Statement by the Most Rev. William T. McGrattan, Bishop of Calgary and CCCB President, to the Catholic Faithful in Canada on the Recent Escalation of Conflict in the Holy Land
Over these last few days, the world has witnessed a rapid escalation of armed conflict in the Holy Land, with reports of a growing number of wounded or dead, including innocent civilians.
As the Holy Land is immersed in this violence and bloodshed, we remember that Jesus, the Son of God, who lived and walked there as Love Incarnate, through His teaching by word and deed, calls us as brothers and sisters to be always united by the bond of charity.
I invite the Catholic faithful in Canada to join other people of good will, here and around the world, in imploring God to move the hearts of those leaders engaged in the present conflict in order to deescalate the acts of terrorism, cease violence and war, and resume constructive efforts that are aimed at establishing lasting peace and concord. As we pray for peace, let us remember all the families and individuals suffering because of this most recent outbreak of violence.
As Christians we are compelled by the teachings and example of Jesus to pray for peace throughout the world. In a fraternal spirit of solidarity with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim brothers and sisters, let us join together in recalling God’s desire for peace in the land that Jesus Christ called home.
12 October 2023
When I heard about the new diocesan Pastoral Renewal I was excited to participate because it’s an opportunity to strengthen my own faith within the context of my family, parish, diocese and universal Church. It’s also an opportunity to infuse faith, hope and love into our broader society.
At first glance, I like the direction of the three pastoral renewal themes: forming missionary disciples, being a Church of encounter and witness, and strengthening family life. This focus appeals to me as a wife and mother of six children; it supports the type of Christ-centered world I want to raise my children in.
In our fast ever-changing society I feel rooted as a Catholic in the timeless truths of Jesus Christ and His Church. I believe I have Good News to share with my family, parish, community, country and world. I think now is the time to embrace our identities as sons and daughters of the King of the Universe and become protagonists in evangelization, inviting our family, friends and neighbours to accept their unique and unrepeatable role in the greatest love story of all time.
Back in September, I sat down to speak with Bishop William McGrattan to better learn how he hopes to use this plan to steer our diocese. He said now is an opportune time to forge ahead and instil hope.
“The main thing is to realize the relationship with Christ, for all of us, needs to be renewed,” said Bishop McGrattan.
Lately I’ve been praying for family and friends who are battling serious illnesses: heart attack and cancer. Sadly, just this past Thanksgiving weekend I attended a memorial service for a young boy, my son’s hockey teammate, who lost his battle with cancer.
In all of these circumstances I feel a loss of control; I feel helpless amidst so much suffering. And I know I’m not alone, probably anyone reading this is suffering or knows someone who is suffering right now. And yet the first word that comes to my mind is: Jesus. Only Jesus saves.
This pastoral renewal plan is our collective opportunity to put Jesus into the centre of our life for the first time or the hundredth time and look for ways to invite others to do the same through encounter, witness, accompaniment and strengthening the family – “the first and vital cell of society” St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio.
Our time on Earth is short and we just never know how much time we have left. The best way we can prepare is to always be ready to meet Our Lord. Jesus is the answer to our deepest longings. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
As a Catholic, my deepest longing is to become a saint, but I know just as well as anyone, it isn’t always so simple to stay on the straight and narrow when there are so many voices vying for our time, energy and money. Or when tragedy strikes and suffering comes, it’s tempting to doubt God or feel anger, confusion, despair and fall away. Or success and influence can blur our vision and we can rely on our own strength and forget everything is a gift from God.
Bishop McGrattan is also aware of and acknowledges the fatigue among his flock and yet he urges us forward in faith and trust.
“Sometimes people are tired or believe the status quo can’t be changed. I think then we are giving into a sense of defeatism. We need to really examine ourselves and say that’s not what Our Lord is calling us to. He wants us to go out, be labourers, to recognize we don’t sometimes have sufficient labourers, but to pray and trust.”
How this pastoral renewal plan takes shape will look different in each person, family, and each parish as the local Church is invited to discern the path forward.
Using the Parable of the Sower, Bishop McGrattan explained that these pastoral renewal priorities are “the seeds that can provide renewal in the diocese. The parishes then need to sow and cultivate the soil to allow for these priorities to take root and have an expression in their parish.”
I pray we can each experience a willingness to participate in this five year pastoral renewal and that the Holy Spirit guides us on this new journey together, bringing along as many people with us as possible.
You are called. You matter. You belong.
To learn about the Pastoral Renewal in the Diocese of Calgary, visit catholicyyc.ca/renewal
It was a privilege to attend the Pastoral Care Training last September, facilitated by Virginia Battiste. The workshop was attended by 20 fellow parishioners from Holy Family Parish in Medicine Hat. Virginia Battiste, the facilitator, possesses a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Diploma in Elementary Education, and a Master's of Theological Studies with a major in Pastoral Counseling.
Role playing opportunities to practice newly acquired listening skills that focused on paying attention to another’s feelings rather than focusing simply on the facts, was incredibly beneficial for me.
One of the takeaways from the Training was learning the four rules of Pastoral Care: 1) it's not about me, 2) Not to go in with my own or any agenda, 3) I'm not there to fix or solve problems, 4) it's all about the person I am visiting, hearing their story, so they know they matter to me.
During the role-playing exercises, it was fascinating to see how easily and naturally we all slipped into trying to "fix" things by offering advice. Virginia did an excellent job of helping us recognize this problem-solving mentality. She guided us towards realizing when we were focusing on the other person's facts rather than their feelings. Once again, Pastoral Care emphasizes listening for feelings, not facts.
Upon reflection, my favorite part of the weekend was the discussion on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). This topic highlighted Virginia's exceptional knowledge and passion. Her passion for helping Catholics understand their faith and the Church's teachings regarding assisted suicide led to an impassioned exhortation to stand up for what we believe. to be counter cultural, and to be faithful to the teachings of our faith.
We are blessed with rich biblical teaching on the sanctity of life and redemptive suffering. It is never permissible to intentionally end a human life, one's own or another. In today's society, this is not a popular stance, but throughout history, the Catholic Church has taken unpopular stances. We must be strong in the Lord and stand for truth and the sanctity of life.
Written by Valerie Dykstra, a pastoral care minister and parishioner of Holy Family, Medicine Hat.
Last week, the priests of the Diocese of Calgary convened for a four-day study at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore. Under the guidance of Lucas Pollice, an Associate Professor of Theology and Catechetics from the Augustine Institute, the clergy explored the mission of the laity and the new evangelization. The priests deepened their understanding of the lay vocation, examining its vital role and mission, and how it partakes in Christ's priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission.
In addition to the discussions, the gathering also showcased an exclusive preview of the Pastoral Renewal launch video, which was scheduled for release two days later on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Beyond the video preview, the priests dedicated time to reflect on and discuss the pastoral needs of their parish communities in light of the upcoming pastoral renewal, guided by the Pastoral Renewal Leadership team.
Fr. Tim Boyle led a reflection on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), encouraging the priests to share with one another the challenges they face in ministry, but above all, to share moments when their hearts truly burned with passion for Christ, just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus when they encountered the Risen Lord. This enriching exercise of deep listening and sharing among the presbyterate highlighted the chosen path for renewal in our Diocese, that which is rooted in the willingness to meet one another on the road, of walking together, of listening and dialogue, so that we can recognize the Lord in our midst.
Photos courtesy of Fr. Iqbal Khurshid, Bonnie Annicchiarico, and Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon.
Seminarians photos: Lincoln Ho, for St. Joseph's Seminary, Edmonton; Serra Chapters celebration photos: Victor Panlilio (more photos here).
A month has passed since the World Youth Day pilgrimage in Lisbon, Portugal. Four pilgrims in the diocese share their memorable stories of Lisbon. Accompanied by stunning photographs, these stories provide a glimpse into their transformative World Youth Day encounters.
Andrew Min: Joy is missionary
Catarina Avila: Go with haste to encounter our Lord
Elizabeth Spiess: In a field with 2 million Catholics
Cameron Bluekens: The pilgrimage of love and kindness
Dying to Meet You
Like Christine, the legalization of euthanasia affected me very much as well. I started to think: Now, we don’t so much have a culture of death as we seem to have death without culture. I also began to wonder how we can bring cultural renewal to death and dying and restore its meaning and proper significance to our lives.
And so, on January 1, 2021, I made a new year’s resolution to blog about death and dying every single day for an entire year in a way that was ultimately edifying. To my surprise, writing each post became a highlight of my day. That blog “DyingToMeetYou.ca” (archived here) got more than 15,000 unique visitors and, more importantly, led people to take action in their own lives in ways I did not expect or anticipate.
I continue to blog, now at DyingToMeetYou.com. Always on the search for interesting stories, this is how I met Christine.
Born and raised in England, Christine was four when the Second World War began, and ten when it ended. She remembered the mandatory blackouts as well as classmates who lost parents during the war, saying: “There were German bombs dropping down and we couldn’t let out a chink of light. The civilian attitude was to obey rules to preserve life. And, particularly given the constant threat, the grownups I knew carried cards that said: 'I’m a Catholic. In case of an accident, call a priest.'"
While the overall wartime context certainly heightened Christine’s sensitivity to suffering, there were many personal experiences of suffering throughout this octogenarian’s life, too:
“I know that suffering is a part of life, it’s a part of living,” Christine told me. “And I believe that everybody suffers in one way or another. I watched my mother suffer and die from ALS when she was 34. I suffered myself when she died and I was only 10. At the time, in the 1940s, it was not expected that children should go to funerals and my siblings and I were not told anything about our mother’s death until a few months later.”
When she became an adult, Christine seized the opportunity to move to Canada and settled in a small village in Saskatchewan to teach and eventually met and married a local farmer. On discovering that they were unable to have children, they chose to adopt. She had been particularly inspired to adopt by St. Thomas More’s example, which she read about in a book entitled, Two Fortunate Orphans.
Over the years, the couple adopted seven children – including three Indigenous children – all of whose birth mothers had specifically requested a Catholic upbringing for them.
Asked what she thinks has changed with respect to the modern inability to contend with the trials of life, Christine told me, “There was so much suffering and death that people would hardly think of cutting life short intentionally. But now, the Western world has become more and more affluent and suffering is not so apparent. People feel entitled to have a life based on F-U-N. It’s got to be fun or else it’s not worth it.”
“We always ask the children, ‘Did you have fun?’ And adults tell each other, ‘Oh, that was such fun!’ Fun has become the goal of life. But life isn’t always fun; life has suffering. Life is a pit stop on the way to heaven.”
And so, with the nationwide legalization of euthanasia in Canada, Christine remembered those wartime cards to “Phone a priest” and briefly considered carrying a card in her wallet that would say, “I’m a Catholic, don’t euthanize me.”
“But,” explained Christine, “knowing myself, I needed something more solid than a card because I traditionally lose things. I decided that a tattoo would last me until my death and would be a permanent feature.”
And so, Christine went to get tattooed and her kids came to watch.
The Church as an Expert in Humanity
Loneliness, increased cost of living, mental health crises, alienation amidst grief and loss — these are just some of the social issues of our time that lead some to consider suicide or euthanasia. And, while the crises are great, we the Church are prepared to meet them through ministry, accompaniment, and our confidence in the power of God to overcome even death.
When Pope Paul VI addressed the United Nations, he said that the Church was present there as “an expert in humanity.” Now, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church also states, “As an expert in humanity, “[the Church] is able to understand man in his vocation and aspirations, in his limits and misgivings, in his rights and duties, and to speak a word of life that reverberates in the historical and social circumstances of human existence.”
But what does that look like concretely?
How are we doing it? Is our witness credible? Are we sufficiently present?
It has been several years since Christine got the tattoo, so I asked Christine if she has had any regrets at all about it.
“Initially, I thought about getting the tattoo across my chest, but given the number of people who ask to see it, it’s good I went with my arm instead!” she chuckled.
If you want to hear more from Christine, attend the Evening Program - come and listen to her in person (she’s one of the speakers) at the Diocesan-Wide Open House Event on “The Church as an Expert in Humanity” event on Sep. 23! Be sure to check out the event website and register here!
Since the establishment of the Courage & Encourage Apostolate within the Diocese of Calgary in 2006, we have had a fruitful apostolate aimed at supporting our brothers and sisters journeying with same gender attraction and with those who live with or accompany them. Many have sought support from this ministry and each person has a very unique and special journey of their own.
This year was our first attempt at a common retreat for the Encourage group (parents, friends etc. of persons experiencing same gender attraction or gender identity and expression) at Aspen Ranch (Clearwater County, near Sundre). The retreat this past August provided a safe and caring space for people to openly share their fears, their hurts, their anxieties and all that accompanies this topic.
Taking time to listen to God's voice through Scripture reflection and meditation as well as prayer, presentations and worship, we opened ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to become tangibly present. As always, the Holy Spirit brought life and love, and renewed us from within. We ended our gathering with a wonderful Mass celebrated by Fr. John Wright. In entering into Eucharist, a mode of intentional thanksgiving to God, we trusted that despite all difficulties, God remains with us and will not fail us.
Annette, one of the mothers who attended the retreat, expressed how blessed she felt to have had the opportunity to participate in the Encourage retreat. She thanked the organizers for their hospitality and was grateful to begin a journey of awareness and healing. Reflecting on the blessings she received on the retreat, Annette gratefully stated, "New friendships were formed amidst Aspen Ranch’s picturesque landscapes and hiking trails, thanks to the gracious hospitality of Deacon Dante. He provided us with refreshments, a delicious BBQ lunch, and overall use of their facilities."
We were able to bring to the altar of our Saviour all that weighed heavy on our hearts. In the end, all thanksgiving and credit goes to God's ever present Holy Spirit for leading us, guiding us and steering us, as we surrendered ourselves into the loving hands of our God. Our gathering became "holy ground”, an encounter with God who never ceases to call us "The Beloved."
As a group we sought the wisdom contained in the US Bishop's Pastoral Letter Always Our Children as to how we can go back into our everyday lives and approach this matter with grace and dignity for all involved. The retreat helped us realize that our call is always to become more like Jesus himself who brought us the message "love one another, as I have loved you".
This year, seven remarkable priests in our diocese are reaching significant milestones in their priestly vocation. Each has uniquely responded to their calling, overcoming challenges with steadfast faith and dedication throughout their ministries. Read their stories, and join us as we honour and celebrate these extraordinary priests for their dedication and service.
Fr. Alexander Braganza, OCD
Fr. Alexander Braganza, OCD, is a new priest in the Diocese of Calgary. He had been appointed Associate Pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, Calgary, effective August 3, 2023. Prior to this assignment, Fr. Alexander was appointed to the Little Flower Monastery in India. Fr. Braganza celebrates his 25th year anniversary this year!
Stay tuned for Fr. Alexander's vocation story.
Written by Fr. Sajo Jacob for Faithfully.
Written by Fr. Roy Jayamaha, Pastor of St. Paul's Church, Piikani Nation, Brocket, AB.
Written by Fr. Bryan Frank, Retired Priest of the Diocese of Calgary.
Grief, despite its painful nature, can reveal our resilience. It can deepen our relationships and enhance our spirituality. While it's a difficult journey, it's also an opportunity for growth and transformation.
I am a bereaved mother with experiences in traumatic loss, genetic loss due to a Edward’s Syndrome, and miscarriage loss. As well, I’m a psychologist, and for the past two and half decades, I have been privileged to journey with persons integrating grief. My personal experiences, as well as those of my marriage and family, have motivated me to live in a way that celebrates life, deepens spirituality, and strengthens connections.
Grief often manifests as feelings of invisibility and isolation. These experiences, while common, can act as fertile ground for a range of challenges including anxiety, depression, unprocessed guilt, inhibiting shame, distorted personal narratives, marital disconnect, impacted sexuality, and infertility, among others. While I have grappled with feelings of invisibility and isolation, they occur less frequently now. Although I have benefited from psychological resources, I have found profound comfort in spiritual practices, and I am looking forward to share this with others.
Miscarriage and early infancy loss are unique forms of grief, with a myriad of potential facets. These can include medical trauma, survivor guilt, sometimes relief, confusion, spiritual questioning, depression, cultural differences, and spousal differences. Such experiences often receive minimal recognition and may not even be directly linked to the loss. Consequently, the intensity of the loss may be intensified by feelings of minimization, invisibility, and loneliness.
Why should you attend?
Firstly, grief is often a topic that is avoided as discussing it can be a painful reminder of the loss experienced, and people are biologically wired to avoid pain. Secondly, in my practice, I frequently encounter concerns about potentially hurting others by bringing up the subject of loss. However, have no fear - the pain already exists and discussing the loss can help relieving it, rather than intensifying it. When we avoid it, we risk creating a deeper wound - a sense of invisibility.
The purpose of this workshop is to journey together, creating a safe space where we can share and navigate the complexities of grief and its integration into our lives. Finally, I’ve heard many say, "I don’t know what to say." In the workshop, you will learn through testimony of what has been helpful, including this statement.
This workshop is open to everyone. You might consider attending if you have personally experienced a miscarriage, if you know someone who has suffered a miscarriage and you're unsure how to provide support, or if you frequently interact with families and want to be equipped to handle this specific form of grief. The organizers and participants hope that through this workshop, attendees will feel affirmed, find a space to share their experiences, receive comfort, embrace the opportunity to learn, possibly adjust their narratives if needed, and cultivate a desire to support others.
The establishment of the diaconate took place with the ordination of the seven deacons described in the Acts of the Apostles. Renewing the practice of the early Church, the Second Vatican Council restored the order of deacons as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. This restoration began in Canada in 1969 and in the Diocese of Calgary since 1998.
When candidate John Arbeau was asked by a priest years ago, “My initial reaction was why are you asking me, as I didn’t think I was the person!” But with formation, training, and prayer, he adds that “I have matured and grown in my spirituality to understand the service of a deacon.”
Meanwhile, candidate Randy Gritter, formerly a staunch Protestant, underwent a significant conversion to Catholicism before he felt the call to the permanent diaconate. “I initially learned about the diaconate as a Protestant. We had deacons who were specifically tasked with aiding the poor in our community," he shares. His then-parish priest, Fr. Julian Studden, was highly supportive of his vocation.
When Gritter applied for the second time, he discovered that Fr. Studden had been appointed Vicar of the Diaconate. He interpreted this as a sign that God was guiding him through this door.
Stay tuned to future issues of Faithfully for more detailed vocational stories of each candidate.
During the formation years, our deacon candidates also experienced strong prayer support from their fellow parishioners and mentors. All credited their spouses and families above all for encouraging them.
Speaking of his wife’s unwavering support, deacon candidate Brian Kinahan mentioned, “This has been her journey as well. And, although we've had long conversations about where this journey is taking us, and she has had her uncertainties about it, she has never stopped praying for me, and listening to me during my own doubts.”
“Speaking with the deacons who have come before us, they are glad that we are having the experiences that we are having. It has also been helpful on this journey to get help from their experiences, from their journey and from what they have learned and done,” says candidate Jim Manzara.
Candidate Ricardo Rosero-Gonzallez shared that his understanding on being a deacon has evolved, stating that as a deacon, "I represent the Church whereever I am.” This was echoed by candidate Peter Lilienthal, who added, “The ministry of presence is key to this role, and being able to let the Holy Spirit work through me.”
Strong bonds naturally formed between the 12 deacon candidates and their families during the formative years.
“Our diaconate class of 12 families was very close. We were not immune, over the 4 years, to the struggles and griefs within the path of life,” says candidate Bruce Alan Barnett. “We all experienced the "oneness" of the Body of Christ in our prayers, compassion and empathy shown many times through the journey.”
Written by Alice Matisz and the staff of the Catholic Pastoral Centre for Faithfully.
With every family having a bedroom to store their belongings, our indoor space was becoming crowded. As each family's journey at Elizabeth House progresses, the need for additional storage grows.
Today, we are still standing in awe of our new storage lockers and garage organization system. We thank Ethan Karter Construction who donated all the labour, the cost of materials, the design, and the actual build of the lockers and storage - essentially every aspect from start to finish. We also thank Rite Way Fencing who donated their assistance for the installation.
Matt and the crew at Ethan Karter Construction, you've truly worked wonders! These purposefully built lockers and storage solutions are greatly appreciated and much needed.
Our team and families extend their deepest gratitude. An extra special thank you goes to the Schultz Family for spearheading this project and connecting us with Matt and his team. Thank you!.
What a transformation. We are overjoyed at the amount of secure storage we now have. It’s a game changer for everyone. Thank you from the bottom our hearts!
Elizabeth House Team
Bishop McGrattan marked the religious life anniversaries of Sr. Pat MacDonald, FCJ, and Sr. Ann Marie Walsh, FCJ, who have dedicated 65 and 60 years respectively to their service. The celebration took place on August 26 at the FCJ Centre with the Holy Mass, followed by a beautiful reception.
Three weeks into my marriage, I discovered my husband’s addiction to alcohol. It was like a one-and-done knock-out punch. I was out cold and left in a daze of anxiety and confusion for weeks. It was like getting shoved onto a roller-coaster of denial, anger, shame, fear, panic and extreme grief. But what surprised me the most was the lie.
A lie is like a slow black sludge that fills your heart and mind. It rots you from the inside out.
I had been so panicked about the addiction in the first few days that I never thought twice about the betrayal; about the lie. Looking back on it now, it is so obvious that it had already triggered a deep shame within me, but I couldn’t see it then. And as it slowly sunk into my heart, almost unnoticed, the ground under my feet began to crumble.
Here’s the interesting part: most people would think that my husband’s betrayal would have broken the trust in our marriage, which it technically did, but the most harmful and unexpected consequence was that I stopped trusting myself. I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t anymore. I didn’t know what parts of my lived experiences and memories I could trust, and that included God.
I had never felt so alone and so helpless in my life. I had absolutely no-one to turn to. I couldn’t turn to my friends and family because they would be biased, which would have just divided Daniel and I even more. I also couldn’t afford to go see a counselor.
I scoured the internet for anything I could find to help me understand addiction. I looked everywhere I could for testimonies of couples that had found a way through so that I could try and imitate them and use their strategies, but I found almost nothing. Instead, I was met with devastating statistics about marriage and addiction. I had no one to turn to but God. Even though I wasn’t particularly impressed with Him at that time, I had no other choice.
So I reluctantly prayed… Since I was a young girl, everytime I had a problem in my life, my mom would tell me to go talk to Jesus about it. She never gave me any other instructions, she simply told me to go talk to Him. So that’s what I did, I talked to Him like I would anyone else and I have continued to do that in prayer time ever since. It has proven to be such an incredible blessing, and this situation was no exception.
It's crazy to think, but all of this happened in about six weeks. It all led up to one final period of prayer. In a moment of fear and despair, I asked God how He could have let me enter into a marriage where I would not be protected and provided for. His answer shocked me. I felt the greatness and firmness in His voice reverberate through my entire being as He said: “I am your protector and provider first. And I will give these things to you, through your husband, when and how I see fit.”
As I pondered these words in my heart, I began to see my husband through a completely new lens. Instead of seeing Daniel as someone who had failed me, I began to see him as a gift, as a vessel of God’s protection and provision. I no longer felt as though he owed me these things because it wasn’t really his job, it was God’s job. And if I didn’t receive these things through Daniel, it didn’t mean that I was deprived of them, but simply that God would provide them in a different way.
What a shift in perspective! I was able to stop desperately grasping at my husband. I was able to release him, to free him. I realized that I had been robbing myself of the gift that my husband was, because when you believe someone owes you something, it's no longer a gift but the repayment of a debt. Now, instead of feeling like he was giving me what I was owed, everything he gave me felt like a bonus! Instead of anger and resentment, I was filled with gratitude for even the smallest things he would do.
You can imagine how drastically different it would have been for him to be met with gratitude every time he did something good, and patience and forgiveness every time he failed. But loving like this is just not possible without God’s help.
It’s an amazing thing to look back over our story and see where we are today. We now have a thriving marriage filled with prayer, joy, honesty, and intimacy. People keep thinking we’re newlyweds, even though we’ve been married for over 7 years! It still feels like a dream to see him chasing God and taking his role as the Spiritual Leader of our family with joy and intentionality.
A message from Most Rev. Jon Hansen, Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, NWT.
Aug. 18, 2023
Good morning everyone,
First of all, thank you for all the wonderful thoughts and prayers that have filled my text and email apps. Yesterday I had a 12-hour drive from Yellowknife to Grande Prairie, where I am “sheltering”. I am one of the lucky evacuees who have family in Alberta so I am very comfortable staying in the home of my niece and her husband.
That’s not the case for all who were forced to leave. As I drove, I saw many tents and campers for the entire length of my journey. There will also be many families in hotels and evacuation centres across Alberta and British Columbia. I gathered the quote below from one of our information sources, Cabinradio.ca. (This is a fantastic media source for up to the minute information about the fires)
“Approximately 63 percent of the NWT population is currently under evacuation order, if we use the most recent community population numbers provided by the NWT Bureau of Statistics. That’s about 28,904 residents, though this number doesn’t account for non-residents such as tourists or people here on short work contracts whose home province is elsewhere and would also be evacuating the NWT right now.”
Presently there are various levels of crisis in the NWT. A number of communities including Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik have fire at their doorsteps and we are just waiting to see what the weather will do to move the fires forward or to aid the firefighters and help hold the fires back. Other communities have already been breached including Behchoko (three homes lost) and Enterprise which was, according to reports, about 90% wiped out. I drove through there yesterday and it was the closest image to an apocalyptic wasteland that I have ever seen. For some communities such as Hay River and Katlodeeche, this is the second time they have been evacuated this summer, this after having to do the same a year ago due to floods.
On a brighter note, there is nothing like a crisis to bring out the best in humanity. There was a traffic stop at Big River (outside of Fort Providence), this is the only place on the 700km stretch between Yellowknife and High Level where you can stop for gas. With more than five thousand vehicles passing through a gas station with four pumps you can imagine that it could have been a place of chaos, and there was some of that. However, the prevalent mood was very neighbourly. People got out of their cars to stretch their legs and walk their dogs and spent time talking and laughing with one another. I was also surprised to see the many farm yards in northern Alberta that were freshly mowed and had big, hand-painted signs, offering free camping to all those equipped with tents and RVs.
The next few days are now just a matter of waiting to see what will happen next. All our staff and clergy are safe and accounted for, although they have been scattered to the wind by plane and by road. Keep the prayers coming as we ask for the miracle of rainfall in abundance for our parched land.
Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith
It was a long, four-year wait for us to attend Catholic Family Ministries' 25th Annual Family Life conference. It was with much excitement that we were heading back to Lac Ste. Anne for our 22nd time.
As a family we had only missed a couple; one for a family wedding and another for Father Troy Nguyen’s ordination. Even years where we thought about not going, our kids would not allow us to miss it as it's a special time for the entire family. The conference has greatly blessed our family. It's where Sean Lynn, my husband, met Steve Wood when we attended the very first conference, which led to the origins of how God Squad began, but that’s a story for another time.
The largest family reunion ever
In 1996, a group of like-minded friends from the Edmonton area who, led and inspired by Bob LeBlanc (now deceased), decided to heed the call of Pope Saint John Paul II who, in Familiaris Consortio, plead for families to “become what you are, the domestic Church and the heart of the world.”
Joy in God’s will and healing
As part of this year’s conference, a healing service was held on Saturday night. Father Paul Moret, the spiritual director of the Family Life Ministries group and pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Spruce Grove, introduced Encounter Ministries. This Catholic organization seeks “to demonstrate the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in their sphere of influence.” Specifically, they offered a prayer service for healing. All attendees were invited to ask for physical healing and to be prayed for by those around them.
There were many healings that night, and I experienced it first-hand. When an invitation was extended for people with shoulder issues to stand up, I decided to participate - I had nothing to lose.
I have not been able to raise my right arm past the height of my shoulder without rotating it due to calcification in the ligaments for the past 12 years or so. I must admit, I was sceptical. I was sitting next to my mom, so when people around those standing were invited to lay their hands on us, my mom had her hand on my right shoulder. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary - no lightning bolts, no hot flash; nothing. Later, my Mom told me her hand felt hot as she prayed for me.
As soon as the group prayer was done, they invited us to test our healing. I went to try to lift my arm up, outstretched, past my shoulder, fully expecting the familiar pain that usually prevented such movement. But I was able to keep going higher and higher until I held my arm straight above my head! I looked around at the people who had just prayed for me, and shrugged my shoulders in disbelief because I didn’t know what else to do. I had actually been healed!
The day after the healing service, a wave of excitement went through the camp as people began to share their stories. A lovely lady that we knew from our parish in Calgary always had to walk and pace at the back of the church during Mass because a back injury made it too painful for her to sit and genuflect. That morning she had the biggest grin in the world. She spoke about how she was able to sit and kneel for the first time in many years.
My husband Sean, my family, and our friends were all amazed and overjoyed by my healing. As a person who had been living without gluten, dairy, many vegetables and spices that upset my system, it still feels surreal to enjoy salsa again, and rediscover how food can truly taste without causing pain! Sean loves to make savoury food, and I’m grateful he no longer has to prepare a bland and restricted version of his dishes for me. We can now enjoy meals that we prepare together.
Fast forward to August 2023, I find myself continually praising the Lord for what He has done for me. I’ve lived with a few chronic issues in my life, accepting the suffering, and making it my goal to offer these tribulations to the Lord for the sake of my salvation and others. But that night, I just felt a calling to participate and ask God for the gift of His healing.
Still I question from time to time, feeling almost guilty for this gift of healing, because, after all, God had allowed this suffering in my life and I trust in His will and felt grateful for the opportunity to offer these little things back to Him. I felt I was given these opportunities to be able to walk with Him in His passion, much as Simon was able to do when He helped Jesus carry His cross. At first I wasn’t sure if I should be sharing this with others - as the healings felt more like a personal divine gift and revelation. However, I am now certain that it’s necessary for me to share this with others, to praise God for what He has done, and to instil hope in others with assurance of God’s love.
With upcoming healing services coming up in our diocese, I encourage you to participate and ask God for what you need in your life to fulfil His will. Go and trust what God has in store for you. If He wills you to heal, you will heal when you ask for it. Trust that God gives us what we need for our salvation, whether that be strength and perseverance to bear what He has given us, or healing.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” ~Hebrews 10:23
"I was amazed to see one of our senior parishioners who broke her hand from shoulder to elbow on Saturday came on her wheelchair holding her hand in a sling to be part of this long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for our new parish church. Nothing could stop her and all others to come and witness this great event," exclaimed Fr. Tomy Manjaly, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Strathmore Parish in Alberta. This touching scene unfolded at their official groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, August 1, 2023.
The unwavering support and commitment of the community were palpable at the event. It is a significant milestone for the Sacred Heart Parish - the transformation of the former IGA Grocery Store located in downtown Strathmore into a place of worship. Led by Fr. Tomy Manjaly who blessed the site, the ceremony marked the transformative period for the parish.
Parish Council Coordinator Tomas Rochford shared his delight at the community's participation in the event. "It was wonderful to see all the parishioners and local residents come out to enjoy the celebration; it was a cross-section of our community: patriarchs and matriarchs from long-established families, families with small children who recently joined our parish, members of our large Filipino community, and even some individuals who have been ‘testing the waters’ to learn more about the faith as they contemplate ‘swimming the Tiber’ to become Catholic," he said.
Fundraising Chair Nettie Hendricks also shared her emotional connection to the project. "I saw the tears on the faces of some members who were here when the previous church was built in 1953, and I felt a connection to them since I have been there myself since 1960," she said.
Indeed, the persistent support of the community underscores the significance of this project - not just as a physical transformation of a building, but also as a spiritual journey for the entire community. As Hendricks pointed out, “Strathmore has grown exponentially over the past few years and the number of parish families has increased dramatically since Covid retired. The new church will be an anchor for these families to celebrate Sacraments and faith.”
Rochford added, “It will encourage many former or distant Catholics to return and come ‘try it out’, which would be wonderful because we have such a holy pastor who is our spiritual leader, who celebrates Holy Mass in a manner that inspires prayer and sacrifice, and our parish has been striving to offer many means to welcome and form new and experienced members in the fullness of the Catholic Faith.”
A space for prayer & centre for the work of mercy
Sacred Heart church is not only undergoing a transformation of a former grocery store into a place of worship, it is also set to house relics from St. John Paul II, making it a significant site for prayer, contemplation, and pilgrimage. (Read “St. John Paul II’s relics in our Diocese”, by Sara Francis in Faithfully, 2021). Rochford hopes that the new church space can serve as a hub for faith formation activities, drawing inspiration from the teachings of St. John Paul II. See walkthrough video for the anticipated Shrine Chapel of St. John Paul II.
The new church design will also include a commercial kitchen, which anticipates the need to assist families struggling to make ends meet and the growing homeless population in Strathmore. The community hall, part of the new design, will provide another gathering place for special events such as wedding receptions and smaller conventions.
Hendrick expresses her delight at this development. "As a Christian, we are called to work for social justice so I am especially happy to see the commercial kitchen because it represents the first step to setting up an outreach program for the less fortunate," she says.
Rochford resonates with this sentiment, visualizing the central location of the church as an important opportunity to serve the local residents through corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. "From running potential weekday soup kitchens to weekly Bible studies to 24-hour adoration, we aim to offer Christ to all who step foot in our new building," he shares.
The Way of Beauty
Rochford, a local resident whose parents moved to Strathmore six years ago to be near his family, shares their anticipation for the completion of the new church. “They are especially excited by the fact that we have tried to build a church that is in architectural and artistic continuity with the entirety of the Catholic tradition," he says. His parents, who grew up before the Second Vatican Council, hold fond memories of beautiful Masses in beautiful churches.
Rochford also shares their deep longing after witnessing many churches lose their sense of beauty. Quoting Bishop Barron, he says that the Catholic community is finally moving out of the period of beige Catholicism, re-embracing the Way of Beauty in the universal Church. "Our small-town parish church will be a humble contribution to this renaissance of Catholic culture in Canada,” he adds.
"Our architecture team, led by Mr. Jun Lee, was able to design a beautiful neo-Romanesque style church from the bones of a grocery store!" Rochford says. (Read more: “Transforming a Grocery Store into a Church” by Brent Wiley, 2018) He reassures that no one will mistake the new building for any secular building because the external look and the internal forms speak the language of the Catholic faith in wood, metal, and drywall.
Interest continues to grow in the unique transformation of this downtown building. For a glimpse of this transformation, the Parish has shared a video link on their website: https://youtu.be/ASEc_JutFgA
Relying on your prayers & support
Fr. Tomy Manjaly conveys his deep appreciation for all those who have supported their church transformation project through their time, talent, and resources. "I can't stop thanking God for all those who have helped us in various ways to make this day possible," says Fr. Manjaly. He acknowledges that while they've made a strong start, the journey is far from over. "We continue to depend on the generosity of so many good people to complete the task which we have just begun."
The project cost is approximately $10M. To date, just over $6M has been collected through the generous support of the parish community. The parish remains optimistic about addressing the remaining capital shortfall of $3M through the collective efforts of the community.
Hendricks, committed to continuing fundraising efforts both within and outside the parish community, expresses her hope for the future. "With the tangible presence of construction, we will see some additional donations to help us cross the financial finish line," she says.
As Sacred Heart Parish commences this monumental journey, the energy and anticipation within the parish remain vibrant. They extend their heartfelt gratitude to the good people of the Diocese for their unwavering prayerful and financial support. They humbly request the continued generosity and prayers of the community to help them bring this project to completion.
Photos courtesy of Lynn Dumont, Sacred Heart Parish, Strathmore.
Daniel Tang confesses, “I have never left the continent before, nor have I ever camped outside; I have not flown across the ocean, and I am usually uncomfortable in large crowds.” Yet in this monumental leap, Tang is prepared to step beyond his comfort zone. He is one of the 40 pilgrims from St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy (SFXC) leaving for Lisbon, Portugal for World Youth Day (WYD) 2023, accompanied by Fr. Cristino Bouvette and Fr. Santiago Torres.
He further shares, “This theme that Mary arose and went with haste (Luke 1:39) reminds me to trust in God's providence on every step of the way - to have no fear of the unknown, and to have peace and know that He will provide.”
A special visit to Our Lady of Fatima
While many are keen to explore Portuguese culture, encompassing its food, architecture, music, and history, a significant part of the excitement surrounds visiting the Fatima apparition site and understanding the miracles of Our Lady of Fatima during World Youth Day 2023.
Group leader Catarina Avila, a native Portuguese, is especially excited to share her culture with fellow pilgrims. “As a Portuguese citizen who grew up in a faithful Portuguese family and vibrant Portuguese culture, I am thrilled that I am able to share my culture with my fellow pilgrims going to World Youth Day!” she exclaims. She adds, “Above all, I am honoured to be able to have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the message of Fatima with the pilgrims.” Her anticipation for visiting the Fatima site resonates with many, including Kathleen Brul who says, “I've never visited a Marian apparition site before, and Our Lady of Fatima holds such a vital place in Portuguese history.”
Kathleen also reveals that a pivotal moment occurred during a Mass at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton last year, when she was navigating a difficult period in her life. This experience ignited her journey of faith. “Pope Francis' papal visit set my heart on fire for Jesus … I finally felt free from all the things that had kept me away from true joy and fulfilment,” she says. “I decided to go to World Youth Day to celebrate the joy and peace God has blessed me with throughout this past year…”
Mary Arose and went with haste (Luke 1:39)
The theme for World Youth Day 2023, "Mary arose and went with haste," has sparked various interpretations among participants. Some view it as a motivational call to disseminate the Gospel promptly, while others perceive it as an encouragement to trust in God's divine plan.
This theme truly encompasses Mary's faith and obedience, inspiring participants to leave their comfort zones and welcome the unknown with joy. Cameron Bluekens reflects on this, saying, “Mary didn't delay in spreading the Gospel. It was the presence of God in her that moved her to share the Good News with zeal and generosity - I would like to be blessed with the same virtues.”
For pilgrim Jonathan Dobek, the theme for WYD 2023 speaks into a specific action. He says, “After WYD, with Mary’s help, I will get up and in haste go to seminary to discern and learn what God has in store for me.” Jonathan has been accepted by Bishop McGrattan to enter St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton as a seminarian for our Diocese, beginning the last week of August.
Our young adults have also shared a variety of hopes for their attendance at World Youth Day. Some express a desire to strengthen their faith, charity, and zeal, while others aim to better incorporate their faith into daily life.
Elizabeth Spiess and Mark Oswald look forward to forging new friendships during the World Youth Day 2023 pilgrimage. "I also hope to deepen my connections with old friends," adds Mark. Simultaneously, Elizabeth envisions contributing to the growth of youth ministry in her parish.
Andrew Min concluded his thoughts by sharing that he aims to inspire other young adults with his experiences from this spiritual journey. He hopes that his stories might encourage them to consider embarking on this pilgrimage themselves in the future.
Despite their individual aspirations, there is a shared openness to the spiritual journey that this pilgrimage may offer. Daniel Tang wraps it up by saying, “I truly believe that witnessing the Living Universal Body of Christ would bear much fruit to be shared back in our respective Dioceses.”
CCCB press release: More than 5,000 Canadian Youth are making their way to Lisbon, Portugal to be with Pope Francis, from 1 to 6 August 2023. The Holy Father will join more than one million young people for World Youth Day (WYD). The first international World Youth Day was held in 1986, and the event was hosted by Canada in 2002, with Pope Saint John Paul II making the pilgrimage to Toronto. Read more
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers