It was a truly wonderful day for a Christmas pageant!
On the second Sunday of Advent, our family journeyed to Mount Saint Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane for their annual Christmas Pageant - Christmas at Greccio, Christmas at the Mount.. The festive atmosphere instantly transported me to a scene from a classic Christmas movie, with bonfires, lovely nativity scenes, children playing in snow, and magical sleigh rides under a dusting of fresh snow.
After a glorious sleigh ride that left my toddler bubbling with giggles and a toasty cup of hot chocolate, chiming bells signalled the start of the Christmas pageant. Families, friars, and little ones walked towards the outdoor pavilion. It was a joy to watch the faithful of our Diocese coming together, living their faith and celebrating the arrival of Christ our Saviour. This collective journey towards faith and encountering God's unchanging love echoed the historic pilgrimage to the first nativity reenactment in Greccio, Italy, 800 years ago.
St. Francis of Assisi's deep love for the infant Jesus and the redemptive act of God becoming a baby inspired him to recreate that humble scene from Bethlehem. In 1223, fires lit the dark as people arrived with torches and candles at a dark cave in Greccio and gathered around a young family, live animals, and a manger. Francis held the child in his arms, preached the Gospel and mass was celebrated over the babe in the crib. The faithful returned home with their hearts renewed in the Lord and the Christmas creche found a place in our hearts and in our lives.
Here at The Mount, the words "Bambino of Bethlehem" resounded as young actors from Holy Spirit Catholic School breathed life into the story, evoking audience interaction and excitement. The poignant storytellers, the impressive young choir and the actors brought grace and depth to the story while the spirited 11-year old Francis brought the intricacies of the story at Greccio to light. His monologue towards the end of the pageant called everyone's attention to the true spirit of Christmas – the Bambino of Bethlehem – God with us! - and Jesus’ message of love, peace and light. The enthralled audience, shifting in their seats to catch glimpses of the Holy Family, left me with a renewed hope for the Church, especially at this special time of Renewal in the Diocese.
From the renewal of the Christmas story 800 years ago to this year's pageant, this tradition serves as a timeless spiritual awakening.. Christmas at The Mount is my new favourite tradition and I am looking forward to bringing my family to the manger for years to come.
During this season of Renewal, I would like to share the story of Ysabelle Galang - a living embodiment of pastoral renewal in our parish. Ysabelle is a young woman who just received her Sacrament of Confirmation last year.
As part of the preparation for Confirmation, our booklet required the confirmandi to complete a Mass book. This involved attending mass and answering specific questions related to the service, such as the opening song, the book of the Bible from which the Gospel was read, and reflections on the homily.
Ysabelle demonstrated great interest in this task, often asking me to help fill in any blanks she missed during mass. I would show her the Lectionary to reference the book. Her curiosity led to engaging dialogues during these encounters. Upon reviewing the rest of the confirmation booklet, she realized that she needed to serve the church or community in some capacity. When asked for suggestions, I proposed altar serving. She embraced this role with enthusiasm, attentiveness, and excellence.
Written by Fr. James Hagel for Faithfully, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel, Chestermere.
Amidst a snowy evening last Thursday, nearly 250 participants enthusiastically joined our online session, 'Welcome Home: How to Make Our Parishes More Inviting.' The session resonated with such positivity among attendees that we are eager to share key insights from our speakers about what it means to welcome others into our parish community, extending beyond this season of Advent and Christmas.
The evening commenced with Dr. Bonnie Annicchiarico at the helm as moderator, introducing the theme of "Welcome Home." Both keynote speakers, Fr. Troy Nguyen and Dr. Lance Dixon, shared personal experiences that shaped their understanding of what it means to be, and to feel 'at home.'
Fr. Troy began by recalling his university years. He shared how an invitation to a house party had made him feel known and valued - that “he is known by someone, and this is what home feels like.”
Lance, a Catholic convert, drew parallels with the story of the prodigal son, emphasizing the significance of returning to a place where one feels valued and belongs.
He then recounted a personal experience with a parishioner named Elsa Jones, who welcomed him into an Anglican parish he used to call home. During a period of his life fraught with uncertainty, Elsa took him by the hand, and sat with him during his first time back at the church. She encouraged him to return week after week, and even began referring to him as her 'son,' which meant so much to him. This warm welcome made him feel like part of a family, motivating him to stay in the parish. Eventually, he became an Anglican priest, got married, and established his own family there.
Lance then shifted the discussion to the role of the Church as a 'field hospital,' a term coined by Pope Francis.
“This image is both beautiful and deeply challenging. Many come to our door deeply wounded, lonely, completely unsure with their relationship with God, and for some, they are angry at the world… we could be the first person they set their eyes on when they come back to the church.” Lance said.
"The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful," the Holy Father has said. Quoting Eric Law, Lance emphasized that hospitality, after all, is the discipline of blessing each person who comes to our door, as if they were Christ himself.
To be known by name
Fr. Troy pointed out that sometimes, communities might unintentionally appear unwelcoming due to familiarity. People tend to stick with those they know, often overlooking new members. He further added that some might also be unaware of how to welcome others simply because they have never experienced it themselves. “We can’t give what we don’t have,” he reiterated.
He then shared a touching story about a man who left the Catholic Church because no one knew his name, highlighting the human desire to be recognized and valued. “'We desire to be known by name, and God also invites us to be instruments, so we can know other people by name.”
Fr. Troy reminded everyone of the dignity each person holds, emphasizing that they are worth the blood of Christ who gave his life for us. Recalling the passage from Isaiah 43:1, "Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine," he continued, "When we truly welcome others, we allow them to truly experience the dignity that they've been given. It's a corporal work of mercy for us to welcome others."
Father presented two key principles to evaluate our motivation for welcoming others.
Echoing Fr. Troy's convictions, Dr. Lance outlined four important criteria for cultivating true hospitality:
The question arises: How can we translate all these insights into practical action?
Among the various resources provided, Dr. Lance emphasized appreciative inquiry as an effective approach to engage with and listen to others' experiences.
For his part, Fr. Troy encouraged us to meet one new person this Sunday. "Learn their name and invest in that relationship for at least two years. Over time, we can profoundly change the world."
“Making our parishes inviting isn't about grand gestures, but simple acts of recognition, acceptance, and love. We are all called to extend a warm welcome, just as Christ has welcomed us.”
Following the example of the first Christians, each of us can have an impact right now and influence the next generation. So, what are we waiting for?
Let’s start small this Sunday, one person at a time.
Dancing late into the night, music filling the room, laughter, and conversations of people reuniting or meeting for the first time. This is something you would expect at a wedding or perhaps a night club, but for the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy (SFXC) community, this was the sight at their community's dance to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier.
The St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy forms young adults in our Diocese in faith, formation, and fellowship, equipping them with skills they will bring into their parishes. SFXC was started in January 2019, at St. Bernard’s parish with a community of approximately 200 young adults. Today, almost five years later, SFXC operates out of St. Mary’s Cathedral with a community of over 650 young adults.
Our Chaplaincy serves our young adults in many ways, but primarily by creating an environment for young adults to come together in faith. As the Program Coordinator for SFXC, I am usually busy with logistics during our events. However, it has become a practice for me to stop, listen, and observe. I did this several times throughout the evening of our Feast Day Dance, and what I observed only strengthened my conviction of the importance of our community.
I saw the Holy Spirit's alive, not only in conversations and dancing, but also in the discussions that carried more serious tones. I saw people who I had not seen before enter with hesitation but leave with joy, having made new connections. I saw volunteers from our community brimming with excitement and joy as they set-up the hall and without complaint, cleaned up the hall late into the evening.
There are many words one could use to describe this evening: joy, community, fun, encouraging, and lively. The first word that came to mind for me, perhaps because it is a word so alive in our Diocese right now, is 'Renewal'. This is truly what renewal looks like in a community, a joy that spreads and welcomes others in by witness, mission, and love of God. Although our evening was a time of celebration in honor of the feast day of our patron saint, the common thread uniting everyone was the love of God. This is what drives renewal, and this is what drives our community.
As we prepare to celebrate our five-year anniversary we look at what has already come from our community and what possibilities lie ahead. The support of Bishop McGrattan has paved the way for our community since the very beginning and will continue to do so throughout our future. We will have many more celebrations, events, lectures, Masses, and events of fellowship, and with each one I will stop, listen, and observe. However, even before taking in these moments, I know what I will see each time. A community striving to love God and each other, working to build up the Kingdom of God. A community that naturally embraces renewal.
Great news! The celebration of Sunday Mass has resumed at three hospitals on the First Sunday of Advent in the City of Calgary. Patients, family members and friends, and hospital staff are now able to avail of this pastoral outreach in the following facilities:
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers