With climate change getting so much media coverage, it’s easy to see why some Catholics are asking questions about what they can do to support the papal call for Christians to unite in caring for what Pope Francis calls, “our common home.” Other Catholics don’t spend much time thinking about it. They’re too busy planting, weeding and harvesting food, flowers—and faith.
This summer, volunteers planted a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden at the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre at Cochrane. The potatoes, carrots, squash and swiss chard were put to good use; the food is shared between Feed the Hungry’s (FTH) Sunday dinners at St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Calgary Food Bank. “The food bank really is a ‘bank,” says Linnea Ferguson, program lead for the Calgary Catholic Diocese’s FTH program. “We take from that bank for our Sunday night dinners, so it’s nice to deposit some food there, too.”
Although FTH is more closely aligned with social versus environmental causes, the connection between food and life is obvious, notes Ferguson. “By actively participating in the production of local produce, I think Feed the Hungry shows care for our common home and how much we respect the dignity of the people we feed.”
Care for Creation
Over at St. Joseph’s parish in northwest Calgary, parish council has adopted some care for creation initiatives sparked by the 2015 papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This spring, Knights of Columbus planted a courtyard area with plants donated by a long-time parishioner. “It’s really beautiful,” says parish council member Marilou LeGeyt. “We’ve got a variety of flowering plants, including roses, monkshood and black-eyed Susan. Next year, the Knights will divide those plants and sell the extras as a fundraiser.”
After all the planning and planting were done, the project yielded three wins for the parish. The garden is a fundraiser, a beautiful space by the Church entrance and its gives parishioners an opportunity to take an ecological piece of their church community home to their own gardens.
In late September, the courtyard hosted a Blessing of the Animals. The event attracted dogs, fish, cats and turtles! In line with Laudato Si and its focus on dialogue, St. Joseph’s parish is also exploring the addition of a vegetable garden on the church property. The concept is meant to nourish St. Joe’s place in the wider community, says LeGeyt.
At St. Peter’s parish, a team of volunteer gardeners is taking responsibility for the gardens built as part of a major reconstruction project. Led by parishioner Sylvie Fung, who’s also active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the grounds include several well-kept flower pots, ground-level plots and a new grotto. The latter includes an outdoor rosary.
To help the growing number of faithful who visit the space to pray, Fung tucks several rosaries and prayer cards into two solar lamps at the garden entrance. “People take the rosaries, so I’m always looking for more,” says Fung.
Members of her garden team take turns watering the pots and checking to make sure the freshly-landscaped shrubs and perennials are doing well. But the job can get a little prickly. While the space between the church and alley has been beautifully landscaped, these beds include a number of Canada Thistle, an invasive (not Canadian!) weed species known for its thorns and deep roots, both of which complicate eradication.
Fung encourages her fellow gardeners to weed these “beds of thorns, beds of suffering” as an act of faithful sacrifice. “It’s the perfect job to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy,” says Fung with a smile.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Four years ago my mother had a stroke. Now she has vascular dementia. It is not exactly the same as Alzheimer’s. There is a tendency to lump all dementia together as Alzheimer’s, but there are actually several kinds of memory loss. Vascular dementia distinguishes itself because its progress is neither predictable nor consistent. Cognitive changes occur in steps. There are plateaus where the person’s memory holds steady followed by sudden changes. During each plateau I accustom myself until a new step occurs, inviting a new grief.
Most difficult for me has been the loss of abilities that, to my mind, most clearly identify my mother. For example, my mother can no longer remember how to bake the German cakes, which for decades have marked the seasons of our family life – Schwartzwälderkirchtorte on my birthday, Sachertorte on my father’s. These cakes symbolized her love for us. What happens to my mother’s love now that the symbol of that love is gone? Loss of memory can feel like the loss of a person, a death before death. In fact, the social worker assigned to help me calls it ‘ambiguous grief’ because the losses occur repeatedly without finality.
Recently, I attended a liturgical congress for which the theme was anamnesis or liturgical remembering. My earlier reflections on memory had to do with the memorization of liturgical texts and how the things we remember become part of us and identify us with certain cultures and communities. I found myself wondering: if my mother no longer remembers the things that identified her, who and whose is she?
One of the papers at the conference, given by Rev. Prof. Liam Tracey (OSM), was about worship in the age of dementia. Tracey referred to the practical theology of John Swinton, who proposes that we are not what we remember rather, God remembers us. Although it may be satisfying to use memory to construct our own identity and to connect with others, Tracey explained that God’s memory is not a neurological act; we are not as we think. One of the things experts say is that when you visit people with dementia you have to enter into their reality. While I tend to identify my mother in relation to how I remember her, a spirituality of dementia invites me to consider instead how God remembers.
When we recall God’s saving deeds in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, we fulfil Christ’s command to “do this in memory of me.” This anamnesis is distinct from non-liturgical recollection in that it actually makes the past events of salvation present again. It is not our individual memory of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, but God’s memory given to us in the liturgy that continues to save us. Although I grieve the changes in my mother’s cognition, her being is not ultimately determined by what she can remember. Losing memory does not have to mean a loss of identity because, for Christians, it is God who remembers.
Written by Dr. Simone Brosig, Liturgy Consultant / Director, Diocese of Calgary
“At Bowmont I learnt how to live a structured life and how to conduct my work with love,” says Joe Kaup, 23, a married engineer working in Calgary. Kaup is one of the many young men who lived in Bowmont, a small residence for male students close to the University of Calgary and SAIT. It is run by Opus Dei members; the residents need not be Catholic. Its director, Evan Francis, a plastics-recycling engineer, says it is much more than a residence: it tries to form young men who can transform society. To that end, it tries to be a home away from home, foster good study habits, reach out to the most needy.
Joe, from Edmonton, did an internship in Calgary while in the third year of Engineering at the University of Alberta, and stayed at Bowmont eight months. He enjoyed the feeling of companionship and support for his faith.
“I really liked that after supper we would visit the Blessed Sacrament in the small chapel, and have a get-together afterwards where I could get to know everyone a little better through lively discussion.”
Carter Snethun, 20, was living in the residence the school year, 2016-2017, studying Engineering. “There is a big focus on the development of the whole person. You are encouraged to do things to the best of your abilities. There are lots of opportunities for learning.”
Joe credits the housekeeping staff. “The amount of time one saves by not having to do laundry, cook, or do the majority of the cleaning cannot be overstated. It then gives one far more time that can be directed towards studies or the pursuit of other skills. I was able to develop my skill at playing the guitar.” Carter concurs.
Two Calgary-area brothers have experienced Opus Dei residences in other cities. Fr. Nathan Siray, the pastor of Our Lady of the Rockies (Canmore), frequented Riverview Centre in Montreal in 2002-2003, while studying history at McGill University.
“My roommate invited me to join him for morning Mass and weekly activities at Riverview, walking distance from campus. I felt very welcomed. I most appreciated the time that the priest and the director of Riverview took to offer spiritual direction. I also enjoyed the variety of cultural activities that took place, from lectures on various topics to informally discussing our favourite musical artists. It was a great mix of faith formation, cultural enrichment and opportunities to grow in my life of Christian outreach.”
Did this help him become a priest? “The greatest help was to discern what a vocation apart from the priesthood would look like, as I saw the vocations of celibate members. I saw how well they lived as disciples of Christ in the world and showed how fruitful this vocation is. As I pondered this beautiful calling, it became more apparent to me that I was called to the ordained priesthood.”
His younger brother Justin lived at Glenwood in 2013-2014, in Vancouver, while studying at UBC. Now he works in Calgary as a high school teacher, is married and has a one-year-old boy.
“My stay at Glenwood helped give me an idea of what a structured Catholic lifestyle could be. No matter how busy things get, you can always get organized, manage the chaos of life, and find the best balance of faith, work and free time. It was truly a happy place to be: there were always smiles and stories floating around.”
Written by Fernando Mignone
I didn’t want to go. My house was a mess, my laundry piled high and my children unruly when it was time to leave. I wanted a bath and a book and an early bedtime, and I got into my mini-van thinking that the last thing I wanted to hear was someone telling me how I could have it all.
But as I sat in the room at St. Michael Catholic Community with fifty other women it dawned on me that I may not have felt like attending, but maybe what Lisa Canning had to say was the truth I needed to hear.
Canning, the author of the new book The Possibility Mom: How to be a Great Mom and Pursue Your Dreams at the Same Time, is expecting her eighth child with husband Josh. In her native-Toronto, she has enjoyed a successful career in interior design and has been featured on numerous design-themed shows and channels. Working as a speaker, podcaster and YouTuber, she seeks to inspire her followers to live their best life.
Canning spoke in the relatable way a good friend would as she led a workshop-style presentation, “She’s the girl-next-door, but she’s got it together,” said attendee Leslie Poirier.
On being invited to share, Piorier told her “Lisa, you are electric,” and many nodded in agreement.
Looking around, I could see the heads nodding as Canning shared what her first five hectic years as a mom were like, having four children and working as an interior designer at the same time.
“Many times I questioned my existence, exhausted by mom-guilt and desperate for a solution to an overstretched life,” she writes in her book.
Talking to us that evening she called herself a “petri-dish,” saying that after what she called her, “mini-van meltdown,” she just started experimenting with ways to make it all possible, and above all, trusting God.
“God just wanted me to trust Him,” she said, citing many times through the years that He had blessed her family.
After being asked many times, “how do you do it?” she has come up with a guideline for all moms to use to go from constantly feeling overwhelmed to peace.
Step one of her plan to open our lives to change is to “Identify the limiting beliefs holding you back from your best life.”
“You can tell what your limiting beliefs are by paying attention to the times you say ‘I just can’t do that because…’” she said, then invited us to share a few of our own with someone next to us. The room buzzing with enthusiasm, Piorier and the mom next to her struck up what might be a life-changing conversation for them both.
“I’m Leslie and this is Ann,” Poirier said, introducing new friend Ann Hoff, “and we were just sharing that we’ve come to a point where there’s a step to be taken, but our limiting belief is basically that we’re just chicken.”
As heads nodded, and voices murmured agreements with Poirier and Hoff, other women also shared that they too struggled with things like consistency and multitasking. All of this culminated to the point that Canning was trying to make: that life is difficult for all of us, but we sometimes tell a story to ourselves that makes it seem impossible to do the things we want.
For the rest of our evening, Canning spent her time showing us that there are, as her book aptly puts it, possibilities for everyone.
“Fast forward to your funeral,” Canning said midway through the evening, leading us to ask ourselves what kind of legacy we wanted to leave behind and to take a moment to think what our own obituary might say. She had stumbled across this exercise in another book, and when she’d written her own obituary years before, she told us that she had realized that “none of these things are true right now” then took steps to make a change.
Hoff and Poirier told me they wanted to make some changes for themselves. “Because we said we were chickens,” Hoff said of the exercise, “I want to be remembered not as that, but as someone who went out on a limb and did things.” She nodded when I suggested she wanted to be described as as brave and courageous.
I was born in Glace Bay, Cape Breton, N.S. May 25, 1936. At the age of 14, I moved to Montreal to live with my sister and brother-in-law.
After my school and college years, my first employment was with United Amusement Corporation where I was an assistant manager in the Van Horne Theatre. During my teen years in Montreal, I experienced a collapsed lung and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital. It was during my convalescence, I would visit other patients. And after my discharge, I continued to visit patients.
During my time in Montreal, I would visit St. Joseph’s Oratory. My young heart was touched when I saw the prosthetics, canes and wheelchairs that were left behind by people who had been healed by their belief in God and trust in the power of prayer.
I traveled to Calgary in 1958 (population 447,000). When I was settled, I started visiting the Children’s Hospital, the General Hospital and the Colonel Belcher Hospital. I played pool, cards, and other board games with the patients. I also visited the Holy Cross Hospital where my training in spiritual care began. The order of Grey Nuns instructed me on how to visit with patients. In the early 60s we were entrusted by the diocese to distribute Holy Communion. I was employed in sales and marketing until my retirement in 2000.
In 1980, my wife Marie and I moved to Canyon Meadows and attended St. Gerard’s. In 1983, we moved to Midnapore and attended St. Patrick’s Parish. Our Pastor Fr. Joe Rigby asked me to start up a Pastoral visiting team advising me of a new program that was approved by Bishop Paul O’Byrne. Five of us parishioners signed up for the new pastoral visitation program lead by Brother Leon Jensen and Mrs Halina White. Today, we have more than 40 active Pastoral Care volunteers. Upon completion of the course, I was assigned to the Rockyview General Hospital.
I was honored to be assigned to visit Bishop Paul during his two years at the Beverly Nursing Home up to the last half hour before his passing.
June 20, 2013, during the Calgary Flood I was going into the Shawnessy Library when a number of our hospital patient transport vans and ambulances started to arrive. One of the hospital representatives recognized me and asked if I had my hospital ID. I retrieved it from my car and was sequestered for the next few days moving residents who were arriving from nursing homes in the flooded areas. We set up tables; served food, took residents for walks and for rides, watched movies in the library and prepared their beds. After the residents were relocated, I went to High River. One of my duties was to pass out bottled water and supplies with the Red Cross.
This year, 2019, is my 61st year of visiting the sick in our diocese. That’s 32 years at the Rockyview Hospital and five years at the new South Health Campus Hospital. After giving my notice to Alberta Health, I am still continuing my pastoral visits in our community and I look forward to many more years of service in the Pastoral Care ministry.
Your Brother in Christ,
Freedom to live authentic Christian lives according to one’s conscience is under attack by an aggressive secularism and it must be resisted, said Canada’s former Ambassador for Religious Freedom.
Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, an ordained deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, and the current Cardus Religious Freedom Institute Director, worries that if robust conscience rights are eroded in Canada, people who don’t hold the prevailing secularist values will be marginalized.
“That’s not democratic, it’s not right, it’s not just,” he said. “There is a concerted attempt to demonize those people who hold different views on the nature of human sexuality, on the nature of the dignity of the human person, and that’s unacceptable.”
“A lot of us often silence ourselves, or self-censor ourselves for fear that if we speak our minds or live according to our consciences, we will be demonized.”
But Bennett said it’s the moral obligation of Christians to speak out in charity and truth or otherwise risk moral injury and distress.
“For all of us as Catholics, we must live the faith truthfully and fully both in our private lives of faith and public lives of faith because our baptism calls us to be present in the world. And we must take courage, through our participation in the sacramental life of the Church, to step out into the public square and say what is true.”
He points to the examples of St. Thomas More and Blessed John Henry Newman (soon to be canonized a saint on Oct. 13) for strength and guidance in the area of conscience rights.
“We need both martyrs (like St. Thomas More) those who will witness to what is true in terms of religious freedom and conscience,” said Bennett. “These are people who might lose their jobs or status in their career, but they will be examples. We also need confessors (like Blessed John Henry Newman) those men and women who will step forward and give an account for why they hold the beliefs that they do, and to do so in a way that’s convincing to people.”
Bennett will speak about the necessity of conscience rights at a reception following Calgary’s Annual Red Mass on Oct. 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Saint Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Calgary hosts the Red Mass as an opportunity for judges, lawyers, elected officials, paralegals, file clerks, law students and all members of the legal community to pray for the pursuit of justice and mercy at the beginning of the new judicial term and to build community among those in the law profession.
The Red Mass celebrates the martyrdom of St. Thomas More who was executed by order of King Henry VIII for refusing to approve his divorce. It was first celebrated at the Cathedral of Paris in 1245, dates back to 1896 in Canada and re-instituted in Calgary in 2015.
“That is why the Red Mass is a celebration of the rule of law rather than the rule of men,” said Tom Ross, Saint Thomas More Lawyers' Guild of Calgary Chairman. “Part of the beauty of our legal system, compared to others in the world, is that we expect our laws to be honoured regardless of who may be adversely affected by them or who is in government. They apply equally to all.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Once per month, St. Bonaventure Pastor Fr. Colin O’Rourke brings Jesus into local schools for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Sisters of Divine Mercy play music as students gather in the gym, followed by a short talk. Then, Fr. O’Rourke exposes Jesus, fully present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the monstrance on the altar. He invites students to sit silently before God in prayer for 5-10 minutes, closing with benediction and a prayer to make a spiritual communion.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive to have a bunch of elementary school students sit quietly, people just think that’s not going to happen. And invariably, you can hear a pin drop. The kids are actually very attentive,” said Fr. O’Rourke.
St. Bonaventure Youth Minister Adam Soos coordinates the devotion between the parish and St. Boniface Elementary, St. Philip Elementary, St. Don Bosco Elementary/Junior High and St. Bonaventure Junior High. He said a transferring student asked him to call his new principal to ensure the school offers adoration.
“There is a lot of busyness in life,” said Soos. “Adoration is different from everything else. Instead of feeling scattered or worried, we feel peace. This is utterly authentic and the kids can pick up on it.”
Adoration is a relatively uncommon devotion in schools. In Soos seven years of youth ministry at St. Bonaventure, he’s noticed principals new to the school are usually apprehensive until they experience it.
“They say ‘wow, I’m sad I haven’t had this for my entire career,’” said Soos. “We get feedback that the school can seemingly be in chaos and after, for the rest of the day everyone is happy, content and there is a sense of peace.”
Soos notices more students attend Mass or a parish youth event following adoration in school. Fr. O’Rourke agrees. He said bringing Jesus to school students is more effective than simply inviting them to attend adoration in the parish, but in doing so, students are often inspired to follow Jesus to church.
Diocesan Moderator Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, former St. Bonaventure pastor, introduced adoration in these schools in 2010. When he was reassigned to Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, he instituted 20 minutes of guided reflection and silence before the Blessed Sacrament twice a month in Our Lady of the Snows School; a devotion, the current pastor, Fr. Nathan Siray continues.
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
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers