Submitted by Sr. Dianne Turner, Assistant Director of Vocation
The World Day of the Sick is celebrated each year on February 11, the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is an occasion to pray for individuals who are suffering, and to find concrete ways to draw nearer to them.
The Holy Father's 2023 message is entitled: "Take care of him - Compassion as a synodal exercise of healing". In light of the Church's synodal journey, Pope Francis invites us "to reflect on the fact that it is precisely through the experience of fragility and illness that we can learn to walk together according to God's style of closeness, compassion and tenderness."
Pastoral suggestions for the World Day for the Sick (Feb. 11, 2023) for parishes and all the faithful:
Resources for World Day for the Sick:
The daily themes, Scripture readings, reflections, challenges, and prayers below were prepared by the Minnesota Council of Churches and the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Writing Team.
Day 1 (Jan 18) - Learning to do the right thing
According to Isaiah, God wants Judah not only to practice justice but to embrace the principle of always doing the right thing. God wants us not only to care for orphans and widows but to do what is right and good for them and anyone marginalised by society. The Hebrew word for good is yaw-tab' and it means to be glad, joyful, pleasing, to do well, to make something beautiful. To be Christian means to be a disciple. All Christians sit under the Word of God, learning together what it is to do good, and who it is that stands in need of this solidarity. As society becomes more indifferent to the needs of others, we, as the children of God, must learn to take up the cause of our oppressed brothers and sisters by speaking truth to power and, if necessary, plead their case so that they may live in peace with justice. In doing this we will always do the right thing! Our commitment to eradicate and to be healed of the sin of racism requires us to be prepared and willing to be in relationship with our Christian sisters and brothers.
A lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus’ response asks us to see beyond the divisions of religion, tribe and nationality to recognise our neighbour in need. Christians likewise must see beyond these divides and the divisions within the Christian family to recognise and love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Who are the marginalised or oppressed in your society? How might churches together walk with these brothers and sisters, respond to their need and speak up on their behalf?
Lord, you called your people from slavery into freedom,
Give us strength and courage to seek out those who are standing in need of justice. Allow us to see this need and provide help, and through your Holy Spirit gather us into the one fold of Jesus Christ, our Shepherd. Amen.
Day 2 (Jan 19) | When justice is done . . .
From the beginning the Book of Proverbs sets out to provide wisdom and instruction in “wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity” (1:2). Throughout its oracles of wisdom, the call to act justly and to pursue righteousness is a constant refrain, relentlessly shared and affirmed as more acceptable to God than sacrifice. In a one-sentence pearl of wisdom, the speaker testifies that the righteous rejoice when justice is done. But justice upsets the workers of iniquity. Christians, across their separations, should be united in joy when justice is done, and prepared to stand together when this justice brings opposition. When we do what the Lord requires and dare to pursue justice, we may find ourselves in a whirlwind of resistance and opposition to any attempt to make things right for the most vulnerable among us.
Those who benefit from the systems and structures buttressed by White supremacy and other oppressive ideologies such as “casteism” and patriarchy will seek to delay and deny justice, often violently. But to seek justice is to strike at the heart of the powers, making space for God’s just ordering and enduring wisdom in a world all too often unmoved by suffering. And yet, there is joy in doing what is right. There is joy in affirming that “Black Lives Matter” in the pursuit of justice for God’s oppressed, dominated, and exploited beloved.
There is joy in seeking reconciliation with other Christians so that we may better serve the proclamation of the kingdom. Let that joy manifest itself through our shared experiences of God’s presence in community in the known and unknown spaces where God journeys with us toward healing, reconciliation and unity in Christ.
The religious leaders Jesus addresses in the Gospel passage have grown accustomed and comfortable with the injustices of the world. They are happy to perform religious duties such as tithing mint, dill and cumin, but neglect the weightier and more disruptive demands of justice, mercy and faithfulness. Similarly Christians have grown accustomed and comfortable with the divisions that exist between us. We are faithful in much of our religious observance, but often we neglect the Lord’s challenging desire that all his disciples be one.
How can local congregations support one another to withstand the opposition that may follow from doing justice?
God, you are the source of our wisdom.
We pray for wisdom and courage to do justice, to respond to what is wrong in the world by acting to make it right; We pray for wisdom and courage to grow in the unity of your Son, Jesus Christ, who, with you and the Holy Spirit, reigns forever and ever. Amen
Day 3 (Jan 20) | Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly
We – not me. The prophet warns the people what faithfulness to God’s covenant means: “ … and what does the Lord require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” In Biblical Hebrew justice and kindness (mercy) are not different or opposite from each other. They are in fact bonded together in a single word, mishpat. God has shown us what is good, asking us to do justice by loving kindness and by walking humbly with God. Walking humbly with God means walking alongside others and therefore it is not just about the individual: my walk, my love.
The love that God invites us into is always a love which gathers us into communion: we – not me. This insight makes all the difference in how we “do justice”. As Christians we act justly to manifest something of God’s kingdom in the world, and therefore to invite others into this place of God’s loving kindness. Within God’s kingdom we are all loved equally as God’s children, and as God’s Church we are called to love one another as brothers and sisters and to invite others into that love.
To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God, calls Christians to act together in bearing a united witness to God’s kingdom within our communities: we – not me.
“Walking humbly” was challenging for the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He had obeyed all the commandments from his youth, but he could not take the further step to join Jesus’ disciples because of his wealth; he was beholden to his possessions. How difficult it is for Christians to let go of that which we perceive as riches, but which keep us from the greater wealth of joining Jesus’s disciples in Christian unity.
How can our churches better respond to the needs of our most vulnerable neighbours? How can we honour every voice in our communities?
Gracious and loving God,
Expand our vision that we might see the mission we share with all of our Christian brothers and sisters, to show forth the justice and loving kindness of your kingdom. Help us to welcome our neighbours as your Son welcomed us. Help us to be more generous as we witness to the grace that you freely give us. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen
Day 4 (Jan 21) | Look, the tears of the oppressed
“Look, the tears of the oppressed.” One can imagine that the writer has witnessed atrocities like this before with sickening regularity. And yet perhaps this is the first time the writer has truly seen the tears of the oppressed, has fully taken in their pain and their subjugation. While there is much to lament, in a new looking and a new seeing there is also a seed of hope: maybe this time this witnessing will lead to change, will make a difference.
A young woman looked and saw the tears of the oppressed. The video she shot on her phone of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 was seen all around the world and unleashed a holy rage as people witnessed, and finally acknowledged, what African Americans have experienced for centuries: undue subjugation by oppressive systems in the midst of privileged blind bystanders. Acknowledging this painful reality has led to a global outpouring of overdue compassion both in the form of prayer and protest for justice.
The progression from simply looking to seeing and understanding gives encouragement for us as actors in this earthly reality: God can remove scales from our eyes to witness things in new and liberating ways. As those scales fall, the Holy Spirit provides insight, and also, conviction to respond in new and unfettered ways. One response the churches and communities made was to establish a prayer tent at George Floyd Square, the place of his murder. In this way, these churches and communities were united in offering comfort to those who mourned and were oppressed.
Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes begins with Jesus seeing the crowds. In that crowd he must have seen those who were peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, men and women who mourned, and those who hungered for justice. In the beatitudes Jesus not only names people’s struggles, he names what they will be: the children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. As Christians we are called to see the holy struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How have you engaged with Christian groups addressing oppression in your neighbourhood? How can the churches in your locality come together to better show solidarity with those suffering oppression?
God of justice and grace,
remove the scales from our eyes so we can truly see the oppression around us. We pray in the name of Jesus who saw the crowds and had compassion for them. Amen
Day 5 (Jan 22) | Singing the Lord’s song as strangers in the land
The lament of the psalmist originates in the exile of Judah in Babylon, however, the pain of exile is one that reverberates across time and culture. Perhaps the psalmist shouted this refrain towards the heavens. Perhaps each verse was given voice between deep sobs of grief. Perhaps this poem emerged with a shrug of indifference that can only come from living within injustice and feeling powerless to effect any meaningful change. However the words were brought forth, the heartache of this passage finds resonance in the hearts of those who are treated as strangers in other lands or in their own lands.
The demand in the psalm comes from the oppressor to smile and make merry, to sing the songs of a “happy” past. That demand has come to marginalized people throughout history. Whether it was in minstrel shows, 1 or Geisha dances,2 or Wild West cowboy and Indian shows,3 oppressors have often demanded that oppressed people perform happily to ensure their own survival. Their message is as simple as it is cruel; your songs, your ceremonies, your cultural identity, that which makes you sacredly unique, is only allowable so long as it serves us.
In this psalm generations of the oppressed are given their voice. How could we sing the Lord’s song when we are strangers in our own land? We sing not for our captors but to praise God. We sing because we are not alone for God has never abandoned us. We sing because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The ancestors and saints inspire us. They encourage us to sing songs of hope, songs of freedom, songs of liberation, songs of a homeland where a people is restored.
Luke’s Gospel records that people, many of them women, follow Jesus even as he carries his cross to Calvary. This following is faithful discipleship. Furthermore, Jesus recognises their struggles and the suffering that they will have to endure in faithfully carrying their own crosses.
Thanks to the ecumenical movement, Christians today share hymns, prayers, reflections and insights across traditions. We receive them from one another as gifts borne of the faith and loving discipleship, often enduring struggles, of Christians from different communities than our own. These shared gifts are riches to be treasured and give witness to the Christian faith we share.
How do we raise up the stories of ancestors and saints who lived among us and have sung songs of faith, hope, and
liberation from captivity?
God of the oppressed,
Open our eyes to the harm that continues to be inflicted on our sisters and brothers in Christ. May your Spirit give us the courage to sing in unison, And raise our voices with those whose suffering is unheard. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Day 6 (Jan 23) | Just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me
In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded that we cannot separate our love for God from our love for others. We love God when we feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. When we care for and serve “one of the least of these,” we are caring for and serving Christ himself.
The years 2020 and 2021 made visible the immense suffering among God’s family members. The world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, along with economic, educational and environmental disparities, impacted us in ways that will take decades to repair. It exposed individual and collective suffering throughout the world and brought Christians together in love, empathy and solidarity. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin exposed continued racial injustice. Floyd’s cry of “I can’t breathe” was also the cry of many suffering under the weight of both the pandemic and oppression.
God calls us to honour the sacredness and dignity of each member of God’s family. Caring for, serving and loving others reveals not who they are, but who we are. As Christians, we must be unified in our responsibility to love and care for others, as we are cared for and loved by God. In so doing, we live out our shared faith through our actions in service to the world.
The prophet Ezekiel describes the Lord God as a shepherd who makes the flock whole by gathering in those who have strayed and binding up those who are injured. Unity is the Father’s desire for his people and he continues to bring about this unity, to make the flock whole, through the action of his Holy Spirit. Through prayer we open ourselves to receive the Spirit which restores the unity of all the baptised.
How are the “least of these” invisible to you or your church? How can our churches work together to care for and serve “the least of these?”
God of Love,
We thank you for your unending care and love for us. Help us to sing redemption songs. Open wide our hearts to receive your love and to extend your compassion to the whole of the human family. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Day 7 (Jan 24) | ‘What is now does not have to be’
Job was living the good life and unexpectedly suffered the loss of his livestock and servants, and endured the devastation of the death of his children. He was suffering in his mind, body, and spirit. We all have suffering that is manifested in our minds, bodies, and spirits. We may pull away from God and others. We may lose hope. Yet, as Christians, we are unified in our belief that God is with us in the midst of our suffering.
On April 11, 2021 in Minnesota, Daunte Wright, a twenty-year old, unarmed African American man, was fatally shot by a White police officer during a routine traffic stop. This incident occurred during the Derek Chauvin trial for the killing of George Floyd.
It is easy to feel hopeless when we are once again reminded that we live in a fractured society that does not fully recognize, honour, and protect the human dignity and freedom of all human beings. According to Fr. Bryan Massingale, a leading Catholic social ethicist and scholar in racial justice, “Social life is made by human beings. The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions. This means that human beings can change things. What human beings break, divide and separate, we can, with God’s help, also heal, unite and restore. What is now does not have to be, therein lies the hope and the challenge.”
In prayer, Christians align their hearts to the heart of God, to love what he loves and to love as he loves. Prayer with integrity therefore aligns the hearts of all Christians beyond their divisions, to love what, whom and how God loves, and to express this love in our actions.
The Magnificat is Mary’s song of joy for all that she sees God is doing: restoring balance by raising up the lowly; righting injustice by feeding the hungry; and remembering Israel, his servant. The Lord never forgets his promises or abandons his people. It is easy to overlook or undervalue the faith of those who belong to other Christian communities, particularly if those communities are small. But the Lord makes his people whole by raising up the lowly so that the value of each is recognised. We are called to see as He sees and to value each of our Christian brothers and sisters as He values them
God of Hope,
Help us to remember that you are with us in our suffering. Help us to embody hope for one another when hopelessness is a frequent unwelcomed guest in our hearts. Grant us the gift of being grounded in your loving Spirit as we work together to eradicate all forms of oppression and injustice. Give us the courage to love what, whom and how you love, and to express this love in our actions. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Day 8 (Jan 25) | The justice that restores communion
The Book of Psalms is a compilation of prayer, praise, lamentation, and instruction from God to us. In Psalm 82, God calls for a justice that upholds the basic human rights to which all people are entitled: freedom, safety, dignity, health, equality and love. The Psalm also calls for the overturning of systems of disparity and oppression, and fixing anything that is unfair, corrupt, or exploitative. This is the justice that we, as Christians, are called to promote. In Christian community we join our wills and actions to God’s, as he works his salvation for creation. Division, including that between Christians, always has sin at its root, and redemption always restores communion.
God calls us to embody our Christian faith to act out of the truth that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institutional structure in society is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of each person. Every person has a right and responsibility to participate in society, seeking together the common good and wellbeing of all, especially the lowly and the destitute.
In Jesus and the Disinherited, the Revd. Dr Howard Thurman, who was spiritual adviser to the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr., states that: “We must proclaim the truth that all life is one and that we are all of us tied together. Therefore, it is mandatory that we work for a society in which the least person can find refuge and refreshment. You must lay your lives on the altar of social change so that wherever you are, there the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unjust judge in order to teach the people “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk 18:1). Jesus has won a decisive victory over injustice, sin and division, and as Christians our task is to receive this victory firstly in our own hearts through prayer and secondly in our lives through action. May we never lose heart, but rather continue to ask in prayer for God’s gift of unity and may we manifest this unity in our lives.
As the people of God, how are our churches called to engage in justice that unites us in our actions to love and serve all of God’s family?
God, Creator and Redeemer of all things,
teach us to look inward to be grounded in your loving Spirit, so that we may go outward in wisdom and courage to always choose the path of love and justice. This we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pope Francis has declared that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God “that the life of our people be constantly marked by this decisive relationship with the living word that the Lord never tires of speaking to his Bride” (Aperuit Illis, 2). In 2023 the Sunday of the Word of God falls on January 22.
Download: 2023 Liturgical/Pastoral Resource from the Dicastery for Evangelization for Sunday of the Word of God
Here are five liturgical suggestions for making the most of this universal invitation from the Pontiff.
Focus on the centrality of the Bible for Christians. In the Gospel, Jesus quotes what we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The word of the prophet is the foundation for his teaching and the call of the first disciples. In the second reading Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus did not send him to baptize but to proclaim the Gospel and that “it is the power of God”.
2. Bless Ministers of the Word
Following the Homily, invite ministers of the Word to stand (e.g. lectors, psalmists, leaders in RCIA, liturgy of the word for children, and scripture study). Bless them with hands extended:
Blessed are you, Lord God,
Source of all light and all goodness,
you sent your Son, your living Word,
to reveal to humanity the mystery of your love.
Look with mercy upon these women and men who proclaim your word
and lead your people closer to your teaching.
Bless X them in their ministry
so that they may be nourished by your Word,
be transformed by it and faithfully announce it
to their brothers and sisters in your Church.
We praise and thank you, Father,
in the name of Jesus your Son,
and in the love of your Holy Spirit,
God of glory for ever and ever.
Adapted from the blessing of lectors in Celebrations of Installation and Recognition, copyright Concacan Inc.,2005. All rights reserved.
3. Universal Prayer
Introduction to the petitions:
Dear sisters and brothers,
nourished and formed by God’s Word
let us bring our needs and petitions before Him.
In addition to the petitions you have prepared for today, include some for the Word of God to come to life in your community, for example:
Prayer at the end of the petitions:
Grant, O God, that our lives be marked by your living word.
Hear these, our prayers,
and help us to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
Through Christ our Lord.
4. Eucharistic Prayer
You might use Eucharistic Prayer III for Various Needs and Occasions (Jesus the Way to the Father). Its Preface focuses on Christ as the “Word” of God. Roman Missal p.764ff.
5. Enthroning the Bible (For use in homes, schools, and with RCIA or Bible Study groups)
The faithful have shown reverence to the bible as the inspired word of God since ancient times. The enthronement of an open bible has often served as a symbolic invitation to delve into the sacred text as the source of our spiritual life. You might use this short ritual from the American Bible Society to enthrone the Bible at home, in schools, and with RCIA or Bible Study groups.
6. More Resources
On Friday, January 13th, I attended ‘An Evening with the Sisters’ at the Sacred Heart Convent in Calgary. Sisters from various communities of consecrated life gathered with unmarried women in our diocese to enjoy ourselves together. That is exactly what we did! There were Sisters from the Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth, and the Seeds of the Word. There were also many single young women I recognized from the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy.
We started the evening by eating veggie pizza (since it was a Friday) and getting to know each other. I introduced myself to many of the Sisters and young women who were there. All the Sisters certainly had great stories about their interesting lives as Spouses of Christ. When one of the Polish Dominican sisters learned that I am half-Polish, she told me that I had to go and visit the beautiful country. I also got to see a few friends who are doing the Sabbatical Year program with the Seeds of the Word community. What a joy it was to hear their hilarious stories of community life while we ate dinner! I loved to hear all about their inside jokes and their sledding and skating mishaps.
The evening ended with Night Prayer, which is the last prayer Sisters pray at the end of their jam-packed days. We left behind the rowdy games to enter the calm of the chapel, where the red light of the sanctuary candle was waiting for us. To pray Night Prayer, each side of the room took turns saying the lines of a psalm. Before Sr. Dianne said goodbye to us for the night, we had a few moments of silence together in the chapel. It was a good opportunity to turn to Jesus in the Eucharist and ask Him for the grace to say yes to my vocation, whatever it may be.
As I watched the diverse group of women genuflect to the Blessed Sacrament and leave the chapel, I wondered what my life would be like in a religious community. I saw such beautiful women around me, each of them open to the invitation of Jesus in her life. God has a fulfilling plan for each one of them, and for me.
After everyone cleaned up, I grabbed some pamphlets about consecrated life and said bye to my new and old friends. I almost caught myself skipping out of the convent, because I was feeling so excited to know what God’s call is in my life!
I am thankful that I had the chance to get to know the Sisters of our diocese in such a casual setting. It can be very difficult to work up the courage to visit a religious order. Watching the Sisters enjoy themselves, I understood that they are human beings just like me. They like to eat pizza and play games. They have their own fears and dreams. But each one of them had experienced, at some point in their discernment, the courage to interact with the Sisters they felt they might be called to join.
I am reminded of a quote by Fr. Bede Jarrett O.P.: “What is love but choice, the choice of a friend? He calls us, because He loves us and He is always calling us. May He give us the silence of heart that will listen, and the discerning wisdom that will recognise, and the courage of love that will obey.”
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
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.
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.
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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.
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?
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.
Bishop McGrattan's homily at the Memorial Liturgy for those grieving the loss of a child through miscarriage and stillbirth, November 24, 2022 at St. Mary's Cathedral.
In the communal life of the Church the witness of faith and belief in Christ is always confirmed in the following – “Faith if it is genuine works through love”. Another way of stating this truth is that in the Christian life our faith is to be expressed through acts of love.
This evening those families who have gathered, parents, grandparents, and children are united in the painful reality that they have suffered the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. Despite this pain and grief which is shared by those here present they also witness to a communal act of love in the remembering of their children in prayer.
This is also a genuine witness of faith to the sanctity of life. That all human life from conception to natural death is a gift from God who is the Creator. He is the author of all life and in Christ we come to know and believe that through his death and resurrection we receive the gift of eternal life from God the Father. This is the hope that must also unite us in the prayer of this memorial liturgy.
In the Old Testament, the remembering in prayer of God’s salvific presence in the midst of his people was always an act of “anamnesis”. It is a spiritual remembering and an act of faith in which they experienced the very presence of God’s love. In the First Letter of John this evening we heard the sacred author reminding the early Christians of this same truth. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are”. Other translations of this passage replace “See” with “Remember”. This evening we remember the love that the Father has given these parents through marriage. A love in which He invites husband and wife to share in His “co-creative love”, to express mutual love for each other and to be open to bringing new life, children into the world.
This vigil celebration of prayer for those children who did not receive the gift of being born into a family are still known by God as his children, like us. Although you as parents did not receive the joy of knowing your children you do share the anguish, sorrow and despair of their loss. However, in the faith that we share in being disciples of Christ, the suffering we experience now will always be transformed by Christ and that “what we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”. This is the hope that we pray will sustain us as it did the early Christians.
In the Beatitudes Jesus teaches his disciples that despite the present circumstance of their life the future they desire will become one of blessing and happiness if they maintain their faith in Him. This is the faith that allows one to trust that the fullness of our life is revealed in Christ. This would have been the desire and the faith of these parents for the children that they have lost. To be baptized into the fullness of the life of Christ.
At the conclusion of this liturgy we incorporate the sign of light, in the lighting of a candle. Light symbolized the dispelling of darkness, and spiritually it overshadows for believers the sadness of death. The light of the paschal candle for Christians symbolizes the eternal light of the resurrection of Christ. As you come forward to light the candles for your children and their names are proclaimed, you are uniting yourselves in this communal act of love in remembering the children you mourn, but also it is a sign of your genuine faith and belief in the resurrection of Christ for your children.
We who gather support you in the loss of your children, but in faith and through our prayers, we pray that they now share in the eternal life of Christ and God the Father.
Rorate Mass is a centuries long tradition during Advent. The Masses are generally offered during Advent on Saturdays, the customary day to honour the Blessed Virgin. A Votive Mass for Mary will be offered at dawn, and lit with only candle lights.
Experience Rorate Mass in the Diocese of Calgary this year:
Children tell lots of fun stories about Santa Claus, Pere Noel, or Kriss Kringle. All of these stories remind us of how much we’re loved and of how happy we are when we give. The earliest stories we know were told about St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was so grateful for the life God had given him that he just couldn’t stop giving joy and hope to others—no matter how far he had to travel or how many roofs he had to climb. (Source: Loyola Press)
Over the last 3 years, the Calgary Catholic School District’s faith theme has centered on 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." This year, as we focus specifically on love – agape (sacrificial and selfless love), I have also been drawn to praying for and encouraging our priests.
This past spring, I attended an online meeting for the Serra Club Calgary, an organization whose mandate is to pray for and support vocations. One of the suggestions that was offered was to write cards or letters of encouragement to both priests and seminarians. I’ve never known a seminarian, so I wasn’t sure what I could say to encourage a seminarian, but since it was close to Valentine’s Day, I had my students sign a letter to each seminarian, and again at Easter.
This school year, I wondered how I could continue to offer support and encouragement in a more meaningful and ongoing way to seminarians in our diocese, and decided that each of my eight religion classes would adopt a seminarian (one of them adopted two, since there are nine seminarians). I hoped that there would be great spiritual fruit both for the seminarian, who would be receiving prayers from 25-27 students, and for my students, who would be selflessly offering prayers for someone they did not even know. Each of my classes prays for their adopted seminarian once a week and we send him a letter once a month.
We began praying for the seminarians at the beginning of the school year and sent an introduction letter toward the end of September. In October we prayed the rosary for our seminarians. I felt that it would be good for my students to get to know the person they were praying for, if the seminarian was willing and able to answer, so in our October letter we asked some personal questions, about the seminary and being a seminarian.
The students and I were excited to begin to receive cards, letters, and emails from the seminarians, and were especially happy to find out that they wanted to come to meet us while they were on their reading break.
Many students had no idea what to expect, and they were overjoyed to meet people to whom they could relate: the seminarians like to watch movies, read, play board games, sports, and video games! The students also learned a lot about seminary life. Many were surprised to learn that there are 9 years of study to become a priest, and about the amount of time spent in prayer. The seminarians were also happy to answer the hard questions that teenagers can have about our faith.
It has been wonderful for our students to discover that seminarians are real and interesting people. Many of them are in awe of these men who are normal people with fun hobbies and a great sense of humor, and who are discerning God’s call in their lives. They have learned that selfless acts, even when done without expecting anything in return, can lead to spiritual fruit for themselves as well. They know that their prayers are appreciated and joyfully received.
With simple prayers and letters, and now classroom visits, our Lord has multiplied love and brought joy and encouragement to so many people, not just the seminarians. Perhaps in the future we will find that our Lord has fostered a vocation (or vocations) in this small act of love and kindness to others.
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Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers