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,
Below is a video series on the Catholic Response to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), presenting Bishop William McGrattan, Dr. Eric Wasylenko and Fr. Cristino Bouvette.
Moral Theology of Catholic Decision Making
The legalization of Euthanasia in Canada is of concern to all Catholics, not only those employed in the medical profession. As euthanasia (often termed Medical Assistance in Dying or MAID) involves the intentional taking of a person’s life, it presents a challenge for all who are committed to upholding the dignity of life and protecting the most vulnerable in our society. In a thoughtful and considered presentation which is of significance to all who are committed to living the Gospel message faithfully, Bishop William McGrattan of the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta, identifies the many spiritual concerns which flow from the legalization of euthanasia – including many you may not have previously considered.
Topics discussed include: the role of individual and institutional conscience; the basis for conscientious objection by medical professionals; the principle of cooperation as it relates to taking one’s life; and the risk of scandal. Regardless of how familiar you are with the subject, Bishop McGrattan presents insights which are sure to lead to further reflection.
Truly Caring for the Terminally Ill
Dr. Eric Wasylenko, a palliative care physician and clinical ethicist, shares his insights and concerns relating to the legalization of euthanasia (often termed Medical Assistance in Dying or MAID) in Canada. Medical intervention to hasten death differs greatly from withdrawing medical care so as to allow a natural death. He explains how attempts to
exert human control over the process of death are in conflict with both the traditional concepts of palliative care and the true essence of what it actually means to care for and assist those who are terminally ill.
Dr. Eric Wasylenko proposes that we ought not to apply the label of “conscientious objectors” to those who oppose euthanasia, but rather direct the dialogue to reflect that reality that those who oppose euthanasia hold deep convictions and are determined to adhere to their moral commitments.
The Dignity of Human Life
Fr. Cristino Bouvette, a priest for the Diocese of Calgary, leads an impassioned and inspired discussion on the Church’s teachings regarding euthanasia. As a consequence of the incarnation – the Word becoming flesh – acknowledgment of the dignity of each person as made in God’s image rests at the heart of Catholic social doctrine. As Fr. Cristino Bouvette explains, the Church does not pronounce on matters of morals without providing reasons which are derived from both scripture and rationality. As he guides us through Church teachings relating to the end of life, Fr. Cristino clearly illustrates why opposition to euthanasia is necessary to not only abide by God’s law, but also to draw each person’s heart closer to the Heart of God and the divine and personal plan which Jesus has for each and every life. Allow yourself to be inspired to live the Gospel more deeply.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers