The lineup for a free hot meal organized by the Catholic Diocese of Calgary often begins an hour before the doors to St. Mary’s Parish Hall open at 3:30 p.m. Rain or shine, wind or snow, people come by the hundreds. Most arrive on foot, some aided by canes or walkers. Others come alone. The adults will all take a seat beside others gathered at the long communal tables, but some will never speak.
Those with children walk around to the hall’s back entrance. Pushing strollers, carrying toddlers, holding the hands of shy children and smiling at the antics of tweens and teens, they will be seated in the family section of the weekly supper known as Feed the Hungry (FTH). At one dinner held this past summer, a young mother travelled 90 minutes—taking three city buses—for the opportunity to take her three boys out for a meal. Illness keeps her from working. Her boys keep her from giving into despair.
Faith, hope and charity
A modern-day version of the Christmas story plays out near St. Mary’s Cathedral nearly every Sunday night of the year. Here, the menu includes a hot meal served alongside a good helping of faith, hope and charity.
A downtown Calgary institution since 1994, FTH welcomes as many as 500 people to its Sunday suppers. The event gives many of its guests temporary respite from emergency shelters. They are joined by low-income parents who welcome a break from meals made with items found in emergency food hampers; seniors parenting grandchildren; single people, couples and families couch-surfing through their wait for affordable housing; working parents for whom a couple of days off work to nurse a sick child means the month’s pay cheque no longer covers rent and food. Other guests may like to sleep “rough,” but welcome a tasty hot meal made and served by kind people.
Across the room from the family tables sit the less-than-sober. Every guest, regardless of age or situation, will receive table-side service of salad, a hot meal, beverages and desserts. Guests are welcome to ask for seconds and it’s not uncommon for the volunteer servers to step in when they see a young eater who’s not happy about the night’s fare. “Your little boy doesn’t like tonight’s entrée? Let me check with the chef. We’ll find him something.”
For a few hours once a week, there is always room at this inn.
It takes a village
Every FTH meal is sponsored by a parish, company or community group, says program manager Sartre Jean-Gilles. Sponsors donate $5,000 and agree to supply up to 100 volunteers. To keep everything running smoothly, another set of regular volunteers serve as Team Leads and oversee specific stations. The menu is managed by other rotating teams of volunteer cooks. Some cooking teams are organized around parish links. Others are staffed by groups of friends.
Bishop William McGrattan likes the way FTH garners widespread community support. While many of its benefactors are Catholic, others participate simply because they seek to serve the less fortunate. The Bishop is also a fan of how FTH enables children to serve alongside their parents.
On Dec. 16, an anonymous sponsor will treat dinner guests to live entertainment. Each of the diners will also receive a $10 gift card for a fast food restaurant. Those cards were donated by parishioners, FTH sponsors, vendors and volunteers.
Watching the first group of diners enter the hall, one of the Dec. 9 volunteers smiles. He’s been here before and he’s pleased to be back. “I’ve learned not to judge.” He doesn’t need to know why his guests are there. He’s just grateful they have a place to come.
Written by: Joy Gregory
Would you go to jail for Jesus? That’s the question the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary is asking people of faith—and a growing number of those who hear that request are choosing to walk into provincial and federal prisons on a regular basis.
As volunteers with the Diocese’s prison ministry, most go to pray with people who can’t leave when the allotted time is up. Retired seniors and working professionals, they know their ministry raises the eyebrows—and sometimes the blood pressure— of family and friends. Why would you do that? Aren’t you afraid? It seems risky to me. Their collective response?
Because Jesus asked me, I am not afraid, I am grateful.
“It’s a humbling experience,” says Elly, 78, of her regular visits to the Lethbridge Correctional Centre. There, she prays the rosary once a week, returning once a month for mass. Led by the Holy Spirit, she’s now thinking that’s not enough. “We don’t have enough time to just talk with the people.” Elly arrived at that realization while attending the annual prison ministry volunteer appreciation luncheon which welcomed current and potential prison ministry volunteers who have been attending an introductory workshop.
Organized by the Social Justice office, the introduction to prison ministry workshop included a discussion of prison ministry in the context of the Catholic faith. Participants were invited to a special prison ministry volunteer appreciation luncheon on Saturday, August 18. There, David Milgaard was one of the speakers.
Milgaard, who was jailed at 17, spent 23 years in federal penitentiaries for a crime he did not commit. At the luncheon, he likened volunteer visitors to the opportunity to breathe fresh air. Calling prison “a horrible place,” he credits the quiet witness of volunteer visitors with bringing Christ into his life. He also admits that happened over time. What he most appreciated about the people who visited him was news from the outside; tidbits of normalcy delivered to a life behind bars.
Jack, another former inmate, delivered a tainted version of that same message. Imprisoned in federal institutions in Bowden and Drumheller, Jack was matched with a visitor who simply didn’t show up. He was grateful, however, for the post-prison support with housing and employment that he received from Peter Worsley, a reintegration-chaplain with Bridge Ministries, a Mennonite Central Committee program funded in part by the Diocese. Worsley introduced Jack at the workshop.
Jack and Milgaard say life in prison was made tougher by the constant pressure of gangs. They also grappled with the ongoing temptation, fueled by a human instinct to survive, to park their morals at the prison gates.
The ministry-prep workshop, which will be held again in the Spring, is one of the ways the Diocese helps volunteers prepare to take on Christ’s work in the community, says Outreach Ministries coordinator Marilou LeGeyt.
That support is important to volunteers like Elly, who’s relatively new to this ministry. She says the volunteer appreciation luncheon, which included several deacons involved with prison ministry, strengthened her commitment. “It’s hard to explain. But every time I come home from the prison, I feel somehow that I’ve done what Jesus asks me to do.”
Written by: Joy Gregory
Dear Friends and Family,
Tuesday, starting at 5 pm, a group of us gathered at St. Mary’s Church in Brooks to pray for my Grandmother and her soul. We asked Christ to intervene in convincing her and others that dying a natural death allows God’s grace and mercy to be poured out upon all people involved.
We sang many beautiful hymns, prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, sat in silence, Adored Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and celebrated Holy Mass together. Afterwards, a group of people gathered at my home for fellowship, food and drink. We toasted to my Grandmother’s life and to one another.
Please continue to pray for my Grandmother to accept natural death as a gift to her and to our family. Also, pray for ways that we may influence society to understand the graces poured out upon us when we visit the suffering and care for them as we would want to be cared for ourselves. Increased personal support and prayer support for those in poor health will reduce the chances of people seeking physician assisted suicide.
Thank you to all of you who prayed for my Grandmother, for my family and for our world. I know that well over a hundred people agreed to pray and that four masses were offered up by priests and a Bishop and a Brother for my Grandmother on the day she was scheduled to die. Intercessory prayer IS heard and has the power to change the future.
Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, mentions intercessory prayer.
A great brief meditation on intercessory prayer:
283. The great men and women of God were great intercessors. Intercession is like “a leaven in the heart of the Trinity”. It is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them. We can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality he is always there first. What our intercession achieves is that his power, his love and his faithfulness are shown ever more clearly in the midst of the people.
After this experience, I am filled with thankfulness to God and his great mercy and for the people of God who continue to pray for each other. Most of all, the message I receive from this situation is, Prayer is Powerful and Prayer Works! I feel drawn to pray with other people more often using song, scripture, Prayers of the Faithful, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Holy Rosary and daily Mass.
In closing, I would like to invite you to think about spending a half hour a week supporting a person who is suffering. If you are a person who is interested in visiting people in the palliative care unit in Brooks, please let me know. I’ll help you and partner up with you, if you like. In addition, if you would like to visit people in palliative care units or hospices in other cities, but don’t know how to go about it, please let me know. I can provide you with a step-by-step guide explaining how to approach care unit staff in order to gain access to patients who want visitors. In addition, the guide includes recommended strategies that will allow your visits go well.
Again, thank you for your prayers, your emails, phone calls and personal visits associated with my Grandma’s situation. You have been Christ’s light in the darkness.
With gratitude and increased faith,
There is no arguing that digital technology has become a way of life for nearly all of us. We use our smartphones, tablets and other devices to stay ‘plugged into’ the world. We connect, we search, we share, we communicate …all through our devices. It is an internet generation, but is it too much? How do we navigate through this digital world and how do we help students do the same?
Christ The Redeemer (CTR) Catholic Schools has launched a new initiative in its 17 schools that focuses on supporting students living in this busy and noisy digital world. As author, speaker and podcaster Matt Fradd puts it, “helping maintain an internal filter in an unfiltered world.”
The purpose of the initiative, called #Relationships in a Digital Age, is to develop both curriculum and school culture which will help students to examine the impact that screen time and smartphones have on their relationships with God and each other, with an overarching personal wellness focus. CTR will challenge students to unplug, be present and look up and notice the world around them.
With support from parents and school staff, students will be able to challenge today’s cultural norms and look thoughtfully into the areas of mental health, relationships, sustained attention and responsible decision-making. There are growing concerns surrounding the increased use of technology by students in our care such as cyberbullying, shaming, sexting and pornography. The motto of #Relationships is: “to create a culture around the use of technology that teaches balance between our digital lives and the lives we lead face-to-face to love in community as God intended.”
Students in our care need support in evaluating the impact of all the “noise” in their lives. Our faith is the logical starting point in developing a response to some of these online safety and relational issues. The first relationship our students need to cultivate is the one with God, followed by Christ’s second greatest commandment, which is love thy neighbour. Drawing on concepts related to the Theology of the Body philosophy and the Fourth R© (relationship) program, lesson sets will be developed for students in Grades 4 to 11, focusing on students' relational safety and personal wellness as it relates to our increasingly online world.
Partnering with parents will be a key part of this initiative. We will share information with parents relating to healthy best practices regarding screen time for the benefit of their toddlers through to the teenage years. The issue of smartphone use becomes something parents should reflect on the moment they consider letting their children access a smartphone. With older children, parents are the school’s key partner in talking to their children about what they are learning in school about screen time and smartphone use.
We were blessed to be the recipients of funds raised at this year’s Bishop’s Dinner. Those funds will help to support this initiative by gathering teachers in the spring of 2019 from Grades 4-11 to create the lesson sets at each grade level. Lesson sets will include detailed plans and developed resources, with implementation scheduled for September 2019. Teacher professional development will be a part of the implementation process.
For more information on this initiative visit http://www.redeemer.ab.ca/Relationships.php
Written by: Cindy Nickerson, Coordinator of Communications
Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools
In the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus the names of the historical figures Caesar Augustus, Quirinius and Herod stand out. These men do not enter into the manger scene. They generally escape our imagination and interest, even if they played significant roles in the ruling Roman Empire. Yet the Evangelist, St. Luke, makes a special effort to link them to the birth of Jesus. The references to these men ground the events of the Gospels in world history. They emphasize the point that the birth of Jesus really happened, and it happened at a specific point in time, around the time of these rulers of the Roman Empire. So the birth of Jesus is more than just a heart-warming story. It is a world event.
The names of Augustus, Quininius and Herod also hold a different, far greater significance in light of the Nativity of Christ. Some years ago at the Synod on the Word of God a recent Holy Father indicated that the birth of Jesus is not simply another world event, but the event that gives meaning to all events. He states:
“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing, which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”
When we celebrate Christmas and hear the account of the birth of Christ, may we be fully aware of how this is not just one more event in world history. It is the climax that gives meaning to our lives, our actions and our events, as it does for all peoples and all times.
By: Fr. John Kohler
The liturgical year in the West begins with the Season of Advent on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on November 30 and lasts about four weeks until the eve of Christmas. The word Advent means “coming” and as St. Bernard of Clairvaux explains:
We know that there are three comings of the Lord . . .
The first and second “comings” are visible. The third “coming” actually comes between the first and second, like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last, is invisible, and is where St. Bernard focuses our attention for the season of Advent.
The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. . . Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
The birth of Jesus and the End Times are two dramatic events. Yet we live out our discipleship in the time and space between. As St. Bernard explains, the “middle coming” of Jesus is hidden; it takes place deep within each one of us as we progress along our spiritual journey. In stark contrast to the sensory overload we experience in commercial culture during this season, the liturgical character of Advent cultivates the stillness and quiet that enables us to experience Jesus as our rest and consolation in this middle coming. While we do well to remember our redemption by commemorating the birth of Jesus and to express our faith that Christ will come again, Advent invites us to prepare our spiritual lives and hearts to receive Jesus within ourselves.
By: Dr. Simone Brosig
In the cold and dark days of our January and February, there are three feasts accompanied by sacramentals that especially help us to bring the light of Christ into our lives and to know that God is with us in a very personal way throughout the year.
• Blessings and Prayers Through the Year: A Resource for School, Parish, and Home, Elizabeth McMahon Jeep
• Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
By: Dr. Simone Brosig
With a servant’s heart, Joseph Gingco was pleased to help run the audio-visual equipment when his parish hosted an information meeting about the permanent diaconate back in 2013. Joseph, who has a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from the Philippines, knew his skills would prove helpful. Besides that, the life-long Catholic was curious about the topic.
Five years later, one of Calgary’s newest deacons believes God used that opportunity to serve to answer one of his prayers.
"I will seek you"
The Diocese of Calgary has partnered with the Calgary Flames to get discounted tickets for the game on Friday, February 22, between the Flames and archrival Anaheim Ducks. Discounted tickets are $39. Each ticket purchased will help fundraise for Elizabeth House, which provides a home for at risk pregnant or parenting youth and their babies. In addition, the first 100 people to purchase tickets will be receive a voucher to an exclusive pre-game event in the Alumni Lounge and have a Meet and Greet with Bishop McGrattan. Come out and join us for a great night of hockey and entertainment, or buy the tickets as Christmas presents.
To purchase your tickets at the special price, click here.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers