When the new Central Library opened in downtown Calgary late last year, the building joined a growing list of architecturally-innovative structures that are attracting global attention to Calgary’s business district. In the midst of all that worldly attention beats the heart of a small Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi. Dwarfed by its high-rise neighbours, this little church on 6 Avenue SE boasts its own architectural accolades. More importantly, it nurtures the souls of the community it serves, says parish priest Fr. Joseph Canh Vu.
Established in 1931, St. Francis opened as a “chapel of ease.” Located within the parish served by St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Francis was ideally placed to serve a small residential community that included many new immigrants on the then-northern border of downtown Calgary. The current building opened in 1957. Its unusual A-frame design contributes to the sense of intimacy church goers feel upon entering the sacred space. In its early years, the building earned its architects, J. Stevenson & Associate, an honours award at an agricultural exhibition held for Western Canada.
Entrusted to the Dominican Fathers since 1988, St. Francis of Assisi Church attracts people from all over the city, says Fr. Vu. Assigned to St. Francis in February 2019, Fr. Vu says many parishioners live in the downtown core. Others discover the church while working in the area and opt to make St. Francis their home parish. Weekend masses are also popular with tourists, conference attendees and downtown workers.
Since there is no street parking on weekdays, the mass attendees at St. Francis arrive on foot or via transit. Although street parking is permitted on Sunday, many churchgoers commute; some are dropped at the church and others walk from their nearby homes or workplaces.
To accommodate the business crowd, daily masses from Tuesday to Friday begin at 12:05 pm. and end at about 12:50 pm. “It’s marvelous when I see downtown office workers who spend their lunch time to attend mass, it’s wonderful.”
Marcia Canton, a nurse from Freeport, New York, attended several of the noon-hour masses in late July. In Calgary to attend an international nursing conference, Canton says the opportunity to attend a daily mass was a welcome addition to her day.
Fr. Vu says he often meets mass goers who are in the city on business. Others are tourists and they tell him they appreciate the chance to worship at St. Francis.
The popularity of the sacrament of reconciliation is another indication of the parish’s importance, says Fr. Vu. He offers the sacrament 20 minutes before and after mass and it’s always busy. While a typical noon-hour mass is likely to attract between 75 and 100 people, Vu notices that attendance rises on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent.
The priest is also grateful that his parish is blessed with active altar servers and has separate choirs for Saturday’s vigil mass and all three regular Sunday services. To increase the church’s role in the lives of its parishioners, he recently encouraged three parishioners to take a pastoral care course. Fr. Vu worked in a hospital environment in Ottawa for many years before moving to Calgary. He knows that sick parishioners and people who find it difficult to get to mass appreciate being able to receive the Eucharist.
The parish is also a spiritual refuge for the city’s indigent population, some homeless, who live in the downtown core. “It’s very good for the poor people to have this small church,” says Fr. Vu, who routinely greets mass goers as they come and go from his humble church. On various occasions, including Christmas, St. Francis offers grocery store gift cards to the needy.
Parishioner Luz Honorio reflected on the church’s importance in a letter to Fr. Vu. The letter calls the parish an accessible and authentic witness to Christ. Honorio also appreciates how the parish “upholds the values of humility and sincerity in welcoming all including the homeless and passersby who come to pray and to express their belief and gratitude to our Almighty God.”
One of Calgary’s most desirable residential neighbourhoods is also home to one of this city’s oldest ethnic churches, a spiritual and cultural jewel of a parish known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Chinese Catholic Church.
Nestled alongside Edmonton Trail on the western edge of Bridgeland, OLPH opened 65 years ago. Today, the parish ministers to a community of about 500 parishioners, most of them Chinese. OLPH holds daily services in English. Saturday’s 5 p.m. mass is said in Mandarin, with Sunday’s three masses in English, English/Cantonese and Cantonese.
Parish priest Fr. Joseph Nguyen says OLPH offers Chinese Catholics a worship space that helps “create a sense of belonging in Canada. [Here] the immigrant children can grow up in a tight knit community and grow up in a new country supporting and loving each other.”
The chance to worship in Chinese is often critical to nourish their faith. “They can understand the meaning of prayer better in their own language,” says Fr. Nguyen. “I would say there are two main reasons people come to our parish, language and culture,” says secretary Pak Tong. “Some of our parishioners prefer to attend a mass in their own language,” says Tong.
Others like the way OLPH incorporates Chinese cultural traditions. Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling along the church aisle. On Chinese New Year, the church pillars are swathed in red and the priest and deacons hand out red envelopes associated with the special day.
Anne Lam, the editor of the parish’s bimonthly magazine, Echo, has attended several Catholic churches since moving to Calgary about 30 years ago. But her heart holds a special place for OLPH. “Other churches are closer to where I live, but this parish feels like home,” says Lam. She and her husband Edward, now a deacon at OLPH, raised their daughter in this parish. “Our daughter has friends all over the city, but the friends she made here are special. They share a life time of memories from this parish.”
Since moving to OLPH in 2008, Fr. Nguyen’s led projects to beautify the front and side gardens, including the construction of an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary. “While church provides a sanctuary of hope and peace inside, the beautiful landscape garden outside our church offers a more welcoming and inviting atmosphere for parishioners, visitors and surrounding neighbours,” says Fr. Nguyen. “The garden allows people to mediate through nature and can bring them into a prayerful state before entering the church to see Jesus. The garden also helps de-stress and calm down the soul before parishioners enter the house of God.”
The church’s grotto is visible from the church parking lot. Passersby sometimes pray near the grotto fence.
The entrance to OLPH also includes a number of large aquariums, some donated by parishioners and others bought by Fr. Nguyen. “Children just love the fish,” says Lam.
A beautiful meditation area located near the side entrance is another OLPH jewel. It is separated from the nave by a faux stained-glass mural that complements classically-styled stained-glass windows added when the church was built. “People like to stop here to pray,” says Lam.
OLPH’s active ministries include programs for children, young adults and seniors. For most of the year, seniors meet at the parish hall two mornings a week. They visit and play games, then break for a potluck lunch or venture out for dim sum.
“Our parishioners come from all four quadrants of Calgary,” says Arthur Ho, who chairs the parish council. “The Chinese Catholic community previously at St. Paul and now at OLPH has always been my parish. This church is an important place for Calgary’s Chinese Catholics.”
It’s a special place for others, too, says retired caretaker Patrick Owens. Owens, who belongs to St. Mary’s parish downtown, rides his bike to OLPH almost every day. On Sunday mornings, he leads the rosary before the 8 am Mass; on week days he tends the gardens or sweeps the parking lot after summer storms. “I just love the Chinese people here. This is a special place and they’ve always made me feel so welcome, so respected.”
It may be unusual for a Catholic parish to host its own radio show, but that’s exactly what Mary, Mother of Our Redeemer has done for the past 22 years.
The one-hour Spanish radio program “Es Tiempo De Vivir” (A Time To Live) airs every Friday from 6-7 pm on 94.7 FM. Mary Mother Our Redeemer Pastor Fr. Shibu Kallarakkal and a team of about five parish volunteers air programming aimed at evangelization through testimonies, Bible study and catechesis.
“The aim is to reach out to the people with the message of Jesus Christ and His love and mercy,” said Kallarakkal. The multilingual priest, of The Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, has served the Spanish/Italian community of Mary, Mother Our Redeemer since 2013.
The former pastor, Fr. Salvador Ahumada, founded the radio station in 1997 with about a dozen parishioners, many who had formerly worked in radio in South America before coming to Canada — some fleeing conflict in their home country.
Ingrid Trewin is both the radio show promoter and parish secretary. She’s been a parishioner at the parish since she was 11 years old, after she moved to Calgary from Nicaragua with her family in 1992. She recalls how the radio show drew her family to Mass.
“When we first moved to Canada we didn’t know there was a Spanish community, we didn’t speak the language, we didn’t know the city. Then, we found out there was a Spanish radio show once a week. The radio program team did everything to get us to church,” said Trewin.
“I would encourage everybody to listen, especially newcomers, people looking for a place to belong or people feeling like they are lost coming to a new country,” she said.
The radio show serves the Spanish-speaking parishioners of Mary Mother of the Redeemer, but it also attracts international listeners from the United States of America, Mexico and throughout Central and South America.
A few years ago, Fr. Kallarakkal started to question the viability of financing the weekly program and committing the volunteers to maintain the ongoing programming until a female listener from Colombia called to thank him for saving her life. She was about to commit suicide when she turned on the radio and heard Fr. Kallarakkal’s voice. She called him, and after speaking together for an hour, she changed her mind.
“She told me: Father for one reason or another I was turning to music before committing suicide and I heard the Word of God from you; probably this is a sign from God. I’m not going to do whatever I was planning to do.”
Fr. Kallarakkal is convinced that the effort it takes to maintain this parish-run show hosted at Fairchild Radio, a multicultural station in the northeast, is worth the time, energy and tithe.
Trewin also agrees: “It’s very helpful to have that little bit of God injected into you on a weekly basis. If you are not able to come to church due to illness, it’s a good way to get connected to God through prayer and song and the sharing that people do.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
She got a headache on the bus ride home from school. Her feet ache from shoes that fit this morning but now strain against swelling flesh. She feels the baby shift inside her pregnant body, and she is both exhilarated and exhausted. Sitting to unlace her sneakers, she starts to cry. Catherine Aghaegbuna heard the girl come in and sees her sitting at the bottom of the split-entry home, her shoulders quivering. Aghaegbuna takes a deep breath and welcomes the expectant mom home. Aghaegbuna is not her mother. But on this day, and at this moment, she is all the young woman has.
Trained in addictions counselling and community service work, Aghaegbuna works at Elizabeth House (EH). Started in 1996 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis, the house provides a safe and supportive home to pregnant and parenting young women who need a safe place to live. To date, more than 200 young women have benefited from EH, one of two charities operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. (The other is Feed the Hungry).
Christians engaged in this kind of work often talk about the need to see Jesus in the eyes of the marginalized. An immigrant and a woman of colour, Aghaegbuna sees more. “I choose to work here out of my love for the youth and children,” says the woman whose typical shifts run from 5 pm to 7 am. When the mother of five looks into the eyes of the people she serves, she sees the eyes of her own children. She’s reluctant to say her parenting experience gives her an edge, but the parishioner at Corpus Christi admits that parenting her children, ages 27, 19, 18, 13 and nine, helps her through the rough spots at work. “When the women tell me, ‘I am not your daughter,’ I tell them plainly, ‘I have no reason to deceive you. I have children like you. I am a mother.’”
Moms helping moms
Since 2016, members of the St. Gianna’s Moms Group at St. Luke’s parish have made women and babies at EH house special beneficiaries of an annual Christmas campaign. Named after an Italian pediatrician who sacrificed her life for her unborn child, the moms’ group buys Christmas presents that include self-care items, make up and gift cards for the young moms. “We think about what we can do to make their day special, and some of the gifts include special notes of encouragement,” says group co-leader Michelle Widmeyer, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s.
Herself the mother of four, Widmeyer says members of St. Gianna’s feel blessed to contribute to the important work done at EH, where young women get help completing high school and preparing or starting post-secondary education or training. Life at EH also helps the women hone life skills that range from conflict management to cooking, laundry and housekeeping—all while carrying or caring for their new babies. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a young and single mother with very little support,” says Widmeyer.
That grassroots support for EH’s work is greatly appreciated, says Michelle Haywood, EH program coordinator. “We survive off private donations and are not funded by the government in any way,” explains Haywood, who often finds herself coordinating donations that range from money to supplies.
St. Michael’s parish, for example, recently donated a van load of baby and new mom supplies, as well as $4,000 in cash. “They provided everything from nursing bras to baby wipes. It was really something,” notes Haywood.
She also appreciates what members of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus do to support EH. A group of Knights from St. Peter’s recently took a lead role in a major landscaping project. Individual Catholics also step up with support, including a woman from the St. Paul Centre of the Catholic school district who organized a donation drive amongst her colleagues, says Haywood.
Given how complicated the work at EH can be, program support translates into emotional support. “We serve vulnerable and at-risk women, and this can be very difficult work. When people care about what we’re doing, it’s like an emotional boost to our residents and staff,” says Haywood, whose professional work is tempered by life experience. The mom of three, including one born during her 12 years with EH, Haywood is a university graduate whose first baby was born when Haywood was still a teen.
To learn more about Elizabeth House, or to find out how you or your organization can support the program, visit www.elizabethhousecalgary.ca or email Michelle Haywood at email@example.com.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
For parents like Brenda-Lee Kearney, the mass is delightfully chaotic, yet peaceful. She and her husband Mike have an 11-year-old son with FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They love Jacob and they love their church. But bringing Jacob to mass is difficult and after Kearney approached her parish priest with an idea, the Special Needs Mass began.
The once-monthly, then bi-weekly masses became a regular 5 pm Sunday mass after pastor Fr. Jerome Lavigne moved to St. Pat’s in 2018. And the Kearneys are grateful. With a mission to create a loving, supportive and compassionate community that renews and restores faith and hope to families and children with special needs, the mass shows “God is really at work here in our parish,” says Brenda-Lee Kearney. Parents with special needs children often stay after mass for welcome fellowship. While most participants are from the parish, others attend as word of the mass spreads. “I believe most of us are parenting our kids in a community that doesn’t understand our reality. We are understanding of each other because we are living it.”
That message resonates with Fr. Matthew Schneider. “There is a natural sense of community when we come together to worship. Where possible, it’s nice to be able to add elements that make worship more meaningful to certain groups of people,” says Schneider, who said the Special Needs Mass at St. Pat’s on June 22.
A former Calgarian now living in Washington, D.C. where he’s working on a Doctorate in Theology, Schneider says one Catholic church in Washington hosts a regular mass that features an interpreter for the deaf. Other masses are conducted in languages other than English. He likes what St. Pat’s has consciously done to accommodate a group of believers often marginalized in the greater society.
In addition to the dimmer lights, the 5 pm Sunday mass features visual “cue cards” that tell parishioners went to sit, kneel or stand. The pictures show the appropriate action along with a simple message such as, “Please kneel for the communion rite.”
“Typically, we have the same songs at these services. It’s all part of dialing back on the sensory experience. Many of these children benefit from a very calm environment,” explains Kearney.
Which man of faith in the Calgary Diocese inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Michael Chiasson shared his father figure:
This question immediately made me think of my dad, his role and place in my life….However, because my dad recently passed away, I also look at those father figures around. Fr. Cristino Bouvette inspires me. One thing that I’m super thankful for is his heart of prayer, his heart of obedience and his heart of openness. Those three things challenge me as a father because I see him as a young priest that is super faithful, willing to risk for the vocation he’s been entrusted, and it immediately makes me look in the mirror and ask: Am I a man of prayer? Am I obedient to who I’m being called to love? Am I dying to myself? I see that in him so much, and it’s beautifully attractive but scary because — would I be willing to do that? The final part is openness. Something that might not even be his style, (music for example) he sees the heart and how God would use that even though it might not be his specific way.
Which man of faith in the Diocese of Calgary inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Here is what Mike McKinnon shared:
Written by Sara Francis
Which man of faith in the Calgary Diocese inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Joe Woodard shared:
Norman Henry Marshall, my Papa [grandfather], was a beacon of joy and love for our family. His laughter was deep and contagious. Papa was assured, kind and intentional. His steadfast love created a retreat for me in my teenager years away from trauma and distress. Papa always saw through the situations we were in or the bumps in the road to the beautiful uniqueness of each person. The love that beamed from his bright blue eyes called me out of fear countless times in my life.
It is no surprise that he became the rock to my grandma, his five kids, their spouses, his thirteen grandchildren and his six great grandchildren.
My Papa was strong and resilient, in his incredible 85 years he overcame hardship, felt loss, and knew pain. He threaded through each difficulty with valor and kindness. My papa never spoke the language of defeat. Sitting in the living room in the old farmhouse, I remember watching him love my Grandmother. He could turn her tears into laughter by taking her in his arms and singing and dancing. He loved all of us that way.
My Papa knew how to call us to bravery. He celebrated each one of my children’s births and mourned with me each of my miscarriages. It is hard for me to imagine welcoming my fourth baby in December without him.
So, I keep trying. Although sweeping the floor with a two and four-year-old is something akin to shoveling while there is an extreme snowfall warning in effect, I do believe it shows the depth of our love. And even though every corner of the house, don’t be fooled, every corner is filled with dust, but as the main area is clean, this should reflect my love.
The big moment came when I asked myself - What did he give me this year?
Lorenzo, you constantly give me lessons in humility. You challenge my every thought about myself as a patient, extra loving, non-yelling person. You make me laugh at how much you already understand humour and silliness and intonation. You melt my heart when you ask me to “cudo” you each night in your big-boy bed. I am awed by your ability to express yourself to anyone, and everyone who’ll listen and I look up to your courage and heart-on-sleeve passion.
So, I’d say this year when it comes to your birthday gifts, you gave me many more gifts than I could’ve ever purchased for you.
I can’t wait to see your pushed-out, soother-toothed smile, hear your lisp and feel your pudgy fingers around my neck tomorrow morning. I can't wait to brush your screamed-out tears off of your dry cheeks and help you “boow nose peas” when it drips. I pray I will find the grace that I’m certain God is providing me, to be extra patient with your loud voice and big emotions and help your brother and Papa, to do the same.
You are my love baby, my Valentine’s Day reminder to have extra love in my heart and I can’t wait to sweep the floor out of love for you again tomorrow.
Papá (Sebastian), Elias and I love you so much we could just “ea chew”. We love every moment of you. And I love that my call in life is to live the little things for you with great love, sanctity and joy. Thank you for challenging me always and keeping me in check with my pride. I love being your Mama.
Written by Cyra Roman, parishioner of St. Peter's Parish in Calgary
Written by Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice & Outreach Ministries
One of the humbling privileges of serving as the vocation director of our diocese is coming into contact with young men who sincerely desire to give their lives to our Lord and the service of His Church. I would like to briefly share with you the impact one such of those young men has had upon me in the last year and a half.
You may recognize the young man in the photograph as the one who presented the oil to be blessed as Oil of the Sick only two weeks ago at the Mass of Chrism. He and I first came into contact over Skype while he was still serving on a NET Ireland team. He had been diagnosed with cancer there which threw a wrench in his plan to return home at the end of his missionary year with the hope to enter the seminary for our diocese. His doctors were confident that he would recover there and return home well.
That never turned out to be the case, and although he did make it back to Canada, he went through a roller coaster ride of sickness and health. His longing for the priesthood never wavered but at the beginning of April, when his doctors prognosticated that he would have only three months to a year left to live, he resigned himself to the fact he would never be ordained. Nevertheless, I asked him to consider himself my "assistant vocation director", wherein he would unite his sufferings to the Cross of our Lord for the intention of many and holy vocations to the priesthood for our diocese. He was unwaveringly committed to this spiritual work. Being present at our Chrism Mass was an opportunity for him to feel a share in our presbyterate.
Much sooner than expected, our assistant vocation director, Ted Andrew, peacefully passed from this life in the early hours of an Easter Octave morning, April 25, with his loving parents by his side.
He will be laid to rest in his hometown of Youngstown following the funeral Mass at Sacred Heart in Oyen on Tuesday, April 30. Please join me in offering your prayers and Masses for this spiritual brother of ours, that His Father will look upon him with mercy, and in His goodness, favourably hear his prayers for the growth of our presbyterate.
Presentation of the Oil of the Sick at the Chrism Mass (April 15, 2019).
Written by Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations
We would love to thank St. Michael's Knights of Columbus and CWL who joined their efforts to host a successful fundraiser "Undie Sunday" for Elizabeth House and the Drop-In Centre!
This event was a successful awareness and community builder, brought in funds through the Birdies for Kids campaign and much needed supplies for the women of Elizabeth House. We look forward for another Undie Sunday next year, on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Here is a lovely photo of the warm hand-off of the donation:
The Social Justice & Outreach Department is pleased to announce three important pro-life events taking place in May:
For Flory D’Souza the Outdoor Way of the Cross is a family affair.
Her father Antonio Carvalho carried the cross in the procession a few months before he died. At 91, with a cane in one hand, the cross on his opposing shoulder, he carried the cross right to the very end of his life.
“I took a picture of him carrying the last station of the Cross and I got it printed while he was in the hospital. Everyone could not believe that was my Dad,” said Flory, picturing the scene four years ago.
“For him it was just because he was a man of faith and I think a little way of saying: Jesus I’m helping you carry your cross and carrying my own cross with His. It gave him fulfilment in being part of the Good Friday event,” said Flory.
For 20 years Flory’s parents Antonio and Annie made the Good Friday pilgrimage through the city. Now at 83, Annie is unable to participate anymore, but Flory fondly remembers how important this pilgrimage was for her parent’s spiritual lives — a spiritual practice she plans to carry on.
“When my dad was interviewed by a reporter he was asked: ‘You are such a small man and you carry such a heavy Cross?’ His answer was: ‘My Jesus helps me.’ I thought what a sweet answer,” said Flory.
“When I’ve carried the cross I’ve found it heavy, but I think it’s the weight of our sins that makes it heavier,” she said.
“It has helped us know that we all have a cross to carry, but Jesus helps us to carry that cross. And He never gives us a cross too heavy to carry. It helps our faith, to go on and trust in God and be thankful that Jesus did what He did for us to be free.”
Flory has carried the Cross a number of times and has consistently attended the pilgrimage for the last decade. Since she has never been to the Holy Land she sees this as her opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
“This just means so much. The stations take you to human suffering. It was Jesus’ suffering in Calvary, but here in every station is some kind of human suffering and you are made aware of it,” she said.
Flory is no stranger to suffering. Two years after her father’s death, her husband John suddenly died at the age of 57.
“My strong Catholic faith, thanks to my parents, has helped me cope with my cross in life and these great losses,” she said.
Flory immigrated on her own to Calgary 30 years ago from Kenya. Of her five siblings, she sponsored her sister in 1992 and three years later her parents. Then eight years ago she sponsored her brother Alex Carvalho. He volunteers with crowd control for the pilgrimage.
From humble beginnings, the Outdoor Way of the Cross has grown to attract between 2,500 and 3,500 pilgrims, some from other faith traditions. And more than 200 volunteers help keep it running smoothly.
Written by Sara Francis
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
Most Reverend W. T. McGrattan, D.D., Bishop of Calgary
So why is that joy lacking in so many Catholics and Christians these days?
“I think there’s a couple of reasons. One is the climate that we’re in. Many faithful Catholics feel sort of in a siege mentality. So much of the world has changed around us so quickly. We’re a post Christian culture, so our faith, our mission, our morality is being challenged left, right and centre. So it’s very difficult,” said Bishop McCaig when I spoke with him. “That’s why I spoke of the temptation that we have to overcome to lose our joy and lose our charity in the midst of the struggle. But ultimately joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy is deeper than happiness. Happiness is transitory. I can be happy one minute and unhappy the next minute. I’m driving to work, and my truck breaks down. I’m not very happy. But joy is deeper.
“Joy is something that the circumstances of life can’t take away. Joy is something that flows from the deep knowledge of being known and loved and forgiven and blessed and anointed by God - of living in the grace of God. That comes from the Holy Spirit. That’s something we can’t manufacture. That’s something that we can’t even choose to have. We can choose however to expose ourselves to it by a life of deep prayer. I think you will find that the kind of joy the Lord speaks, which the world cannot take from us, is the product of someone who spends time with the Scriptures in prayer, with the the Lord personally. Spends time before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration, prays the Rosary, goes to Mass whenever they can. Is living deeply and from the heart that relationship with the Lord.”
But it’s ironic that despite the Good News many people still don’t have a joyful disposition.
“Pope Francis said it beautifully early on in his pontificate. We don’t need pickle faced Christians,” explained Bishop McCaig. “That says it all. Why is it that we’re going to the highest act of worship - the summit and sacrifice of life on earth in the Mass - and our visages look like we’re going to a funeral? It’s really a question of the reception of the Good News. Many of us have received the faith at one level - at an intellectual level. We believe it’s true. But I think God wants a lot more than that. He wants us to receive it deeply. He wants us to experience it. He wants us to come into a relationship with Him. And that’s why we have so many programs that are specifically designed to take us beyond the beginning stages into a deeper love of relationship.”
Wise words from a wise man - something I will remind myself of when I too find myself heading down that dour path. As Catholics and Christians, we truly have good reason to be joyful.
Written by Mario Toneguzzi
The biggest attraction at the 2019 God Squad men’s conference was a colourful, powerful motorcycle. This was no ordinary motorcycle on display. It was a custom-built machine by world-famous Orange County Choppers with a Pope John Paul II theme.
The presence of the vehicle was a good fit for a conference, at St. Peter’s Church, whose theme was Be Not Afraid To Be A Saint. When Pope John Paul II stepped onto the balcony facing St. Peter’s Square in 1978 when he became Pope, his first words were ‘be not afraid.”
Father Mariusz Sztuk, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in High River, will be using the motorcycle to evangelize.
“Sean (Lynn of the God Squad) and I ride with Jeff Cavins (a Catholic speaker and author) every year and I remember Jeff was talking to me one year and he said ‘you need to look at this bike’. I told him I don’t need to look at the bike because I had my own bike.
“When he showed me the picture, then I said ‘I need that bike’. So I got this bike through Jeff Cavins. There’s a lot of stuff that is very Catholic on that bike.”
It has a portrait of Pope John Paul II on its tank. It also displays numerous Catholic symbols such as the coat of arms, the eucharist, Mary and a cross.
“It’s a very Catholic bike. So when you ride the bike people always ask ‘who is that guy on the tank?’ That’s the beginning of the conversation about John Paul II and about Catholics. It is more of a kind of witnessing than anything else. I’m planning to take this to the school and talk to the kids about . . . religion, faith all of that . . . You can take pieces of the bike and talk about certain aspects of the Catholic faith,” said Sztuk.
Sztuk, who was born in Poland, came to Canada in 2001. He has a passion for his faith, for St. John Paul II, who was from his homeland, and of course for motorcycles.
“Since I was a kid I always had a motorcycle. It gives me that relaxation. I can jump on the bike and go,” he said.
The story of the unique motorcycle, which is worth about $110,000, is intriguing.
“There was a lady out in Syracuse, New York who had the bike. It’s called the John Paul II Tribute Bike. It’s one of a kind,” explained Cavins. “It’s very unique that everything about it is related to John Paul II in his pontificate. She knew I was a motorcycle enthusiast and I take ultra rides around the country . . . I went to speak in Syracuse not knowing about this bike. A deacon picked me up at the airport . . . and he said he wanted to take me somewhere and show me something before going to the hotel.
“My first thought was oh no I just want to go to the hotel. I’m tired. Been flying. I’ve got to speak tonight. And he said I think you’re going to be interested. He took me to this warehouse. He showed me a bunch of Bibles in boxes on the wall. I thought, that’s what he wanted to show me? . . . Then he introduced me to the lady and I realized there was a sheet over something. I could tell by the shape of it that it looked like a motorcycle underneath a sheet. They took the sheet off and I was blown away by what I saw. An unbelievably beautiful piece of art. I thought, man I’d love that for a teaching tool.”
The bike was originally commissioned for a church fundraiser. But that never took place, and it was sitting in storage with nine miles on it.
Nine months later Cavins was on a ride with Father Mariusz and Lynn when the woman called him, wanting an answer on if he was interested in buying the bike.
“I looked at Father Mariusz and I knew he would want to use this as well as myself and maybe we could do a joint venture on it where we would both use it, ” said Cavins, adding that he bought the bike for “way, way less” than its value.
Both Cavins and Father Mariusz will be using the bike on both sides of the border for evangelization. It’s a teaching tool. You can stand there and teach many aspects of John Paul II’s theology. His Marian theology. Suffering theology. Eucharist. Don’t be afraid.
Written by Mario Toneguzzi
It’s time for Catholic men to “man up” and truly follow Jesus Christ in their faith moving beyond the rut they can find themselves mired in when it comes to religion.
That’s the challenging message noted author and speaker Jeff Cavins gave during one of his presentations at the recent God Squad men’s conference - Be Not Afraid To Be A Saint - at St. Peter’s Church in Calgary.
Cavins said men need to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to walk with Jesus and be His representative.
“There’s a big difference between being a fan of Jesus and a follower of Jesus,” he said.
“We as modern believers can get caught in a rut . . . Where are we at today as men? Are we fans or are we followers? Are we merely going after theology or are we in a real relationship? And one of the ruts we can get into as men is that we get really excited about studying this stuff. We really like to study the faith . . . But there’s a rut that we can get into if we’re not careful. And that rut is that our faith can be simply made up of studying the faith.”
So our faith isn’t so much having a relationship with Jesus, coming to know Him, becoming like Him and doing what He does on a regular basis but our faith is reading the latest book, watching Catholic television, listening to Catholic radio, etc.
“In other words, the rut is that our faith can become our hobby,” said Cavins as he related a story about photography and how initially he learned all there was to know about the hobby, but it took him a long time to actually buy a camera and to “take a shot.”
“It is possible to get into a rut where you know the faith well; you can converse with others . . . You’ve got the Bible, you’ve got the Rosary, you’ve got a Catechism, you’ve got novenas, you’ve got holy water. You’ve got all the equipment set up, but you’re not taking the shot. That’s the problem we can get into particularly I would say as men we can get into that rut.
“You might be interested in theology, and dogma, and doctrine and councils and everything else. And that’s cool. But that isn’t going to get you to grow spiritually. The only thing that’s going to get you to grow spiritually, the only thing that’s going to help you deal with the vices in your life, is not a CD - that can help with ideas - but the only thing that’s going to deliver you . . . the only thing that’s going to help you grow as men is a relationship . . . I’m not in love with theology. I like it. I enjoy it. But I’m not in love with theology. I’m not in love with doctrine. I’m not in love with dogma. I’m not in love with debates and apologetics. It’s all necessary and good, but I’m in love with Jesus.”
Cavins said everyone has been chosen by Jesus to become like Him. But you cannot become like Him without Him and your lifestyle has to reflect that chosenness.
“So men I’m challenging you tonight . . . Guys you’ve got to decide who you’re going to follow . . . and you’ve got to man up and follow Him,” he said.
“You as men you are not called to complacency and you are not called to comfort. That is not the calling on your life . . . The calling on your life is not just to have your retirement plan established . . . The calling on our life is such that Jesus said to every man in here one thing more than anything else combined . . . Be not afraid. Why would Jesus say to men be not afraid more than anything else? Because He knows that what he’s calling you to will give you a reason to be afraid.”
Every man is called to go beyond themselves, to go into waters deeper than they’ve been before, to encounter challenges they have never, ever dreamt of encountering and avoiding.
In an interview, Cavins was asked why it is difficult for men to get out of the rut and become a follower as opposed to a fan of Jesus.
“One of the reasons that it’s difficult for men to get out of the rut is because in many homes, not all, it’s their wife that really is the one that is the leader of the spiritual activity of the home,” he said. “The wife is more relational. Men are more service oriented. They want to do things together. I think that’s one of the reasons why we see a lot of men not taking a leadership role.
“But I also think the point of entry into activity in a local parish is confusing to men. There are not a lot of natural points of entry. We don’t build on what St. Thomas said. Grace building on nature. Men do some things naturally. For example, men naturally lead. Men naturally provide. Men naturally protect. You don’t have to teach a man to do that . . . Then we want to bring that into the Church into the spiritual dimension of being a spiritual protector and leader and provider. There’s not a lot of points of entry into involvement in parishes.”
Cavins said many people have also been taught that their faith is a very private thing. One of the biggest problems with men getting out of that rut is that they have not been formed well in Scripture and they don’t want to talk to anyone about it. And unfortunately, many men have not grown up. They have not had other men take them and mentor them.
“And they are still playing with toys. Electronics. Sports. And things like that. But they have not had this rite of passage into manhood and responsibility, and they don’t have a lot of mentors to follow,” said Cavins. “One of the problems is we’re just so inundated with entertainment, sports, finance, games, cars; you name it. They’re distracted. They’re absolutely distracted, and this is not the love of their life.”
Written by Mario Toneguzzi
“I was raised in the People's Republic of China. I had no religion because it is a communist country. Then, God found me. He called me.
My family was going through a challenging time as my nine-year-old son was hospitalized for a year. From birth, he was diagnosed with bleeding in the brain. A vein in his brain burst, and he almost died. My life was work, home, hospital for that year. We were so tired and desperate. One day, someone gave me a wooden cross. That was my first time trying to get in touch with God.
My friend said, there is nothing you can do but ask God for help. Every day I went to work, and in the evening I stayed in the hospital with my son. I prayed daily, ‘God please don’t let him die.’ My son recovered and was released from the hospital. However, he had brain damage and many problems.
One day, in a box, I found the wooden cross again. And I realized that I didn’t keep my promise to God. I had prayed that if he saved Eric’s life, I would follow Him. Not having any idea of where to start and what to do, I contacted Ascension Parish. I learned a lot from going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The more I learned about God, the more I listen to him, the better my life gets. We still have a lot of problems with Eric’s recovery, but God supports me. My life is getting much better.
My relationships with others was a mess. I complained all the time. I would get so angry; now my relationships are better. I am a different person. Every day I ask God for forgiveness, and I also forgive others. Eric can see the change in me. He is now 14, and he goes to the youth sacrament. He can no longer use one of his hands. Daily, he lives with a four per cent chance of bleeding in his brain. We pray to God and figure a way to deal with each situation, day-by-day. There is nothing more the doctors can do. But God hears my prayers.”
An elect from the Ascension Parish, Calgary (2019).
From the day my Father, Theodore was brutally and callously murdered in Toronto, on Easter Monday, March 27, 1978, I wanted to meet his killer. I wanted to know how it was possible to do such a horrific thing. I wanted to know how he felt about destroying the lives of so many; my family’s, and his own.
We did meet. The meeting occurred in July of 2007. Because of reading about an award I received for my Therapeutic Writing Workshops and the publication of my books about healing, voice, and agency, he emailed me. Our meeting, our reconciliation, even those many years after that dark, dark day, was a rich blessing in my life and proved helpful for him too.
The word forgiveness is one that can lead to great suffering for victims and offenders alike. Victims are told that if they do not forgive, they cannot heal. Offenders are told that if they are not forgiven, they cannot move on from the crime they have committed. Forgiveness is a loaded word, with as many understandings, expectations, and definitions as there are experiences of savage loss, savage grief, savage pain.
In 2012, after too many years of thinking that my life did indeed end with my Father’s, I completed a Master’s Thesis. The title: Sawbonna-Justice as Lived-Experience. Sawbonna means shared-humanity. It also means I see you, you see me.
Sawbonna means that no one is better in the eyes of God. It means that we are good, bad, ugly, amazing, loved, loving, and free. Free to know that whether we can forgive or are forgiven by another human being, we are deeply known, cared-for, and embraced by God. A God who invites us, gently and generously directly back into our very own hearts. Hearts of love. Hearts of justice. Hearts of Sawbonna. We are seen. We each matter.
Kathleen Chury has a tough job. A certified wellness coach and a registered nurse with 38 years of hospital and private practice experience, Chury spends her days supporting and coaching parents who’ve lost custody of their children. The stakes are high, the days run long—and there are many more misses than high fives. But you won’t hear Chury complain about the work, nor the fact that her days can begin and end with a three-to-four-hour commute. “To some people, the time they spend commuting is like lost time. For me, it’s a special time with God.”
Known as Kathy to her friends, Chury and her husband Greg were high school sweethearts. They attended Catholic schools in Red Deer and married two years into her RN training at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary. By the time she graduated in 1981, the couple already had a young son.
In the coming years, she and Greg added two more children to the fold, juggling their work schedules so they didn’t have to factor in childcare. Read between the lines and that means the young couple adeptly managed the parental waltz of many working families; Greg finished a full day of work and came home to be with the kids, Kathy worked mainly evening, night, and weekend shifts. It wasn’t always easy, “but it was worth it,” says Chury.
Faith and family
This April, the Churys will celebrate their 40th anniversary. Looking back, Chury’s not convinced her younger self understood how the Church blessed and strengthened their marriage. She does, however, remember taking to heart two key messages from their marriage preparation classes. Chury says they worked hard at never going to bed angry and they learned—then practised—healthy communication.
While the decision to raise their children in the Catholic faith was never questioned, the family hit a kind of spiritual road bump in the early 2000s. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s what I would call a disconnect.” After being in the same parish for 20 years, a negative experience “changed our perception of how to be Catholic. We stopped attending mass and our kids followed suit.”
In 2008, life in the Chury household took an unexpected turn when Greg was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. Their lives revolved around doctor visits, medical tests and procedures, decisions about healthcare protocols and work assembling a health team to change the direction of the progressive disease. Consumed by Greg’s health issues, jobs and family, the Churys found themselves busier than ever, praying daily, but still not attending mass.
The way back
Chury believes a series of events in 2017 guided the family to chart a different course. First, her beloved aunt died that summer, and Chury was asked to read at the funeral mass. “Suddenly, I found myself questioning why we weren’t at church. I missed it.” Then her brother died in September. Chury spent most of his last hours at his side, where she prayed and provided hands-on nursing care. The experience reinforced how much Chury missed being at church.
By the fall of 2017, the whole family was talking about faith, religion and a desire to step back into the Catholic church. “I was surprised to learn that our oldest son, who was probably the most disconnected of all of us, was feeling the same way I did,” recalls Chury. When conversations with Catholic friends and family included invitations to return to mass, the Churys listened, and then acted.
As luck would have it, the Churys and their children all attend the same parish church in northwest Calgary. The two children that had married outside the faith have completed their wedding validation ceremonies, thus completing their sacraments of marriage in the Catholic church. Two grandchildren have also been baptized at the church, and there’s no question that grandbaby number three, due in June, will be baptized in the faith. Both of their daughters-in-law also attend RCIA classes at St. Peter’s (their daughter married a Catholic). “God is number one in all of our lives,” says Chury.
These days, this working grandmother embraces her spirituality with the passion of a new convert. Chury and her husband pray a daily rosary and she meets regularly with a priest who provides spiritual mentorship. Chury begins her days listening to online Catholic videos and relishes her work commute as a chance to listen to favourite Catholic podcasts or EWTN shows. Slowly, but surely, she’s also getting involved in her faith community.
“I never dreamed that I would live the faith experience that I’m having now,” says Chury. “At work, I don’t talk about how my faith shapes my life. But I try to live my faith, and I definitely pray for the people I work with and for. More than all of that, Greg and I are just so grateful for all of this. We are blown away by what the experience of practising our faith has brought into our lives.”
Looking for some spiritual inspiration this Lenten season? Tune into one of the shows hosted by some of Kathy Chury’s favourite Catholics and Catholic programs: Catholic Answers Live, Take 2 with Jerry and Debbie, Kresta in the Afternoon, Mother Angelica, Women of Grace, The Word on Fire, More2Life, Father Chad Ripperger, Venerable Fulton Sheen, Father Mitch Pacwa, Catholic Café, and Sensus Fidelium.
Written by Joy Gregory
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers