Unpacking Christmas Day
The art of accompaniment
“Help me!” Out of a dark bathroom in a long term care home, I heard a plaintive cry and froze. I was there to bring the Eucharist, nothing more. I turned to seek out an attendant and heard again, “Don’t leave me!” Heart pounding, I crept forward, identified myself loudly and turned on the lights to find an elderly woman on the toilet. With shaking hands I cleaned her and helped her to stand up. She leaned against me as we washed our hands. Secretly I thought, “I have wiped Christ’s bottom.”
Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of his brethren we do for him. This is true whether we cook for our family, give alms to the poor or serve at Mass. However, it might be particularly true when we are called to move out of our comfort zone and give more than we intended to. For example, when we offer to buy a street person a coffee and he chooses a whole meal with it. Or we call to check in on a friend and she spills out her woes for an hour. When we give of ourselves we prefer to have a measure of control over the experience but that is not how God gives of himself. God gave his only son, and Jesus gave his lifeblood for us. God continues to give constantly and completely, so we are called to do the same. This kind of self-emptying service is what Pope Francis called “the art of accompaniment”.
“The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity- into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (Evangelii Gaudium 169)
I am coming to understand The Art of Accompaniment through a series of talks given by Fr. Tim Boyle at St. Martha’s Parish in Lethbridge . So far Fr. Boyle has noted that accompaniment is not quite the same as caregiving, although it might include that. To accompany someone is to first of all recognize that God is with them. As guest speaker Reno Guimond said, “We are not bringing God to anyone. God has been there long before we show up. We go to see where God is.” Besides recognizing God in each person, we also need to understand how God works in the world.
Fr. Boyle encouraged his listeners to imagine God “delighting” in the world as he created it. “God has invested himself in creation,” Fr. Boyle said. “This is not a one-time event but an evolving artwork. If God accompanies us as an artist not as an engineer then God is vulnerable to the unfolding of Creation… God suffers in the process… God chooses to spend himself on creation.” This form of sacrificial support was expressed ultimately by God becoming human and Jesus’ death and resurrection.
For us, sacrificial giving of ourselves is often a challenge. Society dictates that one must preserve oneself, must learn to ‘Say No’, and ration one’s time and energy. Yet Creation shows otherwise. Fr. Boyle used the examples of salmon making death runs upstream to spawn, and sunflowers drying up to produce seeds for food and for procreation. “Like salmon and sunflowers, every creature, in order to reach their full potential, needs to empty themselves out”, Fr. Boyle said. So how is this achieved in practical terms? How does one accompany another person, whether continuously or when called upon?
It begins when we accept God’s accompaniment of us. This happens through grace which Fr. Boyle suggests is “like manna – something given by God every day which cannot be stored up but only taken advantage of that day.” Grace is not a weapon or superpower, it doesn’t enhance our abilities. Indeed it requires us to first accept that we have no ability without God. We are flawed and vulnerable beings made precious by God’s acceptance. It is God’s grace that sustains us, sanctifies us. When we understand this dynamic we are better prepared to handle the vulnerability of others, to accept it, and handle it gently.
Since my first incident of extreme vulnerability in long-term care, my ministry partner and I have been called upon to assist a few others at their times of greatest need, in life and even approaching death. While I still feel my heart pounding each time, the experiences have been deeply humbling. I know God is helping me learn how to cherish the sacred ground of others.
Living the faith in Western Canada
If we could imagine a few cowboys praising the Lord with country music and coming to Mass on horseback with their best hats, faith in Alberta could not be summed up with these clichés. (Although, they are true from time to time!). So who are the believers in Alberta? In the land of cowboys and mountains, God has also pitched his tent. Now let’s zoom in on the reality of believers in a part of Western Canada.
Alberta is a "land of immigration", says Ambroise, who has been living in Calgary for a little over a year. Naturally, the young man, originally from France, was looking for a community to join when he arrived from Montreal. His goal was to find young people and a community that would connect him to his French heritage.
"I haven't been able to find the best of both worlds - people my age with whom to practice my faith or with whom to talk to about religious topics. However, I have felt a bit at home since I think that speaking one's native language allows you to really connect with yourself and your identity."
People "at Mass!"
Ambroise attends the English-speaking young adult community of St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy, as well as the only French-speaking parish in Calgary, Sainte-Famille. These two communities are not necessarily opposed to each other, but both offer their own richness and spiritual nourishment. However, "particularly linking oneself to a parish" remains complex.
"St. Francis Xavier is quite typical of the relatively young English-speaking communities in North America - a kind of return to a certain root in the sense of a search for a connection to the “origins”, also quite intellectualized. It's a certain return to the roots where excess is removed.”
"At Sainte-Famille, it's more family-oriented. Older. There are fewer young people. There is this balance with families and a lot of interculturality and involvement of multicultural people in the life of the parish. It facilitates the integration of newcomers! I think there's a nice welcome.”
"Indeed, in the pews on Sundays, there are the Knights of Columbus, newcomers from the African community, French "expats", families from Quebec, seniors from Alberta’s French-speaking community who have been involved for 30 or 40 years and, in the midst of all these beautiful people, an Iraqi parish priest of more than ten years who belongs to the Chaldean Church. They are really beautiful people at Mass!
What strikes Ambroise most in his experience of faith in the West? "Close-knit communities! For example, Sainte-Famille is a close-knit community mainly because it is a welcoming community for French-speaking Christians. In a desire to integrate, I think that as a newcomer, you have the desire to get involved.”
He also had this impression of a "close" and tightly woven community during his visit to Lac Sainte-Anne, a well-known pilgrimage site where Pope Francis visited last summer.
Parish atmosphere connected to local life
The pastor of Sainte-Famille Parish, Monsignor Noël Farman, recently visited several classes in some French Catholic schools in Calgary to have discussions about the sacraments and faith. Some young people asked him about how one can get baptized. It was such a great opportunity to connect. In fact, it is the children from several classes who will be making the decorations for the major liturgical feasts at Sainte- Famille Parish again this year. This is something that does not occur in Quebec, but which seems to be lived organically in Alberta.
In 2003, the Conseil de l'Education de la Foi Catholique (Council of the Education of the Catholic Faith amongst Francophones) chez les francophones de l'Alberta (CÉFFA) was born out of a need for "faith education among francophones". CÉFFA offers materials in French, resources to accompany the four French-language school boards in Alberta, and, above all, "a network of collaboration, exchange and training for those involved in the dioceses, school boards, schools and parishes". All of this "in a dynamic that complements the family, school and parish plans", as stated on their website.
The Alberta church is also rolling up its sleeves to respond to the call of Pope Francis by going to the peripheries. For example, there are prayer vigils on Tuesday evenings at the L'Arche community in Calgary (and probably elsewhere).
Elizabeth House, an initiative of the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis and the Diocese of Calgary since 1996, is a home for single mothers who are pregnant or have a baby and provides a space for living and rehabilitation.
Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) has a strong presence on Alberta university campuses, and the founding couple is originally from Alberta. In short, for many, faith echoes the spiritual and social needs of Alberta's territories and offers a venue for action and prayer.
Urban Christians, rural Christians
"I come from the area around St. Paul [two hours from Edmonton], where there is a fairly strong Francophone presence," explains Claudie-Anne, married with three children. The surrounding villages were all founded by priests who brought in French Canadians at the beginning of the last century. So the faith has shaped our countryside."
Like many places in Canada, she senses a decline in Catholic religious practice. However, Alberta does not seem to be having a "quiet revolution." "The transmission of the faith has happened without any sudden interruption." As a result, the "vast majority" of people around her believe in God, whether they are Catholics or other Christian denominations.
"I would say that the community’s faith is going to Mass on Sundays. And that's it. We have very few opportunities to share or nurture our faith. We still manage, but sometimes we feel alone as young people holding the dual Francophone-Catholic identity." In addition, she and her husband are involved in various parish services. "The rest of our faith life is spent as a family and as a couple."
Landscapes in the heart
The territory obviously marks the faith experience. The countryside or the city. French or English. The traditions or the modernity. There are so many differences that can separate as well as unite. It's all about the art of drawing from the right places and finding a little time to offer where the heart is called. Nature cannot be absent from this growing journey of faith. In front of these grandiose landscapes of nature, where lakes and mountains touch the sky, where the heart expands in front of so much space and majesty, the soul can only grow by criss-crossing new interior landscapes that are mysteriously revealed. It is almost as if one could see the Good Lord arriving on horseback, far away, leaping over the hills (Cf. 2:8) and into the valleys of green grass where small herds of cows graze quietly here and there, living their most beautiful life.
A Catholic Divorce? Certainly not.
Find out why the term “Annulment” is problematic and why it’s not the same as the Declaration of Nullity. Watch this brief video with Fr. Mark-Mary.
It takes three to make a marriage: man, woman, and God. It only takes one for marriages to fail.
He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”. Matthew 19:4-6
All things beautiful last forever, and beauty involves joy, hardships, mutual self-giving, and sacrifice.
Pope Francis. Your Holiness,
I am an eighty-three-year-old woman, born and raised Roman Catholic Christian from the Swampy Cree Nation. I want to thank you for being with us in our homeland of Canada, to share our pain and our sorrow during this time of finding
unmarked graves and reliving the era of the residential school system. You have taken responsibility and humbled yourself by professing shame for the Catholic Church’s treatment of the First Nations in our land. How moving it was to hear you say, “I am deeply sorry. I humbly beg for your forgiveness for the evil committed by many Christians.”
There is no other gesture, no other humbler words, nor more sacred than these words, “I am deeply sorry”. Forgiveness is the way to freedom and peace as Jesus, our Lord and Saviour taught us in the “Our Father”, a prayer which says,
“...Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...” Luke 11:1
Thank you for your powerful words and example of humility and compassion. Dear Pope Francis, you have graced us with your presence.
I want to give tribute to the priests and sisters of the past and present who have remained true to their vocation to teach about God’s love for us. We remain grateful for their prayers in sustaining us through the good and difficult times. Their names and deeds remain within our hearts. Many people recall and remember favourite nuns and priests. Stories and memories of them bring loneliness and joy. Many faithful religious have died on our land evangelizing and teaching the Bible. We are blessed to have our own patron saint, St. Kateri Tekakwitha. We have quiet saints around us - grandparents, parents, our wise and faith-filled elders, our relentless leaders who speak and work for our people in Truth and Reconciliation. God bless their enormous work. This historic visit was made possible by their dedication and persistence in seeking the Truth and Reconciliation. Thank you to the Bishops and Priests who organized the liturgical part of the celebration. Thank you for all who supported the Indigenous endeavour in hosting this sacred event.
This is the beginning of a new chapter in our story. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6. This is also a renewed and continued relationship with the Catholic Church. The crowning of you with the headdress was a significant sign of acceptance of our cultural beliefs and a better understanding of inculturation of our Catholic and native traditions.
Your powerful penitential pilgrim speech will remain in my heart, and in all our hearts, in the spirit of mercy, compassion and love. Each person, guided by the Holy Spirit, will find a way to heal.
On this first step of my journey, I have wanted to make space for memory. Here, today, I am with you to recall the past, to grieve with you, to bow our heads together in silence and to pray before the graves. Let us allow these moments of silence to help us interiorize our pain. Silence. And prayer. In the face of evil, we pray to the Lord of goodness; in the face of death, we pray to the God of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ took a grave, which seemed the burial place of every hope and dream, leaving behind only sorrow, pain and resignation, and made it a place of rebirth and resurrection, the beginning of a history of new life and universal reconciliation. Our own efforts are not enough to achieve healing and reconciliation: we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter. May he bring to fulfilment the deepest expectations of our hearts. May he guide our steps and enable us to advance together on our journey."
With sincere gratitude,
From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work (Psalm 104:13).
The Israelites speak about Mount Zion with great reverence. The temple in Jerusalem might not have been the highest point in the known world at the time, but it was very significant for the people of God. In this line from the psalms, we see God reflecting back this reverence: he waters the mountains and they bear fruit. But this simple depiction of the water cycle takes on a deeper spiritual meaning: the fruit of God’s work is similar.
I remember Fr. Keith Sorge telling a story of his friends who came to visit Calgary for the first time. They were awed when he took them to see the mountains: “How can you not be out here every weekend; and they’re so close.”
We have a great gift to live where we do, and experience our Rockies whenever we want. The Angel’s on High weekend is a chance to experience this wonder of God’s creation within our community and to build it up.
With our two hikes this year to Troll Falls and going up to the Orphan above Canmore, we saw a world “charged with the grandeur of God” (Gerard Manley Hopkins). For some, it was a chance to relax in nature. For others, it was a challenge that pushed us to know ourselves better. For still others, it was a chance to visit and build community. Through it all, we became more subtle instruments of God to bear his fruit. Too often, we get caught up in everything moving and being pulled from one thing to the next. Our Angel’s on High weekend gives us, as a parish, a chance to draw on the waters of God and be refreshed and replenished.
Next year has begun its planning too, and we think a trip down to Waterton in late July is perfect. So if you would like to experience God in nature with St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish next year, please join us!
Submitted by Fr. James Hagel, Pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Chestermere, AB
Men from the God Squad and several Catholic churches in the Calgary Diocese recently came together to give an old church a facelift in Brocket, Alberta, located on the Piikani Nation between Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek.
The work done at St. Paul’s was more than just some exterior painting and repairs. It was also symbolic.
Deacon Tom O’Toole, who is assigned to St. Paul’s, said the parish is a community of elders and it doesn’t have all the resources within the Nation to handle some of these bigger projects.
“We think it’s an opportunity in the spirit of truth and reconciliation to show the universality of the Church in its beauty and diversity,” said O’Toole, who has been at the parish for about six or seven years. “They did some of the harder work that we were not able to accomplish on our own but we gave them something too.
“We paid them with our affection. We fed them. They brought their own food. But we participated in that. And our elders were here. It wasn’t just a simple act of splashing paint on a building. It rolled up into a bigger purpose which is to bring all God’s people together and show the beauty. These people who came from St. Peter’s, I’ve known them for a long time. So I’m not surprised how fantastic they are and a few of them have come to help before so they’re not a stranger here either. That to me is how relationship is built and how truth and reconciliation makes its way around the bases so to speak.”
During his ministry as a Deacon, O’Toole has also been assigned in the past to St. Peter’s.
Sean Lynn, who spearheads the God Squad organization, said about a dozen volunteers came out in late August to do some work on the aging St. Paul’s building.
“It was a great opportunity for us to put into action a love for the Church and reach out to the First Nations’ community showing that we want to work with them, we want to start those conversations, we want to be present in their community. And the Church, it’s a way of reopening the dialogue with them,” explained Lynn.
Lynn also wanted to give a big shout out to Dan Lebsack of Cougar Painting, who joined the work crew for the St. Paul’s initiative, offering his professional experience, advice and expertise as well as his painting skills.
“They did great work. A great service that we all appreciate. I announced it in the church,” said Rev. Roy Jayamaha, of St. Paul’s. “We really appreciated their great efforts. It was a wonderful thing. They put their heart and soul and work for our community. It was a great thing.
“We believe that the door to salvation is always open and so are the doors to our church. Our mission is to be fully devoted to Jesus by opening our arms to those in search of the truth. We show God’s love and concern for our fellow humanity at every opportunity. Through works of charity and opening our doors to listen and love, we feel that we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
The God Squad, a Catholic men’s organization, whose vision through the guidance of St. Joseph, is to form and strengthen men, inspiring them to embrace God’s vocation in their lives.
Other volunteers included people from St. Peter’s, Holy Spirit and St. James churches in Calgary as well as St. Mary’s in Brooks.
Father Roy was originally from Sri Lanka and arrived in the Calgary Diocese in 2014 after having worked as a missionary in Pakistan for 38 years. Bishop Frederick Henry appointed him pastor of St. Paul’s in January 2016.
“My prayer for this community is that together we will rediscover the joy of the Gospel, bringing many people back to church by our personal witness. The youth and children are our future and together we must strive to find new ways and means to share God’s love for creation. My faith tells me, it is the work of the Lord we are doing and He will guide our steps forward,” said Father Roy.
Submitted by Fr. Shibu Kallarakkal, Pastor of Mother of the Redeemer Parish, Calgary
Our parish, Mary Mother of the Redeemer in Calgary, held the annual Feast of Nations on August 7, 2022 this year. The event is known throughout Calgary with people from all over coming out to celebrate the diversity of cultures in our community. The Feast of Nations provides an opportunity to come together in faith as one family, and to keep us grounded in our own culture while adapting to new ones. To support cross-cultural understanding, this event also honours various cultural and spiritual celebrations which are important to the people in our parish coming to celebrate the Eucharist together. Together they enjoyed international artistic performances and delicious food from different parts of the world. This event helped bring together our English, Spanish and Italian communities while raising funds for our church activities.
This well attended event took place in various Parish facilities like the church, parking lot and lower hall. Our preparation began a few weeks earlier, involving a multidisciplinary team comprised of the general manager, liturgy coordinators, accountants, volunteers, the food handling coordinator, sound equipment and multimedia technicians, maintenance and stage crew, as well as those performing different acts and presentations. Our food stand representatives put their best efforts to showcase their national cuisine, gathering ingredients, and decorating their stands. This year our food stands featured cuisines from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Italia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
The event started after the 11 am Mass with dances followed by the celebration of Cultures Mass at 1 pm by Fr. Shibu Kallarakkal, Fr. Shaiju Ponmalakunnel, and Fr. Pydayya Yajjala, representing a variety of ministry groups and nationalities through a variety of songs and dances. The Introductory Rite for the Mass began with African dance, with their powerful drumming and energetic melodies. Prayers and readings were read in different languages throughout the liturgy as well as a special African rite for the entrance of the Gospel. Representatives from several nations also carried their national flag in the inaugural parade. This Mass highlighted the importance of our Catholic faith, and the faithful's connection to their heritage and religion. Representatives of different ethnic ministry groups offered songs and dances to highglight the importance of their Catholic faith, personal connections to their heritage, and the inescapable link between their roots and religion.
The cultural activities followed the 1 pm Mass with live music, dancing in cultural outfits, food stands from the participating countries (following the Alberta food handling guidelines) and other groups, such as the Catechesis group, Los Montianos (consecrated laity), youth groups such as the Jubilee group who provided face painting and a bouncy castle for kids, Ephphatha and Guardians of Jesus who provided water & pop, and candies, and several sponsors’ stands.
During the Feast of Nations event, various performing arts were performed at the main stage, which encompassed a wide range of acts including dancing, singing, playing traditional music, etc. Throughout the festival area, food vendors from different countries, served by volunteers of the community, were providing a variety of food and drinks for all event participants to enjoy. There were activities for everyone, and it all came together thanks to all the community members who volunteered for this event and generously donated their time, talents, and materials to make the Feast of Nations a success.
I’m sitting at a workshop, flipping through the workbook and only half listening to the presenter. Then I hear her say, “Jesus is standing at the front of this room, he’s pointing to you. He’s saying, ‘I choose you!’” I look up shocked. The presenter is relating a vision her husband (in another province) had the night before. It sounds like merely an anecdote except that I was wondering at that moment if any of the challenging material we were covering was even applicable to a conscripted Eucharistic Minister like me. According to the presenter, it was not by chance or curiosity that I was here. I was called by Jesus himself. I sit up straighter and listen more attentively.
This June, as we contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it’s fitting to also contemplate how we might be called to love more like Jesus does. In his writing about devotion to the Sacred Heart, Bishop Donald J. Hying says, “If love means willing the good of the other, completely free of self-interest, we see the perfection of such charity in the burning heart of Christ. Lest we think such a love is naïve, simplistic or easy, the Sacred Heart shines forth, crowned with thorns, pierced and bleeding.”
These twin aspects of Jesus’s love for us – personal and sacrificial – are mirrored in Pastoral Care ministry. Pastoral journeying involves face-to-face, focused attention on another person. This type of love goes much deeper than good deeds. It touches people’s broken hearts and has the potential to break open our hearts in the process. That’s why pastoral care ministry requires plenty of prayer and proper training.
Recently, the Calgary diocese held a pastoral care training session facilitated by Virginia Battiste (MTS). The workshop spanned four days, over two weekends, and included topics like Pastoral Care Listening, Caring for the Aging, Grief and Loss, End of Life Care and Self Care for the Caregiver. Pastoral care is defined as offering consolation and support to a person experiencing loss or stress. This could include bereavement ministry, hospital visiting and palliative accompaniment, among others things.
I attended the session via Zoom at St. Martha Church in Lethbridge. There were about a dozen attendees from all over southern Alberta so we were able to have small-group discussions in addition to listening to the presenter from Calgary. As an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who takes Communion to a long term care facility, I wasn’t sure if the workshop would be applicable to me. Indeed, the first module contrasted “parish care” (which includes taking the Eucharist to shut-ins) with “pastoral care”.
Parish care is practical and often social. It might involve sharing cards, meals, rides or phone calls. It focuses on doing. Pastoral care focuses on being. It involves one-to-one listening with people who are ill, hospitalized, dying, recently bereaved or generally feeling lost and isolated. It’s all about the other person, never oneself. So though Eucharistic ministry is primarily pragmatic, it sometimes involves individuals who are sick or sad. To that extent, Eucharistic ministry can become pastoral, so Virginia Battiste’s presentation helped me to prepare for that possibility.
What does it mean to provide pastoral care?
It is about offering consolation and support in whatever form is appropriate to the other person at their time of need. It means being present, listening, trying to understand and empathize, without preaching or counselling. It is a ministry of accompaniment.
How much time does pastoral care take?
Ideally, pastoral care is offered in the context of a relationship, and relationships develop over time. However, listening happens in moments – small opportunities to receive the words which someone needs or wants to share. Often, it’s not about taking more time but about making the most of the time we have.
What are the characteristics of a pastoral caregiver?
This ministry requires patience, compassion, empathy, kindness and understanding. It asks one to be attentive to the cues and needs of the other person, to be flexible, dependable and non-judgmental. Pastoral listeners should be secure in their own identities and aware of both their strengths and their limitations.
If you feel called to pastoral listening, please consider offering your God-given talents through your parish. The need is greater than ever post-Covid. While many of us now have opportunities to share our feelings with a friend face-to-face, the same isn’t true for everyone. Some people don’t wish to ‘burden’ their friends and families with their feelings. Others still feel isolated post-pandemic and haven’t been able to return to in-person or social activities. Now more than ever pastoral outreach is needed to connect with those who feel anxious and marginalized.
Even if we don’t feel able to take on Pastoral Care ministry in all its richness, we might still employ pastoral listening in our daily lives. All around us people who are struggling and simply need to be heard; perhaps that coworker who appears forlorn or that neighbour who lost their beloved pet a month ago or even a downcast family member. We can ask, “How are you doing?” or “Would you like to talk?” and take some uninterrupted time to listen without the need to offer solutions or even affirmations. We can be a reflection of God’s sacrificial love in someone else’s life, a teeny, tiny replica of Jesus’s own Sacred Heart.
Clergy Personnel Announcement
Priest Assignment; Deacon Assignment; Clergy Personnel Announcements; Pastoral Assignment; Priests Move
A shrine to Our Lady of Lavang
A shrine to Our Lady of Lavang in the parish of St. Vincent Liem, Calgary has recently been built and blessed, and is the pride and joy of the Vietnamese community in the city.
Fr. Joseph Canh Vu, pastor of St. Francis Assisi parish and former pastor of St. Vincent Liem parish (2009-2017), says the Blessed Virgin Mary is an important part of the Vietnamese Catholic culture and the shrine has become popular for those who want to pray and honour the Holy Mother of God.
The shrine is devoted to the story of Our Lady who is said to have appeared many times in Lavang, Vietnam in 1798.
“The Vietnamese people are fond of the devotion of the Virgin Mary in Vietnam. Families say the Rosary often before going to bed,” said Father Joseph. “In Vietnam, it’s a tradition to devote ourselves to the Virgin Mary.
“The community is very excited. When people come to Mass, or even weekday Mass, they go to say a prayer in front of the shrine.”
St. Vincent Liem Church, which is located in the Forest Lawn neighbourhood, was formerly in Inglewood. After years of growth in Inglewood, the Church made the bold move to build a new Church where it is located today at 2412 48th Street SE. The current pastor of the church is Fr. Nguyễn Đức Vượng. The associate pastor is Fr. Phạm Công Liêm.
The new church was dedicated on July 11, 2015 by Bishop Emeritus Frederick Henry of the Calgary Diocese. It is known for its grandeur and modern architecture, featuring an open concept, natural lighting, and the versatile design with a touch of the Vietnamese heritage.
In the years 2009-2010, the St. Vincent Liem parish in Inglewood began to seriously contemplate building a new Church. The number of people attending Mass was increasing. Parking for the weekend was increasingly becoming more difficult.
From 2011 to 2013, the parish began planning the construction of a new Church. On June 15, 2013, the first broken stone officially opened the construction of a new Church in the Forest Lawn area. After the new Church was built, on May 16, 2015, the statue of Our Lady was moved and temporarily placed at the back area of the Church as a place for parishioners to pray.
On March 25, the parish held a Mass for the laying of the first stone to inaugurate the construction of the shrine. The project was completed in early October. On Oct. 10, Bishop William McGrattan officially blessed the shrine of Our Lady of Lavang.
Fr. Wojciech Jarzecki can still hear the church bells ringing throughout his hometown of Chrzanow, Poland the day Bishop Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II.
“He was my bishop because I’m from the Diocese of Krakow. When he became a pope it was a pretty big deal,” said Fr. Jarzecki, who was only 6-years-old at the time.
He could have never anticipated that years later he would literally continue to be so close to the late pontiff and be able to share that sense of closeness with his Calgary Diocese and beyond.
Fr. Jarzecki has gifted Sacred Heart Parish in Strathmore with a rare first class relic of the modern-day saint. He served as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish for more than 10 years before being reassigned last year to St. Michael’s Parish in Bow Island, Alta.
“The major impact that he made in my life was to show that the faith is not just something you have in your room; That the faith can mold your life, can mold the life of society and the country. Faith is not a theoretical thing, but it’s a practical thing,” said Fr. Jarzecki.
And the Catholic faith doesn’t get much more practical than relics. Three years ago Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gifted Fr. Jarzecki with two first class relics of St. John Paul II’s blood.
During a medical procedure the Pope’s blood was drawn and kept in vials for a potential blood transfusion. After the Pope died, Cardinal Dziwisz had the unused blood turned into first class relics. Fr. Jarzecki called up the Cardinal to ask for a relic, and after some papal procedures, his request was granted. He traveled to Poland to receive the relic and bring it home to Canada.
The relic looks like dried blood on a tiny piece of cloth encased in a pyx-like container with a glass top. Today, the relic is kept at the Sacred Heart Parish office and is brought out to venerate inside a reliquary on special occasions such as Oct. 22 – the feast day of St. John Paul II.
At this time the parish community meets in the Holy Cross Collegiate gymnasium, while they raise funds to renovate a former IGA building into their new church building. The long term plan is to build a St. John Paul II chapel that will permanently house one of two relics; the other would be placed in the church altar.
Sacred Heart parishioner Tomas Rochford is honoured that his parish houses John Paul the Great’s first class relic because he admires the late pontiff for authorizing the writing of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, deepening the Church’s teachings on sexuality with The Theology of the Body and upholding the dignity of the person amidst political corruption.
“I find inspiring his ability to stand against the two great forms of tyranny in the last century – the fascism and nazism of Germany, but also communism, both of which affected Poland, and to come out of that situation not bitter, but reminding us that the answers to the moral, political, social problems are not to be found in a better, more powerful state, but in Christ ultimately,” said Rochford, the high school religion teacher at Holy Cross Collegiate in Strathmore
“That’s such an important witness even today when different forms of totalitarianism, even democratic totalitarianism, which is not as obvious as being taken to a gulag, can take authentic freedom away. I think John Paul II in his writings and the witness of his life is definitely someone we can turn to in this day and age.”
Fr. Jarzecki hopes the relics will make tangible the life of St. John Paul II and that the lessons taken from history provide important guidance for how to live (or not to live) today.
He remembers it wasn’t until he was 17-years-old in 1989 when Poland began to regain its freedom from communism. He remembers how the Communist Government put his father under house arrest because he was part of the Solidarity Movement in Poland opposing communism.
“When (Pope John Paul II) was speaking to Polish people during the Communist (rule) he didn’t talk about taking up arms, what he was basically saying is you are children of God and no one can take that away from you. God gives you freedom, this is not a government gift,” said Fr. Jarzecki.
“He showed how our faith can be so powerful if we follow it. Nobody believed communism could come to an end and it collapsed because of the Catholic faith.”
Love is sharing a pizza
Shareable and delicious, pizza is a dish for friends. Parishioners and staff at St. Joseph’s in northwest Calgary know this from experience. This year their priest, new to the parish since August 2020, served them up over one hundred of his own homemade pizzas, spread over several occasions.
Fr. Marek Paczka described himself as “not a cook,” but nonetheless decided he might be able to learn to make something as simple as pizza.
The story behind the pizzas is both sad and hopeful. Fr. Marek spoke about an Italian couple who befriended him when he was a parish priest in Port Alberni, BC.
“They invited me to dinner and we became friends. I would dine at their house at least once a week for 15 years, even when I moved parishes and had to drive 110 kilometers.”
Having fallen in love with Italian culture while spending 2 years in Rome, Fr. Marek found it easy to spend time with this special couple and their friends around the dinner table, and was even included on special occasions like Christmas and Easter
“There is something about sitting down together and just facing each other,” he said, adding that in Italian culture it is common for families and friends to spend thousands of hours together at the table.
He spent many hours with his friends eating wonderful meals at dinner parties, and mentioned mushroom picking and enjoying produce from their vegetable garden.
This past year, the husband half of this couple passed away fairly suddenly from cancer. Fr. Marek was shocked.
“I didn’t make it to see him before he died,” he said, “but I did make it to his funeral.”
Because he wanted to preserve something of the friendship he had with this man and his wife and guided by his feelings for Italian cooking, Fr. Marek said he asked another mutual friend, Elvia Orli, how to make pizza.
“I could never cook the wonderful Italian meals that my friends made,” he explained, “but I thought I could try to make pizza,” he said.
“I tried and tried and tried and it never worked. I gave up when my dough didn’t rise. I had done something wrong. But this year I thought I’d try again, so I phoned Elvia and asked her again for the recipe and had her tell me what to do.
“I realized it was simple, and this time I was successful. I was shocked because I’m not a cook. It’s just flour and water, yeast and salt and a little bit of oil.
“I made four pizzas with ham and veggies and some chives from the garden here (at St. Joseph’s) and I tested it first myself, secretly. Then I shared with my secretary and eventually a few of the other staff.
“Then one Sunday after Mass I shared pizzas with the parish.”
Thus far, Fr. Marek has made over one-hundred-and-ten pizzas for various people in his parish. “I thought that once I’d made one-hundred, I could be comfortable with it.”
“I was just fascinated by the fact that I was making pizza. I have used over 30 kilograms of flour, not to mention the meat and other ingredients.”
Inspired by a friendship and helping his relationship to his parish, pizza making has become a hobby, though Fr. Marek said that cooking has never been his passion.
He also cites the attitudes that bring communities together as another inspiration for the pizza.
“I learned this growing up and also from my time building houses in Zambia, that material things are not as important as people. The poor appreciate things, and they have a culture of making things themselves, and sharing, contributing to community life.”
“My mother grew up in a poor family and we were poor, but she shared what she had, and I suppose I wanted to share what I can do with the people around me. There is a joy in helping someone with the essentials, and I guess I am feeding people.”
A few parishioners had great things to say about Fr. Marek’s pizzas,
“The pizza is delicious, writes Susan Couture, “but what makes it so special is the love that goes into it. “The topping is always a nice surprise. We had one that had leek on it which I’ve never seen on a pizza before but it was delish.” Mia Drewniak writes, “I love the crust and the healthy toppings. Lots of garden herbs and even leeks made it on to the pizza. Inspiring!”
Out of a desire to honour dear friends, to honour a mother’s example and to serve his parishioners, Fr. Marek has in a unique way brought together tradition and connection.
Bridges of New Year’s traditions
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
Parishioners of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on the Piikani Nation will arrive at the Christmas Eve mass a bit early; the church is relatively small and the place is likely to be packed. Upon entering the wooden building, the faithful will pause near the front door, using their hands to waft sweet grass smoke over their heads and arms. Smudging is an indigenous spiritual practice that’s used to bless or purify people before meaningful ceremonies. At St. Paul’s, the smudge bowl is side-by-side with the holy water. It is a practice Fr. Roy Jayamaha embraced when he arrived at the country church nearly four years ago.
Having worked in Catholic communities in Pakistan, where more than 98 percent of people practice Islam, the Sri Lankan-born priest knows that meaningful inter-cultural dialogue requires action. “I feel the main pastoral work here is to lift high the spirit of our people and respect their rich culture, I always try to find connections to meet them with Creator."
St. Paul’s is located in Brocket, a rural community about 20 km from Pincher Creek. Since Fr. Roy’s arrival, the church has added a tipi-shaped tabernacle. Other altar and church hall adornments also feature the work of local indigenous artists.
Parishioners appreciate the integration of their cultural practices and symbols, says Vera Potts, who has served as parish council chair since Fr. Roy arrived. A mother of three, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of 11, the 80-year-old Potts takes that same attitude of a willing servant to work with her every day at the local health clinic, where she still works full time.
A residential school survivor, Potts admits she can be overwhelmed by fearful memories of that experience. “I’ve learned to forgive. But being human, it’s hard to forget and a lot of triggers happen still today.” Nevertheless, her faith provides consolation and hope. “I can trust in the Lord. He’s the only one in the world who could pull me through what I experienced.”
Once open mostly for Sundays and funerals, St. Paul’s began offering Sunday and daily masses when Fr. Roy arrived in 2016. While this country pastor typically celebrates the 5 p.m. daily mass alone, people are coming to the Sunday service. Many of them stay after mass to share food and fellowship in the basement hall. These informal gatherings include full meals after masses that celebrate major feast days or important events. The potlucks attract Catholics and non-Catholics alike and all the food is donated. “In our culture, the elders teach us never to be stingy with food. We share food. We live by that,” says Potts, noting that Christ taught the same.
Parishioners also volunteer their time to maintain the church and grounds, which includes a grotto and a small-scale replica of the first church that once served a Catholic residential school located about 7 km from present-day St. Paul’s.
Since Fr. Roy’s arrival, St. Paul’s has upgraded the church, liturgical items, put a new roof on the replica church, renovated the church hall and painted the rectory. All of the work was financed by parish fundraisers, Mission Council, good friends and generous benefactors. This fall, parishioners raised $2,000 towards the church insurance bill by volunteering with a local catering company. Earlier in the year, they added another $1,000 by hosting a giant garage sale.
“Father Roy makes us really work,” says Potts with a laugh. “All of what we have is through fundraising. We’re not a rich reserve, but we take a lot of pride in what we have.”
Like Fr. Roy, Potts is pleased that 19 Piikani children received First Communion at St. Paul’s in 2018. Another four were confirmed by Bishop William McGrattan in 2019. With time, Potts is hopeful more people will bring their children to mass and receive the sacraments. “We need parents to be really taking responsibility for teaching their own children the importance of Christianity.”
Her comments mirror Deacon Thomas O’Toole’s thoughts about his work at St. Paul’s. O’Toole, who also serves as a deacon at St. Peter’s in northwest Calgary, admits some might note the differences between the parishes he serves, one in a First Nation community of 3,500 people, the other in a suburban neighbourhood of Alberta’s largest city.
O’Toole focuses on the similarities. He hopes parishioners at both churches “grow together in love for Jesus, Mary and Joseph such that they will be a light for others.” Like Potts, he also wants Catholics “to engage with the sacraments and come to know the great love God has for us.”
For Fr. Roy, a willingness to be a witness of Christ’s love sometimes means inviting locals, including some homeless men, to share a meal with him at the rectory. He also takes homeless men with him when he participates in an annual highway cleanup day and offers a hot meal in exchange for their labour and company. “As far as I know, our parish is the only parish that goes for highway cleanup with their pastor and the deacon,” says Fr. Roy.
Drop by drop, a river forms
That same spirit of sharing what you have prompted Potts to suggest an addition to this year’s Christmas Eve mass. Earlier in the year, Fr. Roy gave jars to parishioners. Since then, each family has “put coins in there and at midnight mass they can put their jars at the crib,” says Potts.
The offerings, made with love and humility, show the community’s love of Christ and its appreciation for their church. “The sacred rituals and the holy place are so dear to their hearts,” says Fr. Roy.
The little country church he shepherds also hosts AA meetings, gospel music nights and interdenominational healing services. Plans are underway to restore and preserve the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto built at the residential school some 75 years ago. Every year, St. Paul’s holds an outdoor mass at that grotto, which many locals visit as a pilgrimage. The annual mass attracts residential school survivors who attended Catholic and Anglican schools in the area.
Fr. Roy is hopeful that recent changes at St. Paul’s are evidence of what Pope Francis has called the Church to do. Speaking at the closing mass of the Amazon Synod held in October, the Pope said, “how many times, even in the Church, have the voices of the poor not been heard and perhaps scoffed at or silenced because they are inconvenient.”
Reflecting on his time at St. Paul’s, Fr. Roy says faith and fellowship are fueling positive change at Piikani Nation. “Drop by drop, it’s becoming a river.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos submitted by St. Paul's in Brocket.
Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics converged on St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Oct. 13 for the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Medical doctor Thomas Bouchard of Calgary was one of many Canadians in the jubilant crowd. A week before the event, Bouchard admitted he was not sure where he’d be seated. “I’m happy to be where ever I’m placed,” said Bouchard, who was grateful to bear witness to the canonization of a saint whose work informs his own intellectual, professional and personal life.
Newman, who died in 1890, will be the patron saint of seekers. He converted to evangelical Christianity as a young man and was later ordained a priest in the Anglican church. Renowned as an Oxford academic, theologian and poet, Newman was received into the Catholic church in 1845 at the age of 44. Newman embraced the Catholic tradition as a call from God, but acknowledged his conversion, a controversial move in the United Kingdom, ended some relationships with friends and family.
Introduced to Newman’s theology at Newman Centre of McGill University, Bouchard attributes his intellectual formation in the faith to the Catholic academics who lectured there. Friends from that period of his life include Fr. Kim D’Souza, a Toronto priest who is studying in Rome. Bouchard was D’Souza’s guest at the canonization.
“The miracle that led to Cardinal Newman’s canonization is incredibly beautiful,” says Bouchard, who says the story has special resonance for him as a family doctor who delivers babies. The miracle involves an American woman who experienced severe bleeding during her fifth pregnancy. Alone with her other four children, Melissa Villalobos realized she was bleeding so badly she was likely to die. Devoted to Cardinal Newman since her days at university, she called out to Newman for help. The bleeding stopped and an ultrasound done later the same day confirmed her placenta was no longer torn.
The miracle, which occurred in 2013, was formally accepted by Pope Francis in February 2019.
To Bouchard, the miracle demonstrates the universality of the saints. “They care about everybody and I just think it’s beautiful that Newman, who is an academic, is also interceding on behalf of this woman.”
St. John the Evangelist
Back in Calgary, Newman’s canonization received special attention at St. John the Evangelist parish in Inglewood. A Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, St. John offers a special welcome to Anglicans who seek to join the Catholic Church.
Fr. Robert Bengry, who came to the Catholic Church through the Anglican tradition, recognizes a kindred spirit in Newman. “Unless one is entirely an adventurer, it helps to know someone has already successfully made a journey one is about to embark upon. Newman made the journey home to the Catholic Church and gives others the courage to walk in his footsteps.”
Newman teaches that “one must be prepared to lose everything in order to follow Christ,” adds Bengry. “This certainly happened to Newman—loss of friendships, status, identity—but of course one gains everything of what is truly important. Chiefly the salvation of one’s own soul.”
To celebrate Newman’s sainthood, St. John the Evangelist invited Bishop Fred Henry to give the homily at the 10 am Mass on Sunday, Oct. 13.
The parish will welcome a first-class relic of the new saint on Friday, Nov. 29. The relic will be exposed at 6:30 pm with Sung Evensong. That will be followed by individual veneration. The relic will then be placed in view for collective veneration for an hour. During that time, a number of reflections from St. Newman’s writings will be shared. The evening will feature Newman hymns and will end with Sung Compline at 8 pm.
Fr. Bengry says the event is open to anyone who wants to attend. The veneration of a Saint John Henry Newman relic has special meaning for his parishioners since the event marks 10 years since the Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated, providing a process for Anglicans to return to the fold.
Details of Newman’s life and canonization can be found at www.newmancanonisation.com. Dr. Thomas Bouchard encourages people to read Newman’s story. Like Pope Benedict, Bouchard views stories about the lives of saints as a kind of second gospel. “Because they live out the gospel in their lives, reading about the lives of saints is really like reading the gospel.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. John Evangelist, Calgary
Calgary’s position on the 51st parallel means daily worshipers at St. Mary’s Cathedral are finding their way to morning and late-afternoon Masses in the near dark. In early spring and late fall, those arriving in time for daily morning prayers and the rosary at 6:30 am will enter the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary as east-facing office towers, and dew- or frost-tipped lawns, reflect the first rays of the rising sun.
Long-time parishioner Lillian Illescas says many of the daily Mass goers resolutely start or end their work days on their knees at the Cathedral. They come to spend time in the sacred space; they return because the priests at the Cathedral anchor a community that makes them “feel so welcome. Here, they see a community that puts faith in action.”
Small parish, big heart
Officially known as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s list of registered parishioners represents about half of the 1,400 people who regularly attend weekend Masses at the Cathedral. Another 500 guests and 100 volunteers fill the parish hall for Feed the Hungry dinners held on Sunday afternoons. Hundreds of other Catholics come to the Cathedral for special events, including The Way of The Cross, Chrism Mass and the Rite of Election. Holy days, like Easter and Christmas Masses welcome regular parishioners, their families and guests to our city. The Cathedral also welcomes its share of convention visitors and tourists who are in Calgary throughout the year and to attend the annual Stampede.
Other Catholics approach the Cathedral to receive the sacraments of marriage and baptism. “We may be small, but I want people to know that we are a community of hospitality and faith,” says Fr. Dielissen.
Fr. Dielissen came to St. Mary’s in 2014 following a year sabbatical that included time in Africa and Rome. He recognizes the Cathedral assignment is remarkably different from his time at other parishes in the Diocese.
A historic and Catholic landmark
History buffs recognize the Cathedral as a cornerstone of Rouleauville, a village that housed Calgary’s French Catholic quarter in the early 1900s. The original sandstone church opened on the site in 1889. It received Cathedral designation when the Calgary Catholic Diocese was established in 1912. Today’s building was completed in 1959 and is a modern Gothic structure that features bells donated by Senator Patrick Burns, stained-glass windows from Germany and a 4.9-metre stone statue of the Virgin Mary with Child sculpted by local artist Luke Lindoe.
Given its role in the Diocese, much of the pastor’s role at the Cathedral is necessarily administrative. Here, Fr. Bob Dielissen oversees a rectory with six resident priests. The rectory also has three additional rooms for visiting priests and is the home parish for several religious communities, including the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Fr. Bob Dielissen is also involved in organizing special Masses for the local schools and the graduation Masses for Catholic High Schools. Other Masses throughout the year include an annual Red Mass for lawyers and others who work in the legal profession, Migrant Mass for all the diverse cultures, Red Wednesday Mass for persecuted Christians and Masses for ministries such as the Couples in Christ, CWL and Knights of Columbus. This year, the Cathedral also hosted Mass for those attending the National CWL convention.
An imposing architectural presence in Calgary’s Mission District (named for its missionary role in bringing the Catholic Church to Calgary), St. Mary’s purpose is welcoming all those who knock on her doors. Fr. Bob Dielissen say it’s common for the area’s street people to seek shelter in the Cathedral by attending services. One of these men, known as Kipper, assumed a kind of protective role, even keeping watch to make sure the morning paper was still there when staff arrived. When Kipper died, priests and religious sisters organized a funeral service that brought his family to tears knowing that he was loved.
Fr. Dielissen has targeted stewardship and its three pillars of Time, Talent and Treasure since he came to St. Mary's Cathedral. Fr. Dielissen has sent staff for ministry training, to help bring parishioners into the stewardship concepts of sharing their gifts. Each year a Stewardship Fair invites people to participate in the parish community with the offering of their Time, Talents and Treasure. This year, over one hundred parishioners signed up for service in ministries ranging in Liturgical, Hospitality and Community Ministries.
Whether it be gathering for a weekly scheduled Mass to a funeral, all are welcomed. Fr. Dielissen invites funeral directors to have coffee and lunch while they’re waiting at the Cathedral. It’s a small act of kindness as Fr. Dielissen is always looking for ways to open the door to welcome people.
To Fr. Dielissen, “it’s about hospitality and the need to reach out with signs of Christ’s ministry. People come from all over Calgary to attend Mass at the Cathedral, and we want this to be a good experience.”
The focus on building a strong Catholic community to serve the corporal heart of the Church in Calgary is paying off, as parishioners come together at the Cathedral for worship and service.
Written by Joy Gregory 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.
Spiritual refuge in the city
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
When Fr. James Hagel was assigned to St. Gabriel the Archangel parish in Chestermere, he knew the congregation was knee-deep in fundraising for its first church. What Fr. Hagel didn’t know was that days into his new posting, his contribution to that project would include a growing enthusiasm for an outdoor fundraiser that boosts the building fund while helping to build community.
“Days after I started at St. Gabriel’s in September of 2018, I found myself hiking alongside parishioners as part of the Angels on High fundraiser. You know, it was more fun than I expected and it was a very nice way to meet people,” says Fr. Hagel, who’s outdoor kit includes a good pair of hiking boots, a camel-back-style water bottle and ski poles he’s modified for hiking.
Angels on High (AOH) is a fundraiser St. Gabriel’s parish launched seven years ago after then parish-pastor Fr. John Nemanic joined parishioner Kevin Papke on one of the 50 mountain climbs Papke undertook to raise money for Bethany Care Foundation. That experience got the two talking. A year later, they launched AOH, a multi-faceted fundraiser that included a dinner and dance, raffles, silent auction and building fund pledges for participants of a mountain scramble.
2019 marked AOH’s seventh year, says one of the organizers, Sarah Papke, Kevin’s wife. “The focus of this year’s event changed a bit. It still raises money for the building fund, but the real focus is on building community,” she explains.
And if numbers are an indication of success, AOH is thriving. In past years, about 40 people took part in the main event, a mountain trek. Many of these same individuals collected pledges and helped organize everything from t-shirt sales to raffles.
This year’s AOH attracted about 70 participants. Instead of focusing on a single hike up an iconic Rocky Mountain peak, organizers planned a family-friendly, all-ages event that included two nights at Owl Group Campgrounds in Kananaskis. On Sunday, July 14, the campers rose early for mass with Fr. Hagel and two other Diocesan priests, Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, Vicar General of the Diocese and Fr. Avinash Colaco of Ascension parish.
Soon after, the keenest hikers (priests included!) headed for Grizzly Col, an 8-km trek to Grizzly Peak. The rest hiked Ptarmigan Cirque, a 4-km round trip completed in less than three hours, about half the time it takes to hike Grizzly Col. The day ended with a potluck supper served in the campground hall.
If you plan it, they will come
“I think this year was the best so far,” says Papke. Promoting the July 13-15 event as “fellowship weekend” encouraged parishioners to bring children of all ages. “All of a sudden we had families with little kids and we had a lot of parishioners I’d never met before.”
This year’s AOH also attracted people from outside the parish. One of the hikers, a senior who read about AOH in a Diocesan newsletter, came for the fellowship and the chance to hike Grizzly Col.
Instead of asking people to collect pledges, this year’s hikers (and the larger parish community) were encouraged to donate directly to the building fund. Fr. Hagel likes the move and believes it’s a good fit with the parish’s mission to be a church that welcomes and creates opportunities for people to gather in friendship and faith.
St. Gabriel the Archangel parish owns the land where the new church will eventually be built in Chestermere. The parish has more than $1 million in the bank, and while it’s likely to be years before the sod is turned, Angels on High is already cultivating its place among its people.
“Once we build community, the church will come,” says Papke, who’s already excited about next year’s gathering. “We booked 16 of the camping sites this year, but there are 50 spots, and I think we will get more people next year.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. Gabriel's Parish, Chestermere.
To learn more about Angels on High and St. Gabriel Chestermere Parish community, visit: http://www.saintgabrielparish.ca
Our Beacon of Hope
Standing inside the steel frame of the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of the Rockies under construction in Canmore, the fresh mountain breeze intermingles with the scent of burnt metal, plaster and cement. This time next summer, the doors of the shrine are expected to open for both parishioners and pilgrims.
Last spring, 144 screw piles were being drilled into a hole in the ground to help secure the foundation.
“I entered into the project right on the cusp of it really beginning to move forward. It was a really exciting moment to be there,” said Fr. Nathan Siray, who was transferred to take over as pastor in April 2018.
Today, construction is well underway: the entire steel structure erected, some framing for the walls and windows in place and the concrete floor poured.
When Fr. Siray stands inside the skeleton of the church, he imagines a feeling of overwhelm and splendor, but also connection and closeness. “It achieves this wonderful balance between grandeur and intimacy, which I think people are really looking for in a church building. I’m really excited that spirit is captured within the architecture,” he said.
Some key design features will be a larger-than-life custom-made stained-glass window of Our Lady of the Rockies in the apse of the church. It will depict Mary holding the Christ Child amidst images of the Three Sister Mountains and Canmore’s coal mining heritage.
“The moment you walk through the doors into the nave of the church, this window is going to blow you away. I think it’s going to be the centrepiece of the shrine,” said Siray.
Large clerestory windows on the upper portion of the church roof will bring in an incredible amount of natural light, explained Fr. Sirary. As the sun rises and sets you will have a different play of light and shadow in the building.
Written by Sara Francis
Photos courtesy of Our Lady of the Rockies Parish
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers