Feb 28, 2009

A Lenten Reflection: Faith & Ethics - Canadian Cathlic Bioethics Institute

Our society is filled with many complex issues that are often difficult to comprehend. Combine this with a faith dimension and, at times, it can all seem somewhat overwhelming. Our country is fortunate to have in our midst an institute that brings together our faith and ethics under one umbrella: the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI).

A small team, led by Dr. Moira McQueen, capably deals with issues in a number of different areas, assisting parishes, lay movements, schools and the Canadian bishops in making sense of it all. They offer their popular "People in the Pews" program as well as regular lectures and newsletters to help keep our family of faith updated and informed.

The annual Cardinal Ambrozic lecture takes place March 25th this year on the topic of "Nutrition & Hydration: Ethical & Medical Implications of Catholic Teaching" at St. Mike's College.

A quick look at the CCBI principles pretty much sums it up:

    • Promote the dignity of each person through every stage of life

    • Promote an ethos of life and the virtues of respect,
      benevolence, compassion, and justice in the context of contemporary health care;

    • Work with a special commitment to those who are poor and most vulnerable;

    • Be an effective resource within the Church and in our society through the Institute’s unique contribution to ethics research within the context of a Catholic tradition;

    • Commit to ethics education in health care and the life sciences;

    • Collaborate with related organizations to provide services to the Church and society based on intellectual inquiry, and reasoned, rigorous reflection on moral issues that promote understanding an application of the Church’s teaching and the enhancement of human dignity and freedom.

From dealing with sensitive end of life issues to discussion around stem cell research, educating around organ donation to advocating for those suffering with mental health issues, the CCBI quietly but effectively is making a profound impact on people of faith all across the country.

We give thanks for all those who foster a culture of life through their important work. May God continue to bless all those who help educate, advocate and inspire.

During this Lenten season, we remember, we celebrate, we believe...

Photo: Newsweek

Feb 27, 2009

A Lenten Reflection: Humble Servants - Catholic Chaplains

Across the Archdiocese of Toronto you’ll find a group of individuals committed to being with you when you are most vulnerable. An ear to listen, a hand to comfort, a friend to journey along with – Catholic chaplains – humble servants in the vineyard of the Lord.

In hospitals, insitutions for those struggling with mental illness and homes for the aged, you’ll find them traveling from room to room to journey with the sick, comfort the dying, a friend to a family confused when they see a loved one slipping away. In our schools, you’ll find these men and women infusing the campus with faith, opening their doors to young people trying to weave the thread of faith in their lives.

Catholic chaplains are a companion to prisoners detained in our justice system, providing spiritual support for those who are often forgotten.

Chaplains are priests, deacons and lay people. They make a tremendous contribution to our community. Answering the pager at 3 a.m., helping a school community deal with the death of a classmate, guiding an inmate through spiritual excercises, sharing the final moments of life with the sick and suffering - our chaplains are ambassadors for Christ among us.

We give thanks for all those who serve in this important ministry and for all that they continue to do to strengthen our church.

During this Lenten season, we remember, we celebrate, we believe.

Photo: Associated Press

Feb 26, 2009

Lent is Upon Us - Our Days in the Desert...

The Lenten season is upon us. Each new year gives us an opportunity to being Lent anew. Even those who don't regularly attend church services make Ash Wednesday a regular part of their routine while among colleagues and friends yesterday there were many discussions around "What are you giving up for Lent?"

Our hope is, through this forum and other resources, to provide a space for reflection during the Lenten season. In these pages, as part of our Lenten journey, we will look to highlight some of the many blessings the church has to offer the Catholic community and the greater community at large.

The plan is to provide a different mini-profile of a different Catholic ministry, group or initiative each day so that as an Archdiocese we can journey together. Of course, there are many wonderful local initiatives taking place in our parishes: Lenten missions, prayer groups, the opportunity for reconciliation and much more.

In addition we have a special section of the Archdiocesan website devoted to Lent. You'll find Pope Benedict's Lenten Message as well as additional reflections prepared by Gregory Beath, Consultant at the Catholic Office of Religious Education & Liturgy (CORE). Thanks to Greg for his work on these resources.

So we hope you'll join us on the journey. We'll start with our first reflection tomorrow. If there's something that you'd like to add to the conversation remember the comments section is always open to readers to share in the experience.

40 Days of Reflection, Prayer and Community - stop on by...

Photo: Archdiocese of Toronto

Feb 24, 2009

Wear your ashes proudly...

During the second reading at Ash Wednesday mass, we hear the powerful words: "We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us." It's one of my favorite bible quotes - let's consider how each of us can be faith ambassadors during this Lenten season.

The Office of Public Relations & Communications does our best to work proactively with local media. Tuesday's Toronto Sun ran a letter to the editor that I submitted earlier in the week (full text below or access online here).

As a Catholic communicator in faith and profession, I've been asked a lot these past few weeks about a certain atheist transit ad campaign that's starting in Toronto this week. How will the Catholics respond?

Should we be going to ad agencies or marketers to craft an effective response? Or developing a hot new branding strategy? I think the solution rests right in front of, or more correctly, over our eyes ... ashes.

Tomorrow marks the first day of Lent. Ash Wednesday, the day when we are marked with ashes (burned from last year's Palm Sunday palms), reminds us of our frailty and sinfulness as we enter the most holy season of the Catholic faith calendar.

During the next 40 days we abstain (remember giving something up for Lent?), perform acts of charity (giving of our time, talent and treasure) and focus on prayer to recall the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Who needs to buy transit ads when you have a marketing team of hundreds of thousands? Ash Wednesday is one of the rare times you'll see us "marked" with the sign of our faith, wearing our colours as obviously and proudly as any World Cup-crazed soccer fan -- well, without the whooping, honking and flag waving.

So, tomorrow here's an invitation to all Catholics in the city to receive that simple ashen cross on their foreheads and wear it proudly all day. No blocking it with a fancy hairdo, headband or casually brushing them away. Keep the ashes there from morning to night and see how the city responds.

Or if you'd rather concentrate on charity, hand a stranger $10 and ask them to give it to someone they think will need a helping hand. "Pay it forward." When they realize this is not part of any sort of pyramid scheme, it may get them thinking. You can be sure this will make for some lively water cooler conversation the next day.

And for non-Catholics, those of another faith or no faith at all, I invite you to ask questions and engage others in a respectful discussion about faith.

While this marketing team of one is offering just a few tangible ideas for tomorrow, there are certainly dozens more. No doubt someone will start a "Wearing My Ashes Proudly" group on Facebook. On YouTube, someone else will deliver a stirring reflection on Lent with ashes proudly displayed. The possibilities are endless.

Let's not forget the tremendous contributions people of all faiths make to the GTA. Our places of worship, social service agencies, schools, outreach ministries -- you'll find them everywhere in our community. Most days this work is done quietly and without any fanfare. I can't imagine our city without them.

Note to our faith ambassadors on the street: Do this all humbly, with kindness and with a smile on your face. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words."

Neil MacCarthy is the Director of Public Relations & Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Photo: The Star-Ledger

Feb 23, 2009

Start Spreading the News...A New Shepherd for New York!

As the classic anthem New York, New York says, "Start spreading the news...". At 6 a.m. Monday morning the Vatican announced that 59 year old Milwaukee Archbishop, Timothy Dolan would be the next Archbishop of New York.

As one of the most high profile positions in the United States Catholic Church, the eagerly anticipated appointment finally arrived and the incoming Archbishop of New York celebrated mass alongside the retiring Edward Cardinal Egan this morning in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Archbishop Dolan will be installed April 15, 2009.

It's always interesting to see how dioceses communicate this news. It's a very difficult spot for a communications director to be in when you're getting calls from the press who have "heard" the news and you need to do all that you can to respect any embargo on information from the Vatican. That's why you won't see any official comments until the announcement comes from Rome, most often at 6:00 a.m. eastern standard time. I seem to recall being in the office at 5:00 a.m. with a few other colleagues when the Archbishop Collins announcement came down on a Saturday morning more than two years ago.

Below you'll find a copy of the communication Archbishop Dolan sent to his staff and priests (also circulated widely to the media). It is honest, heartfelt and touching.
To all those impacted by this appointment, the people of New York, Milwaukee, Archbishop Dolan and Cardinal Egan, we offer our thoughts and prayers.

Dear Friends united in love and service of Jesus Christ and His Church:

Yes, I realize these weekly communications with you usually come on Tuesday, but, I want to share with you word of an announcement to be made today.

At noon in Rome (5 a.m. our time), the Vatican will announce that Pope Benedict XVI has named me Archbishop of New York.

Today, I am in New York for the official announcement, media conference, and a day full of meetings and visits.

The installation, please God, will be on April 15, 2009, Wednesday of Easter Week.

So, there you have it. There has been, as you know, a lot of speculation about this for over a year. I have constantly responded to teasing and questions about these rumors with, “I don’t know anything about it. I want to stay right here in Milwaukee.”

I was not fibbing. It was only recently that I was told of this appointment. It’s hardly a position one applies for! I was surprised, and still am. I was not asked if I would accept the position. The Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, gently informed me, “The Holy Father has appointed you Archbishop of New York.”

Do I want to go? Do I consider myself qualified? Are there much better candidates for the position?

All of that is really beside the point. The obedience I freely and enthusiastically promised to Jesus Christ, His Church, and His vicar on earth, our Holy Father, is a very liberating act. So, I place my future in the hands of the Lord, whose grace and mercy endure forever, and I go.

As Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta encouraged, “Let God use you without consulting you.” I am honored by this appointment, as I was by my appointment as Archbishop of Milwaukee, deeply grateful for the confidence of Pope Benedict XVI, and filled with hope as I anticipate serving the historic, vibrant Archdiocese of New York.

Yet, I must admit sadness in the prospect of leaving you. In my brief six-and-a-half years as your pastor, I have come to know, love and appreciate you very much. I am at home here. It will be very tough to leave.

As you’ve heard me say so often, in the end, it’s not about me or us at all: it’s all about Jesus and His Church.

The bustling life and promising initiatives of this great Archdiocese of Milwaukee go on as strong as ever: our parishes, schools, religious formation, outreach in charity and justice, our prayer, worship, rich sacramental life and quest for holiness, our evangelization, support of marriage and family, promotion of the culture of life, encouragement of vocations, and our fostering of stewardship in our Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign and 2009 Catholic Stewardship Appeal -- this all goes on full-speed ahead, because none of this depends on me, but on Jesus Christ, and your faith in His promise to remain with us forever.

In forty-eight hours we begin Lent. I’ll be with you here as your archbishop throughout these forty days. I’ll need Lent’s invitation to more intense prayer, penance, and acts of charity more than ever as I open myself to the grace and mercy of Christ on the cross. I ask you, please, to pray with and for me.

Photo: Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Feb 20, 2009

Honouring JPII, The Gift of Life...

Apologies for the slower than usual posting schedule. It was quite the busy week. Two trips down to Queen's Park, plenty of meetings and lots of messages and phone calls to play catch up on. It's an exciting but busy time here at the Archdiocese.

A couple of quick notes:

Pope John Paul II - Thursday at Queen's Park, there was 2nd reading on a private members' bill to proclaim April 2nd as Pope John Paul II Day in Ontario. Interesting to note that the bill was put forward by Conservative MPP Frank Klees, a non-Catholic who felt that the late Pontiff was not just a man of faith, but one who brought the world closer.

The debate that followed 2nd reading of the bill included reflections of support from all political parties. After going to committee, the bill would require a 3rd and final reading for it to become law. It is the perrogative of the sitting government to decide if and when that might happen. Nice to see a civilized and unified discussion in the Legislature honouring a man who continues to leave a lasting legacy.


Earlier in the week I had the chance to attend a prayer breakfast at Queen's Park with faith leaders from a variety of religions who discussed organ donation and how to encourage people of faith to highlight the importance of organ and tissue donation to their congregations.

It was an emotional gathering, hearing from one of our first nations leaders' who spoke from the heart of his own personal experience: his 19 year old son murdered and making the decision to donate his organs. Another woman spoke of losing her 11 year old daughter in a school bus accident 4 years after her own husband succumbed to cancer. Her daughter's organs brought new life to 5 people. Powerful stories and more importantly, selfless acts of love to help those in need.

You'll be hearing more from the Catholic community shortly on this important topic. Keep your eyes on this space for more details.

Finally, Lent is just around the corner. Next week, we'll start the journey and it's our hope that we'll be able to present you with at least 40 ways to be thankful during this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Updates will be frequent and we hope you'll stop by often.

Until then, prayers to the entire Catholic community as we gear up for this most holy season.

Photo: World Youth Day 2000

Feb 16, 2009

Aurora Road Trip, Thanking the Fisherman, Our "Mission"

As we move a week closer to the beginning of Lent, a few random thoughts from the last week around the Archdiocese...

This past week, I had the chance to attend a gathering of priests from the Northern/Eastern regions of our Archdiocese in Aurora at Our Lady of Grace Parish. It's always a good reminder for those of us working for the church to connect with the clergy who are serving in parishes across the diocese. It's a great opportunity for fellowship but also to hear their joys and struggles.

The life of a parish priest presents plenty of challenges. Whether it's trying to keep the church roof from leaking to reaching out pastorally to the needs of the community, it's no easy task. Most parishioners have a good sense of what they feel the top 20 priorities should be for a parish and the person sitting next to them has a completely different list. The pastor does his best to pull it all together and steer the ship so to speak. Yet despite the hiccups along the way, it's always amazing to see how much pride a priest speaks of when talking about his parish.

It was great to connect with our shepherds and I always appreciate their insights. They are a great sounding board for new initiatives, have a sense of the pulse of the community and many have innovative and creative approaches to ministry in our increasingly secular world. I continue to give thanks for their loyal service to the church...


Fr. Liborio "fishing" for vocations at the 2007 Ordinandi Dinner

Speaking of priests, the Office of Vocations is undergoing a transition in leadership. Fr. Liborio Amaral who has been the Director over the last several years is handing off the reins to Fr. Hansoo Park. Fr. Park is already in residence at Serra House/Vocations Office and the two will work together until the summer to ensure a smooth transition.

Fr. Liborio has always been a wonderful witness and public ambassador for the priesthood. If there was a poster for a joyful priest, you'd see his picture there. He recently spoke about the many graces and blessings he experienced as director of Serra House and the Vocations Office and the great privilege it was for him to journey with men and women discerning a call to the priesthood and religious life.

We give thanks for Fr. Liborio's dedication to the Vocations Office and, in a special way, his leadership coordinating the Archdiocesan delegation to Quebec City for last year's International Eucharistic Congress. Through it all including a week of rainstorms and logistical challenges he kept a smile on his face. He'll enjoy a short sabbatical this fall before returning to parish ministry in early 2010. A lucky parish awaits...


Finally, the Oscars are upon us next weekend. A number of the best actor/actress nominees come from the movie Doubt where they play religious characters (priest, nuns). While I haven't seen the film myself, it got me to thinking if we as Catholics were going to award Oscars for "Best Catholic Film" what movie would top the list? I'd be interested in hearing your "nominees" (you can always use the comments section on this blog if you like).

From where I sit, top of the list has to be the 1986 film, "The Mission", the story of a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America. Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro, a stirring score, gripping plot, majestic scenery and the overarching struggle between violence and peace are lessons for us all to reflect upon. I've probably seen that film at least 5 or 6 times.

Some others that come to mind: Sr. Helen Prejean visiting a killer in prison and bringing him to search for forgiveness in Dead Man Walking, a star athlete refusing to run on Sundays in Chariots of Fire, the graphic journey of the Jesus' final hours in The Passion of the Christ. Just a few to get us started...

I guess it's also interesting to consider how a "Catholic" film would be so classified. Would it require at least one major character to be Catholic or perhaps a Catholic director or writer? Interesting food for thought and why shouldn't we reflect on those "Catholic films" that may not be blockbuster hits but are still worth a second look for their intrinsic value.

Apparently I'm not the first one to think about this and a few lists already exist if you type "best Catholic movies" in your search browser.

Remember, Ash Wednesday is just around the corner - time for all of us to start reflecting on our Lenten "mission" for this year...

Photos: Archdiocese of Toronto, Internet Movie Database

Feb 11, 2009

A Prayer for the Sick...

February 11, 2009 is the 17th World Day of the Sick. We remember those suffering both close to us and around the world.

I can remember a high school english teacher who once told me: "I open the paper every day and read the obituaries - if my name is not there, it's going to be a good day."

No doubt we all have personal stories about those close to us who have struggled with illness. Whether it be a family member or close friend, it is never easy to see those we care about most suffering. The journey with a sick relative is one that is very personal. Some walk with a loved one until their final moments while others experience the joy of a successful recovery.

During these difficult days, we find great comfort in our faith. Our belief that God is with us can be challenging at times. We pray for strength and comfort, reminding ourselves that we aren't in control and that as difficult as it may seem, God's plan is at work in our lives and of those we love.

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we have many wonderful health care workers: from those on the front lines - nurses and doctors in our hospitals to those employed in retirement homes and long term care facilities; the administrators who keep these facilities running efficiently, volunteers who run the gift shop or spend some time visiting those alone to our Catholic chaplains providing pastoral care. All of these people play a critical role. In praying for the sick, we also pray for those who care for them.

A great reflection for the day is Pope Benedict's Message for the World Day of the Sick. It's worth a read.

As the Holy Father so rightly says in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "The Church is God's family in the world. In this family, no one ought to go without the necessities of life."

With so many in our world suffering emotionally, spiritually and physically, let's help a brother or sister by walking with them on the journey, now and always.

Photo: CNS

Feb 9, 2009

A Culture of Communication

In the communications office here at the Archdiocese, we do our best to strategize and anticipate issues that come at us each week. Part of a good communications strategy is also doing a post mortem after the fact. What worked, what can be improved, did we effectively manage the message even on stories that were difficult? All with the intention to do it better the next time around as we certainly all know it's not a matter of if there will be a next time but when.

This applies to both good news stories and the more challenging issues we face. In Vatican circles, the past couple of weeks have been difficult ones and some candid comments from the Vatican's chief spokesman, Fr. Frederico Lombardi, shows us that there is certainly some debriefing going on.

Many know the Vatican as the world's smallest country and think that it's just the Pope and a few trusted officials. In fact, more than 3,000 people are employed by the Holy See. Consider that number and you can probably appreciate the challenges associated with ensuring consistent messaging and information sharing.

Let's continue to pray for all those given the huge responsibility of communicating the church's message from the Holy See. We've certainly seen in recent days, that no matter what the message, when the Vatican speaks, the world (and especially the media) take notice...

Vatican spokesman says Curia needs a culture of communication

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2009 / 10:41 pm (CNA).- Citing poor handling of the lifting of the excommunication on the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi called for the creation of a “communications culture” at the Vatican.

The lifting of the excommunication provoked much controversy and negative media coverage, especially following revelations that SSPX Bishop William Richardson had made statements minimizing the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.

“We didn't control the communications,” Fr. Lombardi said to the French daily La Croix.
Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to lift the excommunications was initially announced by the Vatican Press Office in a simple statement accompanied by a Vatican legal document.
According to Fr. Lombardi, the communiqué accompanying the announcement “left too much in doubt, giving rise to different interpretations.”

"I think we still have to create a communications culture inside the Curia, where each dicastery (ministry) communicates by itself, not necessarily thinking of going through the press room or issuing an explanatory note when the issue is complex," Fr. Lombardi said to La Croix.

He said that the Vatican could have avoided the recent controversy if it had issued the order for Bishop Williamson to recant his views along with the announcement of the removal of the excommunications.

"Especially when it's about hot topics, it's better to prepare the explanations," he told La Croix.
While some Vatican documents are meant for specialists of canon law or theology, he explained, others are meant for all Catholics.

"But today, whatever the type of document, it all ends up directly in the public sphere. It gets difficult to manage."

Fr. Lombardi said that Vatican officials had focused on the views of SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay and not those of Bishop Williamson and the other bishops.

"They didn't take the views of the other bishops enough into account," he said. "One thing that's certain is that the pope didn't know. If someone should have known, it was Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.”

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos heads the Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei, dedicated to reconciling breakaway traditionalist Catholics with Rome.

Photos: Jesuits of Upper Canada, Vatican

Feb 4, 2009

Fire Engulfs Chicago Cathedral...A Rapid Response: Both Practical & Pastoral

While this sad news is certainly outside the purview of the Archdiocese of Toronto, it still hits close to home. Today in Chicago, fire struck the mother church of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Holy Name Cathedral. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by today's events. Thankfully, there were no injuries and the fire was restricted to the roof and upper portion of the church. There was no extensive damage to the sanctuary of the church.

In times of crisis, we see how people and organizations respond. While I'm not privy to the crisis planning for the Chicago Archdiocese, as an outsider looking in today, I observed the following proactive measures in crisis communications taking place:
  • As the fire burned in the background, Cardinal George appeared before cameras reassuring the public, parishioners and other concerned Catholics with up to date information about the situation.

  • The diocese had additional spokespersons available to speak about the history of the church, its architecture and fundraising that had recently taken place and will likely need to be implemented in the days and months ahead.

  • By mid-afternoon the Archdiocesan website had updated information regarding the fire and alternative locations for all spiritual services. No masses were cancelled but, rather, relocated to the parish auditorium.

  • Journalists were given access to the Cathedral as soon as possible. Their photos were able to tell the story with few words necessary.

I can recall attending a crisis planning seminar and the facilitator answering a question from a participant on "how long do you have to respond in a crisis situation before the media starts to frame the story?" His answer: "As long as it takes for a television truck to arrive in front of your office and begin broadcasting live." In our diocese, that can happen in 10 minutes.

We need to be able to respond quickly, calmly and pastorally in these situations. Today's events in Chicago show us that emergency planning is essential. Part of that plan needs to involve a strategy to communicate when you're in the midst of a crisis. While I can't evaluate the emergency response to the fire I can observe the communications response which appeared to be thorough and transparent.

In our own community, we see countless example of communicating in crisis done well. We also have dozens of case studies for how not to operate in the midst of crisis. The Archdiocese of Toronto has a crisis communications plan on hand to deal with a variety of situations. We are also working over the next year on more clearly defined emergency planning templates for our parishes.

Our church is one that needs to be accessible at all times. It's important that we work in partnership with the mass media, employ online tools and competent spokespeople to reach out pastorally in times of crisis.

Let's pray for the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago. As Cardinal George said today, "We will bounce back from this."

Photos: Chicago Sun-Times

Feb 3, 2009

Faith & Advertising

We've heard a lot of discussion in the news this past week about proposed ads by an atheist group on Toronto's transit system. While we strongly disagree with the content of the ads, it certainly has sparked plenty of discussion about faith in the public square - that respectful dialogue is healthy and let's hope that people of faith will speak up and show that there are, indeed, a large majority of citizens who are believers who wish to use their faith to strengthen our community in all that they do.

In an increasingly secularized city that seems to be pushing faith to the margins, we've had an awful lot of discussion about religion this past week.

While on the topic of advertising, you may have seen some ads from the U.S. organization, Catholics Come Home. If you haven't seen their inspiring t.v. ads, check one out below. It's one example of how Catholics can also use the media to evangelize. And I'd like to think that our marketers (Catholics everywhere) are a pretty talented group of people. Let's not be afraid to show it.

It's time to be ambassadors for Christ...