Nearly 900 Catholic Women’s League (CWL) members from across Canada gathered at the Hyatt Hotel in Calgary Aug. 18-21 for the 99th Annual National Convention.
Each year members debate and vote on resolutions, forming League policy and guiding their advocacy work. The CWL members passed two resolutions concerning the rights of the unborn and a nuclear arms ban.
The first resolution to pass was — Canada to Honour its Commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada ratified this United Nations agreement to protect the unborn 20 years ago, yet there is still no Canadian legislation protecting the unborn at any stage of development.
“When you sign something and ratify it, you’d expect some legislation to appear,” said CWL President Anne-Marie Gorman. “What we are looking for is legislation. You said you were going to do it, so why hasn’t someone done it. We’ll be asking that question.”
The second resolution to pass asks the Canadian Government to honour the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. CWL wants the federal government to support, sign and ratify this treaty which the UN adopted in July 2017; so far 25 countries have ratified it.
Once members adopt a resolution an executive committee prepares to bring the concerns to federal politicians in Ottawa on behalf of all 78,000 members in the coming months.
Each convention also has a spiritual, educational and cultural component. Four Calgarians spoke on this year’s theme “Care For Our Common Home.” Dr. Peter Baltutis, Dr. Timothy Harvie, Sr. Madeleine Gregg and Marilou LeGeyt unpacked the topic from both theological and practical perspectives.
Dressed in a white sweater jacket and matching pearl earrings Sr. Dorothy Ederer, a Grand Rapids Dominican Sister from Michigan, delivered a high-energy, entertaining and emotional keynote address titled “What is our common home? We care for our homeland, our homes, our hearts.”
“Everyone take out your phones,” said Ederer. “What would God be calling to tell you if He were on the other line?”
Ederer proceeded to tell her captivated audience for the next two hours how each person is called to be Christ-like and loving toward their neighbour using a series of personal stories from her time in ministry and mission, interspersed with inspirational songs and tidbits of wisdom. She highlighted topics such as daily prayer, finding your passion and reconciliation.
“What kinds of values do we want to leave to our children or those coming after us?” asked Ederer.
She used the phrase “more is caught than taught” to highlight how her mother would keep a holy hour each morning before getting on with her day. “Kids imitate us,” she said.
“Find your passion, live it, but don’t compromise your morals and values,” she said.
She urged the Church to be a place where people are loved and forgiven.
“To forgive yourself is one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians,” she said. “If you hold anger in your heart it’s destroying you. It’s like taking a glass of poison and pouring it down your throat.”
Her last message was one of hope and love. “I want to tell you how loved you are.”
Conventions are an opportunity for renewal and Gorman said she hopes all CWL members will take what they’ve learned and share it with their communities.
“I hope they leave appreciating who they are and that God loves them,” said Gorman.
Written by Sara Francis for the Diocese of Calgary
Photos courtesy of Annie Chirka, St. Peter's Calgary
See more photos here: https://st-peters.ca/cwl/
Spiritual refuge in the city
When the new Central Library opened in downtown Calgary late last year, the building joined a growing list of architecturally-innovative structures that are attracting global attention to Calgary’s business district. In the midst of all that worldly attention beats the heart of a small Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi. Dwarfed by its high-rise neighbours, this little church on 6 Avenue SE boasts its own architectural accolades. More importantly, it nurtures the souls of the community it serves, says parish priest Fr. Joseph Canh Vu.
Established in 1931, St. Francis opened as a “chapel of ease.” Located within the parish served by St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Francis was ideally placed to serve a small residential community that included many new immigrants on the then-northern border of downtown Calgary. The current building opened in 1957. Its unusual A-frame design contributes to the sense of intimacy church goers feel upon entering the sacred space. In its early years, the building earned its architects, J. Stevenson & Associate, an honours award at an agricultural exhibition held for Western Canada.
Entrusted to the Dominican Fathers since 1988, St. Francis of Assisi Church attracts people from all over the city, says Fr. Vu. Assigned to St. Francis in February 2019, Fr. Vu says many parishioners live in the downtown core. Others discover the church while working in the area and opt to make St. Francis their home parish. Weekend masses are also popular with tourists, conference attendees and downtown workers.
Since there is no street parking on weekdays, the mass attendees at St. Francis arrive on foot or via transit. Although street parking is permitted on Sunday, many churchgoers commute; some are dropped at the church and others walk from their nearby homes or workplaces.
To accommodate the business crowd, daily masses from Tuesday to Friday begin at 12:05 pm. and end at about 12:50 pm. “It’s marvelous when I see downtown office workers who spend their lunch time to attend mass, it’s wonderful.”
Marcia Canton, a nurse from Freeport, New York, attended several of the noon-hour masses in late July. In Calgary to attend an international nursing conference, Canton says the opportunity to attend a daily mass was a welcome addition to her day.
Fr. Vu says he often meets mass goers who are in the city on business. Others are tourists and they tell him they appreciate the chance to worship at St. Francis.
The popularity of the sacrament of reconciliation is another indication of the parish’s importance, says Fr. Vu. He offers the sacrament 20 minutes before and after mass and it’s always busy. While a typical noon-hour mass is likely to attract between 75 and 100 people, Vu notices that attendance rises on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent.
The priest is also grateful that his parish is blessed with active altar servers and has separate choirs for Saturday’s vigil mass and all three regular Sunday services. To increase the church’s role in the lives of its parishioners, he recently encouraged three parishioners to take a pastoral care course. Fr. Vu worked in a hospital environment in Ottawa for many years before moving to Calgary. He knows that sick parishioners and people who find it difficult to get to mass appreciate being able to receive the Eucharist.
The parish is also a spiritual refuge for the city’s indigent population, some homeless, who live in the downtown core. “It’s very good for the poor people to have this small church,” says Fr. Vu, who routinely greets mass goers as they come and go from his humble church. On various occasions, including Christmas, St. Francis offers grocery store gift cards to the needy.
Parishioner Luz Honorio reflected on the church’s importance in a letter to Fr. Vu. The letter calls the parish an accessible and authentic witness to Christ. Honorio also appreciates how the parish “upholds the values of humility and sincerity in welcoming all including the homeless and passersby who come to pray and to express their belief and gratitude to our Almighty God.”
One of Calgary’s most desirable residential neighbourhoods is also home to one of this city’s oldest ethnic churches, a spiritual and cultural jewel of a parish known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Chinese Catholic Church.
Nestled alongside Edmonton Trail on the western edge of Bridgeland, OLPH opened 65 years ago. Today, the parish ministers to a community of about 500 parishioners, most of them Chinese. OLPH holds daily services in English. Saturday’s 5 p.m. mass is said in Mandarin, with Sunday’s three masses in English, English/Cantonese and Cantonese.
Parish priest Fr. Joseph Nguyen says OLPH offers Chinese Catholics a worship space that helps “create a sense of belonging in Canada. [Here] the immigrant children can grow up in a tight knit community and grow up in a new country supporting and loving each other.”
The chance to worship in Chinese is often critical to nourish their faith. “They can understand the meaning of prayer better in their own language,” says Fr. Nguyen. “I would say there are two main reasons people come to our parish, language and culture,” says secretary Pak Tong. “Some of our parishioners prefer to attend a mass in their own language,” says Tong.
Others like the way OLPH incorporates Chinese cultural traditions. Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling along the church aisle. On Chinese New Year, the church pillars are swathed in red and the priest and deacons hand out red envelopes associated with the special day.
Anne Lam, the editor of the parish’s bimonthly magazine, Echo, has attended several Catholic churches since moving to Calgary about 30 years ago. But her heart holds a special place for OLPH. “Other churches are closer to where I live, but this parish feels like home,” says Lam. She and her husband Edward, now a deacon at OLPH, raised their daughter in this parish. “Our daughter has friends all over the city, but the friends she made here are special. They share a life time of memories from this parish.”
Since moving to OLPH in 2008, Fr. Nguyen’s led projects to beautify the front and side gardens, including the construction of an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary. “While church provides a sanctuary of hope and peace inside, the beautiful landscape garden outside our church offers a more welcoming and inviting atmosphere for parishioners, visitors and surrounding neighbours,” says Fr. Nguyen. “The garden allows people to mediate through nature and can bring them into a prayerful state before entering the church to see Jesus. The garden also helps de-stress and calm down the soul before parishioners enter the house of God.”
The church’s grotto is visible from the church parking lot. Passersby sometimes pray near the grotto fence.
The entrance to OLPH also includes a number of large aquariums, some donated by parishioners and others bought by Fr. Nguyen. “Children just love the fish,” says Lam.
A beautiful meditation area located near the side entrance is another OLPH jewel. It is separated from the nave by a faux stained-glass mural that complements classically-styled stained-glass windows added when the church was built. “People like to stop here to pray,” says Lam.
OLPH’s active ministries include programs for children, young adults and seniors. For most of the year, seniors meet at the parish hall two mornings a week. They visit and play games, then break for a potluck lunch or venture out for dim sum.
“Our parishioners come from all four quadrants of Calgary,” says Arthur Ho, who chairs the parish council. “The Chinese Catholic community previously at St. Paul and now at OLPH has always been my parish. This church is an important place for Calgary’s Chinese Catholics.”
It’s a special place for others, too, says retired caretaker Patrick Owens. Owens, who belongs to St. Mary’s parish downtown, rides his bike to OLPH almost every day. On Sunday mornings, he leads the rosary before the 8 am Mass; on week days he tends the gardens or sweeps the parking lot after summer storms. “I just love the Chinese people here. This is a special place and they’ve always made me feel so welcome, so respected.”
It may be unusual for a Catholic parish to host its own radio show, but that’s exactly what Mary, Mother of Our Redeemer has done for the past 22 years.
The one-hour Spanish radio program “Es Tiempo De Vivir” (A Time To Live) airs every Friday from 6-7 pm on 94.7 FM. Mary Mother Our Redeemer Pastor Fr. Shibu Kallarakkal and a team of about five parish volunteers air programming aimed at evangelization through testimonies, Bible study and catechesis.
“The aim is to reach out to the people with the message of Jesus Christ and His love and mercy,” said Kallarakkal. The multilingual priest, of The Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, has served the Spanish/Italian community of Mary, Mother Our Redeemer since 2013.
The former pastor, Fr. Salvador Ahumada, founded the radio station in 1997 with about a dozen parishioners, many who had formerly worked in radio in South America before coming to Canada — some fleeing conflict in their home country.
Ingrid Trewin is both the radio show promoter and parish secretary. She’s been a parishioner at the parish since she was 11 years old, after she moved to Calgary from Nicaragua with her family in 1992. She recalls how the radio show drew her family to Mass.
“When we first moved to Canada we didn’t know there was a Spanish community, we didn’t speak the language, we didn’t know the city. Then, we found out there was a Spanish radio show once a week. The radio program team did everything to get us to church,” said Trewin.
“I would encourage everybody to listen, especially newcomers, people looking for a place to belong or people feeling like they are lost coming to a new country,” she said.
The radio show serves the Spanish-speaking parishioners of Mary Mother of the Redeemer, but it also attracts international listeners from the United States of America, Mexico and throughout Central and South America.
A few years ago, Fr. Kallarakkal started to question the viability of financing the weekly program and committing the volunteers to maintain the ongoing programming until a female listener from Colombia called to thank him for saving her life. She was about to commit suicide when she turned on the radio and heard Fr. Kallarakkal’s voice. She called him, and after speaking together for an hour, she changed her mind.
“She told me: Father for one reason or another I was turning to music before committing suicide and I heard the Word of God from you; probably this is a sign from God. I’m not going to do whatever I was planning to do.”
Fr. Kallarakkal is convinced that the effort it takes to maintain this parish-run show hosted at Fairchild Radio, a multicultural station in the northeast, is worth the time, energy and tithe.
Trewin also agrees: “It’s very helpful to have that little bit of God injected into you on a weekly basis. If you are not able to come to church due to illness, it’s a good way to get connected to God through prayer and song and the sharing that people do.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers