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Coast to Coast: January 18 to January 24


Here is some of what’s been making headlines in the church across Canada:

The week of prayer for Christian unity is upon us once again. Here’s a rundown of events and prayer services happening across the country.

In Winnipeg, the archdiocese is getting into the fight against drugs, setting up a ministry for people struggling with addiction.

Edmonton’s Western Catholic Reporter takes the opportunity to highlight marriages that have stood the test of time and, of course, find out why.

In Vancouver, the presence of migrant workers is significant and growing. The B.C. Catholics has this overview of the ministries the archdiocese has established to reach out to all migrants.

Vatican Connections: January 23, 2015


Pope Francis’ second Asian voyage ended the way all of his trips have ended: with an extensive press conference on board the return flight and flurry of headlines – some accurate, some not. The voyage also delivered unscripted moments typical of the Jesuit pope.

Twice Pope Francis ditched his prepared text to speak off the cuff and deliver unquestionably moving homilies. Speaking to young people in Manila he led the gathered faithful in a prayer for Kristel Padasas, a volunteer who was killed at the site of the papal Mass in Tacloban when strong winds knocked over a tower of scaffolding.

Padasas was also a Catholic Relief Services worker. Pope Francis met with her father and uncle the day after her death and tried to telephone her mother who was en route from Hong Kong. Like many Philippinos, Padasas’ mother worked in Hong Kong to support the family.

Pope Francis told journalists on board the flight from Manila to Rome that Padasas’ father said he struggled at first with his daughter’s death, but found peace in the fact that she was serving others when she died. The pope said he found the grieving father’s words “edifying”.

For american media the biggest headlines were the pope’s confirmation of his intent to visit three U.S. cities during his trip to Philadelphia. He said he intends to visit New York and Washington D.C and hopes to canonize Junipero Serra in D.C.

However, the rest of the pope’s comments regarding his intended voyages got less attention. Pope Francis said he intends to visit three Latin American countries in 2015: Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador. He pointed out that all three visits are still in the “hypothetical” stage and no concrete plans have been made yet. The lack of official confirmation has not stopped Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, from announcing that the pope will visit that country in July. The Bolivian Bishops Conference issued a statement saying there is a long way to go before this potential visit becomes a certainty. The bishops also warned against “instrumentalizing” the news of a potential papal visit for political purposes. In recent months and years Morales and the bishops of the country have not had an easy relationship.

Pope Francis also said he hopes to visit Central African Republic and Uganda towards the end of 2015. In 2016 the pope hopes to visit Paraguay, Argentina and Chile “God willing.”

The pope’s public statement of intent laid to rest Spain’s hope that the pontiff would visit Avila this year for the 500th anniversary of St. Therese’s birth. On Thursday the Bishops Conference of Spain announced it had received official word from the Vatican that the trip would not take place.

Of course, the other comments made during the papal press conference have sparked some debate: his statement that Catholics should be responsible when it comes to having children has offended some and encouraged others. Here are some articles offering analysis of the pope’s remarks regarding marriage and children:

From Italy’s Vatican Insider, a look what Pope Francis did and did not say about large families.

The International Business Times offers a more secular summary of the pope’s statement and what it means.

Religion News Service offers this analysis.

The UK’s Catholic Herald reflects on why some find it difficult not to be offended by the pope’s comments

Catholic Voices co-founder Austen Ivereigh had this analysis on CV blog.

Coast to Coast: January 11 to January 17


Here’s what’s been happening across the country this past week.

In Rimouski, the church is in shock after Archbishop Pierre André Fournier died suddenly at the age of 71.

In the prairies, there is increasing discussion around the idea that maybe there are other, more effective alternatives to the standard approach taken by the criminal justice system.

In Edmonton, a religious sister is recognized by the YWCA for her work with abused women.

And in Vancouver, one mother shares the twists and turns of her faith journey after her only son ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and was killed by gang violence.

Vatican Connections: January 16, 2015


It is not unheard of for non-Catholics to visit Catholic churches and shrines. It is less common to have non-Catholics visit those sites, pray alongside the faithful and claim to have received graces through the experience. Sri Lanka’s Madhu Shrine is such a site, and it had a profound effect on Pope Francis.

The shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary draws Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus together in prayer. Faithful from all four religions say they receive graces from praying at the shrine and consider it an important place. During the 26 year war between government forces and Tamil rebel groups, both sides recognized the shrine as a demilitarized zone.

Pope Francis told journalists on Thursday that seeing faithful from the four religions praying together in Madhu inspired him to visit a Buddhist temple. The pope said, “Among the people, who are never wrong, there is something that unites them and if they are united in such a natural way as to go and pray together in a temple that is Christian but not only… How could I not go to the Buddhist temple?”

One of the Buddhist monks from the temple is a friend of Cardinal Malcom Ranjith of Colombo and was at the airport to greet Pope Francis. During the arrival formalities the monk invited Pope Francis to visit the temple. The pope was scheduled to meet with the Sri Lankan bishops, but they were still en route from Madhu. Pope Francis said he took advantage of the unexpected free time and arranged to visit the temple.

Christians are a minority in Sri Lanka. Buddhism is the most prevalent religion, with 69 per cent of Sri Lankans identifying as Buddhists. Muslims make up seven percent of the population, Hindus are another seven percent of the population and Christians come in at just over 6 percent of society.


Pope Francis answered several questions from journalists on board the flight from Colombo to Manila. The Vatican has not yet released a full transcript of that press conference.

According to Vatican Insider, the web based news service of Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, Pope Francis was asked about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Pope Francis said, “One thing is true: each person has the right to practice their own religion freely, without causing offence to others. And that is what we all want.  Secondly, offending or waging war, killing in the name of one’s own religion, in the name of God, is not right.”

Freedom of speech must be exercised, but to the point of offending others, according to the pope. Using one of the Vatican staff members to make a point, the pope said “if Mr. Gasbarri, who is a friend, insults my mother, that’s asking for a punch. Provoking and insulting other people’s faiths is not right.”

The pope was also asked about his next encyclical which is expected to focus on the environment. Pope Francis said, “I don’t know if humans who mistreat nature are fully responsible for climate change but they are largely responsible for it. We have taken hold of nature, of mother Earth, to some extent.” The pope said he read many works by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on the topic to prepare for writing the encyclical. The final text should be completed by the end of March. The pope said he has sent a draft to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Secretariate of State and the Theologian of the Papal Household “so that they can make sure I am not talking nonsense.” Pope Francis said he hopes the encyclical can be released in June or July in multiple languages.

Asked about the importance of canonizing St. Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka, Pope Francis spoke about men and women he has canonized who were important evangelizers in different parts of the world. He said he also hopes to canonize Junipero Serra in the fall during his visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families. The comment launched speculation over where the canonization might happen and what other U.S. cities the pope might visit.

Vatican Connections: January 9, 2015

Pope Francis delivered his Christmas present to the Church a little late, but still well within the liturgical Christmas season.

On January 4, while leading the Angelus, Pope Francis announced the names of the 15 men under 80 he wants to elevate to the rank of cardinal. Among them are Latin Americans, Africans, Asians, and a select few Europeans from unexpected places. They are:

Abp.Dominique Mamberti – Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura

Abp. Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente – Patriarch of Lisbon

Abp. Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., Archbishop of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Abp. John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, New Zealand

Abp. Edoardo Menichelli, Arcbishop of Ancona-Osimo. Italy.

Abp. Pierre Nguyên V?n Nhon, Archbishop ofHà Nôi, Viêt Nam

Abp. Alberto Suárez Inda, Archbishop of Morelia, Mexico

Abp.. Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B., Arcbishop of Yangon, Myanmar

Abp. Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, Arcbishop of Bangkok, Thailandia

Abp. Francesco Montenegro, Archbishop of Agrigento, Italy

Abp. Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, S.D.B., Archbishop of Montevideo, Uruguay

Abp. Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, Archbishop of Valladolid, Spain

Bp. José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, O.A.R., Bishop of David, Panamá

Bp. Arlindo Gomes Furtado, Bishop of Santiago of Cape Verde

Bp. Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Vescovo di Tonga, Isole di Tonga

There is much rejoicing among devotees of El Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero. The official newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference reported on Friday that a panel of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had voted unanimously to recognize the slain archbishop’s death as that of a martyr.

The Vatican did not confirm the report.

In order to be beatified the cardinals and bishops who make up the Congregation for Saints causes would need to ratify the theological commission’s vote. Finally, Pope Francis would have to give his approval.

Getting papal approval to recognize Romero’s sanctity should not be difficult. In August 2014 Pope Francis told reporters “for me, Romero is a man of God.” In 2013 he reportedly told El Salvador’s Ambassador to the Holy See “I hope that under this pontificate we can beatify (Archbishop Romero).”

Earlier in the week Pope Francis read an excerpt from one of Archbishop Romero’s 1977 homilies during his catechesis talk at the weekly General Audience.

Archbishop Romero was killed on March 24 1980, while celebrating Mass in a hospital in San Salvador. One day earlier he had given a homily in which he called on soldiers in the country to stop enforcing the government’s policies of oppression and human rights violations.



So Where Did the Nativity Scene Originate?


In 2007 I was a fresh-faced reporter at a diocesan newspaper. My editor assigned me to write a piece on the history of the nativity scene. I tracked down a priest and professor of church history and set off interview him about the history of the nativity scene.

I did not do a Google search before the interview because my interviewee was a more reliable source of information. Imagine my surprise when I asked “So where did the nativity scene originate?” and he answered “Actually, St. Francis created the nativity scene in 1223 in a small town called Greccio.”

Had I not been seated, I might have fallen over. How had I lived three years in Italy, travelled up and down the boot, (including Umbria and Tuscany) and not heard about St. Francis inventing the nativity scene?

I press “record” on my voice recorder and sat mesmerized as the story was laid out before me. Picture this: Greccio, 1223.

As he goes about his work, shepherding the faithful of Greccio and the surrounding area, Francis notices a disturbing trend: his flock are more caught up in the material preparations for Christmas than the spiritual preparation.

Disconcerted, wanting to help his parishioners remember the true significance of Christmas, he thinks hard about what he can do. Then it comes to him…but the idea is new and different; so new and different that before he does anything he asks the pope for permission.

The pope agreed with his idea, and so Francis set the ball rolling on his plan. With the help of one of the townspeople he borrows and ox and a mule. The ox and mule are taken to a cave on the outskirts of the town where Francis sets up a temporary altar. In the cave he arranges a manger, and has townspeople stand in for Mary and Joseph.

That night he leads the townspeople, by torchlight, to the cave. There he celebrates Mass and preaches about the birth of Jesus in a stable…a scene that the townspeople can now see with their own eyes thanks to Francis’ idea. Legend has it Francis was so moved with love for our Lord that during his homily he couldn’t bring himself to say the name “Jesus.” Instead he use the phrase “the babe of Bethlehem.”

Within 100 years every church in Italy was setting up a manger scene at Christmas. The Vatican is no exception: every year in mid-november scaffolding goes up in the middle of St. Peter’s square and a manger scene is built. The scene, like the Christmas tree alongside, is donated by a different region in Italy. The 2015 manger scene come from Verona and the “Verona per L’Arena” foundation, which promotes the cultural activities at Verona’s historic outdoor arena.

O Christmas Tree


Vatican Christmas Tree

Although it stands tall next to the obelisk in the middle of St. Peter’s Square every year, the Vatican’s Christmas tree is relatively new addition to the Holy See’s yuletide traditions.

St. John Paul II introduced the Christmas Tree to St. Peter’s square in the early 80s.

Why was the piazza bereft of a tree until then?

It could be due to the fact that the Christmas tree is not, strictly speaking, a religious symbol of feast of the birth of Christ.

The practice of decorating the home with boughs of evergreen and setting up a decorated tree, seem to be liked to pagan traditions prevalent in Roman times. It was common practice to decorate one’s home with greenery at New Year’s to scare away the devil.

Other sources point to the medieval nativity plays. At some point in time the date we now know as Christmas was the date of a feast dedicated to Adam and Eve (or very close to it). Medieval nativity plays kept that connection alive, and as a result often featured live trees decorated with fruits.

Eventually the practice was banned. However, it seems people in Germany took to setting up fruit-decorated trees, known as “Paradise Trees” in their homes and keeping them up throughout the Christmas season.

The practice of setting up a tree in one’s house was largely confined to Germany. It wasn’t until 1848 that the practice was introduced to the rest of the world, thanks to Queen Victoria.

The beloved queen encouraged Prince Albert to set up a decorated tree in the palace just as he did as a child in Germany. A picture of the royal Christmas tree was published in newspapers and magazines around the wor ld and the practice suddenly became fashionable.

By the time St. John Paul II became pope, Christmas trees were widely accepted as a Christmas symbol alongside the nativity scene, so it seemed natural to have a tree placed in St. Peter’s square next to the manger scene. Since St. John Paul II had the first tree placed in the piazza different places around Italy and northern Europe have considered it an honour to donate the tree that will adorn St. Peter’s Square.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican Connections: December 19, 2014

Eight people were appointed to the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors this week, including an abuse survivor. With the appointments the commission is now fully formed and set to begin working in early February.

The new members come from different parts of the world and have expertise in some aspect related to sexual abuse. One of the new members, Peters Saunders, is an abuse survivor and the founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). He was also one of six abuse survivors who met with Pope Francis in July.

Here are more details on the new committee members:

Father Luis Manuel ALI HERRERA is the Director of the Department of Psychology and a professor of pastoral psychology in the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogotá, Colombia. He also serves as a parish priest.

Dr. Gabriel DY-LIACCO is an adult and adolescent psychotherapist in the Philippines. He is also a pastoral counselor for individuals, couples, families and groups with various mental health concerns. Dr. Dy Liacco has worked with both victims and perpetrators of abuse.

Bill KILGALLON is Director of the National Office for Professional Standards of the Catholic Church in New Zealand. He moved to New Zealand four years ago after a long career in social work and health services in the United Kingdom.

Sr. Kayula Gertrude LESA, RSC works at the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Zambia. She is the author of books on child protection, human trafficking, refugee rights and the right to information. She served as a member of the African Forum for Church Social Teaching (AFCAST).

Sr. Hermenegild MAKORO, CPS is the secretary general of the South African Bishops conference. She is a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood in the Diocese of Mathatha.

Kathleen McCORMACK has served as Director of Welfare of CatholicCare in the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia for 29 years. CatholicCare helps diocese provide social services to people in need. McCormack held leadership roles in Family Services, Child Protection, Out Of Home Care and Ageing and Disability Services.

Peter SAUNDERS was abused throughout his childhood in Wimbledon, South West London.   Saunders eventually discovered that he was one of millions who had suffered such abuse and who could not find any appropriate support. He set up the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, to help support survivors and to help develop greater resources for responding to child abuse.

Dr. Krysten WINTER-GREEN is a New Zealander living in the United States. She has with post-graduate degrees in Theology, Human Development, Social Work, Religion and Pastoral Psychology. Winter-Green served as Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s chancellor when he was bishop of St. Thomas in the American Virgin Islands, and she also worked for him in Fall River and Boston. According to the biographical information provided by the Vatican she has done extensive work in the area of forensics, assessment and treatment of priest and clergy offenders.”

The commission will meet at the Vatican in early February.

Coast to Coast: December 6 to 12, 2014

Here are some stories being talked about across the Church in Canada this week:

When Pope Francis met recntly with people who have autistic disorders and their families, he called on everyone to work together to end the stigma that often comes with the disorder. One Toronto parish has been working on exactly that.

Ever heard of Sobor? Ukranian Catholics in Saskatoon just had one and Bishop Bryan Bayda explains what it is.

While racial tensions flare in the U.S., one Edmonton group is trying to help people of different races and religions find common ground.

Did you know there is a Canadian ecumenical group dedicated to fighting the militarization of space? That’s just one of the things Project Plowshares has worked for in it’s nearly 40 year history. However, the loss of government contracts and funding is causing a shift in its mandate.

Vatican Connections: December 12, 2014

This week the Council of Cardinals met again in Rome, a consistory was announced, a papal interview was published, and Pope Francis delivered a powerful homily for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe .

The Guadalupe homily, delivered in Spanish during a mass Pope Francis celebrated at St. Peter’s, packs a powerful punch and sends an unmistakable message to anyone who thinks Latin America is free for the exploiting. Read the English translation of that homily on Vatican Radio’s website.

and while their meeting did not produce any ground breaking news, the media briefing about the meetings brought much to write about. Pope Francis himself shook things up by giving an exclusive interview to an Argentine newspaper in which he didn’t shy away from any topic and set the record straight on a couple of things.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s Spokesperson, admitted that the reform of the Curia’s constitution is a long way from being written, but deliberation and analysis continues. Then, almost as an aside, he informed journalists that Pope Francis will create new cardinals at a February consistory. Cue the lists of red-hat predictions.

If Pope Francis sticks to the current rules regarding the size of the College of Cardinals, he will have between 10 and 12 “red hats” to hand out in February. North American observers are already deliberating if he might name American cardinals. European observers believe it is unlikely he will do so.

In a recent interview the pope granted to the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the pontiff said he does not believe that heads of Vatican departments need to be Cardinals. There are some exceptions of course. Specifically, he said the only dicasteries that need cardinals at the helm are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship, and Bishops. So the likelihood of Pope Francis elevating curial officials to the College of Cardinals is also unlikely.

The other news Fr. Lombardi delivered is that the Commission for the Protection of Minors will be expanded to included 18 members who represent different parts of the world. The first meeting of that fully established commission is scheduled for early February.


Pope Francis gave a no-holds barred interview to Elisabetta Pique of La Nacion, an Argentine daily newspaper.

Perhaps because he’s known Pique since 2001, he was not shy about saying what he thinks and even clarifying what others think he thinks.

The pope had very clear words to say about the recent synod, the way divorced and civilly remarried Catholics are treated by the church ( they’re treated as “de-facto excommunicated” people, unable to even be Godparents), people who claim they don’t understand his plans for the church, his appointment of Cardinal Raymond Burke as chaplain of the Order of the Knights of Malta, and on the importance of keeping his head on straight.

Elisabetta Pique elaborates on some of these comments, and talks to me about her book “Francis: Life and Revolution” on this week’s edition of Vatican Connections.


The week ended with the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music setting used for this Mass was the Argentine Mass setting “Missa Criolla”. Stay tuned after the end of Vatican Connections for some clips from the Mass featuring this goose-bump inducing Mass setting.