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
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, communities across Canada will mark that moment in history by ringing 100 bells. The ringing of bells emulates the moment in 1918 when church bells across Europe tolled as four years of war had come to an end.
In the Diocese of Calgary, we encourage all parishes to join in this celebration by ringing their church bells at local sunset time (4:54 pm in Calgary) on Remembrance Day, Sunday, November 11. The Bells of Peace Ceremony aims to gather a soundwave of bells as they toll 100 times from coast to coast to recognize the people who helped shape the Great War.
List of Catholic churches in the Diocese of Calgary that will be ringing the bells on Remembrance Day (Sunset time):
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers