Each year, during the month of May, the Church encourages the faithful to pray through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, and the Mother of the Church. This year, as the pandemic took hold around the world, Pope Francis issued a letter “to encourage everyone to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home in the month of May.”
Mary who remained in the midst of the apostles continues to hold a special place in the heart of the Church. Mary’s motherhood for those in the Church is both maternal and spiritual for she continues to intercede to God for an increase in the life of grace promised to us through her Son. Four moments in Mary’s life reveal her intimate participation in the mysteries of her Son’s life, death and resurrection. Mary carried Jesus in her womb. She stood by while He suffered and died on the Cross. Mary remained in the Upper Room devoting herself to prayer with the first Christian community and awaited the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Finally, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) states, "The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son." (CCC, 966.) Mary truly understands the grace of being united to the mysteries of Christ and she desires that all people may live in the richness of this faith and belief in Christ. Through this faith and devotion she continues to work through the Church to bring all people to Her Son.
In his Letter for the Month of May 2020, the Pope notes that “contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.” The Pope’s letter also inspired the Bishops of Canada and the United States to re-consecrate their Dioceses to Mary, Mother of the Church during the current global pandemic on May 1. At the conclusion of the month of May, I will celebrate the Mass of Dedication for our new Marian Shrine Church in Canmore, “Our Lady of the Rockies” on May 30, 2020. This will also mark the anticipation of the reintroduction of the public celebration of Mass throughout the entire Diocese beginning on June 1, 2020 which is a new Memorial for our Blessed Mother.
The title “Mary, Mother of the Church” was given to the Blessed Mother by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council and in 2018, Pope Francis added the “Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church” to be celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost which this year will occur on June 1 when the faithful return to the celebration of the Eucharist. In this time of pandemic as the patron of our Diocese she remains an enduring sign of trust and hope that we must all have in God’s will despite what we face in the future.
As I stated in my homily for the Consecration of the Diocese of Calgary to Mary, Mother of the Church, I encourage families and individuals to consecrate yourselves along with the Diocese and parishes to the protection and daily intercession of Mary. In the words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, "Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did."
Come quickly to our aid at this time, Mother of Mercy, and deliver us from the dangers that surround us in our hour of need; watch over especially the elderly, the weak and the infirm, our children and the unity of our families, and all those who give of themselves selflessly in pastoral care to those in need until in your arms and in your gentle embrace we all find safety and solace.”
The Stations of the Light is a spiritual journey with Christ that takes one through fourteen of the most inspiriting events of His post-Resurrection life on earth. In the early Church this practice was known as the Via Lucis, or Way of the Resurrection. It invites participants to walk along a path of transforming joy by following in the footsteps of the Risen Christ and his friends. Resources for praying Via Lucis:
Pray on your own pace, with a reflection video and accompanying guide.
Download the accompanying prayer booklet (Diocese of Manchester)
Date: May 26, 2020
Catholics will be allowed to take their first steps back to church for Mass in June under new guidelines issued by the Roman Catholic Bishops of Alberta.
The Guidelines for the Reintroduction of the Public Celebration of Holy Mass were developed by a task force the Bishops established under the direction of Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary. The document follows the recent release of the Alberta government’s Guidance for Places of Public Worship as part of Stage 1 of the provincial relaunch strategy, as well as consultations with Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and other experts.
Parishes that have made the necessary preparations will be able to begin offering weekday masses on Monday, June 1, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church; and Sunday masses as of June 7, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. In order to protect the health of parishioners, volunteers, staff and clergy, the Bishops have set a detailed list of conditions that must be met before congregants can safely be invited back to Mass. These include:
Congregants will be able to receive Holy Communion in the form of the consecrated bread, but there will be no distribution of consecrated wine. Communicants will need to wear a mask to approach for Holy Communion, as will the priest when he is distributing it.
During this first stage, singing during Mass will not be allowed, as this activity has been shown to spread respiratory droplets that can infect others with the COVID-19 coronavirus. And any socializing after Mass will have to take place outside, still observing the physical distancing protocol.
The guidelines will apply broadly to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Diocese of Calgary, and Diocese of St. Paul. Some particulars will vary in each diocese, so parishes should consult the guidelines for their own diocese.
Parish priests will be busy in the coming days preparing for the return of congregants in small numbers. However, since parishes vary greatly in terms of facilities and resources, it is likely that not all will be able to resume public masses in the first week of June. Parishioners are encouraged to check their parish website for local information.
It has been two months since public celebrations of the Mass were cancelled in Alberta. The full reinstatement of public masses will take place gradually, in parallel with the provincial relaunch strategy.
“The return of our people to the Eucharist after all this time will be a moment of great joy for both priests and parishioners, but there is still a long way to go,” said Archbishop Smith. “We will need to demonstrate that we have succeeded in providing a safe environment for Mass with small groups before we can proceed to the next stage and open masses to larger groups. For that reason, we ask once more for your patience, understanding, and prayers as we take these first steps forward.”
Date: May 15, 2020
The Catholic Bishops of Alberta remain committed to the gradual reinstatement of public celebrations of the Mass and welcome the recent release of the Guidance for Places of Public Worship document as part of the provincial government’s relaunch strategy. These guidelines are being carefully considered by the task force that the Bishops have established under the direction of Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary.
The task force is drafting for the Bishops a set of directives for the gradual reintroduction of Masses in public. The Bishops will present these to Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. The proposed directives will take into consideration the information that will be received from the Telephone Town Hall with the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer scheduled for Thursday, May 21. No date will be set for the resumption of public liturgies in our Catholic churches and institutions until the Bishops are satisfied that their own directives can be fully and properly implemented.
Any announcement of the date for the gradual reintroduction will be made at least five days before the first scheduled Mass. Parishes by then will have received diocesan guidelines which help ensure the safety of everyone.
“It is critical that we understand the risks and take steps in minimizing the spread of COVID-19 through prudent planning,” said Bishop McGrattan. “The health and safety of our parishioners, priests, and church staff are of utmost importance. Each and every life is a precious gift from God, and we are called to do everything in our power to protect them. This has been a tremendous sacrifice on the part of the faithful who strongly desire to celebrate the Eucharist in their parish communities. We are grateful for their cooperation, their patient endurance, and especially for their prayers.”
Date: May 6, 2020
In preparation for the lifting of some restrictions on gatherings in public places in Alberta, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta are working to develop a plan for the eventual reinstatement of public celebrations of the Mass. The Bishops have established a task force under the direction of Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Bishop William McGrattan of Calgary. The mandate of this task force is to discern when and how this gradual reinstatement will be initiated. Their consideration will continue to be informed by the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and the provincial government’s staged COVID-19 recovery plan.
“We are acutely aware of our parishioners’ fervent desire to return to the Eucharist, and we share their concern,” said Archbishop Smith. “Our careful discernment now will ensure that when the time comes, we will be ready to begin inviting the faithful back to the churches they miss so much. We are extremely grateful to all those who have made great sacrifices in the common effort to protect our brothers and sisters by preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
April 28, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect our Province and Diocese in mid-March, we put in place safety measures that were in compliance with the requirements of the Alberta Health Services to protect parishioners, employees and clergy. These have included the temporary suspension of the public celebration of Masses, limiting the number of people present in the church for personal prayer while still making available the celebration of other Sacraments with pastoral directives for the clergy to celebrate them in a safe manner. We have also modified the working arrangements of our employees in order to ensure their safety and well-being while providing necessary service through the parish offices and the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
While gathering for Mass as a parish community is not possible at this time, the priests continue to celebrate Mass privately for the intentions of the faithful and explore other various ways to pastorally connect with them.
In the meantime, there have been inquiries from parishioners about ways to support the parish and the ministries of the Diocese. This is a sensitive topic to address with so many uncertainties that continue to impact each one of us in unexpected ways. Many parishioners may already be facing financial difficulties as a family, and the first priority must be to take care of the needs of family and loved ones. The parishes and the Diocese continue to rely on the generosity of the faithful to carry on during this time of pandemic and the temporary suspension of Masses. Currently, only 10% of the annual revenue comes through pre-authorized giving while the remainder of the donations are received through the normal weekly offering at the weekend Masses.
In the last six weeks, most parishes have reported a 50% reduction or more in weekly revenue. With parish revenue being impacted, there was the need to act in a responsible way to mitigate the financial stress on the parishes and to ease their burden. Thus, the Pastoral Centre suspended the monthly parish levy and this is in effect until the end of the year 2020. In addition to this measure, the monthly loan and interest payments owing from the parishes for renovation projects and the building of churches have also been suspended for the same period of time while our Diocesan Together in Action (TIA) campaign continues. Furthermore, all areas of operations both at the parishes and the Diocese have been reviewed to identify potential cost savings. Government subsidy programs at the federal and provincial levels to deal with COVID-19 have also been assessed to determine if we would qualify given their current requirements.
In response to this emerging financial challenge, the following cost-containment strategies will be implemented in the parishes and in the Diocese.
As Bishop, having been involved in these deliberations, I am acutely aware that these decision are very difficult to bear especially for those who are directly impacted. These cost-containment measures, however, are necessary for the Diocese and parishes in order for us to meet our current fiscal responsibilities and to provide financial stabilization in the years ahead. It is my hope that in times like this, we will draw confidence, wisdom and guidance from our faith, and ask God in His wisdom to be present in our decisions so that they reflect compassion, prudence, and justice.
I am truly humbled by the ongoing generosity of parishioners in these most difficult financial times and the leadership and sacrifice of our clergy. On behalf of the clergy and the employees, I extend my deepest gratitude for your support.
Most important at this time are our prayers of support for each other. We pray for the parishes and the Diocese, for your fellow parishioners and the parish team, and we remember those who are suffering from illness, especially those who have died and frontline workers and essential service providers who have had to make a tremendous sacrifice affecting their families and loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful and thank you for this witness.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
✝ Most Reverend William T. McGrattan
Download Letter in English | French
The consecration of Canada to Our Lady will enrich our faith, allow a more abundant outpouring of God’s spiritual and temporal gifts on us, and enable us even more to fulfill our calling and mission. Ultimately, consecration to Mary, which springs from a more fervent, more committed, and more sustained life of prayer and devotion in which the Blessed Mother plays a unique and loving role, points and leads to a renewed spirit and understanding of family, Church, and the need for societal engagement. To find more catechesis on Marian Consecration and why we consecrate Canada to Our Lady, please read the document "Consecrating Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Insights for Adult Catechesis."
Join us in prayer: Bishop McGrattan will consecrate the Diocese of Calgary to Mary, Mother of the Church, on Friday, May 1, seeking her maternal protection during the Coronavirus pandemic. To assist dioceses with the consecration, the CCCB will provide a prayer for use during the solemn act of entrustment. It can likewise be incorporated into family or individual prayer at home and used by other groups and faith communities.
Bishop McGrattan will celebrating the following liturgies on Friday, May 1, 2020:
A few days ago, in a damp and empty St. Peter’s Square, His Holiness Pope Francis stood alone and prayed to God saying, "it is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others." Later in that time of prayer, he raised the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament to bestow an extraordinary blessing, urbi et orbi.
This month’s Faithfully theme was to focus on the future and to offer hope in the Easter season by writing about our youth and young people. Despite the fact that at this moment most of our thoughts and energies are consumed by the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it might, in fact, be providential to offer a reflection for the future, one of faith and hope which our youth might come to discover.
In 2018 the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment gathered young people from around the world to discuss the realities they face today in their daily lives and in the living of their faith. Fr. Cristino Bouvette, the Diocesan Vocation Director, gathered a group of young people in the Diocese of Calgary to provide their input to the Synod. And as I read the Post-Synod Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, (CV) once again, I was struck by the thought that no one could have imagined in 2018 that this generation of young people would soon encounter and live through a worldwide pandemic. There are many teachings from CV that potentially can strengthen the resiliency of young people as they meet the challenges now and in the future. Here are only four which can sustain their faith and hope in God.
First, the experience of a living faith that grows deeper when we endure struggles. When things are going well, it is easy to ride the wave and take for granted the many blessings we have. When these experiences have been removed from our daily lives – consolations such as seeing friends at school; working with a team on a project; playing a sport or watching a musical show – there can either be a sense of emptiness for what we are missing or a deeper appreciation for the gift of God’s providence that we know in faith endures with or without those consolations. As we face days of uncertainty, our faith can sustain us and prevent experiences of anxiety. The words of Pope Francis encouraged the young to:
Keep following your hopes and dreams. But be careful about one temptation that can hold us back. It is anxiety. Anxiety can work against us by making us give up whenever we do not see instant results. Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste. (CV, 142)
Second, the importance of family and those considered to be family. Many young people have had their studies severely impacted following the sudden closure of schools, colleges and universities. Other young people have been laid off from work. They are returning home to their families – some even travelling home from working or being abroad. Families that have not necessarily had the chance to spend much time together are discovering board games, watching movies together, and even trying creative video-taping projects or simply home-cooking. Our families offer young people the wisdom of older generations who have faced the challenges of their times. Pope Francis noted such a gift.
When intergenerational relationships exist, a collective memory is present in communities, as each generation takes up the teachings of its predecessors and in turn bequeaths a legacy to its successors. In this way, they provide frames of reference for firmly establishing a new society. (CV, 191)
Third, the benefit of connecting and communicating with others – even if it is through virtual contact. The Internet has emerged as the primary means for people to carry on with communication, meetings, access to information while being at home. Pope Francis is no stranger to such modes of communication.
The web and social networks have created a new way to communicate and bond. They are “a public square where the young spend much of their time and meet one another easily, even though not all have equal access to it, particularly in some regions of the world. They provide an extraordinary opportunity for dialogue, encounter and exchange between persons, as well as access to information and knowledge… In many countries, the internet and social networks already represent a firmly established forum for reaching and involving young people, not least in pastoral initiatives and activities.” (CV, 87)
Finally, the moral demand to look after one another and seek the common good. These are times when each person realizes that to protect one another, we must work together. Listening and following the directives of health officials and government legislators is in fact “caring for our neighbour.” In addition to being socially responsible, we are called to recognize and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in our midst. Pope Francis presents such a vision to the youth.
I ask young people to go beyond their small groups and to build “social friendship, where everyone works for the common good. … It is not easy, it always means having to give something up and to negotiate, but if we do it for the sake of helping others, we can have the magnificent experience of setting our differences aside and working together for something greater… This is something which young people can dare to pursue with passion. (CV, 169) Wherever we are, we always have an opportunity to share the joy of the Gospel. (CV, 177)
While the 2018 Synod on Young People may not have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic, many enduring life lessons are in the document. They are also echoed in the words of the prophet, Isaiah, which affirm the abiding care of God for each one of us, especially our youth - “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Is. 41: 10).
Be assured - God is with us. God bless you.
Several years have passed since Fr. Mike (Catfish) Mireau was the parish priest at St. Michael Church, Leduc. This was his first parish and he was `superhero` ready to shepherd when he arrived in 2004. He was super quick witted and passionate! His homilies at times were stand-up comedy linked to pop culture and Star Wars that brought a wide-eyed look from some. After the laughs, he purposefully led back to the gospel message, touching our hearts and always ending with `God is Love`(1 John 4:8). Fr. Mike was a brilliant academic, excellent communicator and wonderful story-teller. On the topic of perseverance he related it to changing the alternator on his Hyundai and described it with great fun, detail and agonizing strain!
Fr. Mike captured the hearts of students at our Catholic Schools here in Leduc. He professed his support of Catholic education as often as he could – he reminded parents during the baptism of their child the importance of educating their children through a Catholic school. I was so grateful to him for making this claim and reminding us all that Catholic schools are an extension of the parish and contribute to the mission of the church. Because of his easy connection to young people he spent a lot of time at the schools. Mass at all schools was a big commitment but when he committed to regular confession times, the commitment could be for many hours. He offered confession at Christ the King Jr/Sr High School in Leduc as often as he could. Confession time was connection time, Fr. Mike was easy to talk to – his heart knew their struggles.
Fr. Mike was ahead of his time in using social media. He used it to teach and share the Catholic faith. His website http://fathercatfish.com/ has so many resources; videos, homilies, many interesting papers - `History of the Entire Universe` and `God is Love` - M.Div. Synthesis 2001, – excellent for families, Catholic school teachers and students! He spoke openly about his cancer and documented it on his site. After his passing our parish and school communities honoured him in different ways. A student initiated a park bench in his memory which is situated near the church overlooking Telford Lake. At Christ the King School families support an annual monetary award with a beautifully carved cross to a student who demonstrates Fr. Mike`s virtue of strong faith and staying true to one`s self, especially when it is difficult and lonely. At Fr. Leduc Catholic School, the school motto is `God is Love`. Our Catholic schools are forever grateful to parish priests who accompany students and meet them where they are at – these are God moments. We know grace will take care of the rest and students will draw on their Catholic education experience, recognizing the love of Christ in their own faith journey.
Written by: Michelle Lamer, trustee for STAR Catholic School District
I was thrilled when Canada’s preeminent missionary family asked me to edit their new tell-all book Brick by Brick — Building a strong family that won’t lose their faith in a secular culture.
I came back to my Catholic faith through Catholic Christian Outreach, the university student movement dedicated to evangelization that Andre and Angele Regnier founded 30 years ago.
I am one of the hundreds, if not thousands of CCO alumni now raising families and Brick by Brick is the long answer to our collective question: how do we do, what you did?
While bringing other people’s children back into the fold, Andre and Angele successfully raised five of their own faith-filled children. The three eldest along with their spouses now work as CCO missionaries, while the two youngest are still in school.
In fact, Caleb and his wife Alana Regnier serve as missionaries right here in the Diocese of Calgary at Mount Royal University.
Recently, I jumped onto a video-call with Andre, Angele, Caleb and Alana to discuss the book they co-wrote with the other immediate members of their family. It felt like a dinner table conversation, poking jokes and all, similar to the dynamic and collaborative approach they took writing the book together. The book highlights seven overarching principles while also giving lots of practical tips, so when asked to distill it down to a single word or thought, here is what they said:
Andre: Methods are many, principles are few. The method of how you raise your children, the style, can vary, but what cannot be compromised is holiness and mission. It is not something that we do in the future, we are missionary disciples from baptism. That’s the disposition we took, that’s the environment we raised (our children) in.
The fundamental principle is relationship. We raised our children to know God wants to be in a relationship with us. But we also have to believe that God wants others to be in relationship with Him. So it’s not just us, as a good Catholic, but everyone needs to be in this relationship. A heart for God and a heart for the lost.
Angele: The word that comes to mind for me is intentional accompaniment. The premise of the book is much more than how to raise a Catholic family. We are taking a particular thesis, which is if you raise your child to have a personal relationship with Christ, and to learn from the earliest stages how to share your faith, these children will grow up to have a living and active faith because it’s been fostered at the appropriate dosage at the appropriate age.
For us, holiness and mission go hand in hand, so intentional accompaniment for children is raising that child to be a disciple and missionary at age appropriate levels.
Alana: The word that comes up is hope. Being around the family during the whole process of writing the book I was able to see that raising children to be missionary disciples is not a fluke. It’s not just because it’s Andre and Angele, and they are founders, but it’s actually repeatable.
Caleb: My word would be proof. Proof that it is possible to be a family that is missionary and living holiness. It’s not just a pipe dream.
~ Caleb, you never rebelled against God or your family in any significant way. Why is that?
Caleb: I never had to have that time of pulling away because I always felt freedom. When it came to God, it was an attractive idea. There were people that I saw in my life who were living this relationship with God and that seemed like the best way I could live my life.
~ What was the relationship between freedom and obedience in your household?
Caleb: I did feel a lot of freedom to mess up, to find the answers, but they didn’t just say you figure it out on your own. When it came to Mass or youth group it wasn’t a question of –– if you don’t feel like it today you don’t have to go. It wasn’t like that. But there was an understanding that this is a relationship that can’t be forced. I needed to make that decision myself, but they also made sure I was being put in places where I could make that decision.
Alana: That’s one thing I noticed about all the kids coming in, that they all had a really well formed conscience and a desire to be obedient and not just because mom and dad said so, but because it would help their relationship with Jesus. They learnt the skills to make good decisions.
Angele: Having been a varsity athlete, Andre wanted the boys to be as competitive as he was and that’s actually where the rebellion happened, in the sporting arena of our family. He turned the boys off of wrestling for sure, and possibly competitive sport because he was so caught up in it. Praise God that sort of mentality didn’t transpire into how we approached faith with the kids.
The invitation, the gentleness in which we brought the kids into an environment that was authentic helped the kids have freedom in their faith lives. A lot of parents that I see have struggled because of their angst that their children would be as spiritual as they translate into control. For a lot of these parents, it’s driven by fear, it’s not driven by hope.
Andre: The principle is actually hope and expectation that children will submit and live their lives for Jesus. Because as parents, we are convinced that His name is powerful, and His message is compelling, and His life is abundant. We believe in the power of the Gospel. We expect that God is going to win out the day, so we are not living in fear of our children’s salvation. Although we are constantly doing a lot of course navigation. But we are not in a defensive mode. We are actually very offensive. We are bringing them along because we know they are going to want to come. Children will follow that great expectation their parents have for them.
~ What is your perspective on the Covid-19 virus?
Andre: We can look at this worldwide situation as a global missionary opportunity. Everyone around the world has entered into a Lenten experience right now. They are forced to fast — I can’t do the things I want to do right now. They are forced to almsgive — I have to give of myself. But they are also forced to pray at some level. They are asking what is this all about? We are forced into self-reflection, and it is in self-reflection that God can begin to speak to the person in their heart.
I feel this is a moment for us, the Church, to speak and let people know about who Jesus is. The love of God. The Church is here for you. If there was ever a time to invite people back, it’s now because they are already asking the question, “what is this about?”. How is it going to impact me? It’s not shallow reflection right now. It’s really internal, asking the big questions: what is the meaning of life. This is a missionary age. If ever we should be alive and active, it’s right now.
~ How can we make the best use of this time from the perspective of evangelization and mission?
Angele: I think at a base level, it’s a good opportunity to check-in with each other. The checking-in can be that little opening to have heartfelt conversations. How are you? How do you feel about things? Evangelization has to be personal. It’s not just the communication of a message. It’s an opportunity to get at some deeper experiences or feelings of fear. There is a vulnerability in people that can be awakened by checking-in. People may secretly be seeking out spiritual things online that they have not sought out before. People will be searching to make some sense about it. The attitude of the missioner needs to be very compassionate, gently leading them back to the Good Shepherd.
Alana: I am focusing on building trust and reaching out. Social media is our means right now to stir up curiosity in people. We can pray and ask God for someone to reach out to. I also think there are ways we can elicit curiosity in people through social media. We can show our lives and our reaction — the hope we have in Jesus during this time, even offering that if you need someone to talk to reach out to me.
Caleb: This past week, I’ve had dozens of one-on-one conversations with university students. Their biggest deterrents are partying and relationships. However, all of that is being striped away. They are not able to spend time with their girlfriend or boyfriend or go out on the weekends. I’ve been surprised at the amount of openness among young people right now. We are inviting people to leave their old ways and become a disciple. I’m just amazed that so many people are saying ‘yes, I want that.’
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of Sara Francis & CCO
Catholics across the Diocese of Calgary are looking for ways to de-stress from the distress. Adjusting to the new normal foisted on the global community by COVID-19, a disease that didn’t even have a name just weeks ago, thousands are live-streaming daily and Sunday masses. Others turn to traditional Catholic prayers like the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, seeking grace for the dead, the sick, their families and caregivers.
Sr. Donna Marie Perry, FCJ, knows the news is bad. But the Calgary-based social worker and psychotherapist wants people to remember that the steps we take to stay “physically healthy should also include a focus on our mental and spiritual well-being.”
That earns a quick nod from Dr. Peter Doherty, an associate professor of psychology and family studies at St. Mary’s University in Calgary. Dr. Doherty, whose work focuses on the integration of psychology and spirituality, agrees people should take mental health issues seriously in times of crisis.
Mental health matters
Sr. Perry is the clinical director of Insight Counselling and Therapy Centre. This not-for-profit offers long-term counselling at sliding rates as low as $5 a visit. Insight delivers care through practicum students supervised by Sr. Perry. All of the students are finishing master of counselling programs with various universities. The organization is one of the community-based organizations that benefits from Together in Action, an annual fundraising campaign by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Given the imperatives of “social distancing” during the pandemic, Insight’s students currently offer support via phone.
Sr. Perry herself lives in a seniors’ residence with strict pandemic protocols. With St. Mary’s University shuttered, Dr. Doherty is also staying close to home. They offered readers of Faithfully some ideas about how to make mental health a priority in trying times.
Stay informed. Make healthy choices. “Fear is a healthy response to the situation, and it makes sense to stay informed. But let’s be smart about how much news we watch and read,” says Sr. Perry. She recommends people listen to morning updates and check in again in the afternoon or evening. A 24-hour news cycle includes a lot of recycled information and “when you’re hearing the same news all the time that increases stress,” says Sr. Perry.
Hoarding items as basic as toilet paper shows “an emotional response to the crisis that doesn’t make rational sense,” adds Dr. Doherty. He also shakes his head when he sees examples of people not following recommendations for safe social interaction.
One of the healthiest ideas he’s seen to date suggests people “not act as if you’re afraid of getting the virus. Instead, act as if you are trying to protect other people from getting it. The best information we have says most people who get this virus will survive. But we need to protect those who are vulnerable.” People who follow that advice should take mental comfort in knowing they are doing the right thing, says Dr. Doherty.
Strengthen family ties. The social distancing protocols recommended by public health officials isolate family units. Sr. Perry’s urges families to use the time to your family’s advantage. Play games. Share meals. Go for walks where you can be 2 m from other people. If you have a backyard, use it.
Reach out. “It’s like we are disconnected, together,” says Dr. Doherty. Since our own mental health benefits when we interact with others, this is a good time to phone, text, email, FaceTime or Skype with people we haven’t heard from in a while, “especially if we know people who might be alone.”
This is also a good time to reach out to people whom we’ve hurt and vice versa. The words, “I forgive you,” are a way to free ourselves from the heavy, energy-sapping emotional burdens we carry when we haven’t let go of real or imagined hurts, says Dr. Doherty. This kind of pain bleeds into how we interact with others and how we handle strife. “It can keep us from handling unrelated situations well.”
Pray. Pray together. Dr. Doherty encourages people of faith to use prayer as a conduit to deeper conversion. When we pray for the isolated, for those who’ve lost jobs and for people on the front lines of health care, prayer becomes a way to reach past ourselves to Christ, says Dr. Doherty. This can be helpful for people who grieve the fact that they cannot attend mass to receive the Eucharist.
Family prayer is also helpful, says Sr. Perry. Praying for others teaches children that prayer is a way of helping others—and it reminds adults of the same thing. “It’s really important not to get caught up in ‘self’ and to keep looking outward,” says Sr. Perry.
“Prayer can be very relaxing, too,” notes Sr. Perry. Following the Jesuit tradition of her charism, she uses her evening prayers “to look back on the day, to think about what went well and what didn’t go as well and to give thanks to God for the day.”
She’s added more Hail Marys to her day by reciting that prayer while she lathers her soapy hands for the requisite 20 seconds (as recommended by public health), prior to rinsing off the soap with water. Sr. Perry says the Hail Mary is a good replacement for singing the ABCs or Happy Birthday songs.
Listen. Talk. Be kind.
People manage stress differently. If you see more anger than you’re used to, remember that unresolved fear may be expressed as anger, explains Sr. Perry. She encourages parents to listen when their kids talk about their fears. Be open to their questions and offer age-appropriate responses. “Let them know that you don’t know everything, but you will figure it out together.”
Also, remember that children internalize messages from the external world and believe that everything that happens relates to them. It’s a matter of maturity, not selfishness, says Sr. Perry. “Children internalize information to make sense of their environment with limited experience. They use that information to make decisions about themselves and the world. They build what we call a script, and we live out of those childhood beliefs.”
Laugh often. Love much. With so much doom and gloom, Sr. Perry suggests people who are feeling sad work some comedy into their screen time.
She and Dr. Doherty admit they are especially worried about individuals and families who did not go into the current pandemic in strong mental health. “Not all families are healthy,” says Sr. Perry. She urges people who see others struggling to reach out with kindness. Where appropriate, you can also recommend they access support from community-based organizations.
Calgary Distress Centre Helpline: 403-266-HELP (4357)
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers