Finding our home
For converts, the journey on the road to Roman Catholicism is as varied as their individual personalities and experiences. My journey was a rather circuitous route, due in part to a neurological disorder – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our three children are now adults, but when our youngest was just starting school, she began displaying sudden twitches and jerky movements which seemed out of her control. Our initial concern soon turned to alarm as the movements became more pronounced, and as she also began making odd sounds as well. We checked with our family doctor, who referred us to a pediatric psychiatrist over the Christmas break. After a lot of listening and observing, he gave us his diagnosis: Tourette Syndrome.
In some ways it was a comfort to have a name for the condition, but we also felt anxious about what the future might hold. My husband and I read everything we could get our hands on about Tourette Syndrome and found out that most people learn to cope with this neurological disorder, though it isn’t an easy condition to live with. We also learned that the involuntary movements and sounds are called motor tics and vocal tics.
School became a nightmare for our daughter. She felt humiliated, confused, sad and, most of all, concerned about “disturbing” the other students with her frequent vocal and motor tics. Finally, we made the decision to homeschool her, in an attempt to salvage our collective sanity. I quit my teaching job.
I’ve noticed that, from my childhood, when faced with distressing experiences I seek solace in books. This was no exception. As we launched into the new experience of homeschooling, I buried myself in my spare time in the works of authors I have long loved, including C. S. Lewis. One line from Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain had a profound impact on me: “Pain removes the veil. It plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” As I sat one day at our dining room table, reading and absorbing those words with my twitching, barking daughter beside me working on her math lesson, it did indeed feel as if a veil was being ripped off my old perceptions of myself, of God, and of the world. I knew I needed to go deeper and find a better way to cope with this new reality.
C. S. Lewis led me to one of his favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton, whose books I ate up with an eagerness that my husband found rather baffling. Fascinated by Chesterton’s conversion to Catholicism, I then started reading the works of other notable converts – Cardinal John Henry Newman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Scott Hahn. My concept of our relationship with God was challenged by their insights.
I grew up in the United Church, and my husband and I attended Protestant Churches with our children during the early years of our marriage. But after reading the stories of famous converts to Catholicism I felt drawn, like a magnet, to a little Catholic church in our neighborhood. I had never been inside, even though we had lived just two blocks away for almost twenty years. My husband decided to join me, and as we entered the church building together one Sunday, as Mass was about to begin, we had absolutely no idea what to expect.
At first it felt very foreign, but we kept attending. Before long, we found ourselves signed up for a Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults course (RCIA), with a group of other spiritual explorers. We were increasingly captivated by what we heard every Tuesday night at the RCIA class. In the Catholic Church we found people who were unafraid to gaze on Christ’s suffering, and as I followed their gaze, I was confronted with a love that shook me to the core. I felt like I finally understood Chesterton’s astute comment: “The Catholic church is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.”
Restoring the Feminine Heart
As the highly anticipated "Restoring the Feminine Heart" Women's Conference approaches (May 26-27), the Beloved Daughters Ministry team shares with Faithfully about their event and the ministry's mission. Read on to discover what this exciting conference has in store.
For those who have never heard of the Beloved Daughters Ministry, it's a lay-run women's ministry established in 2020 to support women at every stage of life as they rediscover their identity as beloved daughters of God.
Initially created to host annual women's conferences within the Diocese of Calgary, the ministry adapted to an online presence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through social media platforms, they share blog posts (written by many local women), weekly Sunday reflections, and host Advent and Lenten mini-retreats at various parishes. The ministry offers connection, relatability, and encouragement to women, helping them stay rooted in the truths of their identity in God.
“Restoring the Feminine Heart”
The ministry conference team, guided by prayer and discernment, has carefully chosen the perfect topic and speakers for this inaugural event. With the theme “Restoring the Feminine Heart”, they are eager to delve into the true identity and unique gifts that women possess.
"We hope to be able to provide the beginnings of restoration and healing to women who have experienced wounds in these areas, especially where in today’s society there is much confusion and distortion regarding the identity of the individual." said Rikka, one of the founders of the Beloved Daughter Ministry. The team also hope to shed light on God’s thoughtful design in creating humans male and female in His image and likeness, as well as the gift that we are to each other.
Women going to the conference will be examining how pressures from society, others, and even themselves, have hindered the ability to live out their truest identity. They will unpack how they can freely live out of the giftedness of our femininity.
Jake & Heather Khym
The team is beyond excited to welcome guest speakers Heather Khym (most commonly known as a co-host on the Abiding Together Podcast) and Jake Khym (Registered Psychologist and co-host of the Restore the Glory Podcast).
Jake and Heather Khym are a married Catholic couple from Abbotsford, BC. They are the founders of Life Restoration Ministries. Their ministry is devoted to creating opportunities for Jesus to encounter people, empowering disciples to deepen their faith. They achieve this through evangelization and formation focused on unlocking the heart. On their podcasts, Jake and Heather regularly share personal stories of their own journey towards healing and restoration with great vulnerability.
When asked why Jake & Heather Khym for their first women’s conference, Rikka revealed, “The three of us first heard Jake Khym speak at Rise up 2014 in Calgary and his message blew us away. He spoke into each of our hearts differently, but prominently.”
The launch of the all-female Abiding Together Podcast, featuring Heather Khym, piqued the team's interest even more. One of their team members found great healing through listening to the Restore the Glory Podcast, hosted by Jake Khym (a registered counselor), and Dr. Bob Schuchts (a registered psychologist).
“In listening to the honesty and relatability in which they share their experiences, combined with their professional and ministerial background, we immediately knew that having them speak at this conference would be just what was needed to create an environment of hope and healing for the attendees at our conference.”
"We believe that Jake and Heather can beautifully demonstrate the harmony and unity that can exist within relationships as we each journey towards wholeness."
A Pentecost Gift
Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, granddaughters, aunts, nieces, sisters, and girl-friends! If you are a woman over the age of 18 then there is a place for you at this conference! Nursing infants, and female adolescents 14 years and older coming with their mother or guardian, are also welcome.
Maria added, “This conference is sure to be an enriching and impactful weekend filled with connection, rest and restoration. You can look forward to being amongst a community of lovely women gathering, learning and praying together!”
It is truly a gift for our Diocese to have this conference offered in Calgary, and especially on the weekend of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit will be present and ready to shower the women in attendance with an abundance of graces!
Making an Informed, Moral Choice
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In preparation for the upcoming provincial election, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta wish to encourage all members of the Church to engage in the electoral process. By means of this letter, we offer to our Catholic faithful a reminder of important principles and concerns, which stem from the social doctrine of the Church, to guide the discernment of choices that accord with the Gospel’s vision for the right ordering of society.
Please join with us in prayer for those elected to public office. They are assuming a heavy responsibility, often at great personal sacrifice. May they be granted the strength and wisdom to govern in accord with the precept of charity in service of the life and well-being of everyone.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Catholic Bishops of Alberta
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton
Most Reverend William McGrattan, Bishop of Calgary
Most Reverend Gary Franken, Bishop of St. Paul
Most Reverend Gerard Pettipas CSsR, Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan
Most Reverend David Motiuk, Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton
Rite of Election: Chosen by God
On Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023 the whole community gathered to witness something truly special: a joyous Rite of Election that welcomed 170 catechumens into St Mary's Cathedral as members of the Elect! This event marked the culmination of their profound spiritual journey and preparation for receiving Initiation Sacraments at Easter Vigil.
The Bishop also calls to the Godparents, urging them to accept the responsibility entrusted to them in the Lord. He asks them to show their support and love for the chosen individuals by providing guidance and instruction so that they may partake in God's sacraments.
Let us pray to the Lord for all the Elect and for ourselves, that we may be renewed by one another’s efforts and together come to share the joys of Easter.
I'm worth it now
“It started when a friend of mine told me about a backpack program for human trafficking survivors in Florida.” shared Kristin Fahlman, a parishioner of St. Michael's in Calgary, “I thought it was interesting, but didn't think about it again for several years.”
It wasn’t until that one fateful evening when she attended a movie screening organized by the Catholic Women’s League at her church. It wasn't just any film; "Over 18" documents society's damage caused by pornography industries across North America and beyond.
“On the way to the screening, God reminded me of the backpack program in Florida. And that I should start a similar program here in Calgary.” shared Kristin. After the movie screening, Kristin tried to speak to Paul Rubner, who had been invited as an expert local speaker at the time, but there were just too many people who wanted to do the same. So she went home, trying to put it out of her mind. But God persisted.
Shortly after, Kristin was invited to a human trafficking workshop and, seemingly by divine intervention, her normally packed schedule was free. At the workshop, she again noticed Paul, who provided a presentation on the issue of human trafficking in the Calgary and Alberta context. She decided then that if he was available at the end of the workshop, this was the person she needed to speak with.
"When I explained my idea, Paul was extremely enthusiastic and, as it turns out, he was the key person in Calgary who would know how to implement a distribution system for the backpacks. He suggested involving the Catholic Women's League, a group I had just recently joined."
What followed was a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions between Kristin, a lawyer with a passion for social justice and deep compassion for a segment of society that very few people were aware of, and Paul, at the time a human trafficking investigator who had spent the last decade working with survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. Paul had an understanding of the needs and issues faced by survivors, along with the social agencies that sought to help them - but he knew there was more that could be done. All that was required was a group, or individuals, that had a realistic understanding of the issue that he could lend his experience and advocacy to.
“God has lined it all up for us every step of the way," said Kristin. Paul added, “We want survivors of human trafficking to recognize the strength inside of them and to realize that they are loved and accepted right in this moment.”
Long story short, IWIN - an acronym for 'I'm Worth It Now' - was born in 2019 with the support of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL). This program's mission is to make an impact on those who are often forgotten: survivors of sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking. And over three years later, the need for their ministry has only grown. Their services now extend to non-profit agencies in two provinces - with a vision to expand even further.
“The idea was to provide a tangible way to show trafficking survivors in Calgary, the vast majority of whom were born and raised in Canada, that people care and ‘nice things’ didn’t always have to come with strings attached.” shared Paul, who at the time was actively working with survivors and many of the agencies offering services for them.
“While IWIN doesn’t provide services directly, they provide backpacks containing essential items to the agencies that do. And given that these agencies are not-for-profit, every little bit of help they can receive means more resources they can devote to programming and helping their participants.” said Paul, adding, “One such agency in Calgary has received over $13,000 in ‘backpack support’ from IWIN in the past 2 1/2 years. The contents of the backpacks are items that the agency would have provided anyway, which means that those funds could be re-directed into other areas of the program.”
IWIN also has partnerships with an agency in Edmonton and one in Saskatoon, who also exist to provide services to trafficked and exploited women, although the Calgary program is by far the largest.
Survivors of human trafficking who received IWIN backpacks ware always filled with gratitude and appreciation for the kindness they had been shown.
"This backpack meant more than just a bag full of clothes. It gave me hope there is still good in this world".
"Thank-you so much for helping me to feel a bit more human and a bit more like I matter".
"It was a really nice surprise when I wasn't expecting it and I feel like it's a great act of kindness and I'd love to take part in something like that one day. It's really nice to get something and to feel like you don't have to give anything in return."
"This signifies that if one individual or organization believes in us, perhaps we can begin to contemplate having faith in ourselves."
The success of the IWIN program is largely attributed to the commitment of multiple groups and organizations who are dedicated to helping them achieve their goals, with a large portion coming from the Catholic Women's League in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“Human trafficking can happen to any family in Canada and is happening mainly to Canadian citizens." Paul added.
This National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, February 22, it's critical that we consider why 95% of the trafficking survivors found in Calgary are Canadian-born. Our sisters and daughters are not exempt from the reality of human trafficking – so, it's essential that our brothers and sons join us in finding a solution. Let us not forget to open up the conversation about human trafficking, despite how uncomfortable it may seem.
The Beaver Tale
This St. Valentine’s Day, Jessica and Joseph Cyr celebrate a champagne wedding anniversary of sorts, with 14 years of marriage on the 14th. In that time, just as their family has grown to include five children, so has their extended family of faith.
The ceremonial ‘passing of the beaver pelt’ from one newlywed couple to another is a seemingly silly tradition that the Cyrs started in their Calgary Catholic community shortly after they were married, and never imagined would still be going strong today.
“I thought it would be fun to start a tradition within the Catholic community,” said Joseph Cyr. “I had the beaver hanging on my wall. It was unique to me, no one else had a homemade beaver pelt. I thought, ‘hey we can use that, and it’s something very Canadian, something that represents our heritage.’”
At the time of publication, 48 couples, with more than 100 children combined, have written their names and wedding dates on the back of this storied beaver pelt.
History of the Pelt
Back when Joseph was in high school, he earned his trapping license and trapped a beaver in a creek near his hometown of Pincher Creek, Alberta. He proceeded to prepare the beaver’s pelt for mounting onto plywood. While he had hoped to continue pursuing this hobby, the beaver was the only animal he ever trapped.
Shortly after he and Jessica married, Joseph hung the pelt in the living room of their first home, but as it happened Jessica did not exactly share Joseph’s taste in home decor. Joseph then had the idea to gift the pelt to another young couple; Jessica was very receptive to the notion and thus a tradition was born.
The Cyrs presented it to Jared and Natalie Fehr at their wedding reception with the stipulation that they must display the pelt prominently in their home until the next Catholic couple involved with their young adult community married, at which point the ceremonial bestowing of the beaver pelt would continue.
The beaver’s lodge
Currently, the pelt is in the possession of Brian and Jennifer Toner. Per the directive, it is displayed above their living-room television in Cupertino, California – one hour South of San Francisco.
Adam Pittman presented the pelt on behalf of the Catholic community at their wedding reception in November in Saskatoon.
“For us, receiving the beaver pelt was a huge honour,” said Jennfier Toner.
“It felt like our marriage was being uplifted by the prayers and thoughts of the whole group, whether we knew each couple or not. We also felt excited, because it is a delightfully ridiculous ‘gift and re-gift ' process that we now get to partake in,” Toner added.
A silly or serious tradition?
In his own way, Fr. Cristino Bouvette feels very much part of the beaver pelt tradition. He has celebrated the weddings of at least half of the couples associated with the beaver pelt, and witnessed time and again the passing on of the pelt at wedding receptions.
“It is clearly a silly tradition, but not merely a silly tradition. It is also a sign of married life being one of openness to the wider community. People marry for the sake of expanding the community of believers, expanding the community of the world,” said Fr. Bouvette.
“In receiving this memento, albeit tacky, it’s a sign of belonging to a wider community outside of your married life, which is a very important testament to the mystery of marriage. You give yourself to the other for the sake of the other, and then in that one flesh union that opens up to all others,” Fr. Bouvette added.
“It’s such a great sign to me of our ever-expanding faith community.”
Madonna House: A Song of Love
Take a half hour break and watch Salt & Light Media’s documentary on Madonna House, a community of about 200 lay men, women, and priests who have dedicated themselves to Christ by living out promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Witness their joy and be inspired to find that same joy in Christ where you have been called to serve Christ in your ordinary life.
>> Watch video now
On 8 February 2023, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the following four pastoral letters on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Intended as a framework for local engagement with Indigenous Peoples, the letters are the fruit of many months of listening, encounter, and dialogue with them, including through Listening Circles, the Indigenous Delegation to the Vatican in April 2022, and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Voyage to Canada in July of the same year.
Canadian Catholics who want a more fulsome public discussion of the law regarding medically-assisted death are being called to use their faith to move a legislative mountain. But take heart. The first item on the change agenda involves something as simple–and important–as writing letters to your Member of Parliament and key government ministers, says Dr. Peggy Thomson-Gibson.
The catch? With people’s lives at stake, there’s no time to lose.
A Catholic and Calgary physician, Dr. Thomson-Gibson recently addressed MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) at a special meeting held at St. Peter’s parish. There, the medical doctor encouraged Catholics to learn how “we can defend our faith without raising our voices.” To do that, Catholics need solid information about their faith–and about what’s at stake, especially with proposed changes to MAiD law, says Thomson-Gibson.
The problem with MAID
Approved in 2016, existing MAiD law allows Canadians to choose a medically-assisted death when their death is “reasonably foreseeable.” Health Canada recorded 7,595 MAiD deaths in 2020, up from 1,108 in 2016. For information about why the Church rejects euthanasia or assisted suicide, visit this page.
Looking ahead, the number of MAiD deaths to date are a fraction of what was expected had proposed amendments come into effect this March. The now-delayed changes expanded MAiD’s accessibility while simultaneously decreasing oversight, says Dr. Thomson-Gibson.
Of primary concern was a change that allowed people with mental illness as their sole criterion to choose a medically-assisted death. People with a severe long-term condition or disability could also access MAiD, opening the door for medically-assisted death to be offered instead of treatment. Opponents say this confuses the notion of a “right” to die with a “duty” to choose death over treatment. This is especially troublesome in a public health system where disabled or mentally-unwell individuals could be made to think they are a financial burden on their families or society.
Information released in 2022 shows the proposed changes also cut a mandated reflection period for those whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” under current law. Instead of a 10-day period, the changes required a single day. Another change drops the legal requirement for two witnesses to one and the sole witness could be a paid health professional.
These amendments were scheduled to come into effect in March 2023. They were delayed in late 2022, and again last week. This provides more time for study and input.
That timeline underscores the opportunity for faith-based outreach, like letters to the Prime Minister and individual Members of Parliament, says Thomson-Gibson. She suggests letter writers model respect in their letters and conversations about MAiD. Catholics looking for more guidance about how “to shed light, not heat” on hot-button topics should check out information from Catholic Voices Canada (https://catholicvoices.ca), adds the doctor.
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:
How to set resolutions?
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.
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.
Living the faith in Western Canada
If we could imagine a few cowboys praising the Lord with country music and coming to Mass on horseback with their best hats, faith in Alberta could not be summed up with these clichés. (Although, they are true from time to time!). So who are the believers in Alberta? In the land of cowboys and mountains, God has also pitched his tent. Now let’s zoom in on the reality of believers in a part of Western Canada.
Alberta is a "land of immigration", says Ambroise, who has been living in Calgary for a little over a year. Naturally, the young man, originally from France, was looking for a community to join when he arrived from Montreal. His goal was to find young people and a community that would connect him to his French heritage.
"I haven't been able to find the best of both worlds - people my age with whom to practice my faith or with whom to talk to about religious topics. However, I have felt a bit at home since I think that speaking one's native language allows you to really connect with yourself and your identity."
People "at Mass!"
Ambroise attends the English-speaking young adult community of St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy, as well as the only French-speaking parish in Calgary, Sainte-Famille. These two communities are not necessarily opposed to each other, but both offer their own richness and spiritual nourishment. However, "particularly linking oneself to a parish" remains complex.
"St. Francis Xavier is quite typical of the relatively young English-speaking communities in North America - a kind of return to a certain root in the sense of a search for a connection to the “origins”, also quite intellectualized. It's a certain return to the roots where excess is removed.”
"At Sainte-Famille, it's more family-oriented. Older. There are fewer young people. There is this balance with families and a lot of interculturality and involvement of multicultural people in the life of the parish. It facilitates the integration of newcomers! I think there's a nice welcome.”
"Indeed, in the pews on Sundays, there are the Knights of Columbus, newcomers from the African community, French "expats", families from Quebec, seniors from Alberta’s French-speaking community who have been involved for 30 or 40 years and, in the midst of all these beautiful people, an Iraqi parish priest of more than ten years who belongs to the Chaldean Church. They are really beautiful people at Mass!
What strikes Ambroise most in his experience of faith in the West? "Close-knit communities! For example, Sainte-Famille is a close-knit community mainly because it is a welcoming community for French-speaking Christians. In a desire to integrate, I think that as a newcomer, you have the desire to get involved.”
He also had this impression of a "close" and tightly woven community during his visit to Lac Sainte-Anne, a well-known pilgrimage site where Pope Francis visited last summer.
Parish atmosphere connected to local life
The pastor of Sainte-Famille Parish, Monsignor Noël Farman, recently visited several classes in some French Catholic schools in Calgary to have discussions about the sacraments and faith. Some young people asked him about how one can get baptized. It was such a great opportunity to connect. In fact, it is the children from several classes who will be making the decorations for the major liturgical feasts at Sainte- Famille Parish again this year. This is something that does not occur in Quebec, but which seems to be lived organically in Alberta.
In 2003, the Conseil de l'Education de la Foi Catholique (Council of the Education of the Catholic Faith amongst Francophones) chez les francophones de l'Alberta (CÉFFA) was born out of a need for "faith education among francophones". CÉFFA offers materials in French, resources to accompany the four French-language school boards in Alberta, and, above all, "a network of collaboration, exchange and training for those involved in the dioceses, school boards, schools and parishes". All of this "in a dynamic that complements the family, school and parish plans", as stated on their website.
The Alberta church is also rolling up its sleeves to respond to the call of Pope Francis by going to the peripheries. For example, there are prayer vigils on Tuesday evenings at the L'Arche community in Calgary (and probably elsewhere).
Elizabeth House, an initiative of the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis and the Diocese of Calgary since 1996, is a home for single mothers who are pregnant or have a baby and provides a space for living and rehabilitation.
Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) has a strong presence on Alberta university campuses, and the founding couple is originally from Alberta. In short, for many, faith echoes the spiritual and social needs of Alberta's territories and offers a venue for action and prayer.
Urban Christians, rural Christians
"I come from the area around St. Paul [two hours from Edmonton], where there is a fairly strong Francophone presence," explains Claudie-Anne, married with three children. The surrounding villages were all founded by priests who brought in French Canadians at the beginning of the last century. So the faith has shaped our countryside."
Like many places in Canada, she senses a decline in Catholic religious practice. However, Alberta does not seem to be having a "quiet revolution." "The transmission of the faith has happened without any sudden interruption." As a result, the "vast majority" of people around her believe in God, whether they are Catholics or other Christian denominations.
"I would say that the community’s faith is going to Mass on Sundays. And that's it. We have very few opportunities to share or nurture our faith. We still manage, but sometimes we feel alone as young people holding the dual Francophone-Catholic identity." In addition, she and her husband are involved in various parish services. "The rest of our faith life is spent as a family and as a couple."
Landscapes in the heart
The territory obviously marks the faith experience. The countryside or the city. French or English. The traditions or the modernity. There are so many differences that can separate as well as unite. It's all about the art of drawing from the right places and finding a little time to offer where the heart is called. Nature cannot be absent from this growing journey of faith. In front of these grandiose landscapes of nature, where lakes and mountains touch the sky, where the heart expands in front of so much space and majesty, the soul can only grow by criss-crossing new interior landscapes that are mysteriously revealed. It is almost as if one could see the Good Lord arriving on horseback, far away, leaping over the hills (Cf. 2:8) and into the valleys of green grass where small herds of cows graze quietly here and there, living their most beautiful life.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out to Alberta Mental Health Helpline 24/7 to 1.877.303.2642 or Access 24/7 at 780.424.2424
For the past two years I’ve lost a loved one to suicide inside your month. There – I said it.
It’s been a quiet grief. These have been difficult deaths to process and, not knowing what’s acceptable to say in public, I’ve kept mostly quiet out of respect for those who mourn.
And yet, I am also mourning. My pain is real and it remains. Same too with the unanswered questions which linger, like debris that’s sunk to the bottom of the ocean – still there, but normally out of sight.
Autumn has been unusually warm and charming this year. The golden leaves that glisten skyward in the hot sun. Jupiter hanging out at sundown next to the moon. It’s been hard to reconcile today’s beauty with yesteryear’s yearning for one more chance to show that it’s worth waiting for brighter days. This October, a new chance presented itself.
My heart began to pound when I missed a call from my friend, a single male in his 30s. His profile resembling that of the ones I’ve lost to suicide. In haste, I dropped everything to call him back. Once the initial catch-up chit chat tapered, I expressed my concern and asked: “How are you doing?”
He said he feels fine for several weeks. Then for a week he can barely drag himself out of bed. The depression. The anxiety. This time of year is worse than the dead of winter, at least then he can skate and ski. The warmth and light of summer is exchanged for cooler, darker, shorter days. These destabilizing changes upset familiar routines. Autumn is the toughest time of year for him.
I felt sincere gratitude that he put words to his pain. I was so thankful that he reached out. Because, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known how he was feeling and I wouldn’t have known he needed support. Only God saves, however, I can be a source of support pointing toward the light.
I want him to know what I wanted my cousin and friend to know, and what I want you to know too: You are loved. You are wanted. You are an irreplaceable gift. The world needs you. Your pain is not a burden. It unlocks compassion in this oftentimes cruel world. You are responsible for your wellness, but I want to be present to you. You are not alone. This too will pass. I’ll stand alongside you until it does. I love you. And God loves you more.
October, my eyes used to be unaware of your underbelly. Until the shock. The agony. The confusion. The guilt. The anger. The reflection. The compassion. The remembrance. The magnitude of these feelings that were once foreign but have now become familiar. Lost innocence. No turning back. This is what it means to be human in relationship with other humans. Love has shattered my heart.
Yet, my faith grounds me, especially in times of violence, oppression, suffering, loss and grief. I remain firm in hope – a supernatural hope rooted in mercy and forgiveness.
Knowing the right things to say
Perhaps you have gone through difficult times and received unhelpful but well-meaning comments. Maybe you just heard yourself say something that didn’t come across as well as you thought it would as you tried to console someone.
Watch this video and learn some tips on knowing the right things to say as a personal mini sensitivity training.
Men from the God Squad and several Catholic churches in the Calgary Diocese recently came together to give an old church a facelift in Brocket, Alberta, located on the Piikani Nation between Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek.
The work done at St. Paul’s was more than just some exterior painting and repairs. It was also symbolic.
Deacon Tom O’Toole, who is assigned to St. Paul’s, said the parish is a community of elders and it doesn’t have all the resources within the Nation to handle some of these bigger projects.
“We think it’s an opportunity in the spirit of truth and reconciliation to show the universality of the Church in its beauty and diversity,” said O’Toole, who has been at the parish for about six or seven years. “They did some of the harder work that we were not able to accomplish on our own but we gave them something too.
“We paid them with our affection. We fed them. They brought their own food. But we participated in that. And our elders were here. It wasn’t just a simple act of splashing paint on a building. It rolled up into a bigger purpose which is to bring all God’s people together and show the beauty. These people who came from St. Peter’s, I’ve known them for a long time. So I’m not surprised how fantastic they are and a few of them have come to help before so they’re not a stranger here either. That to me is how relationship is built and how truth and reconciliation makes its way around the bases so to speak.”
During his ministry as a Deacon, O’Toole has also been assigned in the past to St. Peter’s.
Sean Lynn, who spearheads the God Squad organization, said about a dozen volunteers came out in late August to do some work on the aging St. Paul’s building.
“It was a great opportunity for us to put into action a love for the Church and reach out to the First Nations’ community showing that we want to work with them, we want to start those conversations, we want to be present in their community. And the Church, it’s a way of reopening the dialogue with them,” explained Lynn.
Lynn also wanted to give a big shout out to Dan Lebsack of Cougar Painting, who joined the work crew for the St. Paul’s initiative, offering his professional experience, advice and expertise as well as his painting skills.
“They did great work. A great service that we all appreciate. I announced it in the church,” said Rev. Roy Jayamaha, of St. Paul’s. “We really appreciated their great efforts. It was a wonderful thing. They put their heart and soul and work for our community. It was a great thing.
“We believe that the door to salvation is always open and so are the doors to our church. Our mission is to be fully devoted to Jesus by opening our arms to those in search of the truth. We show God’s love and concern for our fellow humanity at every opportunity. Through works of charity and opening our doors to listen and love, we feel that we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
The God Squad, a Catholic men’s organization, whose vision through the guidance of St. Joseph, is to form and strengthen men, inspiring them to embrace God’s vocation in their lives.
Other volunteers included people from St. Peter’s, Holy Spirit and St. James churches in Calgary as well as St. Mary’s in Brooks.
Father Roy was originally from Sri Lanka and arrived in the Calgary Diocese in 2014 after having worked as a missionary in Pakistan for 38 years. Bishop Frederick Henry appointed him pastor of St. Paul’s in January 2016.
“My prayer for this community is that together we will rediscover the joy of the Gospel, bringing many people back to church by our personal witness. The youth and children are our future and together we must strive to find new ways and means to share God’s love for creation. My faith tells me, it is the work of the Lord we are doing and He will guide our steps forward,” said Father Roy.
Feeling socially anxious? This video may help.
Learn about the spotlight effect and see if this applies to you and your thoughts. If it does, calm down, walk into the room, and be yourself.
Understanding circular economy
Our lifestyle and choices affect other people and the environment. We do not live in isolation even when we think that we are making private, personal, and individual acts or decisions that do not involve others. Our action and inaction have consequences on others and the world around us.
As consumers in today’s world, it can be overwhelming to make purchasing decisions that have less of a negative impact on others and the environment, as it is not as simple as it seems. For example, not all recyclables are the same. Not everything labeled as “made from recyclable materials” is actually 100% made from recyclable materials as these materials degrade in quality over time. And just because it’s recyclable doesn’t mean it’s actually being recycled especially when these products do not make their way to the recycling facilities. Recycling materials also require so much energy to process that reusing might be a better alternative to recycling. Our heads spin… we can easily burn out and give up.
In order to make good and responsible choices that support our lifestyle, it is beneficial to understand the concept of circular economy. Watch this six-minute video and learn to see beyond the products as you understand their life cycle and their impact on people and the environment.
Lessons from my Gong Gong
One of the most interesting things I learned from my Gong Gong, which is Chinese for “grandpa”, was that he grew up as the tenth child in his family. That came as a profound struggle for him since his family wasn’t well-off, and as the tenth child he usually perceived or felt the lack of parental comfort that his older siblings would get more regularly. He told me this story because I, on the other hand, have grown up as an only child. This difference in growing up is how a lot of my conversations with him have centered around life advice founded in the principles of gratitude, perseverance, and honesty. I am only able to see him in person every summer for about a week or so, and I take his lessons to heart, especially now that I have been unable to go visit him in precaution of his health.
Gratitude was the first and often returned to principle that my conversations with my grandpa would go. Primarily since I was an only child, I had no siblings to worry or quarrel with regarding attention or care from my parents, which is why my grandpa instilled into me how wholly grateful I should be when I’m looked after regarding all matters of my life: food and water, shelter, education, and most importantly, a parental devotion to forming my initial relationship with God. Since my grandpa told me tales of feeling neglect, I understand that he instilled this value into me because he wanted to emphasize how extremely blessed I am and should never take it for granted.
There still are, unfortunately, times when I do take blessings for granted. However, this is where the principle of perseverance becomes critically important. I have to admit and take responsibility for arguments and mistakes I make, which is embodied by the occasions where I would argue with my grandpa since I couldn’t quite understand what he was talking about. The key takeaway from these admittedly unpleasant interactions is that after I apologize and more closely listen to him, I do not beat myself up over the argument or misunderstanding. This also goes for when I am trying to convey something to him; something that I perhaps have great difficulty explaining to him in a way he can understand, and the perseverance he helped instill in me allows me to find that way. I still cannot imagine how much he had to persevere as the tenth child in order to make his views or opinion known to his parents. This perseverance can then be carried over to many other pursuits in my life such as education and career.
As I’ve discussed with my grandpa, these two principles of gratitude and perseverance become tightly interwoven with the principle of honesty. Gratitude for blessings must be genuine, it cannot be flippant or sarcastic as that is not only disingenuous, but also a new source for arguments or making ungratefulness even more apparent. When it comes to perseverance, my grandpa helped me to draw a line between the two unhelpful extremes: giving up or setting boundaries too early, or not setting proper boundaries for myself. Honesty is required to temper both extremes and find a proper balance. For example, a particular lesson my grandpa gave me over one summer vacation was regarding the emotional drama that I found myself wrapped up in during my high school years. He told me that it was good that I wanted to do my best to help my friends through the drama, but that it should not come at a cost to my own emotional well-being. I realized after that particular conversation that I had to give up and properly step away from the emotional turmoil I had gotten entangled in during high school; and that ended up preserving my emotional health so that I could graduate from high school.
I haven’t been able to visit my grandpa in a long time, and even though we do video calls and occasionally send emails, nothing is comparable to being able to physically talk with him face to face. In honour of 2022’s World Day for Grandparents & the Elderly, I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude to my grandpa for all the lessons and advice he has given me so far in life. I pray to be able to visit him again soon and catch up on all the time we’ve missed.
No longer strangers
Why would 10 Syrian refugees want to visit Writing-on-Stone of all places? Well, if they are accompanied by dedicated volunteers who want to spend a day making new friends and meeting snakes head-on, then wishes fulfilled!
On June 11, 2022, several Syrian refugees, part of three families who have been settling into life in Lethbridge, Alberta, went on an outing to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. These families had not been outside of Lethbridge since their arrival to Canada. Some have been here a few years, and the latest just arrived on April 14 of this year. They relished the chance to see this Unesco World Heritage Site.
The entire day was very capably organized by Trudy Niggli and the CWL of Allerston Parish, a mission church of St. Peter’s Parish in Milk River. The day started with a Mass at St. Isidore Catholic Church in Allerston. It was a poignant start to a day that was heaped to the top with blessings and graces. The Mass was arranged specifically for the visiting Syrian families, so Fr. Salvador Ahumada’s sermon reflected on the experiences these families have gone through. He spoke of their forced relocation; seeing the weakness of man; leaving behind loved ones and belongings; grappling with learning a new language and culture. He exhorted them to hear the Lord calling them, to keep praying and to hope in Him. “You needed to be strong, and came here out of need, not want.”
He challenged them to be the ones who can make the change, to see God’s hand at work, and to lean on Him for strength. He also prayed that our society may once again be Christian, and to pray for the ones left behind. Fr. Sal reminded them that they had a responsibility to encourage others in the faith. We left the church feeling blessed and inspired.
After the Mass, we continued into the Writing-on-Stone Park, where George Kardoh played on his Karbouka (Egyptian hand drum) , accompanying the singing of Syrian folk songs. Everyone enjoyed the true Canadian experience of roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the campfire, and dodging the smoke. The park guide, after a Blackfoot introduction, gave us a free tour of the petroglyphs, and a snake even said hi on our path!
A perfectly timed thunder burst after the campfire led into an impromptu and hilarious polka dance as we waited out the storm in the picnic shelter. It was truly a memorable day with new friends, and thought-filled conversations about the refugee situation.
This day came from an initiative of Fr. Kevin Tumback, pastor of All Saints Parish. He suggested pooling three parishes together to support the refugees. So St. Martha’s Parish, All Saints in Lethbridge, and Allerston Mission Parish near Milk River joined forces and the results have been heartwarming. All Saints Parish had already hosted two Syrian families, so their expertise was very helpful with settling the following two families.
Brian Wright, a long-time member of All Saints Refugee Committee says, "Our Syrian families do cause us to pause and reflect on how fortunate we are to be living in Canada. It is also wonderful to be welcomed to their family just as we have welcomed them. We are the surrogate family for them in Canada, and it is a lifetime journey of sharing, learning from each other, and supporting them in their everyday life in Canada. For us, it has been an expansion of our family."
Another long-time member, Maureen Barnard, reflected that we are the family for these refugees. "We are their security as we help them navigate a new culture, a new language and a new life. We are their friends when they feel alone. We are their advocate when they need help to find a job , or get to school or go to a doctor. We are their voice when they do not yet have a voice here in Canada. It is a journey worth walking with our refugees. We feel the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ walking right beside us, every step of the way. We have witnessed so many miracles as people come forward and give from their hearts, often providing just what was needed at the time."
Lana Takla, who arrived in Canada 6 years ago, talks about coming from a village where their whole life revolves around the two hundred and fifty or so residents plus the priest and their church. They are deeply dependent on our Lord for their daily lives and they miss that community when they come to Canada. They are in constant fellowship in Syria so they miss the other family members they have left behind.
Mazyed Takla, who came to Canada with his family in October, 2021, felt that he misses the food, the weather, their music, their friends and their homes.
George Kardoh, the most recent arrival (April of 2022), expresses that he feels welcomed and loved here in Canada but awaits anxiously the rest of his family. He feels very alone at times.
They all love the fact that they can trust a bank, the government, and they know that no one here will try to do them harm. They trust us but there are still many challenges - learning a new language, cultural and food differences, financial burdens, and the longing to be reunited with family left behind. The Refugee Committee embraces the work we do as servants of the Lord. We are His body on earth, and we are richly rewarded in this work.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
How’s your neighbourhood? Do you know your neighbours? A good relationship with our neighbours helps us to feel at home especially in the summer when we spend more time in our yards.
Watch: How to be a better neighbour
If you realize that you do not know your neighbours at all and have not had the courage to get to know them, this video offers some helpful tips on how to break the ice and begin the art of good “neighbouring”.
Having a great neighbour is a blessing. Don’t plan to only introduce yourself when there are problems to be solved or complaints to be addressed. Be proactive and get to know them while all is well.
“…better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away.”
A good neighbour can be like family.
Contribute to growing a great neighbourhood.
I’m sitting at a workshop, flipping through the workbook and only half listening to the presenter. Then I hear her say, “Jesus is standing at the front of this room, he’s pointing to you. He’s saying, ‘I choose you!’” I look up shocked. The presenter is relating a vision her husband (in another province) had the night before. It sounds like merely an anecdote except that I was wondering at that moment if any of the challenging material we were covering was even applicable to a conscripted Eucharistic Minister like me. According to the presenter, it was not by chance or curiosity that I was here. I was called by Jesus himself. I sit up straighter and listen more attentively.
This June, as we contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it’s fitting to also contemplate how we might be called to love more like Jesus does. In his writing about devotion to the Sacred Heart, Bishop Donald J. Hying says, “If love means willing the good of the other, completely free of self-interest, we see the perfection of such charity in the burning heart of Christ. Lest we think such a love is naïve, simplistic or easy, the Sacred Heart shines forth, crowned with thorns, pierced and bleeding.”
These twin aspects of Jesus’s love for us – personal and sacrificial – are mirrored in Pastoral Care ministry. Pastoral journeying involves face-to-face, focused attention on another person. This type of love goes much deeper than good deeds. It touches people’s broken hearts and has the potential to break open our hearts in the process. That’s why pastoral care ministry requires plenty of prayer and proper training.
Recently, the Calgary diocese held a pastoral care training session facilitated by Virginia Battiste (MTS). The workshop spanned four days, over two weekends, and included topics like Pastoral Care Listening, Caring for the Aging, Grief and Loss, End of Life Care and Self Care for the Caregiver. Pastoral care is defined as offering consolation and support to a person experiencing loss or stress. This could include bereavement ministry, hospital visiting and palliative accompaniment, among others things.
I attended the session via Zoom at St. Martha Church in Lethbridge. There were about a dozen attendees from all over southern Alberta so we were able to have small-group discussions in addition to listening to the presenter from Calgary. As an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who takes Communion to a long term care facility, I wasn’t sure if the workshop would be applicable to me. Indeed, the first module contrasted “parish care” (which includes taking the Eucharist to shut-ins) with “pastoral care”.
Parish care is practical and often social. It might involve sharing cards, meals, rides or phone calls. It focuses on doing. Pastoral care focuses on being. It involves one-to-one listening with people who are ill, hospitalized, dying, recently bereaved or generally feeling lost and isolated. It’s all about the other person, never oneself. So though Eucharistic ministry is primarily pragmatic, it sometimes involves individuals who are sick or sad. To that extent, Eucharistic ministry can become pastoral, so Virginia Battiste’s presentation helped me to prepare for that possibility.
What does it mean to provide pastoral care?
It is about offering consolation and support in whatever form is appropriate to the other person at their time of need. It means being present, listening, trying to understand and empathize, without preaching or counselling. It is a ministry of accompaniment.
How much time does pastoral care take?
Ideally, pastoral care is offered in the context of a relationship, and relationships develop over time. However, listening happens in moments – small opportunities to receive the words which someone needs or wants to share. Often, it’s not about taking more time but about making the most of the time we have.
What are the characteristics of a pastoral caregiver?
This ministry requires patience, compassion, empathy, kindness and understanding. It asks one to be attentive to the cues and needs of the other person, to be flexible, dependable and non-judgmental. Pastoral listeners should be secure in their own identities and aware of both their strengths and their limitations.
If you feel called to pastoral listening, please consider offering your God-given talents through your parish. The need is greater than ever post-Covid. While many of us now have opportunities to share our feelings with a friend face-to-face, the same isn’t true for everyone. Some people don’t wish to ‘burden’ their friends and families with their feelings. Others still feel isolated post-pandemic and haven’t been able to return to in-person or social activities. Now more than ever pastoral outreach is needed to connect with those who feel anxious and marginalized.
Even if we don’t feel able to take on Pastoral Care ministry in all its richness, we might still employ pastoral listening in our daily lives. All around us people who are struggling and simply need to be heard; perhaps that coworker who appears forlorn or that neighbour who lost their beloved pet a month ago or even a downcast family member. We can ask, “How are you doing?” or “Would you like to talk?” and take some uninterrupted time to listen without the need to offer solutions or even affirmations. We can be a reflection of God’s sacrificial love in someone else’s life, a teeny, tiny replica of Jesus’s own Sacred Heart.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers