“War is the ultimate human failure,” says Capt./Fr. John Nemanic. Not a sentiment I expect to hear from a military chaplain but Fr. John is adamant. “Human beings are called to be in communion with one another; to love and help each other. I had to grapple with this.” As we continue the interview, he expands on this conflict.
Barely nine months ago, Fr. John was a diocesan priest in the Diocese of Calgary. Now he is a chaplain serving in the Roman Catholic Military Ordinariate of Canada (RC Milord Canada) under the supervision of Bishop Scott McCaig. The RCMilord is described as “a diocese of massive dimensions” serving not only military members and their families at home, but also wherever the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have a presence around the world.
Fr. John is simultaneously an officer, serving under a military chain of command including the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS). This branch of the military, which Fr. John describes as similar to Alberta Catholic schools in that it serves all faiths. According to the National Defence website, “CAF chaplains attend to the needs of all members of the CAF and their families, whether they identify with a particular Faith Tradition, have no specific spiritual/faith practice, belief or custom, or are spiritually curious.”
In some ways, this is similar to parish work, caring for the spiritual needs of all CAF members, those who are Catholic, those from other faith backgrounds or those who have none. The pluralism found within the CAF reflects that seen in Canadian society as a whole, so chaplains have to be prepared to deal with all of it. Fr. John says, “As individual chaplains we’re told to be faithful to our faith traditions, so I might refer for example, a same-sex marriage request, to another chaplain. The chaplain might also refer military families to the local (secular) parish, for example, for sacramental preparation or for French-language Mass. He also liaises with other houses of worship nearby to be able to refer different faith adherents appropriately. It’s an environment of ecumenism and outreach into which chaplains are rigorously initiated.
Fr. John felt a calling to the military as early as his calling to the priesthood. His father served in the Yugoslavian army, so after Fr. John was ordained in 2008, he considered serving as a reservist. However, he found the commitment unsustainable with full time parish work. In 2017, his yearning to serve for the military resurfaced during centennial celebrations of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Eventually, he applied to the RCChS and began a long process of interviews, physical tests, evaluations, educational qualification assessments and personal reference checks. “This was also to test the call,” Fr. John says, “A lot of it was prayer.”
Once he was accepted, he was posted to Garrison Petawawa in Ontario (population 19,000 including 6,000 people directly connected to the base). He then began 13 weeks of basic training from 5 am to 10 pm. It was a tough regimen designed to emphasize teamwork and endurance under adversity, as well as essential fighting skills. Chaplains do not carry weapons, although they do have to learn how to safely disarm them. They also do not command any personnel but bear an officer’s rank so they can minister to members at all levels. Chaplains have authority, and an obligation, to present significant issues from the rank-and-file to higher-ups. They also preside at religious services and form part of the group which delivers news to a family following an incident.
It was during basic training that Fr. John experienced a memorable moment. Among his fellow trainees, who ranged in age from 19 to 50, one approached him expressing suicidal thoughts. Fr. John arranged for mental health support for the person. He remembers being awed and humbled by the “power of the padre”, to be trusted with a confidence at the outset of his training. Not all his experiences were as positive.
While visiting the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa during Basic Training, he paused in front of a large display of instruments meant to kill and maim. “My stomach churned,” he says, “I wondered, ‘am I enabling this by serving in the CAF?’” With the help of an advisor, he came to understand differently. “Canada’s interests in going to war are noble: to defend our country and defend those who need our help.” He goes on to say that Jesus met violence with acceptance when he submitted to being crucified. Chaplains can provide solace to those who’ve had to kill and those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Fr. John explains that soldiers have to accept what the military terms ‘unlimited liability’ which means they cannot refuse an order even if it places them in dire danger. Officers have to deal with issuing such orders. Even peacekeepers, who are not permitted to fire unless first fired upon, can encounter terrible situations which they are powerless to affect.
“It’s such a conundrum to support CAF members but not believe in war,” Fr. John says. “Only God can bring creation out of chaos. Pray for peace in our hearts and homes. Pray that there is no more war and no need for the military but pray also for our soldiers.”
Fr. John ends our interview the same way he began it, with gratitude to Bishop McGrattan for “putting me on loan to the military”. He says fervently, “I would never have found peace until I knew if I could do this. God has put me in a place where I can really help people.”
On the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, June 17, 2023, over 130 individuals representing 7 parishes within the Fr. Naphin Deanery gathered at Mother of the Redeemer Parish for their first Faith and Mission Day. Father Fabio DeSouza who initiated the day, presented the pastoral journey of the Diocese in his talk, "From Pioneers to Parishioners: Tracing the Pastoral History of the Diocese of Calgary."
The event continued with a Mass with Bishop McGrattan, who spoke about the synodal experience of the Diocese during the homily. After the Mass, participants gathered in the parish hall to enjoy a delicious lunch provided by the Knights of Columbus. The atmosphere was joyful and filled with a genuine sense of community as individuals from various parishes came together, fostering a profound sense of unity and shared purpose.
This Pastoral Zone Day has truly served our parishes as a valuable opportunity to connect, exchange ideas, and deepen our understanding of the Diocese's pastoral history and vision. It has strengthened our sense of communion. Participants departed feeling inspired to actively participate in executing the forthcoming pastoral priorities outlined by Bishop McGrattan, contributing to the spiritual rejuvenation of their respective parish communities.
Submitted by Catarina Avila, Our Lady of Fatima Parish Communications Team.
Photos credit: Thiago Cavallini, Our Lady of Fatima Parish Communications Team.
A thunderclap of applause erupted inside St. Mary’s Cathedral Friday evening as the faithful deemed Santiago Torres worthy of ordination to the priesthood.
There was standing room only as young and old watched on as Torres prostrated himself before God and His people, giving his undivided heart to the priesthood on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as a choir sounding like angels sang the Litany of the Saints.
Then the essential moment – the Laying on of Hands – by Bishop William McGrattan, as the Holy Spirit conformed Torres to the priesthood of Christ. It was poignant to see the many faces of Christ come forward one by one laying their hands on their new brother priest as he knelt to receive this gesture in humility.
The word ‘humility’ was repeated through the music, the prayers, the homily and even Fr. Torres’ thank you address at the end of the ordination.
Bishop McGrattan emphasized every priest must possess the gift of the fear of God, a trepidation that they are unworthy to receive this call. “Each priest must respond to their call with confidence and humility inspired by the Spirit of God,” he said.
Sincere, affable, gentle, kind, confident, humble, joyful and a gift to the Church; these are words that the faithful use to describe their newest Calgary diocesan priest. I count myself among the faithful who feel blessed by Fr. Santiago’s “yes” to live for Christ.
A few weeks before the ordination, I had the privilege of sitting down to speak with Father (at that time Deacon) Torres. He chatted with me from his dorm room at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Edmonton via video call. Almost immediately I was reminded of his magnetic personality. We had first met about 13 years ago (summer of 2010) during which time he had just experienced the love of God in a profound life-changing way. By the end of the interview my heart was full of hope for the future of Fr. Santiago’s priestly vocation and for all the ways he will bring glory to God and peace to those he ministers to on Earth.
A chat with Fr. Santiago
The Parable of the Mustard Seed came to mind as I sat down to write and reveal a glimpse of Fr. Santiago Torres’s profound journey of faith: one that began for him as a tiny seed hidden within his mother’s womb.
“When I was conceived my Dad didn’t want anything to do with the pregnancy and so he left my Mom. I never knew who my biological dad was. He pushed [abortion] on her and my mom decided to have me instead – Praise God.”
The 34-year-old priest, born and raised in Bogota, Colombia, considers his mother his primary role model.
“My Mom has always been that solid foundation in my life for security and love – how to give of yourself for others.”
Two days before the ordination, Fr. Santiago’s mother, Maria Cristina Latorre, was busy preparing for the ordination, welcoming her best friend from Germany, her sisters from Colombia, Santiago’s out-of-town seminarian friends and parishioners from his diaconal year in Lethbridge. With emotions running high amidst the hustle and bustle at her house, she stepped away to reflect and answer a few questions about her son.
“I don’t know why Jesus chose me, but I’m here and I’m ready to give back my son to Him,” said Latorre, trying to hold back her tears. “There are too many emotions.
“I ask God why you chose my son?,” she said. “I’m not asking this ‘why’ in a bad way. No, I’m asking why [because] I’m so humbled to be his mom.
“Santiago explained to me ‘Mom, sometimes God, through difficult times, or bad situations, He makes something good from bad,’ which makes sense for me,” she continued.
Growing up in Bogota, Colombia
When Fr. Santiago was two-years-old, his mother married and had twin girls, Ana Maria and Maria Juliana. Then at six-years-old his parents divorced, but the family continued to keep in touch with his sisters’ father, the man who Fr. Santiago considers his earthly father figure.
“It’s incredible how important the love of a father is in a person’s life and yet, even if one hasn’t had that in one’s life, God still wants to give us that love,” said Fr. Santiago. “Looking back on my life in those years that I wasn’t close to Him… even if I didn’t realize He was there, He was always there.”
From early on the seed of faith was planted through Fr. Santiago’s Sacraments of Baptism and First Eucharist, but he was not Confirmed until later as an adult. From an early age watching television soccer matches won out over going to Sunday Mass. Meanwhile, his grandparents played a pivotal role in helping his mother raise Fr. Santiago and his sisters, both practically and spiritually.
Mrs. Latorre remembers those early days of childrearing and how her parents did not approve of all the ways her life had unfolded. Yet, as devout Catholics, they continued to support and love her and her children.
“At this time I was not close to God, I cannot say I was praying, but I can say God was with me all the time. I think He has been by my side all the time,” said Mrs. Latorre, tearfully.
A new beginning in Canada
Mrs. Latorre married Juan Gonzalo Arango when Fr. Santiago was around 14 and then, in 2005 at the age of 16, the family immigrated to Calgary for better opportunities.
“For me it was very difficult,” said Fr. Santiago. “My friends were everything. I had a girlfriend in Colombia at that time as well. We moved in October, which was hard because it was starting to get cold and high school had already started. I only knew enough English to get by.”
Shortly after the move, he began a relationship with a Colombian girl, also newly immigrated to Canada, who, to his astonishment, practiced her Catholic faith.
The seed of faith received some significant watering one day when he was at his girlfriend’s house and the family was on a long-distance phone call with a priest from Colombia. Each person got a chance to speak to this priest, including – to his surprise – Fr. Santiago.
“I was completely dumbfounded because I hadn’t talked to a priest in forever and that was how my conversion began,” said Fr. Santiago “It’s incredible how God works.
“Because I didn’t know him and I knew I wouldn’t see him again ever, I was able to open my heart to him and actually talk about stuff that was going on in my life more than I would talk with my friends or girlfriend.”
Shortly after that his girlfriend invited him to Mass and he began to pray at night again. He sees this period in high school as living a double life – one of renewed faith, yet still steeped in his secular lifestyle. But the seed of faith that had been planted in his childhood began to receive nourishment.
Turning back to God
Two years after graduating high school (summer of 2010) at the age of twenty, Fr. Santiago participated in Impact, an evangelistic mission hosted by Catholic Christian Outreach. It was geared toward bringing lukewarm Catholic university students back into the faith. He took a faith study and attended ‘Summit’, an evening of adoration prayer at St. Bonaventure. It was during this hour of adoration and praise and worship that he gave his adult ‘yes’ to place Jesus at the centre of his life.
“I just remember closing my eyes and feeling so loved,” said Fr. Santiago “It was just incredible. I started crying. It was just an experience of a love I’d never encountered.
“I’d just broken up with my girlfriend, trying to fit into a culture I’d just arrived in, trying to wear a lot of masks to belong. I just felt the love that God was trying to give me, for no other reason than for being who I was.”
His newly sprouted seed of faith continued to grow with good friendships through the former University of Calgary Catholic Community (now St. Xavier Chaplaincy). After graduating with a mechanical engineering degree in 2014, Fr. Santiago worked for a year in his field all the while discerning a call to either explore the priesthood or a budding female friendship.
He received spiritual direction from a number of priests in the diocese and decided to apply for seminary studies.
“I entered [into the seminary] with a lot of reluctance,” said Fr. Santiago. “I just felt I had been on the fence for a long time by then, a lot of wrestling and struggling. But I felt I had tried everything I could to discern outside the seminary, but the one thing I hadn’t done was give the seminary a shot.”
The female friend he wanted to romantically pursue gave him the last push to enter seminary.
“She said, ‘Santi, if you are not God’s will for me, then I don’t want to be with you.’ And that cut me to the heart because it was the opposite of what I was doing. I felt God was calling me to be a priest and I was choosing not to follow His will, but to be with her,” said Fr. Santiago.
The formative seminary years
Fr. Santiago spent his first two seminary years at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, USA where one third of the seminarians were Latino.
“I was able to make really good friends and feel at home,” said Fr. Santiago. “I began to feel this was right, that it was what God wanted me to do. That continued to be the feeling year after year.”
He completed the next six years of training in Edmonton at St. Joseph’s Seminary.
During this time fellow seminarian Serge Buisse became a close friend. They spent a lot of time together, studying, playing sports, confiding in one another.
Fr. Serge was ordained last July for the St. Boniface Archdiocese in Winnipeg. He now pastors the francophone parish of St. Joachim in La Broquerie, Manitoba. He describes Fr. Santiago as down-to-earth, joyfilled, friendly and warm.
“He was always a gift in so far as his desire to grow,” said Fr. Serge “He is very human. I thank God He sent me someone like him; his capacity to be real, to be authentic and we supported each other in almost every aspect of life.”
A note from the Diocese of Calgary:
Thank you to all ministers, volunteers, and staff who helped prepare for the Ordination! Special thanks to St. Mary's Cathedral parish staff, Catholic Women's League & Serra Club Calgary for organizing the reception, St. John Choir Schola, St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy, Calgary seminarians, photographers Yuan Wang (SFXC) & Victor Panlilio (Canadian Martyr's Parish), livestreamer Rikki Sabater (St. Anthony's Parish) & team, videographers Annie Chirka (St. Peter's Parish) & team.
Priest Assignment; Deacon Assignment; Clergy Personnel Announcements; Pastoral Assignment; Priests Move
I heard the advice that if we want to grow in spiritual childhood and the gift of prayer, we should ask God to show us children at play, or with their parents.
I used to work as a recreation leader for free after-school programs and day camps. What a treasury of memories this experience holds for me! Upon reflection, I feel compelled to share my experiences with the young children, as they served as a reminder of how I was called to rely on his presence as the Caring Adult in my life, especially during this special month dedicated to His Most Sacred Heart.
One young man I knew from the after-school program, who I’ll call John, was 12 years old. I could see that his life was full of pressures: from his teachers who misunderstood him, abusive parents, and friends who pulled him down into the foolishness of youth. During our program, he would chat my ear off while simultaneously refusing to listen to my clear instructions. He really was quite challenging to manage, but I knew that God had made him good, and that the best place he could be during those evenings was our safe little room in which we held the program.
The after-school program room was full of posters with positive sayings and chairs for the children to sit in. It was no larger than the average Adoration chapel. I loved sitting at the front, teaching the children simple social and emotional skills, and seeing their little eyes attend to me. I was delighted in every face I saw and the voices that I heard. Every so often, John would miss our program after school, preferring the excitement of his friends or video games to the calm order of the program. Because I knew he belonged there, I remember standing at the door and watching for him, allowing my heart to hope that he would come again.
I also treasure the memory of a little girl who I’ll call Mary. She delighted us leaders very much, because she was always following us around, or sitting with us, telling us everything that came to her mind. Though she could be mischievous at times, whenever we corrected her, she would genuinely apologize and make an effort to do better. She was not discouraged when we reprimanded her but stayed as close as ever and audaciously expected to be loved, which she certainly was.
My least favourite part of the job was giving First Aid to the children. One time, a young girl came to me with a splinter in her palm. I thanked her for her bravery in showing me, then reluctantly retrieved the First Aid kit. Using the plastic tweezers, I removed the splinter out of her hand. I cringed as she cried out in pain, but we both knew that it had to be done. She left my little “doctor’s office” smiling and calm, free to play again.
During some professional development sessions, I learned about the importance of each child having a caring adult in their life. This person would be someone who sees and understands the child, expresses personal interest in their life, fills them with hope for the future, and encourages them amid the inevitable challenges of childhood. The mere presence of such a person in a child’s life, I was taught, can determine their capacity to flourish as a human being. Without receiving love in such a way, the likelihood of a fulfilling and happy adult life may diminish.
Jesus reveals Himself as the Caring Adult whose Sacred Heart has a special spot for each of us. When we ask for the grace to approach Him in Adoration with faith and repentance, He knows how to teach, encourage, forgive, and heal us.
This year, I signed up for a holy hour at St. Anthony’s after reading on their website that “Many rich blessings are bestowed on those who regularly adore Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.” With a hopeful heart, I committed that time to be with Jesus, a little like the children who chose to come to our programs. He has not disappointed me. He will not disappoint you.
In our diocese, a wide range of Adoration hours are offered at parishes across the Diocese. Adoremus! Let us adore Him!
Adoration Hours schedule (Summer & Fall 2023)
Note that hours may change without notice. Please contact the Parish Office if you are not sure.
Over 200 people gathered in Canmore to celebrate Holy Mass on the feast of the Visitation (May 31, 2023), commemorating the visitation of our Blessed Mother Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. This year, the feast had a special focus on the upcoming 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, centered on the theme of synodality. The Synod on Synodality aims to explore ways for the Catholic Church to better engage with its members and encourage greater participation in the life and mission of the Church. In addition, the Our lady of the Rockies community also celebrated the third anniversary of the dedication of The Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Rockies.
Despite initial concerns about attendance due to it being a Wednesday morning, many people made the effort to drive to Canmore for the day of prayer. Our Lady of the Snows Academy in Canmore also brought over 80 students from their Gr. 5 and Gr. 8 classes to participate in the Mass and barbeque. What a blessing! During the Mass, Bishop McGrattan led the faithful in praying the Prayer for Synod on Synodality, seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and asking the Lord to help embrace the Synodal journey with faith and hope. We were also led in our sung prayers by the Seeds of the Words religious members.
The event was made accessible to those unable to attend through a livestream provided by Rikki Sabater and his wife Mencie from St. Anthony's Parish. Afterward, a delicious barbeque lunch with burgers, hotdogs, and drinks was served by Sean Lynn and the God Squad Canada team. The day concluded with an outdoor Marian procession and rosary prayer led by Fr. Pilmaiken and the Seeds of the Words Community with the support of our Knighst of Columbus. Special intentions were also offered for the Synod leaders, government officials, the poor and vulnerable, the people of God, and the young people who are the future of the Church.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to Fr. Pilmaiken, his volunteers at Our Lady of the Rockies parish, God Squad Canada, Knights of Columbus, and Seeds of the Word community for their help and support for this beautiful celebration. Their dedication and hard work made the event a truly prayerful experience for all who attended.
As we journey towards the Synod of Bishops, let us continue to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. May we be renewed in our commitment to Christ, empowered to witness the Gospel, and filled with a renewed zeal for building God's Kingdom on earth.
Photos credit: Victor Panlilio
On Monday, May 26, 65 staff members from 35 parishes gathered at the FCJ Centre for a day of prayer and reflection. Coordinated by the Catholic Pastoral Centre team, the retreat was focused on the theme of “Being an Intentional Disciple – Knowing & Following Jesus”, with talks from Bishop McGrattan and Fr. Fabio DSouza from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Calgary.
Parish staff members spent the day praying and singing together, listening to sessions, participated in discussions, as well as spending time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Fr. Fabio DeSouza shared his testimony on how he was called to the priesthood and emphasized discipleship and mission as a journey led by God. He highlighted the significance of the Virgin Mary's response to the angel Gabriel and the third petition of the Lord's Prayer as expressions that capture the essence of our discipleship. Fr. Fabio also reiterated that each person possesses a unique calling and purpose, and embracing our mission actively contributes to the building of God's kingdom and the transformative work of God's grace.
Overall, the retreat provided an excellent opportunity for all to recharge, connect, and renew their call to discipleship! Many expressed their gratitude for the chance to come together in prayer and reflection, and conveyed how much they appreciated it.
We thank the FCJ Centre for being an excellent host, providing their facilities, as well as delicious and wholesome food throughout the day. We surely left with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper connection to our faith and mission at work.
Photo credits: Brittany Teixeira, Glenda Anderson, and Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers