Many people might be surprised that the question is even being posed. What could be wrong about receiving a vaccine, when we know that vaccinations save lives? The moral issue arises from the fact that vaccine development and testing often make use of cell lines derived from either the tissue of aborted fetuses or destroyed human embryos. Therefore, reception of a vaccine developed and produced from this unethical research presents us with a dilemma that seriously engages our conscience. The short answer from our Bishops on whether it's okay to be vaccinated against COVID-10 is: Yes, it is. Learn more about it from the Bishop's letter re: COVID-19 Vaccine.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17, 2021) and for each Sunday of the season of Lent, Bishop McGrattan is offering spiritual renewal reflections for individuals, families and communities in the Diocese as we prepare to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This 8-part video series of Lenten Spiritual Renewal (15-25 minutes reflection) is a part of the Diocesan Spiritual Renewal “Duc in altum | Put out into the deep”.
Upcoming reflection themes on Sundays of Lent:
On his first reflection (Ash Wednesday), Bishop McGrattan calls for a personal renewal, for us to recognize or reimagine the deep gifts we received at our Baptism
First Sunday of Lent | The Primacy of Grace
"Opening our lives and receiving God's grace... This is how the church grows, not because of human's effort, but by us being open to receive the grace of God, and to be drawn to Christ." In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan speaks of the primacy of grace, that it's always God's initiative that draws us to Christ.
Second Sunday of Lent | The Call to Holiness
"The acceptance of God's grace is the beginning to the call of the path of holiness. It's the response that each of us are called to make in our lives." In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan speaks of the call to holiness. He reminds us of ways to reintensify or redevelop the call to holiness that we received in our baptism.
Third Sunday of Lent 2021 | Lent
“Prayer is this lifting of mind, entering into this conversation and relationship with God, lifting our heart and wanting our heart to be one with God.” In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan reminds us that amidst our busyness and distraction, we must always try to seek silence and solitude, to focus our minds to God. But how? Watch the video to get thoughtful examples and ideas from the Bishop.
Fourth Sunday of Lent 2021 | Listening to the Word of God
“To receive, to hear, to listen to the Word of God is the essential nature of the Church.”
In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan reminds us that scripture must be at the forefront of our activities and endeavour as Christians, and invites us to renew how we listen to the Word of God. “Through the scripture, we are introduced to the very life and the mysteries of God.” The listening of the Word of God through praying, reading, studying and meditating with scripture is equally important and necessary step of preparation for when we gather as a community, and when we engage in pastoral activities.
Bishop McGrattan shares the 5 steps of Lectio Divina, divine reading praying with scripture.
1. Lectio - reading of text, looking at the words we’re reading, the images of text, and to see the significance of the text and image.
2. Meditatio - what does this passage say to me, or to the early church?
3. Oratio - how does this passage of scripture move me to respond?
4. Contemplatio - how is this word of God forming in me the mind and heart of Christ?
5. Actio - how is this word making my life a gift for others?
To study Verbum Domini, download the file below.
Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021 | Proclaiming the Word of God
"..being sent forth is part of the nature of the Church. We call it the essential mission."
In today’s reflection, Bishop McGrattan brings to mind that faith is often formed by secular values or opinions of the world. As missionary disciples, we are called to recognize these limitations, to understand the challenges we face in proclaiming the Word of God, as we go forward to convey a message of love.
“Let us hurry to love others, they depart so quickly.” (Fr. Jan Twardowski)
How is one to begin sharing, publicly I might add, about something personal, intimate, humbling, and dare I say, even embarrassing? Speaking about my relationship with my father has not always been easy for different reasons, the specific details of which are beyond the scope of this testimony. By God’s grace it has become far easier to do so and I believe sharing this story can be of help, a source of inspiration, if not to many, at least to some. Suffice it to say that my relationship with dad had its ups and downs, and at times, was very challenging, frustrating, complex and even hurtful. There are many things I wish I could take back; things I said and thought, the various attitudes, behaviours, and reactions that led most often to the experience of disappointment and sorrow, for both my father and me. I have come to realize, painfully so, the accuracy of the old adage, that time flies. It moves forward so quickly, in fact, that moments of grace and opportunity can pass unnoticed before our eyes, never to return again, thus leaving us potentially bound to feelings of regret, resentment, shame, guilt, unforgiveness, and sorrow.
My father immigrated to Canada in the 1960’s, had to learn a new language, assimilate to a new culture, and being the eldest of six, focus on helping his parents and the family survive. He showed discipline, espoused a great work ethic, and took on physically demanding jobs. Eventually, he met and married my mom, and I was the second in the line of 4 children.
Difficulties began to escalate between my dad and me during my adolescence. Me seeking my independence, my dad, ever concerned about our wellbeing, trying to control and ensure I’d stay on the straight and narrow. Long story short, I made a major life-altering decision that brought about a tremendous rift between me and my family, particularly between me and my dad. As I was finalizing my decision, my father was diagnosed to be at an advanced stage cancer which required immediate and invasive treatment. The surgery and follow up treatments were deemed a success, but due to the steps I had taken, our relationship seemed to have ended. What ensued was a two year period of no communication, filled, at least on my part with a lot of anger and resentment towards my family. Regrettably, two years into his recovery the cancer returned and this time the prognosis was bleak. My dad was given 6 months to live. It was at this point in time my father called me, informed me of the diagnosis, and asked me to come and visit him. As our financial situation was not the best I reasoned that I could start putting aside some money with each subsequent pay cheque until I had enough for a flight. Unfortunately, the doctor was wrong about the amount of time my dad had. My father ended up dying within a month.
Providentially for me and my dad, I had a spouse who would not allow me to put off the visit. She immediately contacted her own father for money to pay for my flight. Within a few days I was at home and with my dad. I spent a week visiting and it was the first time that I can remember, we spent together without any conflict. In fact, there were moments of great intimacy, where I was able to help to alleviate his pain by massaging his feet, of us talking and sharing about our lives, perspectives, experiences, and yes, getting to a place of reconciliation. I returned to Calgary on a Tuesday, telling my dad I would call him daily to check in on him. The next day, Wednesday, my mom called me at 4 pm to inform me dad had died. I cried, a lot. I was moved to tears that God would grant us such an amazing grace and that my dad waited for me to come home. Even now, 19 years since his passing, I tear up as I write this reflection. Things could have ended differently, very differently. Therefore, “Let us hurry to love others, they depart so quickly.”
In closing, let me share a few points for your consideration:
Whatever the situation, seek God’s grace, the guidance of a priest, and/or the help of trusted individual.
Carla Freitag likes to giggle when she brushes her teeth. She enjoys listening to music when she draws and, if the mood strikes, she sets her drawing pencil down and begins to dance. What Freitag cannot do is talk freely about what she likes and doesn’t like, so when it was time to plan the menu for her 44th birthday party, friend and housemate Hannah Gaunt devised a friendly work-around. “We sat down with a computer and I showed her pictures. Carla chose hamburgers, French fries and chocolate cake. It was perfect.”
Freitag, who has Down Syndrome, is one of four core members who live in a L’Arche home in southwest Calgary. There, the core members live in a community with three live-in assistants, including Gaunt. “Carla is largely non-verbal, but I have lived with her for almost a year, basically 24/7. We have our own way of communicating with each other. When people try to thank me for the work I do, I say, ‘No. You don’t understand. It is such a gift to be part of this community.”
The L’Arche model of care
L’Arche is an international federation of communities that provide homes and other supports for people with developmental disabilities. Founded in France in 1964, the federation works in 149 communities in 38 countries. In Alberta, there are five L’Arche homes in Calgary and more in Edmonton and Lethbridge.
L’Arche communities challenge notions “that people with developmental disabilities are simply to be taken care of,” explains Robyn Jackson, Community Leader and Executive Director of the Calgary community. “At L’Arche, we acknowledge that we all need care, regardless of our abilities. Our communities provide the space for all of our members to discover and nurture our gifts—and to provide opportunities for people to share those gifts while giving them grace for their limitations.”
“I think L’Arche has been wonderful for Carla,” says her only sibling, Kristin Arcega, a parishioner of St. Michael Catholic Community.
“Carla can do many things independently, but she needs help with self-care and life skills. They take wonderful care of her and it’s like a family. They’ve had to change some routines because of COVID, but when they can, they go out to church on Sunday, they have a weekly prayer night, and they make sure Carla has day programs that are unique to her. She goes to an arts program on Monday and bowls on Saturdays.”
“We’ve been nothing but happy with Carla living there,” adds her mom, Ann Freitag. She and her husband David, who passed away in 2016, liked the fact that “there is a spiritual dimension to Carla’s life there. Not everyone is Catholic, but they participate in prayer, and we were grateful that she is able to attend Mass.”
Pre-pandemic, Ann brought her daughter home one weekend a month. While she misses that interaction, L’Arche has devised health protocols that allow Ann to visit her daughter. “Her home is where I am, but L’Arche is her second home.”
World Down Syndrome Day
The United Nations formally recognizes March 21 as World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD). In Canada, people are encouraged to mark the occasion by wearing colourful and mismatched socks. Socks symbolize WDSD because chromosomes are shaped liked socks and people with Down Syndrome are born with an extra chromosome.
In 2021, children with Down Syndrome are commonly integrated into public school classrooms. That wasn’t as easily done in years past “and I remember how hard my parents worked to integrate Carla,” says Arcega. While most of her education was in Calgary, Carla graduated from high school in Summerland, BC.
Looking back on those days, Ann Freitag says their efforts were worth it and she encourages other parents whose children have special needs to pursue what’s best for their kids. In addition to advocating for inclusion, the Freitags accessed other interventions, including speech and occupational therapists.
“Express your wishes and don’t be afraid to explain why you want this for your child,” says Ann. She remembers how good it was to watch her youngest daughter graduate from high school and share the excitement of another milestone in her graduation cap and gown. More recently, Carla Freitag won the Jane Cameron Award, a national art award.
Today, Hannah Gaunt is working on another milestone with Freitag. Using a program developed for people with Down Syndrome, she’s helping Freitag improve her reading skills. A hearing impairment and limited vocabulary can make Freitag difficult to understand, “but because she reads out loud and I’ve spent so much time with her, I understand what she says. She reads four books independently now. That’s so cool.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully.
Living and working in Brooks, about one hour west of Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada highway, results in long bus trips for school teams. The longest bus trips are reserved for the 6-man football team. This is because the league is province-wide, so travelling to and from Edmonton in one day for a game is not out of the ordinary.
It’s interesting to remember the conversations that occur on bus trips that long. I have had the opportunity to drive the bus for the football team on several occasions. Usually, the rides are juxtaposed by periods of silent snoring and cacophonous adolescent male singing, but sometimes conversations of substance emerge.
I remember driving home from a game one day a couple of years ago when two of our senior players were sitting near the front with the head coach and myself. I was driving. The topic of relationships came up. These two players were tough, intelligent men. They were survivors. They had come to Canada a few years before from Colombia. Neither had a father that was active in their lives, and both exuded swagger and machismo. Both were involved in long-term relationships with young women, also from Colombia.
In the process of the conversation, the question of love, and what it really meant, came up. What does it mean to truly love another person? The coach and I embraced this opportunity to reflect on and explain the sacrificial nature of love that comes from Christ and that we are called to mirror this kind of love in our relationships with others. These two boys were engrossed in the conversation. They really wanted to know how to be a good partner to their girlfriends, how to love them properly. They knew that secular society’s explanation for love was incomplete, and they were thirsting for wisdom and truth.
The beauty of Catholic education is that these conversations can happen openly and honestly, even on a long bus ride back from a football game. The truth of Christ’s love for us and how that love is the exemplar for our relationships was fully shared and with God’s grace, settled in the hearts of those two men. Almost three years later, both these men are excelling in post-secondary education and both are still with the girlfriends they had when that conversation occurred. Hopefully, one day, I will be invited to a wedding or two!
As Catholic educators, it’s important to take time this Lent to embrace opportunities to share your faith with your students. Christ truly is the way, the truth, and the life! It may even make a long, tiring bus ride one of the most memorable moments in your car.
For students in our Catholic schools, Shrove Tuesday heralds the coming of Lent. This year, however, for many schools, there were no pancakes prepared by staff or community volunteers. The pancake breakfast, a tradition beloved by students and staff, like so many other community celebrations, have been impacted by COVID-19. This includes Ash Wednesday.
Inherent to our Ash Wednesday ritual are the words spoken at the tracing of the cross on our forehead: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” This year, within schools, there were no words spoken, nor a cross traced upon the forehead. Instead, a reverent silence was observed as our chaplains sprinkled ashes upon our heads. This was different from our normal experience of receiving the blessed ashes. Seeing the cross of ashes on the foreheads of friends and school staff is always intriguing for students and for others in the wider community who often ask what the mark means. We might say something to the effect of: “The blessed ashes remind us that we are marked by God and demonstrates to others that we are committing to change, a conversion of heart, in preparation for Easter.”
This year, however, there were no casual inquiries about ashes upon foreheads. Again, this is one of the effects of the pandemic. We understand that the experience of some students and staff in terms of our faith celebrations, many relegated to online experiences, are not as we have been accustomed. There is, however, consistency in our Ash Wednesday scriptures. This steadfastness of the Word is important especially during these times of change.
The readings we experience on Ash Wednesday help our students and staff understand that we all have a need for repentance and that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in kindness” (Joel 2:13). St. Paul reminds us that the world sees the presence of Christ in the way we act (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1). This is central to the Catholic school whereby through action and word, and the example of Christ, students are inspired to learn and are prepared to live fully and to serve God in one another. Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are to be conducted humbly. These actions are inherent in our personal Lenten journey.
Although the pandemic has changed many of the routines in our schools and impacted how we perform our rituals, we know that our faith traditions and the gift of Catholic Education give us resiliency and the hope to persevere in times of challenge. We are each called to bear witness to Jesus who models the necessity to walk humbly with God and with each other towards the renewal, hope, and transformation that culminates in Easter. Lent invites us to journey through the desert of our sin to the foot of the cross and ultimately, to share in the light of the resurrection of Jesus. We are, after all, Easter people. That will not change!
My path to participating in the 40 Days for Life (40 DFL) Prayer Vigil was a winding one. I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s and was fully indoctrinated into the culture of socially progressive values. By the time I had graduated from University, I had embraced the feminist movement. I had grown up in a Catholic family, but we were not practicing our faith, so I did not have any foundation in the teachings of our Church. It was easy for me to accept the values of feminism. I believed strongly in the right of a woman to choose to abort if she wanted to.
I met my husband after graduating. He was a practicing Catholic and was strongly pro-life. My husband’s faith grew on me because he was so faithful to the teachings of the Church. By God’s grace, I came to believe in and practice the Catholic faith that I had never known as a young woman.
During each of my three pregnancies, I was in awe of my baby growing within me, and I was amazed at the birth of each of my children. So perfect and tiny and soft and beautiful. Each one a miracle. My heart awoke to the thought that abortion was the wrongful taking of another human’s life.
One day as I was leaving church, I saw a table with 40 DFL paraphernalia on it and sitting behind it was a bright, articulate woman that I knew through my work. I was surprised to see her, and she told me that she was on the Calgary organizing team for 40 DFL. She said that my parish did not have a 40 DFL representative and asked me if I would take on that position. Suddenly, I was forced to consider what I thought about abortion. I recalled the feminist slogan, “My body, my choice”. I knew that there was more than one body in a pregnant woman. Each of my babies had their own DNA separate from mine. That slogan no longer persuaded me. The baby had no choice.
I began to study the issue. I was convinced by embryology that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. Human beings deserve human rights including the right to life. We don’t kill toddlers because they are small, dependent, or less developed than older children, so why do we kill defenseless babies in the womb? The answer is because it’s legal and they’re inconvenient. I learned that in Canada over 100,000 babies are aborted each year; that a baby may be aborted at any age and for any reason. This shocked me.
Most women abort because the pregnancy is unplanned, and they feel like they have no other choice. Yet, in truth, a mother always has the choice to carry the baby to term and parent the baby or place the baby for adoption. There are many supports for women experiencing unplanned pregnancy, and women need to be shown that choosing life is possible and that there is assistance available to them.
I became our parish representative on 40DFL. We stand near the Kensington abortion facility during our twice yearly 40-day campaigns and pray and fast for an end to abortion, for mothers to choose life for their babies, for the abortion workers, and for the community’s heart to be open to the truth of the value of life.
Do we make a difference? Last fall, during the 40-day campaign, a young mother with her child alongside approached one of our volunteers, named Mary, who was standing in prayer near the abortion facility with her two teenage daughters. The young mother’s child had a coloured drawing in her hand and she handed it to Mary. The mother thanked Mary for being there and told her that before her child was born, she was considering abortion, but that the presence of people near the facility praying persuaded her not to abort her baby. Her baby was now about 6 years old and was the child who had handed Mary the drawing. It is anecdotes like this that assure us that our prayers and presence there are never wasted.
My heart was indelibly wounded in July 2018, when my 8-year-old son Caleb died suddenly. In prayer, God has revealed that some of the wounds that I have because of this traumatic event and the aftermath are because of my own disordered expectations of myself.
Shortly after Caleb died, there was a video circulating on social media about a woman whose family had been murdered, extolling her faith and the joy that she exuded despite the tragedy she had experienced. I don’t know how much time had elapsed since this woman’s tragedy, but I felt that I too should, after only a few short months, be joyful and inspiring others with my faith. Because of the expectations I had of myself, it was very hard to talk to others about my all-encompassing grief. I felt like I had nothing to offer anyone. I thought that because my grief was so big that if I shared my feelings people would not be able to handle it and they would leave, so I pushed them away. Somehow, I felt that it was better to push others away than for them to walk away. In the resulting loneliness and isolation, I learned to turn to God, spending time with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in His passion and on the cross. God also brought friends into my life with whom I felt I could share a small part of my grief. They blessed me with their presence, and I blessed them with mine.
In January, we celebrated Caleb’s third birthday in heaven. It was on Caleb’s birthday that God revealed to me in a particularly poignant way how He loves me (and all of us) through others. A person very dear to me, whom I had pushed away, offered my family a gift. When it was first offered, I was mortified, and I told myself that I could not accept it. I realized, through this reaction, how much I am and have been ashamed of my grief. I don’t want people to see my brokenness, even though all of us experience grief and brokenness in many ways. I wanted to be seen as healed, holy, joyful, and inspiring, and I thought that my brokenness got in the way. Yet it is in our brokenness that we find God. When we try to hide our flaws and imperfections, we are closing the door on God’s work in our lives, much like how Jesus could do little work in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). As I deliberated whether I should accept this gift, in prayer God clearly told me, “Let this person love you.” I listened to His voice and received this gift. In receiving it, I was able to encounter God and His awesome love for me.
I had hardened my heart to others for so long, trying to prevent it from being hurt, trying to avoid rejection and derision because of my own pain and brokenness, but in the process, I hurt my heart more than those people ever could have. I didn’t realize how God was trying to love me through others or the wounds I had inflicted on myself because of my unreasonable and unattainable expectations. Yet because God spoke to me so clearly in the “let this person love you,” I was able to reject the temptation to refuse a gift offered in love. As I received this gift, which fulfilled much of what I was unwilling to admit that I needed, I could feel God’s all-encompassing love.
While I felt assured of God’s love previously, I hadn’t realized how deeply God wanted to love me through others. For one person, it was a small act of love, but it was an all-embracing act of love from God. God demonstrated a small part of His infinite love for us all, a love that brought me peace, calm, and His personal love for me on a day that brings much anguish to this mother’s heart.
Let yourself be loved, in the way He wants to love you.
There is much to be said for the traditional customs and disciplines of our faith. But that doesn’t stop our family from actively avoiding the forty-ONE days of Lent. When the practice of using up the shortening in the house, to prepare for reduced eating during Lent, prompted the making of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, it might have made historical sense. Today, as a man who likes protein, pancakes on the day before required fasting and abstinence seems like a poor way to fortify myself. So, in our house, we have modified the yearly last hurrah into ‘Steak’ Tuesday.
It makes sense that each Lent offers an opportunity to take another step on the stairway to heaven, advancing in holiness by disciplining the temptations to think primarily of ourselves. Hearing the call to fast, pray, and give alms should prompt us to re-examine the many ways we choose our comfort over God and neighbour. Seeing one’s own unfiltered selfishness is not a pretty picture.
There is lots of wisdom in the liturgical cycle of the Church – times of fast and feast, recalling the stories from our family of faith. But the living out of our faith does not take place for the most part in the sanctuary and meeting rooms at the parish. Where the rubber really meets the road is in our interactions away from the consolations and encouragements of our common worship at Mass. It’s with friends, at work, and in the home that a more accurate picture of our dedication to sanctity emerges.
Sometimes family life seems like its own ongoing Lent. Each of us is continuously confronted with the needs and desires of the others: siblings, parents, children, spouse. Neither we nor they are entirely reasonable. And yet, we are still supposed to love one another – as we love ourselves (cf. Matthew 22:39b), as we love God (cf. Matthew 25:40b), and finally even as God loves us (cf. John 13:34). That’s a tough row to hoe, as the saying goes.
But the confines of a shared life together are not only a type of temptation in the desert; they can also be little Gethsemanes with not-my-will-but-thines. Last night, I overheard one of our daughters apologize to a younger sister for her excessive anger earlier in the day. There are many stumbles during a family’s day, but those are also always chances to stand up again renewed. We are proud of our daughters very often, yes, but more so we are thankful for the grace of God present in them as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
It has been said that not only do parents raise children, but children are able to help parents grow up too. The requirement to put another before self is constantly in front of mothers and fathers, starting when they are young, cute, and helpless, and when they are adolescent, awkward, and oppositional. This is the domestic Church in her sanctified fruitfulness. The same opportunity exists in the union of two-become-one, who in spite of the sacramental reality of marriage, remain two individuals. How often do we really seek to put the other first by understanding, by serving, by loving? Perhaps it starts easier in the exciting honeymoon phase of early life together, but it needs to continue as the nuptial years advance.
Scripture and faith more generally use much family language to describe heavenly realities. God is Father; the Church is mother; we are brothers and sisters. And we live together now in anticipation of the wedding feast of the Lamb, readying ourselves for that celebration as best we can!
The Diocese of Calgary offers the following points to encourage and guide our active participation in the Holy Week, Triduum & Easter sacred liturgies during these pandemic times.
Vanessa* carries something special with her every time she walks into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The NICU is where our city’s newest mortals, born early or with health problems, receive 24/7 care from teams of medical professionals, including Vanessa, a registered nurse. This is the kind of place where human beings routinely bear witness to some of the most powerful experiences life can offer. There, Vanessa has seen miracles happen. A faithful Catholic, she also knows that not every miracle ends with a baby carried home in the arms of loving parents. “You always pray for the best outcome, but it’s always in the hands of God.”
So, what does Vanessa carry that fortifies her vocation to serve one of the city’s most medically-vulnerable populations? Faith and experience, says the cradle Catholic, wife and mother. In addition to her nurse’s training, this front-line worker recalls what it was like to be cared for as a child prone to severe asthma attacks that kept her away from school and off sports teams.
She remembers how medical professionals, doctors and two cousins who were nurses, sometimes came to her family’s home in India, which lacked public health care. The visits kept her out of the hospital, keeping her well without great expense. They also gave Vanessa a lasting appreciation for what it feels like to be cared for during some of life’s weakest moments.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
The family of Joseph and Maryem were introduced to Jesus Christ while living in Iran. This family began to thirst to know Jesus better, and would meet secretly to study and pray with the scriptures, as their Islamic faith would forbid. They couldn’t seem to get enough, and the Word made flesh, was changing their lives, increasing the joy that they felt.
When it was found out that these times of study and prayer were happening, they were watched very closely, and the persecution of this family began, with threats on their lives, and even of their children, which happened regularly. With little choice they left everything behind and escaped to Turkey.
While Turkey is a temporary safe haven, the government has the right to deport them at any time. Turkey, which is a more secular Muslim country, based on the ideals set by its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has taken in a large number of refugees, some who have escaped their homelands due to religious persecution. Due to the high cost of maintaining the refugees and the economic state of Turkey, refugees are not of high importance. As a result, there is a fear of being deported at any time, which would be very grave for this family. As refugees they are restricted in their movement, medical benefits, attending Church, and the children’s schooling. This family of four live in a tiny one bedroom space that for some would be no larger than the size of their living room. They were assigned by immigration police to a city where there is no Catholic Church. To get permission to leave the city for any reason, and especially for religious purposes, is seldom granted. They are not allowed to work. When they have days without pandemic lock down, the family walks twice a day to an abandoned Orthodox Church that is in ruins. They sit on the wall outside the locked fence and pray to God. For four years this family had longed to be baptized as they studied weekly the Catholic faith on WhatsApp with the local priest, who himself was exiled from Iran for his work with the Catholic Church, and is now assigned to the care of all Catholic Iranians in Turkey.
In the past year a miracle happened for this family. A small group of us who began helping refugees when Fr. Ephrem was in Calgary, travelled to Turkey to see my daughter and son in law who live in Istanbul. Without prior planning, the journey would culminate with the baptism of not only this family, but another as well, who we are also awaiting in Calgary. To be present at their baptism was somewhat surreal, as when we went, we had no idea that this would unfold. It was as if we were on a mission, and the very journey to the Church to receive the Sacraments was very difficult and arduous.
However, everything came together over the course of a few days, and as the priest would say, “man proposes, and God disposes”. It was the faith and prayers of this little family that were heard by God. He did not allow their cries to go unheard. However, this refugee family has been forgotten about during the pandemic and are languishing in Turkey, fearful of being deported back to Iran because they have converted from Islam to Christianity. When meeting this family we wanted nothing more than to lift them out from the plight of their present circumstances.
After the baptism of this family, we met the Papal Nuncio in Istanbul, and several other families who are crying out for help were met and brought to our attention. At present our small group that have formed from various parishes throughout city of Calgary have a total of five families, their paperwork has been completed and approved by CCIS and Bishop McGrattan.
The pandemic has affected all of us, including our parishes. Nevertheless, five parishes have committed to taking these families and journeying with them while we have committed to helping them find the funds from private donations.
As Pope Francis has said, “Today, the culture of comfort… makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people… which results in indifference to others, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.” Have we ever seriously considered what it would take for us to lay down our life for the sake of the Gospel? In Calgary we may never know what this is like because of the freedom we have always enjoyed. But there are people across the globe who can teach us profoundly what this means, and how precious our faith is, such as our friends, Joseph and Maryem.
Although it has been over twenty years, I still easily remember a particular exchange with a student. She was in grade 12, and as often happens for homeroom teachers I had developed a deep sense of professional and personal concern for her well-being, even beyond the classroom. It was obvious that day she was upset so I asked if she wanted to talk. During the conversation she shared about relationship difficulties with her boyfriend. And in the course of that sharing it was clear to me that she was being taken advantage of. I expressed this to her and she agreed. When I asked the next logical question, why not break up with him, she gave me a reply that has stayed with me: “That’s what guys are like.”
She had come to expect that romantic relationships necessarily involved being used, in exchange for at least some feeling of being wanted. To give up with this guy and not wanting to be alone, she would just have to go through finding someone else, who would treat her the same. Her family life had not prepared her to expect better.
In the years since, having my own daughters, I am certain that conversation influenced the intentionality I try to bring to being a father. Subsequent personal and professional interactions have only reinforced the message. There is no need to share here lurid stories of what too many adolescent girls think is required of them, even absent from an actual committed relationship. And there is no need to demonize boys whose hormones and cultural messages have informed them of what to expect. What is needed are committed and loving parents, especially fathers, who can reinforce the message of inherent personal dignity and the profound beauty of shared marital sexuality. This is a tough campaign when young people are offered quick, though shallow, pleasure in place of disciplined, though joyful, anticipation of real unitive love. It has been said that one task of fatherhood is to assist daughters in finding their Prince Charming, without having to kiss a bunch of frogs.
It seems to me that the project becomes even more difficult when parents who themselves didn’t quite hit the mark feel hypocritical in wanting their children to do what they didn’t. But don’t we always want better for our sons and daughters? Don’t we always hope their happiness and success will be even greater than our own? And don’t we believe they are really worth it?
There are few real sacrifices expected of people today, except perhaps in attaining goals we have set for our own fulfillment. We are out of practice in giving of ourselves to others. We can feel resentful when someone else’s wants or needs intrude on our leisure. Yet the love of parents for their children can give us the energy to move beyond self. And it means so much. A mother of my acquaintance tells of finally having agreed to interrupt her day and play the single game of cards her son kept requesting. When his dad later asked how his day had gone, he related an experience of time with Mom that had taken up hours. Even years later it was still his memory that she had set aside so much just to be with him.
Time is a precious resource, and authentic relationships require it. And relationships, especially in families and with parents, are the strongest protection we can offer in the messy goodness of human life. The liturgical year reminds us that we live within time, but we are not alone in history. As we look forward to celebrating Christ's resurrection in Easter, we can be strengthened to live family life in God’s good grace (cf. Ephesians 3:15).
For the past four years, at St. Matthew School, our community has been faithful to praying the holy rosary daily in our school chapel. Each day, we have invited students from Division I, II or III to meet me in the chapel to pray the rosary before lunch and the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 pm before dismissal.
During the 2019-20, when the pandemic hit and students and staff were sent home, we knew we needed to continue this powerful prayer virtually. Every day, from March to June, I led our community in praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet through our Youtube channel. I remember one of our parents, who was a frontline nurse working long hours in ICU telling me that it gave her great peace to pray the rosary with me as she got home after a long day’s work. Another family said they started each and every day praying the rosary during the lockdown as a way to begin their day with gratitude and prayers for our school community and our world. During summer break, I had a parent reach out to tell me how her mother had recently passed away. She asked me to pray the rosary for her soul.
It took a while, but after four years of consistently praying to Our Lady as a community and teaching our students how powerful and comforting the rosary is, it has now become a staple in our ordinary school days. Now that we are back in school, we continue to pray the rosary on our Youtube channel but I record the rosary live from a classroom filled with students! Teachers will reserve a time during the week for me to visit their classroom and we pray the rosary together. We then send the YouTube link to our parent community and all staff and teachers can play the recording during the day when the time suits them best. Our Grade two teacher Mrs. Champion plays the recording every day during lunch while her students are eating. Another teacher includes the rosary in her Religion lessons, another during her CTF Meditation and relaxation course and another teacher starts each class praying a decade of the rosary before her lesson begins. We are teaching our students about Mary and the power of the Holy Rosary.
St. Louis de Montfort tells us that “Mary is the easiest, safest and quickest way to Jesus”. When we give our prayers to her through praying the rosary, she puts them on a silver platter and delivers them to her son, Jesus. At St. Matthew School, our main goal is to be Christ-centered. Through praying the rosary, practicing the virtues of Jesus Christ, sharing the daily scripture verse written on all classroom whiteboards and our student-led morning prayers, together we are moving closer to our goal as people of God to become more and more like Jesus every day. The rosary gives our school community strength, direction, peace and graces from above.
We are advocates for Catholic Education for a number of issues close to our hearts. One, we know our children have functioned much better in a faith-based atmosphere than in one without God at the center. With a common denominator of faith, everyone operates with the base belief that God is number one, our actions are to reflect Him, so hope, faith and love become central tenants around which the schools and teachers function.
With Catholic Education there is a basic belief that each individual student is made in the image of God and is therefore treated with respect and care. They are seen as unique individuals and are valued and treasured as such. They are seen for who they are in Christ and who they can become in Christ. Students are encouraged to live out Christian principles and values in every aspect of their lives.
When our daughter started at Christ the King School in Leduc, Alberta, she was greeted by each student in her class with a handshake, welcomed and felt included right away. This greatly reduced her anxiety of starting at a new school in grade 8; she had just moved from another great Catholic school in her hometown.
We highly value the dedication to excellence of the staff and administration at Christ the King in academics and life skill development. We know, and have, complete confidence that our daughters have been, and are, the beneficiaries of that excellence. Personally, as parents, we have been valued and invited to participate in the Christ the King community and have had the privilege of being active participants in our girls' education and extra-curricular activities.
Shannon and Lynnette Whitehouse
My life used to be crazy fast-paced. I was always filling my time, planning for the future, and writing out the steps I needed to follow to get where I wanted to go. Now, I don’t know what I will be able to do tomorrow or a week from now, never mind in a few years!
This has been one of my biggest challenges living with chronic illness. Letting go of what I thought and hoped my life would be and accepting what it is.
I had formed a large part of my identity around my ability to work hard. School was always hard for me, but through a lot of work I not only managed to successfully earn my PhD in biomolecular science, I was darn good at what I did.
When my health made it clear I should switch careers, I moved into human services. My goal was to become a counselor so I did online courses towards a Masters program. As my health caused me to slow things down, I had to calm my stubborn and competitive sides and let go of this goal. With each step “backwards” I was very frustrated with the limitations I faced. However, I also found I preferred the little things to the big I had been pursuing. So I started an online business (Lisza’s Gifts) that allows me to use both the analytical and creative parts of my mind and might provide some long-term financial support as it grows.
Through my many years of school I learned to ask questions and accept help. But I have discovered that it is not as easy to ask for help with personal things. My health is such that there are often days when showering is so exhausting I need to nap, so how am I supposed to clean my house? Or when I’m in a crazy amount of pain and I need my “good” painkillers but I can’t get up to get them, how am I supposed to prepare food? I knew that eventually my Crohn’s colitis and other conditions (both identified and those still under investigation), would leave me homebound, but in my early 30s? This was completely unexpected.
Right now, my life seems to be all waiting. Waiting to get lab results. Waiting for the referral to yet another specialist. Waiting for more tests. Waiting in the ER. In these times of waiting, grace upon grace is granted. I receive help from family and friends to shovel snow, grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, drive me to and from appointments and the ER. I have the prayers of many people and the time to pray for them in return. I get to spend more time learning about my faith and myself. I have started to learn how to focus on what I need more than what I need to do.
In 2020 my health went from inconvenient to unbearable. The worst part? The doctors do not know how to improve my situation. I don’t know why half my symptoms start or why some of them randomly stop. I either need to sleep a ridiculous amount or I get insomnia. If I’m lucky, I have 4 good days between my Crohn’s treatments every 4 weeks. I struggle with the loneliness and isolation; then I struggle with having patience with the people I do speak with.
I believe that most people would say that I have more bad in my life than good, but I cannot control my circumstances. I can only control how I respond to them. It has been a steep learning curve to reach a place where I have largely accepted that my health will dictate more about my life than other factors. However, that doesn’t make it easy and I grieve every time.
I think most of us learned in 2020 how we are less in control than we thought. I think the quote stating that we are all in the same storm, but in different boats applies well. There are things we can do to improve the ride even though we cannot change the storm, such as remembering that Christ is in the boat with each one of us.
As COVID rages on we regularly see TV footage of health care professionals in hospitals. Yet barely visible is a small group of essential caregivers, often volunteers, who provide care for the soul, the Spiritual Care Teams.
I recently met some of these caregivers inside the Chinook Regional Hospital (CRH) in Lethbridge. After navigating entrance protocol to rival a military base, I was met by Annella Wehlage, the Roman Catholic Spiritual Care Coordinator. She guided me to her office in a quiet section of the ‘tower’ office block. There I met John Moerman, the Hospital Chaplain, and the Indigenous Wellness Core, comprised of Sylvia Ann Fox/”Singing Alone From Above” (Traditional Wellness Coordinator) and Suzan Heavyshields (Indigenous Hospital Liaison). This small group explained how they work together to provided spiritual care needs to patients, and how COVID has changed what they do.
Wehlage has been a volunteer since 2015 following a long career as a nurse. She outlined her daily routine which used to begin with a list of patients who designated a religious affinity on their admittance paperwork. She and the team would discuss a plan and then begin what Moerman referred to with a smile as ‘rounds’, or personal visits to each patient desiring spiritual care. However, COVID has changed all that.
Now the imperative to prevent cross-contamination has reduced visitors to just one per patient, usually a family member. A second professional visitor is permitted in certain circumstances, e.g., a legal counsellor or a priest. And a limited number of additional visitors are permitted in end-of-life situations.
So now the Spiritual Care Team can only visit a patient when specifically referred by family or nursing staff, or in an end-of-life situation. Wehlage is saddened by the loss of her four-person team of volunteer Eucharistic ministers who used to faithfully help her to bring the Eucharist to everyone who wanted it. Now Wehlage’s main responsibility is arranging for a priest to visit when requested. This she does with the help of a weekly roster and an ‘on-call’ list for weekends and evenings. There is always a priest available 24/7.
The six priests on the list work tirelessly to bring the Sacrament of the Sick and the Sacrament of Reconciliation to patients, sometimes visiting the same person more than once. Their presence in the hospital is a blessing for more than just the patients. Not infrequently, a family member will also ask for a sacrament. The day I visited, Wehlage paused at a coffee kiosk in the hospital atrium where the barista told her how gratifying it was for her to simply see a parish priest walk by because her shift schedule made it impossible to attend Mass.
Another uplifting aspect of Spiritual Care at CRH is how First Nation’s spirituality is often combined with Catholicism, for First Nations patients. Team member Fox explained, “Some people, their parents were strong Catholics and their grandparents were strong in our traditional ways.” So team members offer both forms of religious care concurrently. Moerman added, “That’s how God created us, with a traditional background, a family background, a cultural background, all together.”
The CRH Spiritual Care Team and the Indigenous Wellness Core are clearly cohesive. “We’re friends outside of work”, Wehlage said, “We support one another.” They also work together to accomplish some extraordinary feats. Fox told of one gravely sick man whose wedding plans were interrupted by his illness. When she visited she found his fiancée present. She asked if there was anything she might help them with and they answered, “We’d like to get married this afternoon!” Fox and Wehlage executed a frenzy of arrangements from legal paperwork, securing a priest and arranging a special exemption for two family witnesses. Then they peeked in from the hallway to watch two people realize a dream that COVID couldn’t take from them.
More commonly the teams deal with end-of-life situations. “Sometimes if patients get a difficult diagnosis nurses will request a spiritual care visit,” Wehlage said. She also makes a point of accompanying the priest in cases where the Sacrament of the Sick is administered, especially if it was requested by family members who aren’t permitted to visit due to COVID restrictions. “If a patient sees a priest arrive unannounced at their bedside, they may get scared,” Wehlage said. The teams have many times sat with a person during their final hours. Fox explained softly, “Nobody wants to be alone when they’re going.”
When asked how else COVID has changed their work, the teams agreed that the hospital was much quieter with fewer visitors. That makes the teams’ work more important than ever. “Patient care can’t be done from home,” Moerman said. He added, “I don’t treat a patient with COVID any differently.” Nevertheless, additional precautions are necessary both at work and when returning home. Moerman said, “Early on I had a knot in my stomach, especially as my wife was baby-sitting our grandkids at home. I would put my clothes in the laundry as soon as I got home. I still do.” He admitted to turning off the news some days as well, “You have to limit COVID news or the fear can rise in you.” Wehlage spoke of baking as a stress-reliever and Fox had taken up traditional beading and making moccasins.
Asked if they have a message for the readers of Faithfully, the teams had excellent suggestions.
“Follow best practices, listen to the advice of professionals so we don’t overwhelm the 14-bed ICU at our hospital.”
“If you know of somebody who’s Catholic and in hospital, notify their parish priest because the person might not have been at church for some time and their family might be too distracted to think of it.”
“Check in with your extended family, just to talk, a wellness check.”
It’s obvious that, both on and off the job, caring is deeply engrained in the nature of spiritual caregivers. Let us remember and pray for them in a special way this month.
Growing up, I often recited my “life checklist” – by the age of 25 (27 at the latest) I will have a full-time job teaching, own my first home, and be married with a baby on the way. The saying is true, God laughs when we make plans. "For I know the plans I have for you", says the Lord. (Jer. 9:11)
At the age of 26, I would have told you I was at least on par with my plan. I was in a long-term relationship with someone I was sure would be my forever. Yet looking back, if I had been more honest with myself, I knew he wasn’t (and I think he did too). We were very different and yet we loved each other and celebrated our differences. But sometimes love isn’t enough.
I can recall praying through tears on a car drive home, pleading with God to take him out of my life if he wasn’t the one. I got my answer to prayer, albeit in the most heartbreaking way – he’d leave me in the weeks to come after falling in love with someone else. As with all loss, I went through the cycle of grief – but my faith was never shaken. Calling into mind the poem, Footprints in the Sand: "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings."
Fast forward to the summer of 2019 – I am now 31 and still single after the breakup in 2017 despite my best efforts to put myself out there and meet someone. I trusted in God knowing he knew the desires on my heart, yet my patience was thinning. I had just returned from a summer away in Ireland with a dear friend, and I was settling into my new home in the downtown core of Calgary. “Single and ready to mingle” as they say. Little did I know that God was aligning the stars in His perfect timing – on August 16th the love of my life would walk into my world and change life as I knew it forever.
For those who know me well, they’ll attest to the fact that I enjoy storytelling, especially as it pertains to answered prayers, signs from God, or little messages sent by an angel – ever find dimes in odd places?
August 5th, 2020 was not unlike any other summer day (although I’m now 32). We had an early start that morning as my boyfriend and I were on our way to Moraine Lake to catch the sunrise and paddleboard. He had been acting strange, but I figured it was due to a 2 AM alarm clock and a lack of sleep. What I would learn later that morning is that his nerves were slowly eating away at him as he prepared to get down on one knee to ask me to be his wife (spoiler – I said yes)! August 5th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Snows, the name of the school where I began my teaching career. This was undeniably a sign from Our Lady in the midst of a pandemic to remind me to trust, to keep the faith, and maintain hope.
As we prepared for our December 2021 nuptials at Our Lady of the Rockies Shrine in Canmore, we enrolled in the Marriage Preparation Course offered through Catholic Family Service. While we like to think we knew everything about one another, this opportunity gave us the chance to go deeper. In reflecting on our own families growing up, we conversed about what we wanted to bring to the table when it came to building our family, and the misgivings that we wanted to avoid. We had thoughtful and reflective conversations on our 5 Love Languages (Gary Chapman), and explored the types of communicators we are and areas we need to work on. Important here was understanding that no family will ever be perfect, not even Christ’s own family – a genealogy that included an array of sinners. However, we affirmed the need to remain rooted in faith and love.
Marry the right person, in the right place, at the right time. But more than that – trust that God will lead you to the right person, in the right place, and in His time.
"The celebration of the XXIX World Day of the Sick on 11 February 2021, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, is an opportunity to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care both in healthcare institutions and within families and communities. We think in particular of those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, the effects of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic." ~ Pope Francis.
The theme of this year’s message is “You have but one teacher and you are all brothers" (Mt 23:8), which encourages a trust-based relationship with the sick and the nurturing of integral human healing. Please find here some resources for the World Day of the Sick (Feb. 11) this year:
Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)
We would also like to direct your attention to the updated Bill C-7 webpage, and ask that you continue to pray and voice your concern on MAiD. "May our Lord both inspire and bring to accomplishment our efforts to embrace and protect the suffering and vulnerable, and to honour and uphold our rights and freedoms." ~ AB & NWT Bishops See webpage
This year has been difficult for all of us, but for those who were already vulnerable, it is even much more so. As in the past few years, Coldest Night of the Year walk support those Feed the Hungry. Your participation helps ensure ongoing service for those who rely on regular Sunday Meals at Feed the Hungry.
This year, Coldest Night of the Year is a “virtual” walk. We encourage families or individuals to participate in their own “COVID safe” walk at a location and distance you choose. Note that you may walk any day during February 2021, but we recommend event day Saturday, February 20 so you can join in the excitement across the country on social media. Teams and individuals are asked to register and fundraise through the CNOY website as in the past. To participate, start a group, or to support the walk, register at: https://cnoy.org/location/calgarydowntown
Tools to help promote #CNOY2021 in your community, feel free to use:
40 Days for Life is an internationally coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and peaceful vigils outside of abortion clinics. The spring campaign is from Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17 to Mar. 28, 2021.
Here are some ways your community can be involved for the protection of life, to pray for the aborted babies, their mothers, fathers, families, those experiencing unexpected pregnancies, and for staff and physicians working in abortion clinics.
Consider praying outside the abortion clinic…
Praying outside the abortion clinic is one of the pillars of the campaign. It is a peaceful and educational presence. Those who are called to stand witness send a powerful message to the community about the tragic reality of abortion. It also serves as a call to repentance for those who work at the abortion center and those who patronize the facility. May you and your parish intentionally decide to dedicate a day to praying outside the clinic.
Praying at The Kensington Clinic (Address: 2431 5th ave. NW, Calgary) - from 7am to 6pm, 7 days a week
40 Days for Life Resources
Suggested books & videos
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Motu proprio Aperuit illis published on September 30, 2019 establishes that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 24, 2021) is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers