In memoriam: Pope Benedict XVI
Today (Dec. 31, 2022) we join Pope Francis and Catholics across the world in mourning the death of Pope Benedict XVI who has gone home to the God he served faithfully.
The funeral of Pope Benedict XVI has been scheduled for Thursday, January 5, 2023 at 9:30 am (Rome time) or 1:30 am MT, presided by Pope Francis. His body will lie in state at St. Peter’s Basilica starting Monday morning (January 2). The Pope Emeritus had asked that things be as simple as possible for his funeral arrangements.
Let us pray: For all who have died, especially those we remember in our community and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, that through the Lord’s Passion and Cross they may behold the glory of His Resurrection, we pray to the Lord…
December 31, 2022
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
While we mourn the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we do so with profound gratitude to God for the life of service exemplified by His faithful servant. At the general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis invited the faithful to ask the Lord that the Pope Emeritus, “who in silence is supporting the Church” will be sustained “in this witness of love for the Church, until the end.” In this we see, that even in retirement, the Pope Emeritus demonstrated humility and obedience as that of a servant of Christ and His Church.
I will also remember with gratitude that it was during his pontificate that I received the call to the episcopacy. Shortly after my ordination I then had the privilege of meeting him in person where I received his fraternal encouragement and prayers in becoming a successor of the apostles. This will always leave a mark on my ministry as bishop.
Pope Benedict XVI will be remembered as one of the great theologians of our time and a prolific writer who published books in theology, gave many speeches that engaged his audiences intellectually and on broad range of topics, and issued three encyclicals that were received not only by Catholics but by people of many faiths and beliefs and within various sectors of society.
The significance of the contributions of Pope Benedict XVI to the Church and the world will continue to unfold over time as history is judged by future generations. The words he had written and spoken throughout his pontificate are rich in meaning and originated from deep spiritual and intellectual truths.
In his address to the youth who were gathered in Madrid for World Youth Day 2011, which was briefly interrupted by a rainstorm that had suddenly come to a full stop, Pope Benedict XVI resumed praising the youth for their strength which he described as “stronger than the rain.” He then exhorted them to be grounded in Christ, “may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.” These words seem to have been a personal reflection of his life in that while he had envisioned a quiet of life of retirement, he instead received the call from God in the later stages of his life to become the Vicar of Christ. His service as pope was his contribution to the ongoing plan of God for the Church.
In the words of the Collect for the Mass for the Dead, of a pope, we pray…
O God, who in your wondrous providence
chose your servant Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI to preside over
your Church, grant, we pray,
that, having served as the Vicar of your son on earth,
he may be welcomed by him into eternal glory.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
May he rest in peace.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+William T. McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Photo credit: Wikimedia
A light in the darkness
This is supposed to be a Christmas party, but among the seated rows of female inmates women are sobbing quietly. As they cry, a sympathetic arm might be briefly placed around someone’s shoulder or a toilet roll passed from hand to hand to wipe up tears.
On a bitterly cold night in December, I was privileged to attend the 2022 Christmas service at the Lethbridge Correctional Centre. Here I am witnessing the dichotomy of life in prison – isolation within community, loneliness with companionship, abandonment but also accompaniment. This is the essence of prison ministry.
The Lethbridge Correctional Centre houses inmates serving sentences of less than two years. According to the Alberta Government website, it has a capacity of just under 400 persons. For the past six years the Centre’s coordinating chaplain has been Rev. Anna Braun, a Baptist Minister. During the Covid lockdown, Braun and a co-chaplain ministered to the prison population on their own, (a time Braun discovered to be surprisingly meaningful). However, now that restrictions are lifted, ministry volunteers from several area churches are once again active within the prison community. Among them is a Catholic group, Friends of the Lethbridge Correctional Centre, presently led by Jim and Helen Manzara from All Saints Parish. They are supported by other volunteers from both Lethbridge parishes. These stalwarts lead worship services once a month and rosary prayer twice a week. In addition, Father Derek Remus hears confessions and participates in a program called Exploring Your Faith which is part teaching and Q&A.
Once a year all the Christian denominations gather to present a Christmas Service which includes carol singing, an inspirational message, and treat bags for the inmates and staff alike. This service is unusual in that it includes the entire prison population unlike the weekly services at which attendance is voluntary.
Visiting a jail can be daunting initially. I was asked to leave all personal possessions in a locker. After signing in and passing through a metal detector, I was escorted by a guard along wide hallways to a brightly-lit gymnasium. The gym had been gaily decorated earlier by some of the female inmates. There was even a Navajo themed crèche.
For the first while volunteers formed an assembly line to fill paper bags with donated treats like foodstuff, stationery and (separately) coveted bars of Irish Spring soap! Each brown sack had been painstakingly decorated by an elementary school student. They displayed messages of hope, Scripture verses, and even corny jokes. Braun explained that the students knew who they were creating the bags for and put their hearts into the task.
Once the bags were filled a small group of volunteers departed to bring music and treats to the segregated units. As the gym door closed behind them, a ripple of anticipation ran through the remaining volunteers. Musicians took their places and singers gathered around. Suddenly the gym door was unlocked and the first unit entered. Men dressed in blue jumpsuits or dark sweats, with ubiquitous orange plastic clogs clustered onto a section of bleachers. As carol singing commenced, I saw toes tapping, swaying to the beat and the occasional person singing along. One unit had a ‘choir’ who sang Silent Night beautifully. Appreciative applause followed every song. Then Braun rose to offer a few words, her familiarity with the prisoners immediately apparent.
She spoke about Jesus being poor, homeless, misunderstood and rejected by his community. She reminded everyone that Jesus came to bring light for our world and that each of us can be a bearer of light too. She said, “If you think you can’t be a light in this place just stand in a dark cell and look at that thin strip of light under the door. See what an impact a little light can have.”
To another group Braun quoted John 3:17, telling them that though the judicial system might have condemned them, Jesus did not. One of the most affecting moments came when Braun told a women’s unit, “When you think about the birth of Jesus, one little baby doesn’t seem significant. Until you have one, then you realize it’s everything.” It was immediately clear from the tearful reactions how many people were struck by the comparison. After her message, Braun led each group in a cheerful rendition of This Little Light of Mine and the inmates left smiling, expressing thanks for their gift bags and offering good wishes to all.
The powerful message of Christmas seems to fade in the cold months which follow; perhaps more quickly in jail than elsewhere because residents are so isolated. All the more reason for Christians to heed Jesus’ words, “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36).
Post-Covid there is a pressing need for more volunteers in prison ministry. I asked a couple of the current volunteers what they enjoy most about the work. Repeatedly I heard how thankful the prisoners were.
“The happy faces”, Helen Manzara said.
“They are not a captive audience but they are captivating in so many ways”, Esther Lambert said.
Lambert went on to elaborate, “There are often of a mindset that they are not lovable, not worthy. When I explain that I come to see them because in them I see the face of God, their expressions turn me to tears. I know of no other group where I would experience that love and appreciation.”
So as you make your 2023 resolutions, please consider becoming a “light in the darkness” and thereby finding Jesus among those who are imprisoned.
Unpacking Christmas Day
The Feast of Stephen the Protomartyr invites us all to give witness to our faith in the newborn king.
For the last years I have been blest to study in Rome, where St. Stephen’s Day stands with Christmas as a second occasion of celebration. If Christmas belongs to more close-knit family gatherings, various more public and religious encounters mark the following feast in the Italian culture. Well-wishers gather with friends and fill the piazzas and streets. Faithful may take the time to visit the nativity scenes in churches along with attending the liturgical celebrations dedicated to the saint.
We read the account of the testimony of St. Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles. The group of twelve called the saint to serve as a deacon with six others while they kept busy proclaiming God’s word. We discover in the narrative that Stephen bestowed great skills as an orator. In a testimony to the high priest, he traces God work through salvation history, revealing how Jesus fulfills God’s plans through the people of Israel. In particular, the text of Acts goes to lengths to point out that the Holy Spirit accompanies him and guides him. Inspired by God’s Spirit, St. Stephen offers his life with words that reflect those of Christ — “receive my spirit” — but now he does so as a prayer in the Saviour’s name — “Lord Jesus” (Acts 7:59).
The testimony of St. Stephen has a particular relevance in the city of Rome. One of its churches, the Basilica of St. Lawrence or San Lorenzo, remains the one of the places in the world where the faithful have traditionally revered his relics. Recently I visited this ancient site, which was originally founded by the emperor Constantine and has been rebuilt in the following centuries.
The building now has a medieval feel to it (see below). It has solid brick walls that encompass its wonders of ancient columns and mosaic floors. From the entrance of the basilica, one’s eyes rise to its elevated altar — marked by four columns that support a weighty canopy. The altar sits overtop of a lower space, an inner sanctuary that houses the relics of St. Stephen as well as his fellow deacon martyr, St. Lawrence. They remain together as two deacon martyrs of the early church.
The church of Santo Stefano Rotondo also has a particular attachment to the saint. The building dates to the fifth century and it remains the earliest church in the city built on a circular floor plan. While the church also reveres St. Stephen of Hungary, and has served the Hungarian community in Rome for the last five hundred years, it nonetheless houses a moving mural depiction of the protomartyr Stephen. It presents him serenely looking up to heaven, wearing the dalmatic vestment of the deacon, while his aggressors are weighed down with anger and stones as they try to establish their own form of justice.
For most of us the Feast of Stephen the Protomartyr pales under the piles of boxes and the other colours that mark our Christmas celebrations. Yet the date remains an invitation for us to let the birth of Jesus transform the way we live the rest of the year. St. Ambrose articulates the faith that animated the martyr: “Christ is everything for us. If you are in need of help, he is strength. If you are afraid of death, he is life. If you desire heaven, he is the way. If you want to get away from darkness, he is the light” (On Virginity, 16). Let us take a moment this day to ask for the intercession of St. Stephen. May he help us find in Christ the pattern of love and sacrifice that brings meaning to each moment of every day.
Prison Ministry Lay Volunteers
Volunteering Opportunities at Calgary Remand Centre
Volunteering Opportunities at Calgary Correctional Centre
As with any volunteering opportunities, we require a Vulnerable Sector Police Information Check (VSPIC), the completion of the Praesidium Academy sexual abuse prevention training, and the agreement to the Code of Pastoral Conduct and Accountability for Volunteers. This information will be provided to you after submitting your application.
Watch this video and go beyond merely having a picture-perfect family Christmas dinner. Let Christ be at the center of all things.
Let's hang out with the Sisters
An invitation from Sr. Dianne Turner (Assistant Vocation Director of the Diocese of Calgary) to young and unmarried women:
Maybe you have a sister, and you have fun times with her, but this is about Religious Sisters having fun together, you know, the ones people call Nuns (though Nuns are a type of Religious Sisters who live a cloistered life in a monastery. If you want to know more about this distinction, just ask). So, we Sisters decided that we would gather for a night of fun and conversation, pizza supper, and Night Prayer. Personally, I am looking forward to playing some games because I truly enjoy card games, board games, charades, etc.
Then we thought it would be great to invite young, unmarried women to hang out with us for this evening, so that we could get to know each other in a lighter setting and build our friendship. What a blessing it would be to meet young women who want to get to know us. It's an opportunity to make new friends, and catch up with some old acquaintances!
Perhaps you have questions you would like answered without anyone knowing that you are talking to the Sisters. Maybe you want to meet Sisters from a variety of communities. You might simply want to have a lovely evening of free pizza and conversation, fun activities, and night prayer at the end. You might even consider bringing along a friend and your favourite game to play with the Sisters. What could be a better way to spend a Friday evening?
The FCJ Sisters have kindly offered Sacred Heart Convent for the evening, located behind St. Mary’s Cathedral at 219-19th Avenue SW, Calgary from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.
Please let us know if you are coming by Thursday, January 12, 2023, by contacting Sr. Dianne at 403-218-5504 or email firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can order the right amount of pizza (meatless of course, because it is Friday).
Advent can be an emotionally-turbulent time for Catholics who value the Church’s call to serve the poor. Inundated by the Yuletide appeals of worthy organizations, a simple walk through a local shopping mall can overwhelm the heart.
Leaders with the Catholic Diocese of Calgary understand the angst. For those who want to add an international charity to their gift-giving, they also offer a solution, Mission Mexico.
Mission Mexico is a registered charitable organization with deep ties to the faithful in southern Alberta. The charity began in 2000 with the support of Fr. Fred Monk, now retired. Familiar with missionary work in Mexico, the priest linked his fundraising efforts to build a new Catholic church in Cochrane to a project to help some of North America’s poorest people.
While donations have declined in recent years, Mission Mexico has raised more than $5 million since its launch. Much of that was raised in loonies donated by Catholic parishioners and school students in Calgary, says Mike MacDonald, Mission Mexico's on-site director. A former high school teacher in Calgary, MacDonald moved to Mexico more than 40 years ago. Until 2013, he served a Catholic bishop whose diocese, headquartered in the city of Tlapa de Comonfort, includes an impoverished region in the State of Guerrero.
Education and health
Mission Mexico focused its efforts on education and health. In the village of Potoichan, MM helped build a high school that takes up to 240 students a year, with 140 living in dormitories. The students, who come from indigenous mountain villages, learn academics and Spanish at a school run by Mexican religious brothers from the Marist congregation. Spanish instruction is essential, since many students come to the high school with little understanding of that language. While Mexico recognizes more than 60 native languages, students must speak Spanish to qualify for university.
Speaking to Calgary Catholic school students during a November visit to Calgary, MacDonald is full of stories about the transformative impact of education. He talks about young people studying to be doctors, social workers and nutritionists thanks to Mission Mexico's support. He shows photographs of a young woman, the oldest of nine, now studying to be an accountant. Another picture shows a young man in a wheelchair. Thanks to Mission Mexico's support, he finished high school and is studying psychology. These are some of the dozens of students Mission Mexico has helped with bursaries. While university tuition is affordable, the country’s most vulnerable students cannot attend without financial help.
Mission Mexico excels in how it values human dignity, adds MacDonald, who helps villagers access the basic health and dental care Canadians takes for granted. He knows a child who’s been fitted with a prosthetic eye after losing that eye to parasitic disease. Another, once housebound by blindness, lives a transformed life thanks to cataract surgery.
MacDonald, 71, also lends a hand with other community projects. He helps families access social supports, including housing. He collects, sorts and delivers donations of clothing and teaches wealthier Mexicans about their country’s most vulnerable people by taking them to remote villages.
“God is good, all the time and I get to see what Mission Mexico accomplishes every day,” says MacDonald. He is grateful for the continued support of the Calgary Catholic Diocese, led by Bishop William McGrattan. “I want people to know that their help makes a difference down here. This kind of work is very focused on lifting people out of poverty. The more money we raise, the more people we help.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully. Joy Gregory is a writer, cradle Catholic, and long-time parishioner of St. Peter’s, Calgary, where she’s been active in preschool catechism programs, RCIA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Photos courtesy of Mission Mexico. All rights reserved.
Turning to our Mother
On 12 December, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Church in Canada celebrates the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. This initiative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has been coordinated since 2002 by the Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council (formerly the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council). This year, the reflection by the Council is inspired by Pope Francis’s words of healing and reconciliation spoken during his “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada.
This year, we have been blessed to have had a delegation of Indigenous people visit Pope Francis in Rome in order to receive his apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, and again to welcome the Holy Father to this land to hear his words of sorrow as he embarked on his, self described, “Pilgrimage of Penance”. Let us take this opportunity to build on the reflections offered by Pope Francis.
The Holy Father comments that he is struck by the Indigenous delegations’ wise and farsighted term “traditional wisdom” as it applies to the need to consider the impact of deliberations as far into the future as the seventh generation. Pope Francis’ understanding of the family bond over generations, and its importance in moving forward with reconciliation is instructive and it opens the door for all Catholics to learn about and apply understandings of the Indigenous world view towards reconciliation.
In Rome, Pope Francis remarked, “The ties that connect the elderly and the young are essential. They must be protected lest we lose our historical memory and very identity”. At the Mass in Edmonton, celebrating the feast day of Saints Anne and Joachim, the Holy Father recognized the gift that is family and how, “No one comes into this life detached from others. The love that awaited us and welcomed us into this world are part of a unique history that preceded us… we did not choose that history; we received it as a gift.” This is consistent with the insight from an Elder from Cold Lake, Alberta who responded to a question about why Indigenous parents were indulgent with their children, saying, “We must not injure the child’s spirit”. Children’s experiences of abuse at the hands of those who would shape their lives are contrary to this principle and that, in Indigenous settings, family ties are to be nurtured, protected, and cherished as the gift they are.
As Catholics, we share this value of strengthening nuclear and extended family ties, but we often do not see the many ways that colonization continues to impact the very thing we cherish. Indigenous voices have expressed that “residential school” continues in other forms. Child welfare authorities remove Indigenous children from nuclear and extended family settings. Canada’s justice system also removes parents from children which seriously affects opportunities for continuity of relationships, identity formation and indeed wholesome human development. As Catholics concerned about reconciliation, can we advocate for changes to these contributors to continued intergenerational trauma?
Joy, hope, and love
I was born in 1922 and raised in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. I attended High School in Swift Current where I met the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis. Soon after I felt called by God to begin my life with the Sisters in Bienville, Quebec.
After the time of formation and profession of vows (1942), I returned to Western Canada teaching In Saskatchewan and Alberta until 1958. Then I moved to Medicine Hat to the Novitiate Formation community as Director until 1964. I was further blessed with the opportunity for religious studies in Rome, and then further studies in psychology and counselling in Calgary, Ottawa, and New York. My journey then was focused on spiritual direction, youth counseling (University of Calgary) and helping those who suffered from addiction and their families through recovery, counselling with AADAC, the 12 Step individual and group counselling. I also served those attending serenity retreats, and those in personal growth groups and retreats for women.
Submitted by Sr. Helen for Faithfully.
I have been abundantly blessed, as I was born and raised in Ponteix, Saskatchewan in a faith-filled family where love, prayer and acceptance were the dominant forces molding me and guiding me in my early life.
In my teen years I was privileged to be asked to be responsible for looking after the cleanliness of the sanctuary in our parish church. Years later when I was finishing my high school there were moments when I felt God's love and presence in my life and a deep desire to follow Him. So it was. I joined the congregation of sisters who taught me at St. Theresa Academy in Medicine Hat, the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis. For my formation and I went to Bienville, Quebec and in 1947 I made my profession of vows. I then returned to western Canada for my initial training to become a teacher, and in later years earned a B. Ed and B.A in Alberta.
In my 30 years as a teacher, mostly in Saskatchewan, I was blessed to work with many wonderful teachers and many eager students.
After a wonderful sabbatical in Ottawa, I had the privilege of taking biblical sessions in Jerusalem and time to visit the Holy Land. Shortly after this wonderful experience I was ready to accept the position as parish leader in parishes in the Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan, as well as working with Father Sullivan in the task of training lay people to lead the parishes for Sunday liturgy in the absence of a pastor.
In 2011 I retired in Medicine Hat. I was a member of St. Patrick's Parish as well as had the time and privilege of visiting my relatives and friends.
Presently I am retired and enjoying life in Swan Evergreen Village Senior Home in Calgary with other Sisters from my community.
Submitted by Sr. Clemence Liboiron for Faithfully.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers