Steeped in the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church and confused by contemporary secular culture, the Sacrament of Reconciliation intimidates a lot of people. Fr. John Nemanic gets that. He also understands why so many Catholics regularly participate in this grace-filled ritual—and he’s hopeful more will avail themselves of its sacramental blessings this Lenten season.
“The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the most difficult of the seven sacraments because we have to really look at ourselves honestly,” says Fr. Nemanic, the parish priest at St. Michael Catholic Community in the West Springs community of southwest Calgary.
While it can be difficult to talk about the mistakes you’ve made and the people you’ve hurt, “reconciliation is also a sacrament of growth. It helps us see where we are now—and who we aspire to be,” says Fr. Nemanic.
Biblical roots, contemporary blessings
The sacrament itself is rooted in biblical teachings, adds Fr. Fernando Genogaling of St. Luke’s in northwest Calgary. Instituted by Christ, Reconciliation invites us to seek forgiveness, express sorrow “and to take instruction on what to do in order to avoid making the sin,” explains Fr. Genogaling. “This sacrament is one of the ways we learn and experience the grace of humility. In return for confessing our sins, we receive an assurance of God’s love and grace. That is very powerful.”
“The Lord comforts us with the sacrament,” says Fr. Nemanic. The words, “I absolve you from your sins,’ are almost incomprehensible to penitents who enter the confessional with heavy but contrite hearts, says the priest. “This sacrament is so far-reaching. When people hear those words, they experience the reality that Emmanuel is with us. The closer we are to Him, the more the penitent opens up his or her heart and the more the Lord can come into that space and heal.”
For many penitents, the experience of forgiveness can be transformative. Fr. Nemanic recalls a story shared by renowned Catholic theologian Bishop Fulton Sheen. Bishop Sheen said a psychiatrist friend once told him that he marveled at the impact of Reconciliation. Whereas his clients paid him for counsel, Catholic priests gave counsel and peace—for free.
Parishes in the Diocese of Calgary hold regular confessional hours during the week on a year-round basis. While penitents can trust the confessional as a sacred and confidential space, people who don’t want to confess their sins to a priest they know can go to another parish, or attend a penitential service and talk to a priest they don’t know, says Fr. Genogaling.
He and Fr. Nemanic also recognize that people aren’t necessarily comfortable making a Reconciliation while facing a priest—and that’s okay, too. “I would say that 75 per cent of the people who come to reconciliation at St. Michael’s stay behind the screen even though they could just walk around the partition,” says Fr. Nemanic.
Those tempted to shy away from Reconciliation after a bad experience should consider what’s at stake, notes Fr. Nemanic. As he sees it, most people have also had bad experiences in at least one restaurant, but that doesn’t keep them from ever enjoying another restaurant meal. The same logic should apply to not denying themselves the blessings of Reconciliation.
And what would he say to a Catholic who is worried about not having received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a while? “I would say, ‘just come,’” says Fr. Nemanic. Those who go regularly do so because they understand the grace it bestows. “If people would give five minutes a month, their lives would change immeasurably for the better because they’ve made themselves available to encounter the Lord’s mercy.”
Since honesty and contrition are essential to a good confession, Fr. Genogaling encourages people to spend some time examining their conscience before entering the confessional.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
I first experienced Catholicism at a Catholic hospital in South Korea. My mom and I accompanied my younger sister, who had to pay frequent visits to the hospital because of her lung ailments. Our family lived in a poor neighbourhood, where I had two direct-hit car accidents. During all this chaos, the hospital was a sanctuary, and the nuns were the kindest people I’d ever met. I felt such lightness and peace there as if the very air in the hospital garden was purer than the one outside it. The difference was so surreal even to my young mind that I remember it still to this day.
The second brief encounter was the beautiful scene of ladies praying in the church with their veils on. As a little girl, I thought it was the most beautiful happening I’d ever witnessed. Putting aside my initial exposure to Catholicism, our family generally believed in the idea of God but did not belong to any religion. After our family immigrated to Canada I suffered immensely difficult trials and setbacks in my school, health and relationships. So, I sought out God or some benign and powerful being that could rescue me.
My search for God began in high school when I was see-sawing between self-destruction and reading the Gospels for the first time. I prayed so fervently to the point of sweating. I asked God to let me experience Him in any way so that I, a mere human with so many limitations, could come to believe in His existence. One night, after one of my intense prayers, I went to bed. Sometime after falling asleep, I felt that my body lifted to somewhere very high, perhaps not even our planet or universe.
I had the most vivid and unusual dream where I was praying to God with many other people on our knees on top of a great mountain. Although the mountain was very high, the top was a very large flat area filled with green pastures. Sun or light beamed down on this pasture. All of a sudden, the person praying next to me tapped on my shoulder and pointed to a horrendous female spirit figure standing on the edge of this mountain. This figure is a typical Korean spirit that wears a white night gown with long unkempt black hair flying all around her face. She looked blank with no distinguishable features.
I knew that she was waiting for me to be alone. I also knew that I had to fight her, even to the death if such was to be my fate. I walked toward the figure and the battle began. I was defending myself with a small cross necklace that came into my possession not too long before my search for God began. As one might expect, defending oneself with a small necklace around one’s neck against a demonic spirit was next to hopelessness. Soon I began to tire and feel so afraid for my life. Then I remembered Christ’s holy sacrifice for all humans and how He let himself be tortured because He firmly believed in God the Father’s love and mercy.
That’s when I, in the midst of this fight, put both of my arms up and put my legs together in the same way our Jesus died on His Cross. All of a sudden, the images of His pierced hands and feet flashed before my eyes as if they were powerful blows of light and also as if my own hands and feet were being pierced too. I thought that I was going to die, but everything became white. The spirit existed no more. I was in this whiteness for a brief moment. I felt so strong and happy in this whiteness like I had never experienced in my entire life. Perhaps that’s how we feel in Heaven.
This dream experience was the exact point of conversion of heart for me. If believing can be compared to gardening, this was the seed in the soil. The actual process of this seed sprouting to a baby plant took much longer and many more sinful and painful acts of evil resistance. This sprouting phase took about a decade. Even though I rebelled, broke promises and couldn’t feel any goodness, God never abandoned me. All this while, God watered my mustard seed even though nothing surfaced. I was discouraged for a long time. But when the time arrived, the amazing baby plant sprouted out of the earth and I became a full-fledged Catholic. Going to RCIA was the only thing I could do for those two years due to a health condition. My RCIA sponsor named Cathy was very helpful and gave me the perfect card. When the baby plant came out was when I could finally consciously follow God and proudly present myself as such to others.
Written by Mina from St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
My journey to Catholicism formally began in the fall of 2002 when I entered into the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and culminated with my baptism and confirmation at the 2004 Easter Vigil, Saturday evening, April 10.
Practically speaking, though, my journey started many years earlier when I married my wife, Dina – an Italian ‘Cradle-Catholic’ at St. James Catholic Church, here in Calgary in 1991.
Taking our Marriage Preparation classes was really the beginning of a long period of enlightenment, where I began to experience and see more clearly what the spiritual aspects of the joining of our souls would really mean.
We both promised in our wedding vows to raise our kids in the Church, too, and so we regularly attended Mass and the Holy Days of Obligation. It was through this exposure I – then unwittingly – continued my Faith Journey.
When our family was young, we attended St. James and St. Michael’s in Calgary, and Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands, TX. In December 1994 we purchased our first home in Somerset and began attending St. Patrick’s Parish and this became our home church.
As I progressed on my journey I started to be overcome with a desire — a strong, spiritual need — to go to Confession and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I went to see “Merv” at St. Michael’s (I believe he was a Deacon there at the time) and inquired about receiving the sacrament. He explained to me I would need to become Catholic first before I could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Several years went by and then a close family friend asked Dina if she would sponsor her in her journey through RCIA to become Catholic. I took this as a strong sign to stop procrastinating and I made my own appointment with Sister Pauline at the church to begin my journey to Catholicism and becoming Catholic.
Meeting with Sister Pauline, I shared with her the impetus for wanting to become Catholic and explained that I came from a family who didn’t really practice — or have — a sense of faith. My now-late father was raised Catholic in Holland and we would say grace before meals when we visited with my grandparents on my mother’s side in BC, but we really didn’t have any other faith upbringing — other than the ‘Golden Rule’.
Sister Pauline accepted me into the 2002 fall intake of St. Patrick’s RCIA and you could say the rest is history — but it isn’t! The journey NEVER ends; we’re always expanding our understanding and our relationship with God.
My time in RCIA was so very special! Those I travelled with on the journey and all those who invested their time in — and shared their faith with us — took us all to previously unfathomable levels of faith and spirituality. We shared, we laughed, we cried, we broke open the Word, we prayed! It was an education and a coming alive all at the same time. It was a beautiful experience!
Written by Peter Poos from St. Patrick's Church, Calgary
While I have spent most of my teaching career in Catholic Education systems in Saskatchewan and Alberta, I did not grow up attending Catholic schools. I was one of those people who didn’t discover that sense of “it just feels different” in a Catholic school until I began my teaching career at Father Gorman School in Lloydminster. Now don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. My little school was not a Catholic school but I loved it with all my heart. And the truth is, I always felt I was “very Catholic” based on my connection with our little church, St. Mary’s. Many of my memories of growing up are tied to that church. We attended Sunday Mass and gathered for fall suppers, wedding receptions, and potlucks after the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation. While I always proudly identified myself as a Catholic, I can see now that I basically grew up as a “Sunday Catholic.” Going to Mass was non-negotiable and my mom and dad saw to it that all of my siblings and I received all of our Sacraments. I said my nighttime prayers and we had books about Jesus in our home, along with a crucifix and religious statues. Beyond that though, I don’t remember thinking a lot about my faith on a daily basis.
My first taste of Catholic Education came in 1986 when I started my teaching career and I quickly “got it.” For children who are blessed to go to Catholic schools, they are immersed in their faith every day. I learned how blessed my students were to be able to pray together every day. They got to know God more deeply because we could read the Word of God together. My students learned to serve their brothers and sisters through acts of social service and social justice. Perhaps most importantly, they had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist at our school Masses. These experiences, and so many more, happen in every Catholic school in Alberta.
In our Catholic schools today, our students are not living a “Sunday Catholic” kind of life. They are learning to know our faith deeply and they live their faith every single day. I can think of no better description of what is happening in our Catholic schools than with the words from the Gospel of Matthew. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Our students are the light – they are shining brightly every day, not just on Sundays, because of the good and holy work that is happening in our Catholic schools. I am proud to be part of the story.
Written by Joann Bartley, Director of Religious Education
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
At only 37, John Chick has accomplished tremendous achievements. He played professional football for 12 years in the CFL and NFL, winning two Grey Cups and being named the League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player before retiring in 2018. He and his wife Catherine have nine children, and more souls in heaven due to miscarriage.
He gives thanks to God for the gift of his body, mind and soul, which have allowed him to strive for excellence. Chick believes the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and the pathway to glorify God.
“I see the physical world as God created it – all good and meant to point us back to Him. We were all created in His image and likeness,” said the former Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Edmonton Eskimos player.
“I’ve always loved the physical world,” said Chick. “I’ve always loved the pursuit of: how can I get this better. Every offseason for 12 years, I would not rest on how good the last season was, but how I can do better at what I wasn’t doing well.”
Chick has counted setbacks as blessings in his life, which have further motivated him and reminded him that where he is weak, God is strong.
“How many look at the glass half empty and woe is me. Regardless of what we have been ‘blessed’ with, we are all called to glorify God with our bodies,” he said.
“For me, you don’t have to look too far to see a lot of us are victims of something broken. In us or around us and we are victims of maybe our vices.”
Chick’s body has experienced several setbacks in his pursuit of his dreams. At 14, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, this news devastated his family. In college he experienced Bells Palsy and later in his professional career he had the onset of alopecia, a hair loss condition, and vitiligo, a skin discoloration condition, not to mention countless sports injuries throughout his life.
“Miscarriages, moves, trades, cuts, injuries, God always found a way (into my life). I attribute it to my family and experiences of the Holy Spirit,” said Chick.
Growing up in Wyoming as the eldest of three, faith was central in Chick’s life. His father modelled a devout faith life working as a Catholic youth minister.
So when a healing priest came to town after Chick’s diabetes diagnosis the family went to see him, and everyone had a powerful conversion experience through prayer to the Holy Spirit.
“It doesn’t mean we lived a perfect faith life, but we were always dependent on the sacraments,” said Chick.
Today, he lives in Florida where he is devoted to raising his own family in the Catholic faith. He incorporates faith and fitness into the running of his own life-coaching business called Ironwill Fitness.
Self-care has been central to his success, and he is trying to share his wisdom with his clients.
“We are supposed to love our neighbour as ourselves. But how can I love my neighbour if I’m not loving myself?” said Chick.
“How can I improve my capacity to be that servant leader? It’s taking care of myself first.”
God Squad Conference recordings, including the session with guest speaker John Chick, are now available online: https://godsquad.ca/2020-conference-recordings
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of John Chick
God is always waiting for our conversion to his mercy and love. For a large portion of my life I was haunted with the darkness of childhood abuse. This is my journey into God’s call and falling into His overflowing grace. As a five-year-old child I was playing in our local playground with children from the local church. When they left, I went home and asked my mother if I could go to church. My mother said I could go with the neighbours, but I wasn’t brave enough to go.
Later, I attended a Catholic high school because my mother believed in academics. In Grade 12, I completed a water pollution project for a Religion class and received a mark of 98%. From that moment, I believed that my vocation would be in the Sciences. That same year (1972), at the age of 17, I became pregnant and consented to an abortion supported by both sets of parents (Catholic and non-Catholic). The day I had the abortion I shut the door on God! I believed I was not worthy of His love; I had killed my own child. By this time, the darkness of my childhood abuse and the weight of an abortion had left my soul in complete darkness. The mask I continued to wear could not hide the pain, and I struggled. I knew one day that the darkness would envelope me and I would end my life: the pain of my soul too unbearable.
With a husband and my daughter my world was unravelling; filled with anger, guilt and darkness. I was asked to become a Catholic so my daughter could continue to attend a Catholic school. To me, it was nothing more than a course, I was never going to be a Catholic. But God had other plans. What I could not or would not do for myself, I would do for my daughter. It was the 3rd scrutiny during the Purification and Enlightenment process that things began to change. Prior to this Scrutiny, I had gone to Reconciliation and confessed my sins. God has an eraser of grace; He forgave me; the door of grace flooded opened. During the 3rd Scrutiny, in his fatherly love, the late Fr. Keith Sorge let me touch his vestments and I fell into the wellspring of God’s love. The search out of the darkness of my soul began, but it was only after a severe leg injury (run over by an ATV) that I could face the overwhelming pain and terror of childhood sexual abuse. The cry of the poor—that is what God hears in our prayers.
In gratitude for God’s grace, I became involved with the RCIA, Project Rachel, CWL, Hike for Life, Eucharistic Ministries and Lector ministries. I obtained a Master’s from Newman Theological College (Edmonton) focusing on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. Today, I am currently raising the awareness of Care for Our Common Home and Food Loss and Waste (FLW) through a CWL resolution and presentation to politicians and Catholic organizations. God had never left my side nor stopped calling me into His grace as I am a testimony to His love.
Written by Jeannette Nixon, St. Patrick’s Parish Calgary.
Bishop William McGrattan sums up his first decade as bishop in two words: very busy.
“One could describe it as being very busy and demanding, some would say tiring, but when I look back there has been a great gift of growing in wisdom,” said Bishop McGrattan.
Since his episcopal appointment 10 years ago this past January, Bishop McGrattan has made dozens of pastoral visits to parishes within each diocese that he has served – Toronto, Peterborough and Calgary – to see what’s taking place at the ground-level. He’s visited 23 parishes since his installment as Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary three years ago this February.
“I’m constantly trying to listen,” said Bishop McGrattan. “I think when you listen you can often discern and make some good decisions that can be far-reaching, have sustainability and make a greater impact.”
Some highlights from his first three years in Calgary include:
“I believe these initiatives can strengthen the diocese in forming missionary disciples,” said Bishop McGrattan.
One challenge has been managing the limited financial resources of the diocese in a strained economy. In good economic times, the population has grown and the diocese has responded by renovating or building new churches. But in a sluggish economy, the financial resources of the diocese have also weakened.
“We have sufficient but we don’t have enough to be building the churches that are required to accommodate new neighbourhoods,” said Bishop McGrattan.
He wants to set a pastoral plan for the Diocese in another three years from now.
“I thought I was going to do a pastoral plan in the first three years, but I think there is a wisdom in not forcing this type of initiative on the Diocese,” he said.
“I want to have three years to work up to a spiritual and pastoral revitalization. We need to till the ground before we enter into a process of formalizing the pastoral direction and means.”
In the meantime, Bishop McGrattan is using the information from the consultations with clergy in his first six months here to understand the challenges and priorities of the Diocese.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
High on a hill overlooking fields of barley, wheat, hay and grazing cattle sits the little country church. It can be seen from miles around if you know where to look, and as you drive closer to look upon its tall steeple and red roof you might feel as if you’d stepped back in time.
St. Henry’s, founded by Fr. Albert Lacombe and area families in 1907, received a new coat of paint and a little more life on the fourth weekend of August when men from the Diocese of Calgary volunteered for the job.
“I knew it needed to be painted,” said Fr. Myles Gaffney, parish priest of St. Michael’s Parish in nearby Pincher Creek, “so I approached the Bishop who said ‘lets nudge the men’s ministries to see if they can get volunteers.’”
In stepped Sean Lynn of the God Squad men’s ministry. He contacted professional painter Dan Lebsack, and off to the hamlet of Twin Butte they went to evaluate the work ahead.
When a weekend was chosen, the two made known that volunteers were needed, and a few responses rolled in. Armed with a paint sprayer, scissor lift donated by a nearby Hutterite colony, telehandler donated by a Calgary carpenter, scrapers and brushes, and the God Squad barbecue and food for Lynn to expertly prepare, the team set to work.
Bishop McGrattan arrived on the scene on Saturday to see everyone hard at work, “I think it’s wonderful,” he said of the entire initiative. “The men are inspired to work together.”
Bishop McGrattan was welcomed by the volunteers and members of the Historical Society of St. Henry’s who have assumed the role of caretakers of the church and cemetery since the parish closed in 2001. The Historical Society is made up of former parishioners, people whose family are buried in the cemetery and those interested in preserving the site, according to the society secretary and treasurer Lois Johnston.
The group, who’ve been hard at work to keep St. Henry’s in good repair with much of their own time and resources – with the help of visitor’s donations – were happy to accept the help that came at the diocesan request.
A few hundred dollars is donated annually by visitors to the site, many who come just to see the classic country church and surrounding views, and many to visit the cemetery and to pray and enjoy the grotto and Stations of the Cross built by Bob and Nonee Bonertz, just one of the families who’ve lived there for over one hundred years.
Ken Wittkopf, whose wife Louise (nee Bonertz) grew up as a parishioner said, “We’ve talked about it for a few years, and we’re glad it’s happening because we don’t want to lose it.”
The value of this church to its parishioners was evident, as several who were not part of the painting crew stopped to see how it was coming along. As the painting went on, memories and stories were shared.
“I was baptized here, had my first communion and confirmation here,” said Louise Wittkopf.
Noreen Fischbuch told stories of having lived right beside St. Henry’s in the rectory, which was unused by the clergy at the time.
“I had eight children in that house,” she said referring to the house mere meters from the back of the church, “and one day, we were actually a little late for church, and Fr. Kramer looked up as we came in and tapped his watch.”
Lois Johnston, whose grandfather Fred Klunker was one of the carpenters who built St. Henry’s emphasised the value of the church to the community of families who descended from those who built the church. Quite a few of them still farm the surrounding land.
“My parents were married in this church, my family attended this church and my Mom was the organ player for years,” she said, adding that she grew up on the farm beneath the hill on which St. Henry’s stands.
The general feeling from the society and volunteers was one of hope for the legacy and the future of St. Henry’s.
“The big churches came from these little churches,” said Historical Society chairman Ron Schmidt, aptly speaking of the history of Catholicism in our country – it began with missionaries and settlers, from people building small country churches whose descendants fill the much-larger churches we see today.
Upstairs in the choir loft, children were encouraged to ring the bell during the Bishop’s visit, and the sound was enjoyed by everyone below. Each person savouring their memories and nostalgia for the living and loving that went on at St. Henry’s for over a hundred years.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully
“Pilgrimage, Sanctuary and Peace in the Parks”: A research snapshot and public talk on parks and nature at the end of life.
We all feel it – whether looking outside, in a field, at a beach, or on a mountain – nature gives us perspective about life and death. There is growing evidence of how natural environments impact our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Little is known, however, about the place of parks and nature at the end of life, or the impact of parks and nature on quality of life during palliative care or in grief and loss…until now!
A recent 2018 study discovered that experiencing “Peace in the Parks” was an opportunity for: Personal Exploration, Social Discovery and Institutional Transformation. Despite the challenges to get to parks and natural places, it was always “worth it.” Even brief opportunities were an opportunity to “park palliative care”, and to have sanctuary from the stream of appointments and persistent identity as a “dying patient” or “caregiver.”
Research participants shared, “here [in the park] we can just be ourselves”. The experiences were both calming and energizing – providing patients and family members a sense of their strength and the courage to take other journeys they had been previously cautious about undertaking. Everyone can make the connection with nature. Ultimately there is value in even parking or sitting in areas with views of nature or short walks or strolls with a stretcher or adaptive equipment.
Access does take planning, information and communication, and the research team discovered that supporting access to parks and nature for those in palliative care and caregivers is not a call for a new program per se, but rather an invitation, and a mindset that can be influenced by training, information and coordination of services. Further program and study is underway now to extend and expand the discoveries made – the pilgrimage and the pursuit of sanctuary continues.
By Dr. Sonya Jakubec
To learn more about Parks & Nature at the End of Life, to hear the stories and to be inspired by the pilgrimage of palliative patients and caregivers to Alberta Parks, join Dr. Sonya Jakubec (MRU) and co-researcher Jennell Rempel (Alberta Parks) for a free public talk and short documentary film screening with the Calgary Public Library on Thursday Jan 23, 2020 from noon to 1:30 pm at the Central Library’s Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall.
Many Calgary Catholics are pushing through the coldest week of the new year by holding onto fond memories of the Christmas past. Others in the city’s East Asian communities keep themselves warm by anticipating the opportunity to celebrate the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 25. Ditto for parishioners at other ethnic parishes in the Diocese, where being Catholic and Canadian means you can commemorate important secular events with festivities that include prayerful appreciation of the cultural traditions that moved to Canada with their families.
Calgary’s Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese communities celebrate the Lunar New Year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. At St. Anne’s Korean Catholic Church in the community of Ramsay, parishioners will welcome the Lunar New Year with special prayers at the 11 a.m. mass on Sunday, Jan. 26, says parishioner and parish spokesman Nes (Luke) Noh. That service will be followed by a traditional New Year’s Day meal of rice cakes and soup in the parish hall. The rice cakes will come from a Korean market, the soup from parishioners. “We expect about 300 people,” says Noh. “No matter what the weather, people like to get together to celebrate. It’s tradition.”
Culturally, the Lunar New Year is also a good time to honour the memory of ancestors, so Korean Catholics will also offer prayers for their deceased family members, says Noh.
Week of Prayer about a shared faith
This year’s Lunar New Year falls at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, says Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries with the Calgary Catholic Diocese. This year’s Week of Prayer, set for Jan. 18 to 25, calls for Christians to move from shared prayer to shared action. The theme also challenges Christians to show greater generosity to people in need. “In a Diocese as diverse as Calgary’s, it’s always important to remember the different backgrounds which people come from and the traditions they hold,” says Nowak. “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us that despite the differences which exist between cultures and denominations, we find unity in our love of Christ and commitment to achieving the common good.” In addition to prayers for the faithful being offered for Christian Unity, the FCJ Centre and Ascension Parish will each host prayer events, adds Nowak.
Cultural and spiritual traditions
New Year celebrations at St. Stephen Protomartyr Church also reflect cultural and spiritual traditions, says Fr. Gregory Faryna. The Jan. 1 liturgy at this Ukrainian Catholic church in Glamorgan, celebrated the naming of Jesus and the feast of St. Basil the Great. An early Church father who defended the orthodox faith, St. Basil the Great is especially important to Albertans of Ukrainian heritage. At Fr. Albert Lacombe’s request, St. Basil sent Basilian priests to the Edmonton area to serve European Catholics who came from the Byzantine tradition, explains Fr. Faryna.
As the Ukrainian people historically followed the Julian calendar, Fr. Faryna’s parish also marked the Ukrainian New Year. While the actual date was Jan. 13, St. Stephen held a Ukrainian New Year banquet and dance on Friday, Jan. 8. About 200 people filled the parish hall for the event, which included a performance by a local Ukrainian dance group. Since many parish families are compromised of Ukrainians who married outside that ethnic group, events like these are an important way of sharing cultural traditions, says Fr. Faryna.
The Ukrainian New Year was also part of the Sunday liturgy on Jan. 12. There, the community offered special prayers for world peace and prayers for lives lost in the Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran earlier this month.
Ukrainian Catholics approach each new year with prayers that honour the past year and help people prepare for the year to come, adds Fr. Faryna. Some families also commemorate the new year by performing or attending a traditional Malanka (which means new year) play. The play reminds people living through the long nights of winter that spring is on its way. “It’s that anticipation of new life that’s coming around the corner,” says Fr. Faryna.
Over at Ste.-Famille Church just south of the downtown core, Msgr. Noel Farman says the arrival of 2020 got him thinking about how important his parish is to the local francophone community. Ste.-Famille is the only French-language parish in Calgary. Many of the children Msgr. Farman met when he arrived at Ste.-Famille 11 years ago are now adult parishioners attending post-secondary schools or working. “This Christmas I told them, ‘I consider myself as your grandfather.’”
As with Korean-speaking parishioners at St. Anne’s parish, Msgr. Farman knows many of his parishioners make a special effort to attend a French-language mass for special events, including Christmas and New Year’s. At this year’s Christmas Eve mass, children gathered around the priest’s chair and treated mass attendees to a special performance. “It was like a dialogue between three candles representing faith, hope and love,” says the priest. The recitation ended with the candles representing faith and love declaring that hope brought them together to help each other.
This Christmas season, Ste.-Famille weathered the deaths of four people with close ties to the parish. Msgr. Farman says he was touched by how so many of his parishioners travelled to funerals in Edmonton and Claresholm to show their solidarity to each other and to their faith. “I was thinking, this is how we show our belief in eternity, we pray for those who have passed.”
For more information on this 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian unity, please download this poster.
By: Joy Gregory
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers