From the moment Phyllis and Clem Steffler walked into Evanston Summit, they knew it was destined to be their new home. “Phyllis was ready to move in the next day,” laughs Clem. Retired and living in Airdrie, the couple was seeking greater ease in their lives, without the worry of maintaining a home and cooking their meals. They’d been looking at options when Judy, from Covenant Living’s Evanston Summit, met them at their local church and invited them to a BBQ. They walked in and immediately loved the welcoming, attractive front entrance.
Their instinct was confirmed several months later when their daughter, a public health nurse in Toronto, was in town. “We took her to several retirement residences,” Phyllis recalls. When they got to Evanston Summit, she turned to her parents and said, “Dad and Mom, this is the place for you.” The couple moved in on July 18, 2018.
The occasional ambulance siren and the thrumming of a helicopter hovering a few hundred feet above ground were piercing the stillness of a beautiful afternoon in Panama city’s Cinta Costera.
If it weren’t for the tens of thousands of young people present along this three-kilometre stretch lining the city’s Pacific Coast, you would think you were in an abandoned city.
The stillness was incredible.
“Do not be afraid. Be courageous to be a saint in today’s world,” one could hear blazing through the loudspeakers.
“Perhaps, as Church, we have been unable to transmit this with sufficient clarity, because at times we, adults, think that young people don’t want to listen.”
Those were the words of Mons. Jose Ulloa Mendieta, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Panama. His impassioned homily on Tuesday’s opening Mass was a rousing call for every young Catholic listening.
“Do not be afraid. You need to be heard. You need to keep making us adults nervous.”
Stepping Back: Preparing for a Pilgrimage
After having missed Krakow in 2016, a group of friends and myself decided sometime in early 2018 to go to Panama and “just do it.” And so that’s what we did — we bought our flights, paid the registration, and waited for January.
As the months flew by, it was becoming more and more apparent that this really was going to be a pilgrimage. Not that we didn’t know that ahead of time, but the questions we had during preparations made us realize things we otherwise wouldn’t have had if this were a vacation. Are we going to stay at a school gym or with a host family? Do we have a safe place to leave our stuff? Would I have a bed? Would we be able to do some laundry? How about my cameras: should I bring them? Which lenses should I bring? Do I really need them?
With all these little luxuries that I would otherwise take for granted on a normal vacation, I can’t help but see a significant parallel with our own spiritual life.
Aware of the fact that a wheelie luggage for this trip was a no-go (given the amount of walking we’d be doing), I was determined to fit all my clothes and belongings in a hiking pack — a small pack that forced me to reduce all that I’m bringing to not only the essentials, but to just enough quantity for these essentials.
One pair of shoes. Just enough clothes. Bible. Journal. No cameras.
Isn’t this true with our own spiritual life? The lesser the baggage, the better we’re able to focus on the journey. The lesser our attachment to earthly possessions, the greater the freedom we experience.
The warmth of a people
After waiting at Parroquia de Santa Maria for a few hours (together with hundreds of other pilgrims waiting for a ride to their accommodations), Xiomara finally arrived and came to see us. She and her husband, Rolando, together with their children Carlos and Andrea, would become our host family for the remainder of our stay.
The Mejia family was a real blessing. They made a home for those who needed one — mi casa es su casa, they say. But they weren’t the only ones: throughout the week, many of the people you’d meet on the streets would always be up for some conversation, despite us not speaking the same language. Hola! De que pais? My two years of Spanish in university was definitely useful, however horrible. I always asked them to speak slowly, otra vez y mas despacio por favor, so that I could understand them a little better. Then we were fine, or at least it seemed to me. And when we got to a point where we really could no longer understand each other, we would just end the conversation by laughing at ourselves. Ha!
I was struck by how friendly these people were. Late one evening, the manager of a local supermarket let us in their staff room to eat the free dinner we claimed at his store. On another occasion, several Muslim men set up a table outside their Mosque, handing out bottles of agua fria to the pilgrims who just came from the opening Mass not too far away. A big sign on their gate said: Bienvenidos amigos peregrinos (Welcome, pilgrim friends).
And who can forget that dreadful 21-kilometre hike to the vigil site: walking under the searing 35-degree heat for several hours, these friendly people boosted our morale by offering us a ride to our destination. At one point, a woman stopped her vehicle in the middle of the road and offered us a ride to her house nearby, urging us to take a rest and use the bathroom. And she wasn’t the only one!
A few hours and an obvious raccoon tan later, we finally made it to the vigil site: a vast, open field in an outer-city suburb that became the home for tired and exhausted pilgrims that night. It was an incredible experience: when the Holy Father led Adoration, the place was perfectly quiet and still. There we were, a few hundred thousand young people sitting out in the open under the clear night sky, adoring our Eucharistic Lord from a mile away. Later, when it came time for the Benediction, we all sang the Tantum Ergo. It was incredible. Everyone spoke different languages, but we all chanted that ancient hymn in unison — singing the Lord’s praises in the language of Holy Mother Church, which we all knew. It was a beautiful moment that sent chills down my spine: the sense of universality, of Catholicity, was so tangible.
A sense of where we came from
A few days before, we attended a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite) at a downtown Carmelite parish where Archbishop Alexander Sample was preaching. The Archbishop of Portland, OR has become somewhat famed because of his orthodoxy and fidelity to the teachings of Vatican II on the sacred Liturgy.
“Why are you here today?” asked the Archbishop, addressing a congregation full young people from all over the world. “You never grew up in this liturgical tradition, so why are you drawn to it?”
My experience of WYD has not been without its own share of wishy-washiness in the Liturgy. On two separate Masses — one even celebrated by a Cardinal — people seemed to be more intent on “celebrating” their culture instead of ordering all our attention to Jesus in the Eucharist. At one point right after communion (when everyone was about to kneel and pray), a priest took the mic and asked everyone to stand up and clap our hands to the rhythm of the song his choir was singing. On another occasion, a group went in front right after communion and started dancing to an upbeat, Caribbean-style dance music — the sort of which you’d hear on an Expedia cruise commercial — which was supposed to help everyone “better reflect on the Mass.” Yikes.
Hence, being at a TLM that afternoon was a source of assurance and an experience of the sacred, giving us all a sense of where we came from.
“I think it’s important for young people to see, experience, and participate in the Mass of the Ages…the same form of the Mass that nurtured our grandparents and so many of the saints we venerate today.”
Put out into the deep
Having gone to several conferences before, I never thought that World Youth Day would hang heavy on my heart the moment it’s over. However, this one is different.
Throughout this entire pilgrimage, a message that I kept on getting from the catechesis, homilies, talks, and conversations was do not be afraid. And how appropriate — I was at an event started by a saintly man who never tired of saying the same thing during his pontificate.
“Most of us sinners live our lives in the shallow and spend our lives on the seashore,” said Bishop Barron, speaking about us being too easily amused with insignificant things and staying within our own comfort zones. “But when Christ the Lord steps into your boat and gets in your life, he will bring you to the deep.”
Do not be afraid….He will bring you to the deep.
This whole journey has been a reward in itself. Everything else was just a bonus. Now that I’m going back down to the valley after my mountaintop experience, the real earthly pilgrimage continues.
Written by: Ryan Factura
Visitors to the Faba home may be surprised by the size and shape of the kitchen table. Where others might have a couch that faces a television, this family of 11 has a round table that spans 72 inches in diameter. This is where the family gathers for evening meals and in a month where the secular world pays lip service to messages about love, this family works to live it. Indeed, if red is the colour of love and the colour of a house might speak to what’s inside, the heritage red hue of the Faba home in southwest Calgary is right on the money.
Kari and Phil Faba, who married at 20 and 25, readily admit they didn’t begin their married life with a plan to have an extra-large family. “I would suggest that the one thing that made all of this happen, one child at a time, was that there was a love for the Church that allowed us to trust,” says Kari.
Now parenting nine children ages 27 to seven, she and Phil talked to Faithfully about how they manage, as parents, to keep a love for Christ at their family table.
Kari’s got no shame in admitting she juggles faith-filled parenthood with paid work. But she knows where her priorities lie. Having worked full-time at a city bank until their third child arrived, she then moved to part-time work, taking night shifts opposite of Phil’s hours in the construction business. Looking ahead to her family’s future, she also partnered in a farmers’ market business that eventually became a full-time occupation.
These days, she and Phil own and operate that business outright. While they have full-time staff, The Stock and Sauce Co. at the Calgary Farmers’ Market is a seven-days-a-week enterprise and the Fabas are hands-on entrepreneurs.
The absence of firm boundaries between their marriage and their business partnership can be complicated. “It’s one thing to be married and then go off to your separate jobs,” says Kari. “We don’t have the luxury of comparing different job notes at night.”
Here, faith helps them keep priorities straight, says Phil. “As Kari likes to say, in our marriage there is sacrament. In business, there is no sacrament.” Daily mass as frequently as possible, regular reconciliation, constant prayer. The Church, says Kari, “always has our best interests at heart.”
Phil knows the notion of “quality time” with one’s children can come off sounding a bit corny. But he makes no apologies for how he and Kari make quality time with their kids a primary goal. In 2002, Phil took his first paternity leave when their son Thomas was born. “It was a totally different experience for me.” Taking responsibility for the home front helped Phil understand that while there may never be “enough” time, he would aim to know and love each child for his and herself. “Each one is different and you learn to nurture their strengths,” says Phil.
With the three oldest kids now living on their own (two own the house another brother rents a room in while attending university), Phil and Kari admit their parenting strategies have evolved with experience. Certain house rules, however, hold steady: All of the kids are involved in church, school and work; they participate in sports, but sit down to eat—together—every night; and they don’t leave family time to chance. By planning game and movie nights, they commit and recommit to being a strong presence in their children’s lives.
Written by: Joy Gregory
There are days Annemieke Henri has to make herself leave her home in Bowness. Widowed just months ago, she knows that it’s important for her to be around other people. She knows it’s good for her to get her own groceries, attend Mass and meet up with long-time friends to golf, bowl or snowshoe, activities she enjoys. Henri also knows that her forays into the world sometimes do little to stem what can feel like a rising tide of sadness. Grief is like that. Even when you have others to grieve with, you grieve alone.
Henri’s husband, the beloved Deacon Albert Henri, died August 28, 2018. Diagnosed with stage four lung cancer just 48 days earlier, “he’d never been sick before, never been in hospital,” recalls Henri. A mother and grandmother, she grieves Albert’s loss in her family. “I also grieve his loss as a deacon’s wife. We were deeply connected to the parishes of St. Bernard’s and Holy Name.”
Does Henri take comfort in her faith? Absolutely. “At this point, I hope and believe that Albert is in heaven; that he is home. Without my faith, I would have been really lost.” But make no mistake; while faith gives Henri a kind of life raft, there are days—and moments in almost every day— when it doesn’t feel like the raft will hold.
When grief fuels despair
Peggy Tan knows what it feels like when grief fuels despair. Several years ago, Tan lost her mother and father-in-law in close proximity. “It was devastating to our family.” Struggling through the intense emotional pain, she joined a grief support group at her parish, St. Michael’s.
Now known as Grief Share, the program runs for eight weeks beginning in January and September. Those who need more immediate support are linked to a companion program. “We are not counselors, but we listen. It’s good for the person who is grieving to know they are not alone,” says Tan, one of the three parishioners who coordinate grief support at St. Michael’s.
While most GriefShare participants are Catholic, many begin the program angry with God. Following a Christian program developed in the U.S., GriefShare uses prayer to help participants rekindle their trust in God, says Tan.
Annemieke Henri hasn’t ruled out joining a support group in the future. For now, she seeks comfort in family and long-time friendships, including one with the widow of another deacon. She is also learning that it’s okay to sometimes want to be alone in her grief. On Christmas Day, for example, Henri took a few hours away from family to be alone. “I started fretting about that first Christmas alone way before Christmas. I took some time that day to feel that deep loss, to want it to wash over me and to feel my connection with God.”
As grief is a profoundly personal experience, it’s not uncommon for people to reach out for grief support years after a loss, says Tan. “People have to be ready and the Holy Spirit will guide them.”
Written by: Joy Gregory
Starting off a new year with at least one resolution is a common practice. We promise our self to change something, to put something behind, or to embark on a newly formed habit. This new year 2019 consider a pilgrimage as part of a new year’s resolution. Pilgrimage can be as varied as the people considering them; not only as a metaphorical image of life itself, for we are all on a journey heavenward. What we hope to gain or to satisfy is part of an inner journey that we make, often to a physical place of religious significance. It can be an act of curiosity, a devotion to atone for sins or to implore a grace for ourselves or others.
If you are one of those who are contemplating a pilgrimage this year or perhaps leading a group yourself there are some tips that you should consider when planning or organizing a pilgrimage.
For further information on planning a pilgrimage, feel free to contact Mary Ann Donaleshen at 403-466-2432.
Sunday January 6, 2019
Written by: Mary Ann Donaleshen
The lineup for a free hot meal organized by the 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 parents with low income 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
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers