's rights, and the youth in building a better future in Southern Mexico.
Thank you sponsors!
The baptism of James Rory Penfold at Sacred Heart Parish, Calgary, August 2020
Photo courtesy of Sacred Heart Parish, Calgary
First Communion of Nadine Canarejo from St. Gabriel Parish in Chestermere
Photo submitted by Fr. James Hagel
Baptism of baby Adelaide Hope Wong at St. Joseph's Parish in Calgary, June 2020.
Photo courtesy of Eleanor Wong
First Communion Celebration at Ascension Parish in Calgary, July 2020
Photo courtesy of Ascension Parish
RCIA Celebration at Ascension Parish in Calgary, June 2020
Photos courtesy of Ascension Parish
To send, or not to send? That is the question many families have been faced with during this back-to-school season.
Covid-19 has prompted parents to either stay the course with adjustments or try something new.
The answer is going to look different than usual for our family. My husband and I decided to homeschool instead of sending our three eldest children back to the local Catholic school.
It was a painstakingly difficult decision. I can’t count the sleepless nights or time I’ve spent analyzing all the angles. I finally surrendered my doubts and fears during an hour of Eucharistic Adoration before the Lord in prayer.
My husband works from home and I am a stay-at-home mother. We have been gifted with five children ages 9, 8, 6, 3 and 10 months. Given such unusual times we decided to continue cohorting together, trying to build up our family identity.
Am I worried my children will miss seeing their friends as often? Yes. Or fall behind in school? Yup. Am I hopeful my children will become each other’s best friends? Indeed. Or that the individual attention I can give will meet their individual needs? I pray, yes. Do I worry I am not enough for my children? Big time. Will I ever be enough for my children? No. Only God is enough.
My goal this year is to see just how weak I can be; how dependent on God I am willing to become for my strength; how low can I humbly go so God can raise our family up to give Him glory. I expect this to be a difficult year, and a holy year filled with joys and surprises. I hope we can follow our passions, so we can more clearly see the mission and purpose God has for our lives. I hope we can remain in search of the face of God in one another and together we can each transform into people more fully alive and share this joy with our community.
Angela and Justin Stastook, parishioners with St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Airdrie, thoughtfully discerned another course of action –– to send their two children back to school. When I spoke with Angela it was clear she and her husband had also carefully weighed all their options.
“There is no correct option, no best option, just options and dealing with them as best you can,” said Angela. “We pray things turn out positively. I pray every day that things get back to normal and we can defeat this (pandemic).”
The couple discerned they needed to keep their dual income, and it wasn’t feasible to facilitate online schooling while trying to work from home. They also thought sending their children to school with friends would improve their mental health.
“The hardest part is we are not going to know. In a month we will find out if it was a terrible decision or a good decision. For me, we can’t hide. We have to do our best to prepare our kids,” said Angela.
“My view of the mission was never not to catch Covid. Covid is here, people are going to get it. It’s just not to overwhelm the healthcare system.
Still, Angela worries about how schools are going to practically enforce social distancing to lessen the spread of Covid-19 and the pressure that enforcing all the safety protocols will place on teachers and administrators.
As vice principal of St. John Paul II Collegiate in Okotoks, Ryan Fox is excited to welcome students back to school and has been working every angle to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.
“The presence of kids in our building is what feeds us as professionals and we've missed it so much.
However, “Teachers are about to become front line workers in an environment that is scary and stressful for a lot of them. Please be kind and understanding.”
As an administrator Fox is happy to field questions and concerns and he also encourages people to remain positive and even offer a bit of cheerleading.
“Offer suggestions if you have some, recognizing we are mentally exhausting ourselves trying to figure this out from every angle. None of us is as smart as all of us!”
One way to reduce the stress on students is to reduce the stress on teachers and school staff.
“We are doing our absolute best based on the guidelines given to us by our health authority to redesign our entire operations to keep kids and staff safe,” said Fox. “Hearing someone say, 'I'm glad you are doing what you are doing for our kids' goes a long way to reduce stress.”
Fox encourages everyone to be loving and compassionate and merciful. “We all need each other’s mercy. God is with all of us through this.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully. Sara is a writer living in Calgary with her husband Ben and their five children. They attend St. Bernard's / Our Lady of the Assumption Parish.
The ecumenical Season of Creation is observed annually from September 1, the World Day of Prayer for Creation, to October 4, the Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi. Christians and peoples of faith around the world are invited to pray in thanksgiving for God’s gift of creation.
This year, the Season of Creation occurs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting worldwide in ways that are inextricably interconnected to the care of creation and the health of humanity. The Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si, echoes this interconnection.
“Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” – Laudato Si, No. 91.
In March of this year Pope Francis asked the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (“DPIHD”) to collaboratively create a Commission to communicate the Church’s concern for the human family facing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, to reflect on the emerging socio-economic-cultural dynamics, and to research and propose timely approaches to move forward. In May, I was invited to be one of twenty participants from Canada and the United States to provide feedback to this newly formed Commission.
The Dicastery has now established a Vatican COVID-19 Commission with five Work Groups:
In this time of pandemic, we are admittedly being challenged and yet history reveals that it is often in such times of adversity that the resiliency and determination of the human spirit emerges and through God’s grace, people of faith accomplish good works. In that spirit of confidence and hope, Pope Francis’ message reflects upon the theme for the 2020 Season of Creation, Jubilee for the Earth, as a time to remember, to return, to rest, to restore and to rejoice:
If these initiatives aren’t enough, we also have in this Season of Creation two events in late September and one in early October that call us to action, to conversion and renewal through the understanding and application of our Catholic Social Teaching.
The first is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis’ message for the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Forced like Jesus Christ to flee draws attention to the burdens faced by migrants and refugees and the responsibility to provide refuge. He states, “I have decided to devote this Message to the drama of internally displaced persons, an often unseen tragedy that the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated. In fact, due to its virulence, severity and geographical extent, this crisis has impacted on many other humanitarian emergencies that affect millions of people, which has relegated to the bottom of national political agendas those urgent international efforts essential to saving lives. But “this is not a time for forgetfulness. The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people.”
The second is the release of an Alberta Bishop’s Pastoral Statement on the Impact of COVID-19 and the Call to Christian Renewal on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is entitled “Save your people, O Lord, and bless your inheritance”. There are reflections and resources that accompany the statement which are designed to promote dialogue on the social justice issues that have surfaced during the pandemic in light of the principles of our Catholic Social Teaching.
The third event is the publication on the eve of the Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi of a new encyclical which will reflect upon the Catholic Social Teachings during the pandemic – teachings such as human fraternity, the equal dignity of all people, the preferential option for the poor, the common good, solidarity among all peoples, the responsible care of the environment, and the virtue of striving for justice and peace.
Now more than ever we need to relate to one another as sisters and brothers in one global human family. We are called to recognize the responsibilities we have to each other, and take an active role in helping each person achieve their full potential. And in this Season of Creation, we are being called to live as responsible stewards of creation and thus to see the reflection of God in all of creation.
God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! Amen.
(Pope Francis, Laudato Si, May 24, 2015)
At the age of 11 was the first time I was exposed to suicide. A young man from our small rural church was reported missing. The men in our community gathered together to search for him, and my father found him. He had taken his life. Almost 5 decades have passed and suicide has continued to be part of my life through various avenues; the attempts of family members, the loss of a family member to suicide, numerous clients who have struggled with despair and suicidal ideation, and the poignant journey of traveling with families who are learning to live with these tragic losses. Fast forward to fall 2020 and suicide is still a grave concern.
A year ago, most of us had not heard the acronym - COVID-19. Today it is the topic of conversations especially as we transition back to school and work places. The landscape of social interaction has been altered. In Canada, we had never experienced a global pandemic and its consequences; we were unable to organize to change in a satisfactory way because change occurred frequently with little warning and minimal personal control. We could only react, and many experienced crisis like job loss.
Two things we know occurs in the aftermath of a disaster - a baby boom (memes suggest the babies born next spring might be referred to as Zoomers or Coronials), and an increase in mental health concerns. The Canadian Poverty Institute has completed a thorough review of the COVID 19’s impact on mental health to date. See report here.
Their research revealed an increase in anxiety from 5-20% and depression from 4-10%. The Distress Centre in Calgary reported a 94% increase in calls in June of 2020 compared to June of 2019. There has also been an increase in suicide related contacts. Research suggests that persons who have experienced reduced income or unemployment, have pre-existing mental health conditions or are front line workers are at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Other psycho-social factors impacting suicidal ideation and attempts are concern for family members, self isolation, family violence, and social media and news exposure. Social media/news, family violence and loss of routine increase concern for children, and the elderly or convalesced persons were also labelled as high risk groups. The events that led to racism awareness superimposed further stress on an already vulnerable society even though racism reduction is also a grave concern.
This information suggests that all of us have been impacted or know someone who may have been negatively impacted by COVID 19. Loving our neighbour at this time involves checking with those we know and asking how they are doing. If you suspect someone may be at risk of harming themselves, it is important to ask specific questions. Emotions deemed concerning are despair, anger and loneliness. If persons seem to be withdrawing, or are quarantining check in to see how they are coping. Connection with another person even if it is electronic can make a significant difference in someone’s experience of isolation.
As for ourselves and family, recognizing and implementing resiliency based practices help maintain our wellness and perseverance.
First, manage our expectations of self and others. The increased stress means most people are probably functioning 5-10% below normal capacity - be charitable - we are all in this together.
Second, balance our activities/work with ones that restore like exercise, play, prayer, or contemplation.
Third, establishing rituals that create routine and predictability such as family game night, attending mass, devotional or reading, or pizza nights. When change is unpredictable without an identifiable end - rituals/routines helps us stay oriented and future focused.
Fourthly, minimize manageable stressors such as reducing social media and news exposure.
Finally, if you notice that yourself or someone close to you seems persistently stressed, please consider connecting with professional resources. These include but are not limited to a spiritual director, your pastor, an agency like Catholic Family Services (Rapid Access Counselling program), The Distress Centre or a therapist in private practice (or you can go to Psychology Today and put in your preferences for a therapist and a list is generated).
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, let us pray that through love of neighbour we can continue to interrupt the desire that suicide is a solution to overwhelming change and stress. May God look with mercy on all whose afflictions bring them distress, confusion and isolation, and may God give to them understanding helpers and the willingness to accept help.
The contents of the backpack were easy to take out. A change of clothes, some carefully-chosen toiletries, a hand-written card and a hand-made bracelet. “They were also life-changing”, says one of the first women, a survivor, to receive one of the specially-prepared backpacks assembled by caring members of St. Michael’s council of the Catholic Women’s League.
The woman received the backpack when she arrived at RESET, a Calgary-based agency that helps women ages 16 and older escape sexual exploitation and trafficking. Bringing nothing but the jeans and T-shirt she’d worn for three days, the woman says she, “can’t put into words how much it meant to have something to change into. I cried when I read the card, and wore the bracelet on my ankle for three straight months. It’s now hanging on my wall.”
St. Michael’s CWL, with help from councils at Holy Name, Holy Spirit, St. Peter’s, St. Bonaventure and St. Albert the Great, launched the IWIN – I’m Worth It Now backpack initiative in late 2019. IWIN has already distributed eight of its first 12 packs in partnership with Calgary Police Service and RESET Society of Calgary (formerly Servants Anonymous). Another 18 will be assembled this year, says project lead Kristin Fahlman.
Kristin had previously participated in a project to combat human trafficking overseas and had learned of a similar backpack program operating in Florida, but did not know of the need to help survivors here. After attending a local conference about human trafficking in Canada, she knew God was calling her to take local action to address this issue.
When the conference ended, the Holy Spirit led her to Detective Paul Rubner, a Calgary Police Service officer who works on the front lines of human trafficking in Calgary. “I introduced myself and explained my idea. He was extremely enthusiastic and, as it turns out, he was the key person in Calgary who would know how to implement distribution system for the backpacks.”
Research shows human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada, affecting people from all walks of life. It is also one of the most lucrative of criminal activities, with traffickers profiting up to $600,000 per victim, per year.
“We chose the name IWIN because we want survivors to know that they are worthy; worthy right at this very moment. It doesn’t matter what their past looks like. It doesn’t matter if they have plans for their future or not. They are worthy of love and respect,” says Kristin.
Each backpack is linked to a “prayer warrior” who receives a bracelet that matches one in a backpack. Survivors are told that someone else has a matching bracelet—and is now linked to them in prayer.
The next group of backpacks will also include hand-made reusable face-masks made by CWL members. “Two masks were added to each of the remaining packs and the plan is to include them in all future backpacks,” explains Kristin.
To learn more about IWIN and how you can assist, contact email@example.com.
Edited by Joy Gregory for Faithfully, on behalf of the Catholic Women's League.
Photos submitted by Jan Myhre, Calgary Diocesan CWL.
Anyone who knows me well knows I love salty snacks. My appetite for salty snacks is insatiable. In accepting the invitation to write for Faithfully, I would wager that my journey as a Catholic educator is much like my fanaticism of salty snacks; I am always left thirsting for more.
My journey began at home. My parents instilled sound Catholic roots. We were a hybrid family of sorts as my mother’s family practiced in the Ukrainian Catholic tradition; Dad’s family practiced in the Roman Catholic rite. We had well-rounded faith experiences and traditions that I grew to love and yearn for after I left home. My children grew up in a small Northern BC parish. During those years I was teaching in the public school system as the advantage to attend Catholic school for my children was a 90-minute bus ride one way. However, during those years I worked alongside a wonderful vice principal who happened to be the deacon of the local Anglican parish; a drought for theology and learning about faith was non-existent.
Fast forward 20 years later, I have been blessed to teach with STAR Catholic Schools (Leduc) and it’s as if my craving won’t diminish. I am constantly seeking out ways to improve my craft; there is joy in those moments. I love witnessing others, especially students, on their journey toward Christ.
Two years ago when my superintendent came to the school to tell me that the division selected me for the CCSSA Excellence in Catholic Education Award I was so stunned I cried. Receiving recognition for a faith that I boldly and proudly share is one of my greatest treasures. Evangelization comes in many forms. It is touching that the Division claims I am influential in modelling our faith. When Administration say my work is all done in His name, I know I am at home. Catholic Education is meant for me.
In January 2019 our Division set out on our GrACE journey. Since then, I’ve lost track of how often people inquire if I am involved in GrACE because it is “perfect for you!” The legacy we have in free publicly funded Catholic Education in Alberta is undeniably one of the best gifts. Our schools are deeply faith-filled, our teachers are models of the faith; our parishes are the backbone of our faith communities. It takes seconds to share a meaningful message about our Catholic identity. Although a journey in faith requires a daily commitment, one that for me seamlessly occurs, opportunity awaits. Be bold, be brave, share your love for Catholic Education.
Yes, I’m still thirsting for more. I don’t know if it has something to do with the ‘cheezies’ I ate while writing this article, or truly I am ‘salt of the earth’; called by Christ to be salt of the earth and light to the world (Matthew 5: 13). Be influential, be an advocate, and share your story. Be a Grateful Advocate for Catholic Education.
I moved to Edson in the summer of 1997, only days after my wedding, to join the Living Waters Family. I have been a proud member of this family ever since, working at both Vanier and Holy Redeemer. As an educator, I have never known working outside of a Catholic, faith-filled, school environment. Information on working in a non-Catholic school has only come to me from conversations with other teachers, parents, students and my own personal observations. All I can say for certain is that the “feeling” when entering a Catholic School is unique from entering any other school. No matter where the school is, that feeling is unmistakable.
On September 25th, 2014 I experienced one of the darkest days of my life. A close friend, who was also a former staff member and wife to a current staff member, passed away suddenly. I wish I was a gifted enough writer to properly convey the loss that I felt that day for our school community, my family and friends, myself and her husband. I was devastated. When I arrived at work shortly after 8 am that morning I was immediately met by weeping students and staff members. Never before had I felt such sadness and loss.
As I made my way through the foyer, I saw something I will never forget and to this day brings a smile to my face. Our Superintendent and her Deputy Superintendent were there offering condolences to staff and students. They probably didn’t hear the news until 6 am that morning and drove to Edson (an hour drive) before I was even able to make it to the school, to be with us in our time of grief. I honestly can’t remember what they said to me that day but I clearly remember the feeling; the feeling that God is with us and that, eventually, we’d be ok.
We have a chapel in our Catholic school, which was a great source of comfort for me. Over the next days and weeks, I would spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of the day sitting in quiet, sobbing, reflection. As I sat there suffering, Jesus was there too suffering on the cross with me and for a few moments each day, I didn’t feel alone.
Our Principal, who is a deeply religious man, was also a great source of comfort to me. He and I engaged in many conversations about life and death throughout that school year. Listening to him talk about his faith helped me to heal from this great loss. I can really never thank him enough for that time, and since he retired, I miss our theological talks.
Would any of this be possible in a non-Catholic school? Of course. Catholics are not the sole custodians of empathy and compassion. However, the fact that we can bring faith into our grieving process for our staff and students cannot be overstated. It helped me immensely and I cannot imagine what that time would have been like for me without my Living Waters Family.
Pope Francis releases a video message accompanying his prayer intention for September, which this month is for respect for the planet’s resources: that we “take care of Creation responsibly”.
We are squeezing out the planet’s goods. Squeezing them out, as if the earth were an orange. Countries and businesses from the global north have enriched themselves by exploiting the natural resources of the south, creating an “ecological debt.” Who is going to pay this debt?
In addition, this “ecological debt” is increased when multinationals do abroad what they would never be allowed to do in their own countries. It’s outrageous. Today, not tomorrow; today, we have to take care of Creation responsibly.
Let us pray that the planet’s resources will not be plundered, but shared in a just and respectful manner.
No to plundering; yes to sharing.
Each year, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is observed on September 1. The international celebration marks the beginning of the Season of Creation, which extends to 4 October, the feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology.
Following the deadly explosions that devastated Beirut, the people of Lebanon need our solidarity. Development and Peace and CNEWA are responding to help those affected by this crisis. Please help us make a difference by donating to any of these funds:
There was a mountain of laundry.
“What a cliché,” I thought as I begrudgingly grabbed some little-boy pants and started to fold. I stood there, barefoot, pregnant with our fifth child, and supremely irritated at the mundane task before me.
“I’m a cliche,” I thought bitterly as I continued to fold and form large piles of the clothing I’d washed for my family. The negative thoughts about housewifery and motherhood continued to spiral around me as I experienced what I now realize was one of the lowest moments of pre-natal depression.
Then, as I progressed through little pairs of jeans and t-shirts and mismatched socks, I started to uncover a piece of paper I’d stuck to the laundry room wall months before: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,” read the Memorare in my own handwriting, “that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided…” I might have dropped an expletive. I was not having a receptive moment. Probably I was more of a Zachariah, liable to be struck dumb for my doubt than like a Blessed Virgin, who immediately opened her womb up to God, proclaiming herself the handmaid of the Lord.
I prayed the Memorare that day with the laundry, feeling a bit sheepish about my initial reaction. However, that’s exactly why I have placed that card in the laundry room, because I know that it is during loathed tasks that I need reminding of God’s grace. I ran and got the statue of Mary that had been my great-grandmother’s and decided she might do more good there instead of on my dresser upstairs.
Sacred Art at the Dinner Table
The texts, statues and images I have around my home are attempts to redirect my focus back to the heart of God, and I can’t help but think of the art of the churches I’ve visited throughout my life. As I am distracted at Mass by any number of things that might befall a mother of five, I see the vivid depictions of the Stations of the Cross and my mind is bounced back to the holy.
Afterall, that is the purpose of Sacred Art – our statues, paintings and other works that can be found not only in church, but in our homes – which the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “draws man to adoration, to prayer and to the love of God.” (CCC 2502)
Growing up, my mom shared her love of beautiful art with us. As a convert to Catholicism, her appreciation for depictions of Christ or beautiful images of the Holy Family or the Blessed Virgin translated into incorporation of sacred art into our décor. The collection grew to the point where even an unobservant stranger couldn’t walk into our house and miss the fact that we were Catholics. Years later, I realized I’d followed in the tradition of my parents. A young friend of my oldest child sitting at the dinner table looked around at the décor, which includes two crucifixes, images of the Good Shepherd and the Annunciation, and a chalkboard featuring a quote from a saint or the Bible, and remarked, “You guys have lots of Catholic stuff here.”
That might be one of the moments that I realized that our home could be a place not only of welcoming, but of evangelism too, and if not that, at least a place where our visitors can see visible signs of the faith we try to live.
Our Lady of the Backyard
We are not unique of course, as Catholics worldwide “advertise” their faith with sacred imagery inside or outside the home or business or in their vehicle. From the art inside Rome’s catacombs, to traditional Byzantine iconography, and some more modern interpretations, faithful Catholics have created and displayed sacred art for centuries. Outside of many churches, you can find examples of statues of Christ, Mary, and the saints providing us with beautiful places to stop and pray.
As I reflect on that, I think about the perception of people of faith throughout the world. Non-Christians express that the Church is to them an antiquated and sinking ship; feminists look at us as a sign of a patriarchy they want to demolish, and people of all kinds see our statues and art as signs of misplaced authority and abusive power. Though we want these misconceptions to be cleared up, I think we know that it isn’t enough to simply display sacred art, we need to be pointing with our very lives to the love of God.
In the meantime, perhaps we may become bolder in our use of the images that point to our love of God. When we moved to our home nine years ago, I shared the dream of a little Marian shrine and garden modelled after little grottos I’d seen in other people’s yards. Finally, when the Covid-19 pandemic had us all at home, my husband Joseph got to work building our now much-loved stone grotto, complete with a handmade wooden version of Our Lady.
Our Lady of the Assumption and of Our Hearts
With the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary coming up on August 15, this has me thinking of ways we can celebrate this new space as a family. We’ve braved the mosquitos to pray a rosary there, and also a few family prayer sessions on particularly hot evenings. In times of unrest, that is where I’ve gone this summer instead of my bedroom. To highlight the summer of newfound worship space, perhaps a crowning of our statue is in order, with the kids processing in song along with something simple like angel food cake or some other favourite celebratory food.
Though I’m sure our neighbours understood that we were Catholics before, this permanent fixture that can be spied over the fence has given us a few small opportunities to confirm it. Now, because we’ve overtly announced it, I am conscious of the path I must follow to strengthen my faith and the faith of my children so that our neighbours don’t see a statue signifying our devotion but also see a bunch of hypocrites. This is not to say we act perfectly all the time, and certainly we don’t need to put on a show of perfection for our neighbourhood (don’t worry – we’ve shattered any grand illusions with our boisterous crew and hot tempers), but the overt sign inspires me to make efforts to strive for our faith to flourish inside our home too.
Through this writing, I am humbled to realize how far I have yet to go. Certainly, I’ve padded the image of myself as a faithful church-lady with art and statues but be assured that this church-lady needs all the grace she can get. In these times of pandemic and the uncertainty it brings, a little wavering and questioning is to be expected, but I’ll confess that sometimes I have utterly failed to point the way to Christ in my own family. Without airing too much dirty laundry, I am reminded that Our Lady probably didn’t have tantrums demanding that St. Joseph “just take Jesus and go!” This is exactly why I need the reminders all around me, because even when I am failing, God is not. He is faithful, and in spite of my frequent need to stalk out to my garden lately to air my grievances, I know deep down that Our Blessed Mother only wants me to know His faithfulness too.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully. Jessica is a mom of five who attends St. Bernard’s parish in Calgary, AB.
For the August edition of Faithfully, we asked sacred artist Maria Muszynski, founding member of Sacred Guild of Alberta, a Lay Association in the Diocese of Calgary, to share about her journey in the sacred arts.
Why becoming a sacred artist?
I was born an artist. But why the sacred arts? I have been journeying towards this path my whole life. A journey shaped by childhood experiences, unexpected circumstances, and twists of fate.
My father was a Polish soldier who fought with the Allied army and my mother was a refugee in a displaced persons camp. After the war, by chance, they both decided to settle in Calgary. My mother converted to Catholic Christianity when she agreed to marry my father. Mother’s side of the family were Russian Orthodox and we celebrated Christmas and Easter (twice!) with the extended family. On occasion I attended the All Saints Russian Orthodox Church and feasted my eyes on the iconostasis which separated the sanctuary from the nave. From the cadence and the passion of the choral voices singing the liturgy in the loft, to the intense images that were illuminated by hundreds of candles lit by the faithful – all of these elements left an indelible impression that shaped my sensibilities and my soul.
In comparison, the Queen of Peace Polish Catholic Church - which was the church we attended - was innovative on the outside (built in 1968 and shaped like a gleaming white teepee) but bereft of warmth inside because of its plain concrete walls and lack of imagery (minimalism and constructivism was “in”). Only a framed copy of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, resided above the altar. Over the years, as the population of Polish immigrants increased, many contributed their talents to the beautification of the church. Today the stained-glass windows, once plain, resonate with stories while the walls are warmed with carved traditional architectural features and religious imagery. It is a testament to the transformational power of art and faith.
I began my personal journey into the sacred arts when St. Mary’s University offered a Sacred Arts certificate program. The first course I took was Painting in the Western Renaissance Tradition. Other courses followed – traditional iconography, calligraphy and illumination, and even stained glass. A trip to Italy to see the glories of Rome, Florence and Ravenna was a special highlight. In 2014, I was one of 5 students to complete the requirements for the certificate in the Foundations of Sacred Art. The Sacred Arts Guild of Alberta (SAGA) was conceived by a handful of like-minded souls who wished to delve even deeper. SAGA brings in local and international specialists in illumination, iconography, calligraphy, sculpture - and in the near future Byzantine mosaic - to nourish the skills and spirits of our guild membership leading to a wonderful resurgence in the creation of sacred arts here in Alberta.
Share about other artists who inspired you
My journey has taken me through many mentors most notably iconographer Peter Murphy, David Clayton (The Way of Beauty) and the brilliant illuminator Jeb Gibbons. I am also inspired by the traditional work of Aidan Hart, and the contemporary style of Philip Davydov, among others. I am drawn both to the classical Greek/Byzantine and Romanesque style of icons, and to Marian images in particular because of my Polish heritage. Like Saint John Paul, faith in Mary kept me strong through many trials and tribulations including surviving cancer.
Sacred art is not ‘art’, it is theology, it is a way of praying and connecting with God and all His wonderful creation. I am humbled that people have expressed their admiration of what I do, but I thank the spirit of God who moves through me when I sit and begin the first line. Every stroke is meditative and reflective and prayerful. It is an act of salvation, my connection to the divine. Peter Murphy and Aidan Hart believe that a fragment of heavenly reality is revealed within the sacred image, as it is revealed in the holy Scriptures and through the blessed sacrament. It is ‘extraordinary’ in every sense of the word.
Any advice for novices in sacred art?
The best advice for beginning sacred artists is to be mindful while you are working – hold the focus and pray. Breathe. Practice your drawing skills which is key. Find a good teacher or mentor who inspires you. Learn from everyone you can and practice. The typical stereotype of the hermit monk writing icons alone in his hovel does not fit today, so find and join a community of similar-minded artists. And practice more. Do not worry about the medium you use because it is the message of the image and the intent of the artist that are more important.
Writing an icon is like praying twice. “Lord Jesus Christ, God of all, enlighten us, imbue the soul, the heart, the intellect of Your servant.” So begins the iconographer’s prayer. And is it still relevant today? In the age of Covid-19 and all its’ uncertainties and anxieties - more than ever.
The joy of our Catholic Faith cannot be hidden. It naturally flows from the conviction of the heart and the mind and shows itself in the choices we make and in what others may perceive of us.
Our Lord says in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
Even if we may be persecuted for naturally showing our personal beliefs, we must be ready to show and explain the reason for our hope in Christ... and hopefully, through the way that we love.
"But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
For the past few years, I had entertained the idea of committing myself to more creativity and development as an artist. In part, this meant eventually publicizing my personal work through different platforms, such as Instagram. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of working and serving multiple clubs during my time as a university student. This helped sustain my creativity while I juggled student life and served as an outlet to grow my passion and perspective on what it meant to be a designer and what kind of designer I wanted to be. Still, every time it came to my own art, never mind releasing it, I felt a lot of pressure, fear, and anxiety. It always felt like things had to be perfect before I was ready.
With the recent turn of events - quarantine hitting hard and fast – I found myself (blessed) with too much time and too much energy. I had fewer excuses and more reason than ever to focus on developing my work and in turn, releasing it. Really, it came down to “if not now, then when” and a reflection upon how I had gone through so many years just thinking about it, and how so many opportunities had probably passed me by while I was just thinking.
This has led me to the process of overcoming perfectionism. Perfectionism stalled me in taking that first step long ago and still to this day is something I struggle with. It was a detriment that set back growth and prevented me from focussing on the things that matter. I can’t say that all of the work I have put out there is near perfect, but it is so much better to be striving and learning (from action), rather than sitting paralyzed on the sidelines because of anxiety or even pride.
This is not to say that striving for excellence and obedience is wrong – in fact, it is what God calls us to do. However, it is imperative to remember that there is nothing to be earned or proven, because Christ has already earned that for us on the cross and while there is so much weight, in desiring to be perfect, in reality, there is no way to be perfect on our own. We are sinners who have only been redeemed through God’s mercy and love. In realizing and accepting this, there is a new hope and relief – because when we fail, we can trust that we are allowed to fall freely and live imperfectly, and still be redeemed; we can point others to this mercy and love. Suddenly, rather than pointing to our own accomplishments, it becomes significantly more important to be pointing people to God’s abundant love… and to His perfect sacrifice on the cross. These are mostly things I realized from creating imperfect art, and more of a reason as to why I choose to release mostly Catholic art on my personal portfolio.
In addition, this experience has opened up new opportunities and avenues for me. I have experienced a different type of growth in my faith and a new excitement from the flourishing community for catholic creatives online. There is so much zeal, drive, and innovation from the young generation and it is truly inspiring and hopeful for the renewal of the Church.
Striving to share my faith in a personal and different method has also been a great way to immerse myself in prayer, to devote myself to learning more about my faith, and to share more openly with people I may never have the courage or opportunity to share with in person. It has helped develop me as a striving saint, an artist, and a designer, and allowed me to incorporate my faith into other areas of my life. I am truly blessed and grateful for my faith and the opportunity to live freely and imperfectly.
Following an organizational review of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada to improve its collaboration with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, implementation of the resulting recommendations will begin this fall.
The organizational review was conducted by the firm Deloitte and involved the participation of staff and members of Development and Peace, as well as staff of the CCCB and Bishops across Canada. The results of the analysis suggested 14 recommendations, which were then integrated into the four following work streams to facilitate the implementation process:
The recommendations of the report were accepted by Development and Peace’s National Council in November 2019, and several meetings between the Executive Committees of the CCCB and Development and Peace took place to discuss the expectations of both parties in the implementation of the recommendations and agree to a process.
“Throughout these discussions, we never lost sight of Development and Peace’s mission to serve the poorest and most vulnerable of our world and to build God’s kingdom of peace and justice,” says Evelyne Beaudoin, President of Development and Peace. “We all agree on the vital importance of preserving the identity of our organization as rooted in the Church’s social teachings and embodied in and through acts of solidarity; and we agreed to move forward in the vision of Pope Francis of a synodal Church”
It was also agreed that Development and Peace’s National Council will be reduced from 21 to 15 members, with 11 elected representatives from Development and Peace and four Bishops from the CCCB. The following four Bishops, representing also the four regions, will join the National Council at its next meeting in November 2020:
Each Bishop will also serve on one of the four working committees put in place to implement the recommendations for each of the above-mentioned work streams. Each committee will be chaired by a member of the management team of Development and Peace. In addition to the participation of a Bishop, each committee will be composed of members of the National Council and staff of the CCCB. The four working committees will report to an oversight committee composed of two Bishops and two members of the Executive Committee of the National Council.
Preparatory meetings will take place over the summer with the formal work of the working committees to begin in September. The working committees will be assisted by the firm Deloitte, and the implementation process is expected to be completed by the end of December 2020. Regular progress reports will be communicated throughout the process.
“We are pleased with the progress of the collaborative conversations and joint meetings.” says the Most Reverend Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg and CCCB President. “We are hopeful that, as we begin this new chapter of greater and more far reaching collaboration and alignment between the Bishops of Canada and CCODP – Caritas Canada, much good fruit will ensue in our outreach to the poor and those most in need. The necessary changes to be made, as well as the good will and hard work they entail, will help the Church radiate its mission to the world.”
I remember going past the dorm buildings, down the hill, through the cafeteria, and out into the coulees in the Oldman River. It was dark out — the University of Lethbridge hadn’t installed the floodlights yet — and so the only light I could see by was the moon reflecting off of the clouds, sailing eastward on a full chinook wind. I came to the crest of the coulees and just stood there, unsure of exactly what was going on or what exactly I was hoping to accomplish by getting fresh air.
And that’s when He came to me.
The song’s chorus goes:
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy that we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.”
It sounds cliché, and it probably is, but I can’t deny that I felt the presence of the Holy Ghost there that night, riding in on the wind, wrapping me tightly in His embrace, teaching me that I am beloved regardless of my academic abilities. To accept that God loves me as a cerebral exercise is one matter, but to experience it in the heart is another matter entirely. I think I began to understand this all more clearly that night. I felt peace in the midst of the academic storm, and joy in the midst of personal trial. Most importantly, I knew that I was His own.
I stood on the coulees for quite some time, the wind washing over me and carrying all of my anxieties out to Saskatchewan (or wherever the chinook winds go). When I finally left to return to another few hours of pounding my keyboard, I knew that regardless of how my academic work turned out, of more importance was that I would turn out, because I have a loving God who will light a lamp and sweep the house to find His lost coin.
I would go on walks outside again throughout my degree whenever I was overwhelmed and anxious; even now, it has been a very present help in the midst of the pandemic. And still, every so often, God finds me on these walks and speaks with me in my heart, and we share that joy together that “none other has ever known”.
Written by Solomon Ip, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist, Calgary.
When our family first moved to Calgary in 2014, we immediately fell in love with the unparalleled beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Over these past six years, our family has made regular hiking trips in the Albertan wilderness. For us, hiking is a profoundly spiritual encounter with the Divine. Below are several of the spiritual benefits we experience when spending quality time in God’s creation:
Reinvigorated prayer life
The Judeo-Christian tradition has long promoted immersing oneself in the beauty of creation to help us better appreciate the power and wisdom of God. Sacred Scripture is full of beautiful verses and images praising God the Creator. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1). Daniel 3:56-88 is a powerful canticle of all creation blessing, praising, and exalting the Lord. More recently, Saint John Paul II wrote: “Every time that I have the opportunity to rest in the mountains and contemplate these landscapes, I thank God for the majestic beauty of creation. I thank him for his own Beauty, of which the universe is a reflection, capable of fascinating attentive souls, urging them to praise its greatness” (July 11, 1999). To emphasize this spiritual aspect of time spent in nature, our family begins our hikes asking God to bless our time by making us more mindful of creation. When we reach our destination (the summit of a mountain or a physical landmark) we spend time offering prayers of thanksgiving for God’s abundant generosity in creation. Inevitably when we find ourselves in particularly difficult parts of the trail, we often invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother to bring us to our destination safely! At the conclusion of our hike, we always thank God for such a privileged experience.
Pushing our physical limits
In addition to affirming the beauty of creation, the Catholic tradition also affirms the beauty of the human person. Saint Paul writes “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you… therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is important that we keep our bodies healthy. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – a Lay Dominican who had a deep love of the mountains and the outdoors – adopted for himself the personal motto of verso l’alto (in English, “toward the top”). This phrase synthesized his way of life: to always seek what enhances, that which carries us beyond ourselves, to strive for the highest goals, to avoid mediocrity, to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. For Frassati, this meant pushing our own physical and spiritual limits. While hiking provides a variety of physical benefits - such as improved muscular fitness, lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, and improved cardio-respiratory fitness – it also pushes us to overcome our (perceived) physical limits. In my situation, climbing to mountain summits is slowly helping me to overcome my fear of heights. Achieving small goals empowers us to attempt bigger goals next time. Pushing ourselves to our physical and spiritual limits forms us into the best versions of ourselves - healthier and stronger temples of the Holy Spirit. Verso l’alto!
Deep, meaningful conversations
Daily life for our family has many moving parts: two parents that both work full time; three young children in three different schools; extracurricular activities; etc. Amid all this busyness, it is important to actively cultivate meaningful connections with each other. Going on hikes forces us to unplug from social media/entertainment and to spend quality time with one another. Hiking together for several hours allows us to engage in deep and intentional conversations. It allows us to share our “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties” with one another – and with God. These hikes are sacred moments of connection between spouses, parents and children, and siblings.
Written by Dr. Peter Baltutis, associate professor of history and religious studies and the Catholic Women’s League Chair for Catholic Studies at St. Mary’s University in Calgary. He is also a Lay Dominican. Peter and his family are parishioners of St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
At this time of continued vigilance during the Pandemic, it is more important than ever to keep nourishing our prayer life, especially for those who are not able to attend any liturgies at our church. Join in prayer with the universal church through the Liturgy of the Hours, Livestream Mass and Lectio Divina. Pray for those suffering with the Coronavirus, those who care for them, and those who are suffering from anxiety during this stressful time.
For the mental health
From the pandemic to the financial market, working from home and experiencing job loss, many find themselves under immense stress. How can this transform us for the better? Find the help you need through experienced counsellors, or take the time to examine ourselves, our priorities and our spiritual life.
Resources at your fingertips
One of Calgary’s newest vegetable gardens is located in the backyard of Elizabeth House (EH), a maternal care home that’s now growing ready-to-eat plants alongside healthy babies. In a world hungry for good news, this project fits the bill, says Michelle Haywood, program manager at Elizabeth House.
Opened by the Catholic Diocese of Calgary more than 20 years ago, Elizabeth House provides supportive housing to at-risk pregnant and parenting women who need a safe place to live. Seeded into two new raised beds, this year’s inaugural garden is busy growing everything from lettuce to tomatoes, carrots and squash. It’s also nurturing at least one young resident’s interest in vegetable production—and it all began with a group of Catholic men who dared ask the folks at EH a simple question: How can we help?
The raised beds, like every other landscape revitalization project undertaken at Elizabeth House since 2017, were built by the St. Peter’s Council of the Knights of Columbus. That’s the year the council’s Grand Knight Peter Dugandzic reached out to Haywood. That conversation laid the foundation of a relationship that’s flourished over four years, thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours.
“What the Knights have done here is amazing, but it’s about more than landscaping,” notes Haywood. “There’s also a sense of being cared for by this group of gentlemen offering their hands and hearts to help us. It’s hard to put that kind of support into words.”
Love in action
By 2018, Dugandzic was leading a group of Knights of Columbus in some serious hands-on work. Together, the men transformed the home’s weed-filled backyard into a summer oasis, complete with new sod and a new patio, outdoor furniture, a barbecue, perimeter shrub beds and an underground sprinkler. That same year, another council based in Airdrie provided the labour to re-side EH’s home and detached garage.
Last year, the Knights tackled the home’s front yard, again adding fresh sod, shrubs and irrigation.
“Everybody was pretty excited when Peter brought the idea to the council,” remembers Lu Scarpino. Sworn in as the Grand Knight at St. Peter’s this July, Scarpino was the council treasurer when the project began. “Elizabeth House is doing great work and it’s nice to be able to support that. I think we’ve built a relationship that will continue for many years,” adds Scarpino.
Fr. Jonathan Gibson agrees. The pastor at St. Peter’s parish, Fr. Gibson says the relationship between the knights and Elizabeth House reinforces the governing principles of the Knights of Columbus. Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism have all been strengthened by the project, says the priest. He views the relationship between the Knights of Columbus and Elizabeth House as a real-world example of how these knights live the heart of the gospel by doing work that cares for the women and children who live at Elizabeth House.
With the vegetable garden beds built and seeded, Dugandzic and Haywood are now focused on relocating a grotto built on the grounds of the original EH site in the Mission district. The stone work will be done by the same skilled tradesmen who built the grotto and one at the new Our Lady of the Rockies church in Canmore. The statue of Mary is being repainted by Dugandzic’s wife, Dorothy Voytechek. The new grotto will include a glass panel to protect the statue from the elements.
The grotto will be added to the backyard; already a place of refuge for residents, their children and EH staff, says Haywood. Given the complications of COVID-19, she knows the Knights at St. Peter’s didn’t have their usual opportunities to fundraise in 2020. That means some of the costs incurred were covered by individual knights and their families.
Dugandzic, who’s already working with Elizabeth House on projects for 2021, says he launched the EH project as a way to invigorate the Knights he led. Looking back, he admits the project’s success goes way beyond the physical spaces they created. “Elizabeth House is dear to our hearts. We like the work that they do. That house is nearly always full and it feels good to know our knights have helped make it an even more special place.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers