“Pilgrimage, Sanctuary and Peace in the Parks”: A research snapshot and public talk on parks and nature at the end of life.
We all feel it – whether looking outside, in a field, at a beach, or on a mountain – nature gives us perspective about life and death. There is growing evidence of how natural environments impact our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Little is known, however, about the place of parks and nature at the end of life, or the impact of parks and nature on quality of life during palliative care or in grief and loss…until now!
A recent 2018 study discovered that experiencing “Peace in the Parks” was an opportunity for: Personal Exploration, Social Discovery and Institutional Transformation. Despite the challenges to get to parks and natural places, it was always “worth it.” Even brief opportunities were an opportunity to “park palliative care”, and to have sanctuary from the stream of appointments and persistent identity as a “dying patient” or “caregiver.”
Research participants shared, “here [in the park] we can just be ourselves”. The experiences were both calming and energizing – providing patients and family members a sense of their strength and the courage to take other journeys they had been previously cautious about undertaking. Everyone can make the connection with nature. Ultimately there is value in even parking or sitting in areas with views of nature or short walks or strolls with a stretcher or adaptive equipment.
Access does take planning, information and communication, and the research team discovered that supporting access to parks and nature for those in palliative care and caregivers is not a call for a new program per se, but rather an invitation, and a mindset that can be influenced by training, information and coordination of services. Further program and study is underway now to extend and expand the discoveries made – the pilgrimage and the pursuit of sanctuary continues.
By Dr. Sonya Jakubec
To learn more about Parks & Nature at the End of Life, to hear the stories and to be inspired by the pilgrimage of palliative patients and caregivers to Alberta Parks, join Dr. Sonya Jakubec (MRU) and co-researcher Jennell Rempel (Alberta Parks) for a free public talk and short documentary film screening with the Calgary Public Library on Thursday Jan 23, 2020 from noon to 1:30 pm at the Central Library’s Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall.
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.
Fr. Michael Storey knows he might not be able to attend a formal Remembrance Day service this November 11. As a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of Calgary, the Catholic priest could find himself beside a hospital bed when other Calgarians pause in reverent silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But make no mistake. While Fr. Storey may not be able to hear the dying notes of the Last Post, he will feel the lament in his heart. And he will remember. November 11, for this priest, is a matter of country, family and faith.
Fr. Storey’s dad and brother served the Canadian navy in the Second World War. During the same conflict, where 42,000 Canadians died and another 55,000 were wounded, his uncles were soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
Having grown up in a family that sacrificed so much for so many, Fr. Storey admits it wasn’t difficult to step up when a friend and Calgary-based reservist mentioned the need for a military chaplain in Calgary. “I realized that military personnel needed spiritual support. I was also working at St. James parish, so it was easy for me to go back and forth between the parish and Currie Barracks.” Fr. Storey served that role in Calgary from 1987 to 1999.
Fr. Sajo Jacob, parish priest at Mother Teresa Syro Malabar Church in Calgary, assumed the military chaplaincy about two years ago. He was introduced to the ministry by students he met while serving as the campus chaplain at SAIT and Mount Royal University, a role he held from 2009 to 2019. Some of the students he met there joined the military and invited Fr. Jacob to bring his ministry there. Two years into the role, he’s grateful for the chance to serve military personnel, many of them young people, as they encounter the challenges of military service in defense of the country. “They are often away from their homes, they face personal crisis, they sacrifice for the country and people, and I felt a calling that I will be able to help them.”
A ministry of presence
Unlike more typical priestly ministries which focus on bringing sacraments to the faithful, military chaplaincy is a “ministry of presence.” As a chaplain, Fr. Storey met military personnel at formal events. He also dropped by places like a military rifle range if he knew soldiers and reservists were there to practise. “You do what you can to remind them that you are there if they need you,” he explains.
His formal role also included being one of two uniformed military officers who made next-of-kin calls to the families of military personnel who died in service to their country. “I was on three of those calls during my 12 years in the service. It was humbling,” he recalls.
The chaplain’s role is akin to “being a guide and mentor,” adds Fr. Jacob. “Sometimes you become a point of contact at a time of crisis and challenges. It is a vocation where you journey with people and you become God’s instrument to share peace and love.”
Whereas parish priests serve Catholic congregations, campus and military chaplains work in secular and interfaith spaces. “Chaplains are there for everyone and we guide and support whoever seeks help, regardless of religion, or orientation,” explains Fr. Jacob. His faithful presence in personal crises has included talking to people contemplating suicide.
There is no question that military chaplains witness Christ for others, adds Fr. Storey. He remembers being touched by the words of a former altar boy who attended an event to commemorate the priest’s 40th anniversary in the priesthood. “He told me, ‘I was so proud of my parish priest when I saw him in his uniform,’ That meant a lot to me.”
He and Fr. Jacob both view military chaplaincy as service to their nation. “It is my role in the nation-building process,” explains Fr. Jacob, himself an immigrant from India. In addition to serving military personnel as a spiritual guide and mentor, Fr. Jacob helps organize religious services and advises commanding officers in matters of religious accommodations and spiritual and ethical issues.
This Remembrance Day, Fr. Jacob will officiate at a November 11 ceremony. He says the events do more than remember fallen soldiers and veterans, they also inspire young Canadians in their message of service.
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
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,
I lived at Elizabeth House in July 2009. I was initially staying with my Mom’s third cousin in Calgary as I needed to be away from the dad of my kid. We had been together for six years on and off as I always caught him cheating and was emotionally manipulated.
After my US trip, we didn’t see each other for three months and as usual, he was trying to win me back and I thought he changed. It was a one-time deal and then I got pregnant. It was not great news for both of us, since I had just passed on my crown as a national beauty queen in the Philippines, having represented the country in the international pageant of Miss Earth and won Miss Photogenic.
I had also just started my job in the Nestle Philippines when we found out I was pregnant. As usual, he would still have girls around and still be so sweet to me. I realized it was not a healthy situation as he was not committed, and he would always hold me back. He tried to win me back so many times, but as he was not fully committed to me, I knew I had to help myself. So, I left him knowing I would be in a better place.
But living with relatives is harder than I thought. Especially when there’s judgment in the situation and if they don’t understand the many changes in pregnancy. It wasn’t healthy anymore in that house. I even reached a point when I wanted to leave the world, but no, I couldn’t do it because I had my daughter inside of me. So, I remained strong and fought hard. I asked our Parish priest, Father Edmund Vargas, who is also a Filipino, for help. He recommended Elizabeth House.
After being accepted, I found peace. The House was equipped and the people were warm. I like the division of tasks in cleaning, cooking and also the seminars and events every week. I found my family in Canada. Elizabeth House helped me focus more on my pregnancy and prepare for my delivery as well as for motherhood. The social workers were so helpful.
I am so glad that there’s a place like this.
In the Philippines, we don’t have much help like this. That’s the reason why it has been my dream since that time (10 years ago) to put up my own Elizabeth House. And indeed, after 10 long years, I have finally started and our House is now being built.
I believe that there’s a reason for everything and nothing is an accident. This happened to me, so I would know my purpose. I have goosebumps as I write this, but I believe I have finally found my purpose. To build this House that could help many women in crisis. I know what they go through, I know their challenges, I know how to help. And, finally, I can help.
No one thought I would end up being a single mom, I was not the type. But like I said, there’s a reason for everything. I also believe that our worst moments give birth to our most amazing moments.
This amazing moment in my life includes giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom I love and cherish the most. I believe she is my greatest achievement, and now this opportunity to launch Elizabeth House Foundation Philippines.
Again, many thanks to you all! May you continue to help women and make them stronger in facing motherhood. Praying for you all and our mothers in the House, always!
We Love you!
Jeanne and Gabby
For parents like Brenda-Lee Kearney, the mass is delightfully chaotic, yet peaceful. She and her husband Mike have an 11-year-old son with FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They love Jacob and they love their church. But bringing Jacob to mass is difficult and after Kearney approached her parish priest with an idea, the Special Needs Mass began.
The once-monthly, then bi-weekly masses became a regular 5 pm Sunday mass after pastor Fr. Jerome Lavigne moved to St. Pat’s in 2018. And the Kearneys are grateful. With a mission to create a loving, supportive and compassionate community that renews and restores faith and hope to families and children with special needs, the mass shows “God is really at work here in our parish,” says Brenda-Lee Kearney. Parents with special needs children often stay after mass for welcome fellowship. While most participants are from the parish, others attend as word of the mass spreads. “I believe most of us are parenting our kids in a community that doesn’t understand our reality. We are understanding of each other because we are living it.”
That message resonates with Fr. Matthew Schneider. “There is a natural sense of community when we come together to worship. Where possible, it’s nice to be able to add elements that make worship more meaningful to certain groups of people,” says Schneider, who said the Special Needs Mass at St. Pat’s on June 22.
A former Calgarian now living in Washington, D.C. where he’s working on a Doctorate in Theology, Schneider says one Catholic church in Washington hosts a regular mass that features an interpreter for the deaf. Other masses are conducted in languages other than English. He likes what St. Pat’s has consciously done to accommodate a group of believers often marginalized in the greater society.
In addition to the dimmer lights, the 5 pm Sunday mass features visual “cue cards” that tell parishioners went to sit, kneel or stand. The pictures show the appropriate action along with a simple message such as, “Please kneel for the communion rite.”
“Typically, we have the same songs at these services. It’s all part of dialing back on the sensory experience. Many of these children benefit from a very calm environment,” explains Kearney.
From the day my Father, Theodore was brutally and callously murdered in Toronto, on Easter Monday, March 27, 1978, I wanted to meet his killer. I wanted to know how it was possible to do such a horrific thing. I wanted to know how he felt about destroying the lives of so many; my family’s, and his own.
We did meet. The meeting occurred in July of 2007. Because of reading about an award I received for my Therapeutic Writing Workshops and the publication of my books about healing, voice, and agency, he emailed me. Our meeting, our reconciliation, even those many years after that dark, dark day, was a rich blessing in my life and proved helpful for him too.
The word forgiveness is one that can lead to great suffering for victims and offenders alike. Victims are told that if they do not forgive, they cannot heal. Offenders are told that if they are not forgiven, they cannot move on from the crime they have committed. Forgiveness is a loaded word, with as many understandings, expectations, and definitions as there are experiences of savage loss, savage grief, savage pain.
In 2012, after too many years of thinking that my life did indeed end with my Father’s, I completed a Master’s Thesis. The title: Sawbonna-Justice as Lived-Experience. Sawbonna means shared-humanity. It also means I see you, you see me.
Sawbonna means that no one is better in the eyes of God. It means that we are good, bad, ugly, amazing, loved, loving, and free. Free to know that whether we can forgive or are forgiven by another human being, we are deeply known, cared-for, and embraced by God. A God who invites us, gently and generously directly back into our very own hearts. Hearts of love. Hearts of justice. Hearts of Sawbonna. We are seen. We each matter.
About God’s Work
As a testament to what a determined woman can do with God’s help, Thorn began Project Rachel while raising her family of six children. Project Rachel began as a diocesan initiative in 1984, and from there it gained momentum and widespread support across the United States and then Canada, which includes the Diocese of Calgary.
She recalls at that time there were no experts to call upon when she developed Project Rachel. However, she was convinced then and still now practises a post-abortion healing ministry that offers anonymity, has a strong spiritual element and includes a psychotherapeutic component. The name Project Rachel is inspired by Scripture: “Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
Thorn knows that mothers of aborted babies go through different types of grieving and often seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They are not the only ones who are traumatized from the loss of their child. Fathers who didn’t want the abortion, grandparents and siblings who later learned about it are also devastated.
Thorn has travelled to 28 countries speaking to thousands about not only the impact of abortion on men, women and on our culture but of what God’s ultimate plan is for humanity revealed to us through the science of the human body.
Thorn takes great joy in seeing her children value life. Now they’re all grown, and there are 14 grandchildren for her and her husband to enjoy. Each of her kids, she says, along with their loving partners and her grandchildren “are just a delight to my heart.”
Despite needing to lay low for health reasons, she said she’s still busy looking to expand and develop a framework for post-abortive healing in places around the world because, she explained, “you can’t just use an American model in other countries.” Her research has led her to seek communities of sisters who are already, as she said, “the boots on the ground” serving the people where they are.
In Milwaukee she says, she’s running a program for African American pastors who want to learn about post-abortive healing. There is a great need but “not a lot of help.”
Theology of the Body
This March, she’ll find herself at the Theology of the Body Conference in Calgary to speak to attendees about the science that undergirds the Theology of the Body, much of what she says is “well researched, but not well known.”
We have been seeing the effects of the sexual revolution since the 1960s culminating in what many in the Church refer to as a culture of death. Thorn spends a lot of her time explaining the wounds many of us experience as a result, with scientific studies to help her show the audience hard facts.
What we will hear from her is much deeper than what we heard from high school sex education.
Armed with the facts of male and female biology, the science of attraction and the biochemistry of sex and conception, Thorn will take us through the beauty of God’s plan for the human body.
“We haven’t really understood how awesome we are in terms of our sexuality,” she said, adding that over time the wonder and beauty of sex have been lost. What she’ll share with us will be concrete, uniting what the Church teaches with scientific fact, which will further our knowledge of what she says is “God’s intentional plan.”
Looking at all she has achieved and the ministry she continues to grow, attendees to the upcoming conference will be blessed to be part of her journey and work.
Written by Jessica Cyr
From the moment Phyllis and Clem Steffler walked into Evanston Summit, they knew it was destined to be their new home. “Phyllis was ready to move in the next day,” laughs Clem. Retired and living in Airdrie, the couple was seeking greater ease in their lives, without the worry of maintaining a home and cooking their meals. They’d been looking at options when Judy, from Covenant Living’s Evanston Summit, met them at their local church and invited them to a BBQ. They walked in and immediately loved the welcoming, attractive front entrance.
Their instinct was confirmed several months later when their daughter, a public health nurse in Toronto, was in town. “We took her to several retirement residences,” Phyllis recalls. When they got to Evanston Summit, she turned to her parents and said, “Dad and Mom, this is the place for you.” The couple moved in on July 18, 2018.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers