Mar 6, 2015

"Around the Arch" Has a New Home!

In recent weeks you may have noticed changes to the Archdiocese of Toronto website, This project of updating our site was an important initiative intended to better serve the parishes and parishioners of this region.

The development of this project has been 18 months in the making and was a priority of the Pastoral Plan (effective communication/evangelization) and funded through the Family of Faith campaign. Our pastoral plan challenges us to evangelize society in new and creative ways, and we strongly believe this new web space will enhance these efforts significantly.

One of the great elements of our new website is a blogging feature. Moving forward, new "Around the Arch" blog posts will be available at: You can subscribe to new posts on our blog by RSS feed. Or you can see our latest post at any time on the homepage of

This Blogger site will continue to exist as an archive of our past posts.

Thank you for reading the Archdiocese of Toronto's "Around the Arch" blog! We look forward to continuing to share all the latest news, photos and information on Catholic events and initiatives in our community. 

Feb 4, 2015

Marriage: A Nurturing Grace

The reflection below is written by Tony and Tessie Lopez, parishioners at Holy Spirit in Scarborough. Marriage Sunday is celebrated in the Archdiocese of Toronto on February 7/8, 2015. Thank you to all those witness the beauty of the vocation of marriage!

Tony and Tessie Lopez

Sunday, February 7/8, 2015 marks the fourth annual Marriage Sunday in the Archdiocese of Toronto, coinciding with World Marriage Day celebrations across North America. It started in 2011 when Cardinal Thomas Collins asked the parishes in the Archdiocese to designate the weekend before Family Day as “Marriage Sunday.”

Marriage Sunday highlights the Sacrament of Marriage and honours husband and wife as the foundation of the family and the basic unit of society. It celebrates the beauty of their faithfulness, sacrifice and joy in daily married life. In one of his messages on the occasion of Marriage Sunday, Cardinal Collins underscored the importance of the Sacrament :
“Each of us has been called by God to a vocation, inviting us to use our gifts and talents to love and serve one another. By saying “yes” to marriage, you have entered into a lifelong journey that presents countless opportunities to demonstrate how a partnership centred on love and faith can make a profound impact in our world. This public witness is needed, more than ever, when we consider the daily challenges before us.”
In Toronto, there are programs supporting couples at every stage of their journey, starting with marriage preparation for those who are entering the Sacrament of Marriage. For married couples, there is Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) and similar movements focused on strengthening marriages, New Beginnings (for widowed, separated and divorced Catholics) and Retrouvaille (for marriages in crisis).

We belong to the Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Married 40 years ago, we have been blessed with two children who are both married, two grandchildren and another on the way. In 1990, inspired by the witness of friends and a pulpit presentation at our parish, we decided to register for a WWME weekend. It was a weekend like no other - an incredible experience that provided us with an environment conducive to examining our lives together and sharing our feelings, hopes, disappointments, joys and frustrations. It gave us a wonderful start for growth and deepening of intimacy in our marriage.

That weekend encouraged us to go further with our involvement with WWME. Each step opened for us a wider world of acceptance, kindness and love. The couples we met became trusty companions, models and mentors in our journey, giving us the affirmation and support we needed along the way. Focusing on each other and our relationship we are journeying with other couples who share our values and help us to grow closer in our marriage. We learned to accept that “there is no substitute for us.” We learned to accept that “God does not make junk.” We took on small roles with willingness and became an integral part of the whole.

Tony and Tessie met their friends David and Lucy Adams through WWME. The movement helped the Adams to appreciate the commitment and great gift that define the sacrament of marriage.

We rely on God’s grace for the courage and wisdom we need to carry out our mission to be light for others. As we keep our spousal relationship a priority and cultivate a lifestyle of love and acceptance, we become models for our children and we are able to show them what it means to love. In the same way, we are able to show our neighbours, our friends and strangers the value of loving and supporting one another.We all have a choice as to how we spend our time and our resources. It is up to us to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us so we can make a difference in the world and become a source of life to others.

In his book, Rediscovering a Pearl of Great Price, Rev. Thomas Vandenberg noted that Marriage as a Sacrament is not just for the people receiving them but also for the life of the Church. The sacramental couple’s vocation is to create an atmosphere of love between and around them that will touch the people in their lives. As has been said, the greatest gift a husband can give his children is to love their mother and the greatest gift a mother can give her children is to love their father.

In our world today where independence and self-centeredness are rampant, Pope Francis challenges us to live counter-culturally:
“God calls you to make definitive choices and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.”
As we celebrate Marriage Sunday this February 7/8, 2015, we will reflect on our marriage journey and evaluate how faithfully we have met the pope’s challenge to all who have been called to the vocation of marriage.

Dec 31, 2014

Saints, Synods and Steubenville: A Year in Review

If you're a hiker, you'll know how encouraging it is to get to the top of a hill and look back at how far you’ve walked. When your feet are sore and the path stretches forever into the future, it’s incredibly encouraging to see what you’ve accomplished.

A real hill the author climbed in 2014. 

As we forge ahead into the unknown of 2015, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on what has taken place in the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2014. With the grace of God, we’ve navigated the hills and valleys and are happy to share a few “travel highlights” with you:

Winter 2014
In January of 2014, Canadians were googling the phrase “polar vortex.” In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we were doing our own googling, learning more about the “Commission of Cardinals for oversight of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR).”

On January 15, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Collins to serve on this five-person commission to oversee the Vatican Bank. The purpose of the IOR is to “serve the global mission of the Catholic Church by way of protecting and growing its customers’ assets and […] help the Holy See, religious congregations and Catholic institutions in their works of charity and evangelization.”

While his primary role is to serve the people of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Cardinal Collins is also actively serving the mission of the global church on three Vatican commissions.

The polar vortex raged on but we didn’t let it stop us from forging ahead on new initiatives such as the inaugural Chesterton Debate, which took place on February 7 in Toronto. Fr. Philip Cleevely, CO (Catholic priest and philosophy professor) and atheist apologist Justin Trottier (founder of Centre for Inquiry Canada) debated the question “Is There a God?” The next debate on the topic of “Religion’s Role in Political Life” will take place on January 23, 2015.

Inaugural Chesterton Debate, moderated by Stephen LeDrew of CP24.

Spring 2014

With sadness, the Archdiocese of Toronto mourned the passing of retired auxiliary Bishop Pearse Lacey on April 2 at the age of 97. He was remembered for his support of Catholic education and his instrumental role in the development of St. Stephen’s Chapel, which serves the business community in downtown Toronto.

Bishop Pearse Lacey

A week later, Bishop McGrattan, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Central Pastoral Region and Vicar for Ethnic Pastoral Councils and Lay movements, was appointed as Bishop of Peterborough. After four years of dedicated service in our archdiocese, we were sad to see him go, but we know that his many gifts and talents are being put to good use in this new assignment.

An exciting event in the life of the global Church took place at the end of April. Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were canonized. Given Saint JPII’s history in our archdiocese (he visited Toronto in 1984 and 2002) and the large number of Polish Catholics in our area, the event had strong local resonance. We set up a website to highlight stories, memories and events surrounding the two new saints. One particularly interesting local story involves Robert and Matylda, who credit Saint JPII as a matchmaker.

May was host to a few other key moments in the life of the Archdiocese:
  • Catholic students in Ontario received a message from the Vatican’s Secretary of State conveying Pope Francis’ greetings as they celebrated Catholic Education Week.
  • Five new diocesan priests were ordained for the Archdiocese of Toronto. Please continue to pray for many more vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our archdiocese.

  • New priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto (L to R): Fr. Neiman D’Souza, Fr. Omar Hernandez,
    Fr. Scott Birchall, Fr. Michael Simoes, Fr. Marijan Šiško
  • After publicly stating that pro-life politicians would not be permitted to represent the Liberal Party in the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau received a public letter from Cardinal Collins expressing concern about this policy. Cardinal Collins urged Mr. Trudeau to reconsider his position on the matter. The Cardinal also publicly voiced his view on the topic of how Canadians can help Christians under siege in Iraq. His comments were published in the Globe and Mail in August.

Summer 2014

When school wrapped up for the summer, the Archdiocese of Toronto was host to a renowned Steubenville youth conference in July. Over 2,000 teenagers from across Ontario and beyond descended upon Mattamy Athletic Centre (formerly Maple Leaf Gardens) and were introduced to the richness of the Catholic faith through prayer, praise and reflection. We look forward to hosting the conference again in 2015. (Registration opens Thursday, January 15, 2015.)

In July and August, St. Augustine’s Seminary of Toronto continued its 100th anniversary celebrations, hosting a preaching conference and a colloquium on “Faith in the Public Square,” bringing some highly respected international Catholic leaders to our region.

Faith in the Public Square Colloquium

Fall 2014

2014 proved to be the year of local Vatican appointments. In September, Dr. Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute and a professor at the University of St. Michael’s College, was appointed to the International Theological Commission. She is now one of 30 theologians who advise the Pope and the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. This testifies to Pope Francis’ commitment to involving laywomen in the work of the Church.

Making news around the world, the Vatican hosted a Synod of Bishops from October 5-19. The purpose was to discuss “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” An English translation of the final document of this gathering can be read here.

Finally, the fall wrapped up with an annual event that draws together community leaders and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Toronto. The 35th Cardinal’s Dinner was a great success, with 1,600 people in attendance. Cardinal Collins’s address can be found here.

2014 Anniversaries

There were also some notable milestones in the Archdiocese of Toronto this year:
  • All Saints Parish and Nativity of Our Lord Parish, both in Etobicoke, celebrated their 50th anniversaries.
  • Holy Name Parish and St. Francis of Assisi Parish, both in Toronto, celebrated their centenaries.
  • Msgr. Vincent Foy, a retired priest in the archdiocese, celebrated his 75th year of priesthood on June 3.

Thank you for being a part of the life of the Church in the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2014! Although we hope to ease into 2015, history has shown there are always surprises around the corner.

We look forward to all that 2015 has in store: the World Meeting of Families, celebrating the Year of Consecrated Life, and all the unknowns that will surely keep us on our toes again next year.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Dec 18, 2014

Peace building: No experience Required

Fr. Nawras Sammour, SJ

In the autumn of 2010, Fr. Nawras Sammour, SJ was appointed Regional Director for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Middle East and North Africa, based in his home country of Syria. In response to his reservations of being inexperienced for the role, he was told not to worry. “It’s just a small region with no major problems. This is nothing compared to our larger projects in Africa.”

Four months later, in March 2011, the Syrian Uprising began. This “small region” overseen by JRS now accounts for almost 35 per cent of the organization’s financial and human resources. Fr. Sammour spends his days overseeing programs aimed at establishing peace in a conflict zone.

JRS began its work in the Middle East and North Africa in 2008 in response to the huge number of Iraqi refugees fleeing conflict in their country. Since 2011, JRS Syria has focused primarily on emergency and medical relief to those in need and educational activities to enhance reconciliation and co-existence among people of different socio-economic and faith backgrounds.

JRS Syria operates on the premise that children are the gateway to peace-building. “Parents care a lot about their children,” Fr. Sammour said. “When they come to our centres and talk about being hungry, they say ‘our children are hungry.’ The most important thing for them is the children. Once we get the trust of children, we get easy access to families, to adults, to parents. [Then] we can organize something for adults: informal meetings or breakfast for 20 families in one of our centres. We discuss everything except politics.”

Fr. Sammour has witnessed adults eradicated from the same village who would have been hostile to each other months earlier, sharing a meal together and engaging in friendly conversation. Establishing relationships that bridge cultural gaps is the first step to creating a peaceful future in the Middle East, he says.

In Damascus, where Fr. Sammour lives and works, JRS’ short-term goal is to help children cope with the unimaginable trauma caused by war. JRS enrolls students in “catch-up studies” and engages them in sports and the arts. These activities provide opportunities for normal and healthy childhood experiences. They also oversee literacy and other training groups for mothers.

The work undertaken by JRS in Syria has strong ties to the Canadian Church and to the Archdiocese of Toronto. A JRS clinic in Aleppo is primarily funded by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) -- a ShareLife agency and the Canadian arm of Caritas Internationalis. During this time of crisis, Syria has experienced a serious “brain drain,” with doctors, engineers and other professionals now in short supply. Providing a clinic with access to reliable medical care is a huge asset to the community.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the faithful of the Archdiocese of Toronto have responded with great generosity, donating over $123,000, which has been distributed to aid agencies on the ground. To date, Canadians have given $2.7 million to CCODP, which, in turn, has helped over 200,000 people affected by the crisis.

In 2013, Canada’s federal government pledged to resettle 1,200 Syrians by the end of 2014. As of mid-November, about 700 refugees had arrived. Some refugee advocacy groups argue Canada needs to loosen restrictions to welcome more Syrian refugees. In the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Office for Refugees has helped over 130 parishes bring refugees from around the world to Toronto through private sponsorship. Many of these Middle Eastern families, including the Makhoo Family, featured in our blog last year, come to Canada by way of Syria.

Fr. Sammour emphasizes escape isn’t the solution for everyone. Ideally, Christians in the Middle East would stay in their homeland with their own people, customs and traditions. And some have decided to stay, even though they are free to leave. However, with an uncertain future and constant danger, seeking refuge abroad is the right decision for some.

“When I’m in front of someone who says ‘I’m going to leave’ I say nothing. When they say ‘I’m going to stay’ I say nothing. Except, ‘did you think very well about that opportunity so that you are able to face the consequences of your decision?’ That’s my only question.”

As a priest who lives under constant security risks and provides pastoral care for children who are the casualties of war, the lives of Canadian Catholics must seem far removed from Fr. Sammour’s raw experience of a lived faith.

But not so.

While our primary daily concerns differ, we all have an important role to play to establish peace. The crisis in Syria shows no signs of improvement. Both Fr. Sammour and CCODP staff urge Canadians to continue their generosity in prayer and material assistance. Together, we can lay the foundation for peace.

Fr. Sammour speaks highly of Canada’s longstanding tradition of welcome and peace building. He admires our priority of peace over progress and urges us to continue this practice. “Please do everything for building peace, not for doing war.”

Despite the ongoing conflicts in the region today, Muslim and Christian children are playing peacefully alongside one another as their parents share a meal at the JRS centre in Damascus.

In the depths of the coldest winter, there is hope of spring.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Public Relations and Communications. She spoke with Fr. Sammour in Toronto on his Canadian visit to JRS partner organizations and government officials.

To donate to CCODP’s work in Syria, click here.

Dec 11, 2014

How Good It Is That We Are Here

Eduardo and Nina Wijangco are parishioners at St. Patrick's Parish in Markham. Below, they share memories of their recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Eduardo and Nina Wijangco

This November, local Catholics joined a Gideon Travel-organized Holy Land Pilgrimage, bringing together 44 participants from the GTA, including Father Thomas Lim, formator at Serra House. Our group was diverse in ethnicity and age, including singles and married couples. Our common thread was a shared spirituality. We travelled as one pilgrim family, walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Our days started with prayer led by group leaders and the rosary and reflection by Father Thomas. At scheduled times at a designated holy places, Father Thomas said Mass for the group.

Our trip allowed us to explore many important locations referred to in the scriptures, which brought the Bible to life in a new way.

In North Jordan, we began at the Jabbok River, the birthplace of Israel (Genesis 32:28-30) and then on to the Roman ruins of Jerash. Next, we visited the Shrine of the Lady of Mountain in Anjara where Jesus Christ and his disciples, including the Virgin Mary rested in a cave. We ended the day at Mount Nebo where God showed Moses the Promised Land.

Crossing into Israel, we stayed in Tiberias, Galilee. We visited Mount Tabor where God transfigured Jesus in the presence of St. Peter, who replied: “Teacher, how good it is that we are here!” We indeed felt it was good to be there. Our hearts were bursting with joy in this holy place.

In Nazareth, we stopped at the Church of the Annunciation, the Church of St. Joseph and the church where the miracle of the wedding at Cana took place. Father Thomas blessed and renewed the wedding vows of the couples in our group. We experienced an overwhelming feeling that Jesus was present during that renewal!

We went to the Shepherds’ Field Church, Basilica of the Nativity and the Church of the Flaggelation where our Way of the Cross began. All of us took turns carrying the Cross of Christ and the words “Christ crucified, help us” filled the air as we re-enacted Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the Roman soldiers. It was incredibly humbling.

The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre was unlike any other church we had seen. It houses the Golgotha rock where Jesus hung on the cross, the stone slab where He was laid to be cleaned and His tomb. It seemed as though the events of 2,000 years ago could have just happened. It was surreal, queuing up for our turn to venerate these objects. The experience will remain with us forever.

On top of a barren hill, overlooking the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Father Thomas said Mass surrounded by unending hills of golden sand, glistening under the hot sun. It was mesmerizingly serene.

Fr. Thomas Lim celebrates Mass overlooking the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Father Thomas’ words from that Mass have stuck with us: “Go to the foot of the cross and hold on to the feet of Jesus. The blessings from the Holy Land will help nourish and sustain us through trials and tribulations.”

The pilgrimage experience was unique for each of us. Some pilgrims were overcome with joy at visiting the holy places. Others felt the presence of the Lord while touching and kissing the Holy Relics. Some strongly felt Jesus’ presence during the marriage vows renewal in Cana. Others felt the weight of Jesus’ cross on their shoulders.

We began as half-pilgrims and half-tourists. By the end, we were full and enriched pilgrims whose hearts were open to God’s will.

The pilgrimage group

Dec 6, 2014

Find Forgiveness at the Day of Confessions

Thousands of Catholics will experience God’s forgiveness during the Day of Confessions on Wednesday, December 10.

At most of the 225 parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto, a priest will be available to hear confessions at scheduled times. Those who have not gone to confession in many years are welcome to participate.

In an interview last year, Pope Francis famously said, “I am a sinner,” reminding us all of our human frailty. He again demonstrated that self-awareness in April, when he went to confession publicly in St. Peter’s Basilica. The pope’s example highlights a profound truth of the Christian tradition: it is through humbly acknowledging our failings that we find mercy, encouragement and a fresh start. 

According to the official teaching, the church calls Catholics to confess serious sins at least once a year.​ Traditionally, many go to confession in the liturgical season of Advent to prepare for Christmas.

The Archdiocese has prepared a Day of Confessions website that includes times and locations for participating parishes. It also features a how-to guide in eight languages and a series of short videos, including the above message from Cardinal Thomas Collins.

Kris Dmytrenko is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Dec 5, 2014

Your "Vaticanation" Awaits

Winter weather has officially arrived in the Archdiocese of Toronto. As we dig out our snow shovels, heavy coats and windshield scrapers, many of us are thinking the same thing: when can I take a vacation?

If you can’t take a trip this winter, or you just can’t wait until your departure to take a break, there’s good news for you: on December 10 (which also happens to be the Archdiocesan Day of Confessions), you can experience the beautiful Vatican Museums in 3D at a theatre near you. SKY Productions’ The Vatican Museums 3D is a strikingly beautiful and dramatically realistic look into the sixth most visited museum in the world. Additional shows will be in select theatres December 11 and 14.

Filmmakers used the same advanced 3D cinematic techniques used in Hollywood to create a realistic experience of some of the world’s most famous artwork contained in a museum that boasts seven kilometers worth of exhibitions. Paired with powerful music, these paintings come alive in a new way.

For Catholics, these masterpieces are much more than just pretty pictures and statues. As Professor Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, notes in the film, art is a great analogy for God’s handiwork. Just as God created the world from the void, the artist creates something new from the matter shaped by his hands.

A particularly powerful segment outlines Michelangelo’s personal sacrifice to paint the striking ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Having endured grueling hours perched high atop scaffolding in the heat and cold, the artist lived the remainder of his life with a crooked back and dimmed eyesight. The result is a masterpiece that will forever draw visitors into the awesome mystery of humanity, made in the image and likeness of God.

Upon returning from the 2013 papal conclave that ultimately elected Pope Francis, our own Cardinal Collins often spoke of his experience sitting in the Sistine Chapel before the painting of the Final Judgement and feeling the magnitude of the task with which he was entrusted.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo

The Last Judgement, completed in Michelangelo’s old age nearly 25 years after he finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is said to portray the reality of the human condition in a way that was rare at the time. Other paintings in the Vatican Museums also reflect this shift to realism. The film recalls that Caravaggio painted the saints as being noticeably hardened and Giotto's Stefaneschi Altarpiece similarly shows faces “marked by real life and shaped by faith.”

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio

Giotto's Stefaneschi Altarpiece

Last year, in an address to 350 patrons of the Vatican Museums, Pope Francis spoke about the power of art to bear “witness to the spiritual aspirations of humanity, the sublime mysteries of the Christian faith, and the quest of that supreme beauty which has its source and fulfillment in God.”

If you can’t get away this winter (and even if you can), we encourage you to take a “Vaticanation.” Treat yourself to a cinematic experience that virtually transports you to Rome, where you can experience art’s power to bring you into deep contemplation of things Divine.

For more information on The Vatican Museums 3D, visit this site, find show times in your area and view the trailer above.

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Public Relations and Communications.

Dec 3, 2014

Full Text: Cardinal Collins' Address, All Party Interfaith National Breakfast, Ottawa

Parliament Hill – December 2, 2014

Good morning. I am so pleased to be with you today in this historic building that is the visible sign of the parliamentary democracy which we all treasure. Here, on Parliament Hill, we are at the centre of Canadian civil society, where legislators entrusted with care for the common good of our nation debate, discern, and decide the path forward for our country. Theirs is an immense responsibility.

To all the organizers of this special gathering, especially co-chairs Nathalie Thirwall and Member of Parliament Mark Adler, I extend my gratitude for your efforts in coordinating the necessary logistics involved in such an impressive undertaking.

I am grateful to those who have chosen to embrace the noble vocation of public life. I know there are members here this morning from the House of Commons, as well as from the Senate, in addition to representatives from a number of embassies, and also the Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi. Greetings to you all.

Public service is not an easy vocation, with many days spent away from family, the need to prioritize so many diverse issues, and difficult decisions to reflect upon. It can all seem overwhelming at times. I know I speak on behalf of the many faith communities represented here this morning when I say to you, our legislators, that we pray for you. We pray for you every day, that you may make wise decisions to advance the common good in our country.

To the many diverse faith communities in attendance today, I thank you for all that you do. We are blessed to live in a country where we can enjoy freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Ever since the earliest days of Canadian history, the principle of the co-operation of Church and State has enriched our life as a civil community. Peace, order, and good government flourish when there is a richly diverse political and social ecology in which the state does not presume to do everything, but in which countless voluntary associations, such as religious communities, are vibrantly active in the service of the people. Biodiversity is essential to the health of the great forests of our country, and something analogous is essential to the health of civil society.  In so many ways, often very quietly, faith communities across our country lead the way in outreach and care for those on the margins, whose plight has so frequently been highlighted by Pope Francis. For people of faith, caring for the most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers is a public witness to our beliefs. It is what we are all called to do. At the municipal, provincial, and federal level, our country would be a harsher and colder place without the loving witness of people of faith.

I have been asked to speak for a few minutes this morning on the theme of “Faith in Times of Crisis”. It is an intriguing topic. Upon reflection, it could be interpreted in many ways. Faith in Times of Crisis – is our world at a point of crisis, from violence in the Middle East, to strife in Ukraine, to the depredations of Boko Haram in Africa, and to dozens of college students killed in Mexico?

Or perhaps it is Faith in Times of Crisis in our own country – mere weeks ago the very halls of this Parliament were a scene of violence, and not far from here ruthless murder was perpetrated at Canada’s most sacred national shrine, the tomb of the unknown soldier. We pray for the two noble soldiers who gave their lives, here and in Quebec, and for their families.

Or perhaps Faith in Times of Crisis speaks to our own personal journey, in which each of us can experience the pain of broken relationships, jealousy, envy, greed, and despair.

For our legislators, and for all in public service, apart from the pressures of life that are especially challenging for those who must constantly be travelling, and living far from home, and working at irregular hours, there is the burden of making a right judgement on matters that affect us all. This can become a severe crisis of conscience if there is pressure put upon a public figure to forsake the most profound principles which define him or her. As Edmund Burke reminded the electors of Bristol, those who are elected are not merely passive representatives of the views of their constituents, but are chosen to exercise their intelligence and free will. They must be faithful to their conscience.

Navigating these turbulent waters of crisis can be most difficult. I suggest two ways in which faith can help all of us, and especially those in public office.

First, we can learn from the example of those who have gone before us, whose faith has given them the stars to steer by in the midst of the crises of life.

And second, we can reflect fruitfully upon the virtue of humility, a virtue rooted in faith, which protects us from becoming disoriented and shattered by the crises we all face.

The first example I would offer of a person who demonstrated the effect of faith as a sure guide in times of crisis, is St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, judges, and politicians. He was also an ambassador, and so he can serve as well as patron saint of those engaged in diplomacy – indeed he wrote his masterpiece, Utopia, while on a diplomatic mission.

Thomas More lived in a time of extraordinary social upheaval, at least as turbulent as our own, and as violent. He lived with integrity – that is, he was an integer – a whole number: not divided as a fraction, with the public part of him following and conforming to the shifting whims of his monarch, or public opinion, and the inner personal part of him guided by faith and reason to seek the truth. No, to live like that in public life is to be a fraction, not an integer: integrity means being whole: what he said and what he did and what he believed were one. He did not personally believe one thing, while publicly doing another.

It should be noted about Thomas More, for the benefit of those who think that faith is a simply matter of feeling, like taste, that while his was a life of faith, it was not a merely subjective faith. He flew, as must we all, with the two wings of faith and reason, each needing the other. He would not sign an oath that expressed what, after much thought, he did not believe to be objectively true; and so he gave his life, a martyr to freedom of conscience. Like Thomas More, we all need to be people of integrity – integer-ity -  and to look to both faith and reason as we seek to respond to the crises of life.

A second example of faith guiding the way through the crises of life is found in St. John Paul II, who visited our own country on several occasions. His was a most turbulent life, as he confronted the violence and oppression of both Nazi and communist dictatorship, and survived the shock of an assassination attempt. Those were grave external challenges, and undeniably dramatic; but in many ways the greatest crisis he faced was personal, at the end of his life, in his experience in old age of the frailty of the human body. In that struggle, he drew upon the reserves of wisdom and serenity that well up from profound and reasoned faith.

In declining health, the pope was hardly the robust, active and engaging pontiff of the 1980s. He was dying in front of the world, reminding us of the dignity that is found in every moment of life to the very end, even in those filled with pain, whose bodies no longer exhibit the beauty of youth. There is a greater beauty, a deeper beauty, than the beauty of youth and superficial physical perfection, and it is found in the human spirit shining through a disfigured body. Our human dignity comes from within, from the fact that each of us is a child of God.

In a society that is increasingly all too eager to embrace the most convenient and efficient way to end life, because this or that life is deemed to be not worth living, by whatever criterion one chooses, in the crisis of his last illness the late pontiff reminded us that every human being can live in dignity, regardless of their circumstances, until their last breath, until finally called home to the house of the Father. In his final years, even more than in his vibrant youth, Pope John Paul was a humble witness, a powerful witness, an authentic witness to the dignity of the human person. He never spoke more eloquently than when he could not speak.

We look to the example of those who have navigated through the crises of their lives guided by the light of faith. But we can also learn from a simple virtue, rooted in faith, which helps us all to transcend the crises we face: the virtue of humility.

At all times, and especially in times of crisis, we need to be grounded – not to be lost in a fog of illusion, but to see honestly the reality of our human frailty and of our need for God and one another. We need to see ourselves and the world around us accurately, as they truly are, not as we might wish or fear them to be.

When we get disconnected from reality, and caught up in illusion – whether it falsely exalts or falsely depresses us -  we cannot handle crisis in our personal lives, or in the public responsibilities entrusted to us. Faith helps us in times of crisis, because it gives us the perspective that leads to humility, as we recognize “God is God, and I am not” – a most sane way of seeing things. It has been said most wisely: what I am in the sight of God, that I am indeed, no more, no less.

The humility that is a fruit of faith helps us to deal with all of the crises of life, including the daily stress of decision making, and the awareness – which grows over the years – that there is very little in life that we really control, and that what we do control is usually not worth controlling.

Humility tames the ego, and so gives us the resilience to face both triumph and disaster with serenity. In our pride we are brittle, and self-referential. Humility makes each of us a more magnanimous person; when we are all wrapped up in ourselves, we make a very small package, and one that falls apart in times of crisis.

Different religious traditions have various ways of helping people to become grounded in humility – and humility literally means being in touch with the humus, with the earth. It means being down to earth.

In the Catholic faith, we have a great treasure in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, known to many as Confession, as a way to become grounded, to humbly recognize our sins, and in the experience of God’s mercy to begin again. Recently Pope Francis presided over a great celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Vatican, but before hearing the confessions of others, he went to a priest and knelt down and uttered that great opening line: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

In my archdiocese next week, we are having something akin to a Confession marathon. On December 10, we will have the Day of Confessions where every one of our 225 churches opens its doors all day long and late into the night to invite each member of the Catholic community to acknowledge weaknesses and frailties, to meet with a priest to confess their sins and then to be forgiven and begin anew.

I am a strong advocate of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need to seek forgiveness. It is easy to become caught up in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. It is not as easy to acknowledge that often, we are part of the problem. In an interview published last year, Pope Francis was asked to describe himself. This is what he said: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” His motto, taken from the words of the English Saint Bede, is: “It is in the experience of mercy that we are chosen.” Wise words, that can benefit us all, of whatever faith.

Most of us would not, when asked to describe ourselves, lead with being a sinner. We would tend to talk about qualities that are admired, accomplishments, educational achievements, things like that. I cannot imagine an election sign that read, “Elect Bob Smith, Sinner”. But that’s exactly what we are. Sinners.

I go to confession myself frequently. It is a true grace in my life. I am reminded constantly of the saying, “Be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet.” We are works in progress and we need to check in, so to speak, for regular maintenance. We don’t let our cars go for years without an oil change; at times we can take better care of our cars than of our immortal souls.  By confessing our sins we become accountable, and grow in humility, and in compassion for others, whose sins are so obvious to us. Love means saying “I’m sorry,” and perhaps if we do that then we can begin to heal the fractures in our own relationships.

In my own faith tradition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a precious pathway to growth in humility and the experience of mercy, both fundamental in confronting the crises of life; I encourage everyone here present to look to the ways in your faith tradition that lead to humility, and the experience of mercy.

Faith guides us and gives us the perspective that helps us to survive and flourish in times of crisis. My prayer for our legislators, and all gathered here today, is that we may learn from those who have overcome through faith the crises of personal and public life, and that we may become grounded in the humility that allows us to do the same.

May God bless you.

Nov 30, 2014

Sharing #ouradvent Traditions

This Advent, we encourage you to share your personal or family Advent traditions on social media using the hashtag #ouradvent. Feel free to share pictures or stories! Below, a sampling of people from around the Archdiocese share their favourite Advent memories and traditions.

I am fortunate to be a world traveler, or food tourist, if you want to know my real agenda! Born in Montreal, and still a regular visitor, I was always inspired by the museum of 300 creches (nativity scenes) from around the world, on display at St. Joseph’s Oratory. The Holy Family depicted in different races and cultures resonated with me. I began collecting local nativity scenes on my travels instead of conventional souvenirs. It's eye-opening to learn how the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph are viewed and treated in different countries (In Ecuador, everyone brings their own baby Jesus to Midnight Mass to lay at the altar for an extra blessing). From pregnant Mary riding a donkey in Chile, to coyotes howling beside an adobe hut in New Mexico, to stacking matryoshka Russian dolls that reveal tiny angels: the symbolic journey to Bethlehem – via many stopovers on the global map – has been fun and rewarding. (N.B. If you are an armchair traveler or just want to enhance your Christmas decor, I recommend you shop at Ten Thousand Villages, a Fair Trade source of excellent global nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes).
Genevieve Anderson, Parishioner, Newman Centre

While it’s at the end of Advent, a great Christmas tradition in our family is to have a birthday cake for “Baby Jesus” on December 25th. It gives a chance for kids, both young and old, to remember the true meaning of the season, as they sing Happy Birthday and welcome the “newborn King” into our home.
Neil MacCarthy, Director of Public Relations and Communications, Archdiocese of Toronto

When I was a kid, my brother and I were allowed to add a piece of straw to Jesus’ manger in our nativity scene every time we did a good deed during Advent. This prepared a comfortable bed for baby Jesus (who would make his appearance on Christmas morning) and taught us that giving to others is a gift to Christ and “prepares the way” for His birth.
We also took turns moving the Mary and Joseph figurines around the living room one small step every day in Advent until they made their eventual arrival at the nativity scene in the dining room on Christmas Eve. For the record, getting Mary to balance on the donkey wasn’t easy but added legitimacy to the process. Sometimes we misjudged just how long it would take to travel the expanse of the living room and the last day’s journey ended up being particularly arduous for the Holy Family and their trusty donkey. But, they always made it on time with our help.
Marlena Loughheed, Communications Coordinator, Office of Public Relations and Communications, Archdiocese of Toronto.

We use different Advent resources, some video, some written, as part of our prayer time as a family each night, and do a reflection on the daily Gospel.
We consciously do any and all shopping for Christmas before Advent, so there is no distraction of the material “to do” list and we can enter the Advent season freed up to focus on the spiritual components of the liturgical season without the distraction of the buying/budget balancing roller coaster.
 John MacMullen, Associate Director, Office of Catholic Youth and father of five.

We had a makeshift Advent wreath that my mom made using giant flower-shaped candles. Every evening before dinner, my mom would light a candle. We would then sing the song “Candle, Candle Burning Bright.” And every evening of Advent, my siblings and I always fought over who would snuff out the Advent candles after dinner was over. We had a silver double-sided candle snuffer, which we all found very impressive to use. It made it easier once we hit week three since we could each snuff out one candle.
One tradition that I have started as an adult has been to read a reflection every day of Advent. I received a booklet with reflections a few years ago, and each year I enjoy taking the booklet off my bookshelf and delving into it.
 Michelle Duklas, Communications Coordinator, Family of Faith Campaign

I once was involved with a youth group at St. Anthony’s Church and one of the members suggested we visit those in prison. We contacted the Don Jail and we ended up Christmas carolling for a number of years in a row. Incredible memoires for all involved. We would also go Christmas carolling door to door for those who received communion at home. I believe it was one of my first interactions with my wife. Our youth group would also visit patients at St. Joseph's Hospital, we would go from room to room, wishing the patients and their families a Merry Christmas and delivering Christmas cards.

Steve De Quintal, Teacher, St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School

Upon discovering resources, such as Fr. Robert Barron’s Advent Reflections, I found myself preparing my heart for the greatest Christmas gift this world has or will ever see, the birth of my Saviour. Like Lent, Advent is a time to shed ourselves of the many distractions of this life, in order to encounter the true person of Christ. As I await the birth of Our Lord, I in turn try to give more of my time to Christ, in order to prepare a crib for Him in my heart. 
Angela Ferguson, Parishioner, Our Lady of Peace, Etobicoke

Nov 28, 2014

The Year of Consecrated Life

The weekend of November 29/30 marks the launch of the Year of Consecrated Life. Pope Francis called for this year of commemoration after meeting with 120 superior generals of religious orders, consecrated men and women and heads of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. The year will conclude on the World Day of Consecrated life on February 2, 2016.

The purpose of the year is twofold. First is to look back in gratitude at the history of consecrated life since the decree on the renewal of consecrated life “Perfectae caritatis” (Perfect Charity) was published by Pope Paul VI 50 years ago.

The second objective is to “embrace the future with hope.” Cardinal Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, described this objective when the year was announced in January 2014:
We are well aware that the present moment is ‘difficult and delicate’ … and that the crisis facing society and the Church herself fully touches upon the consecrated life. But we want to take this crisis not as an antechamber of death but as … an opportunity to grow in depth, and thus in hope, motivated by the certainty that the consecrated life will never disappear from the Church because ‘it was desired by Jesus himself as an irremovable part of his Church.’
Every four months throughout the year, the congregation will publish a newsletter on themes related to consecrated life. Other documents are slated for publication throughout the year.

A full schedule of official events and celebrations can be found on the Vatican website. Some highlights include:

  • Ecumenical colloquium of religious men and women in January 2015
  • Seminar for consecrated life formators in April 2015
  • Workshop for young consecrated persons in September 2015
  • Thanksgiving vigil in January 2016

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we recognize the incredible contribution of consecrated men and women who pray for our diocese and tirelessly serve in our parishes, schools, hospitals and other social service institutions. 

The Sisters of Life are a vibrant order of sisters present in our archdiocese. Their Visitation Mission in Toronto provides practical assistance and spiritual and emotional support to pregnant women in crisis.

Cardinal Collins and the Sisters of Life at a youth rally in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Did you know that 120 different religious orders are represented in our archdiocese? This number symbolizes a great diversity of charisms and nationalities that enrich our family of faith. For a full list, visit this page.

The Missionaries of Charity have been present in Toronto for over 25 years.
The religious order was established by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. 

Check out this infographic, which shows more stats about religious orders in the Archdiocese of Toronto:

To the consecrated men and women we are blessed to know and those whose work and prayer goes unseen: thank you for all you do! Thank you for your sacrifice, love and witness of holiness. May God bless you abundantly during this Year of Consecrated Life by renewing and affirming your vocation.

Prayer for the Year of Consecrated Life (From USCCB)
O God, throughout the ages you have called women and men to pursue lives of perfect charity through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. During this Year of Consecrated Life, we give you thanks for these courageous witnesses of Faith and models of inspiration. Their pursuit of holy lives teaches us to make a more perfect offering of ourselves to you. Continue to enrich your Church by calling forth sons and daughters who, having found the pearl of great price, treasure the Kingdom of Heaven above all things. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Resources related to the Year of Consecrated Life
Forms of consecrate life (information from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as gathered by the USCCB)

Marlena Loughheed is a communications coordinator in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Public Relations and Communications.