With climate change getting so much media coverage, it’s easy to see why some Catholics are asking questions about what they can do to support the papal call for Christians to unite in caring for what Pope Francis calls, “our common home.” Other Catholics don’t spend much time thinking about it. They’re too busy planting, weeding and harvesting food, flowers—and faith.
This summer, volunteers planted a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden at the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre at Cochrane. The potatoes, carrots, squash and swiss chard were put to good use; the food is shared between Feed the Hungry’s (FTH) Sunday dinners at St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Calgary Food Bank. “The food bank really is a ‘bank,” says Linnea Ferguson, program lead for the Calgary Catholic Diocese’s FTH program. “We take from that bank for our Sunday night dinners, so it’s nice to deposit some food there, too.”
Although FTH is more closely aligned with social versus environmental causes, the connection between food and life is obvious, notes Ferguson. “By actively participating in the production of local produce, I think Feed the Hungry shows care for our common home and how much we respect the dignity of the people we feed.”
Care for Creation
Over at St. Joseph’s parish in northwest Calgary, parish council has adopted some care for creation initiatives sparked by the 2015 papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This spring, Knights of Columbus planted a courtyard area with plants donated by a long-time parishioner. “It’s really beautiful,” says parish council member Marilou LeGeyt. “We’ve got a variety of flowering plants, including roses, monkshood and black-eyed Susan. Next year, the Knights will divide those plants and sell the extras as a fundraiser.”
After all the planning and planting were done, the project yielded three wins for the parish. The garden is a fundraiser, a beautiful space by the Church entrance and its gives parishioners an opportunity to take an ecological piece of their church community home to their own gardens.
In late September, the courtyard hosted a Blessing of the Animals. The event attracted dogs, fish, cats and turtles! In line with Laudato Si and its focus on dialogue, St. Joseph’s parish is also exploring the addition of a vegetable garden on the church property. The concept is meant to nourish St. Joe’s place in the wider community, says LeGeyt.
At St. Peter’s parish, a team of volunteer gardeners is taking responsibility for the gardens built as part of a major reconstruction project. Led by parishioner Sylvie Fung, who’s also active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the grounds include several well-kept flower pots, ground-level plots and a new grotto. The latter includes an outdoor rosary.
To help the growing number of faithful who visit the space to pray, Fung tucks several rosaries and prayer cards into two solar lamps at the garden entrance. “People take the rosaries, so I’m always looking for more,” says Fung.
Members of her garden team take turns watering the pots and checking to make sure the freshly-landscaped shrubs and perennials are doing well. But the job can get a little prickly. While the space between the church and alley has been beautifully landscaped, these beds include a number of Canada Thistle, an invasive (not Canadian!) weed species known for its thorns and deep roots, both of which complicate eradication.
Fung encourages her fellow gardeners to weed these “beds of thorns, beds of suffering” as an act of faithful sacrifice. “It’s the perfect job to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy,” says Fung with a smile.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Many are internally displaced or flee to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Some, Syrians in particular, have settled in parts of Canada, including Calgary, but for those who stay or have gone back, their homes are often destroyed and require a lot of rebuilding. “Sometimes people don’t feel safe moving back to their town,” said Gabriel. “There have been cases of kidnapping, harrassment, discrimination. There have been times that they’ve been killed because of their faith.”
Due to difficulties crossing check points, Palestinian Christians aren’t always granted a pass to attend Easter Mass in Jerusalem. “The locals can’t experience Easter there, but the tourists have no problem,” said Gabriel.
She organizes pilgrimages with CNEWA to the Holy Land for those wanting both a spiritual experience and a snapshot into the life of local Christians. The next one is being planned for 2020. “The Christians are always very grateful when we come and visit them. They feel supported,” said Gabriel.
In August, Gabriel spoke at the national Catholic Women’s League (CWL) Convention held in Calgary because CNEWA is one of the charities CWL supports at the national level. Two of the projects CWL funds are a centre in Jerusalem that provides tutoring for at-risk youth and a centre near Bethlehem providing healthcare for women and their babies.
National CWL President Anne-Marie Gorman went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and met some of the local Christians, including entrepreneurs who left to seek education in the United States, but returned to open a brewery. “Things seem to be so unstable, so I’m thinking if they have enough faith to go home and settle back in the Palestinian occupied territory, it behooves us to support them as best we can,” said Gorman.
“Our past spiritual adviser Bishop Martin Currie said the Holy Land is in danger of becoming like Disneyland, just a tourist site that people go see what it used to be like. But when I was there, it was all about these people being living stones. These are the people that haven’t left.”
St. Bonaventure parishioner Kathleen Kufeldt is one of many Calgarian donors who financially support CNEWA. For several years she has organized a raffle at her parish for CNEWA during the annual CWL fundraiser. “I think we are so blessed here to practice our faith. My heart goes out to the Christians in the Middle East,” said Kufeldt.
“I feel it must be one of Jesus’s wounds that the area where He was born and grew up is so difficult for His followers.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Nearly 900 Catholic Women’s League (CWL) members from across Canada gathered at the Hyatt Hotel in Calgary Aug. 18-21 for the 99th Annual National Convention.
Each year members debate and vote on resolutions, forming League policy and guiding their advocacy work. The CWL members passed two resolutions concerning the rights of the unborn and a nuclear arms ban.
The first resolution to pass was — Canada to Honour its Commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada ratified this United Nations agreement to protect the unborn 20 years ago, yet there is still no Canadian legislation protecting the unborn at any stage of development.
“When you sign something and ratify it, you’d expect some legislation to appear,” said CWL President Anne-Marie Gorman. “What we are looking for is legislation. You said you were going to do it, so why hasn’t someone done it. We’ll be asking that question.”
The second resolution to pass asks the Canadian Government to honour the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. CWL wants the federal government to support, sign and ratify this treaty which the UN adopted in July 2017; so far 25 countries have ratified it.
Once members adopt a resolution an executive committee prepares to bring the concerns to federal politicians in Ottawa on behalf of all 78,000 members in the coming months.
Each convention also has a spiritual, educational and cultural component. Four Calgarians spoke on this year’s theme “Care For Our Common Home.” Dr. Peter Baltutis, Dr. Timothy Harvie, Sr. Madeleine Gregg and Marilou LeGeyt unpacked the topic from both theological and practical perspectives.
Dressed in a white sweater jacket and matching pearl earrings Sr. Dorothy Ederer, a Grand Rapids Dominican Sister from Michigan, delivered a high-energy, entertaining and emotional keynote address titled “What is our common home? We care for our homeland, our homes, our hearts.”
“Everyone take out your phones,” said Ederer. “What would God be calling to tell you if He were on the other line?”
Ederer proceeded to tell her captivated audience for the next two hours how each person is called to be Christ-like and loving toward their neighbour using a series of personal stories from her time in ministry and mission, interspersed with inspirational songs and tidbits of wisdom. She highlighted topics such as daily prayer, finding your passion and reconciliation.
“What kinds of values do we want to leave to our children or those coming after us?” asked Ederer.
She used the phrase “more is caught than taught” to highlight how her mother would keep a holy hour each morning before getting on with her day. “Kids imitate us,” she said.
“Find your passion, live it, but don’t compromise your morals and values,” she said.
She urged the Church to be a place where people are loved and forgiven.
“To forgive yourself is one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians,” she said. “If you hold anger in your heart it’s destroying you. It’s like taking a glass of poison and pouring it down your throat.”
Her last message was one of hope and love. “I want to tell you how loved you are.”
Conventions are an opportunity for renewal and Gorman said she hopes all CWL members will take what they’ve learned and share it with their communities.
“I hope they leave appreciating who they are and that God loves them,” said Gorman.
Written by Sara Francis for the Diocese of Calgary
Photos courtesy of Annie Chirka, St. Peter's Calgary
See more photos here: https://st-peters.ca/cwl/
In the weeks to come, Edie Pujo will seed a 60-square foot vegetable garden on her acreage east of Calgary. On the semi-arid plains of southern Alberta, a region notorious for drought, hail, wind, slugs and aphids, Pujo’s garden is an act of defiance. It is also a beacon of hope—and a place of immense spiritual comfort. To Pujo, time in the garden is “one-on-one time with the Big Guy. It’s so peaceful. I plant, and I pray. My time in the garden is time with God.”
This spring, Pujo will also work alongside vegetable growers—and fellow believers—at Calgary’s St. Albert the Great parish. Located in the southeastern community of McKenzie Towne, the parish added a community garden to its property in 2018. The 3x3-foot beds rented quickly—simultaneously producing fresh vegetables and nurturing a new community of gardeners.
An idea germinates
The St. Albert the Great Community Garden began in 2017 after a couple of people talked to the parish priest. Pujo chatted with Father Julian Studden (now in Airdrie) about her love of gardening. Together, they mused about the spiritual connection between growing food and caring for the Earth as a gift from God. Pujo, a Vincentian, also talked about how nice it would be to include home-grown vegetables in hampers delivered by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP). When another parishioner pointed out an under-used space beside the church as a problem area—good for nothing but grass—Father Julian urged the two to chat.
Before long, Pujo and fellow parishioner Mike Alvares were co-chairing a community garden committee. Scott Harrison, another member of the fledgling group, teaches culinary arts at a Catholic high school. He linked the group to a not-for-profit that teaches groups how to build the portable wooden garden frames now used at St. Albert the Great. Other committee members, James Dalton and Paul Schneider, brought their expertise and passion.
By the spring of 2018, the group had prepared 42 beds for planting. The entire project, including eight fruit trees, was completed with grants and donated products. “This was a real community project, and it was 100 per cent self-funded. We didn’t ask the parish for any money,” says Pujo.
When one would-be gardener had to back out after renting her bed, she donated the $20 plot to SSVP. Quick to recognize the opportunity, Pujo assumed responsibility for the bed and seeded it all to beans. “I can’t tell you the number of hampers that got green beans last year, but it was a lot.”
Feed the Hungry
Closer to the city’s core, Linnea Ferguson has her eye on five small garden plots at the FCJ Centre near the Calgary Pastoral Centre. Ferguson, who coordinates the Diocese’s Feed the Hungry Garden, used the plots last year to grow onions, garlic and parsley. Guests of the dinner sowed the parsley seed and all were harvested for use by Feed the Hungry chefs. Last fall, Ferguson helped young women from Elizabeth House harvest the garlic and plant a new garlic crop for 2019.
Ferguson also organizes the work crews that plant, weed and harvest about an acre of potatoes east of Calgary. Donated by Annette and Theo D’Souza, parishioners at St. Gabriel the Archangel, that land will eventually be used to grow other vegetables. “It made sense to grow potatoes for the first few years as that helps to prepare the soil,” explains Ferguson.
The Feed the Hungry Garden, started a few years ago after the D’Souzas approached Joann Churchill, Development manager with the Diocese. Churchill talked to then-Bishop Frederick Henry, “and he loved the idea from the start. He wanted us to open the door and see where it takes us.” Today, Feed the Hungry uses what it can and donates the rest of its harvest to the Calgary Food Bank. That agency supports Feed the Hungry, “so this is a great way for us to give back to the Food Bank,” says Churchill.
“There has been such an outpouring of support from so many,” adds Churchill. Every year, a Red Deer farmer donates the seed potatoes, while garden neighbours and generous community volunteers contribute their time, expertise and in-kind services. Companies have donated equipment and tools and St. Gabriel parish has embraced the garden, too.
The harvest is plenty—and the labourers are pleased
The Feed the Hungry Garden is a great way to combine Church teachings about food production, caring for the marginalized and building community,” adds Ferguson. Spring and fall are the busiest times and Ferguson always reaches out for volunteers. “The Bishop comes to the planting and gives a special blessing. It really ties what we’re doing to the bigger issues about our role in caring for the environment and serving the marginalized.”
Last fall, the youth group at St. James in Okotoks sent 45 young people to help with the harvest. “It was really something to see all of those young people helping out,” notes Ferguson.
Edie Pujo admits it’s the young people who catch her eye—and heart—at St. Albert the Great’s garden. Experienced gardeners “all got such a kick out of everyone learning about where food comes from.” The garden, which includes a stepping stone pathway and a picnic table, is also a popular stop for locals out for a summer walk. “People often stop and ask questions about what’s growing, so we’re getting to know the community. The garden really fits into the neighbourhood.”
To demonstrate the garden’s place in the larger environment, the site includes a compost area and two 1,000-gallon water tanks that will eventually collect rainwater from the church roof. “We do want to use the garden to teach people about growing vegetables in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way,” says Pujo.
Information about community gardens in Calgary neighbourhoods is available from the Calgary Horticultural Society. For details on how to donate your own garden’s bounty, reach out to your SSVP or the Calgary Food Bank.
Written by Joy Gregory
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers