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Coast to Coast: September 27 to October 3


Here’s what’s been going on across the country this week:

In Vancouver, where the permanent diaconate program has only been in place for about two years, another group of candidates have started the journey towards ordained ministry.

In Saskatoon, a controversial “conscientious objection” policy was passed this week by the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In Ontario, a Catholic school is in mourning after two of its students were killed in an accident by a driver allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.

In Edmonton, the Catholic School Board promised to have a policy in place by October for transgender students. The need for the policy was raised after one student transitioned from self – identifying as male to female.


Canonization of Junípero Serra


Say the name Junípero Serra in American church circles and you are likely to get a mixed set of reactions. Some will tell you he is the saintly Franciscan who evangelized what is today the U.S. Others will tell you this is the man who forced the natives to convert by confining them to the Mission and through threats of physical punishment. With two such opposite viewpoints, surely neither one is entirely true. At the same time, neither one is entirely false.


Junípero Serra was born Miguel José Serra on the Spanish island of Majorca. He entered the Franciscan order at age 15 and began what seems to have been a life dedicated to studying. By the age of 24 Serra was a professor at the Lullian University (today the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Majorca). He was quite happy with this academic life, yet at a certain point realized he yearned to do something “more” than studying and teaching in a university.  He wanted to follow in the footsteps of Francis Solano, the Franciscan missionary to Peru who was canonized in the period when Serra joined the Franciscan order.

In 1749 Serra and a group of other Spanish Franciscans travelling across the Atlantic, across the continent, to Mexico City. Serra left behind his promising academic career and his ageing parents to bring the Gospel to the “new world”. Serra, along with his companions,set sail for Mexico City. He soon moved to the Sierra Gorda missions where he discovered the locals where both spiritually and economically poor. He learned their language and made a point of showing that he was there to serve them. During the worst of the droughts they experienced, he led his confreres in ensuring the locals were fed. He helped build a church that is still used today, and encouraged the natives to produce crops and wares that they could sell to support themselves. All this to keep Spanish land interests at bay. Going against what was normal at the time, Serra referred to the natives as “gentiles”, refusing to use the terms “barbarians” or “pagans.”

Why the negative reaction to Serra? Converted natives were moved into the Mission and were under the authority of the Franciscans. As was normal at the time, they could be hunted down if they left and either whipped or shackled if they were disobedient. While all of this was considered normal practice at the time, today it is viewed as a tragic part of North American history.

The realities of life in the missions coupled with the fact that Serra was, reportedly, not a cheerful person, helps take attention away from his heroic christian virtues. One biographer wrote that he was not prone to laughter…ever. Thankfully the Church does not recognize saints because of their cheery dispositions.  

This piece was originally published in the new 2015 Salt + Light Magazine. Order your copy of the magazine by phone 1.888.302.7181 x238 or by email info@saltandlighttv.org today!

Tune in for LIVE coverage of Blessed Junípero Serra’s Canonization Mass from the Basiclica of the National Shrine on the Immaculate Conception online on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 3:45 pm ET.

Coast to Coast: September 13 to September 19


Here’s what we’ve been reading about across the country this week:

Canada’s bishops held their annual plenary assembly in Cornwall, Ontario. Among the things discussed during the meeting were new guidelines for dealing with abuse allegations.

The Canadian Bishops’ Justice and Peace commission also outlined the justice and peace issues facing Canada right now.

On a lighter note, a closed down parish in Alberta held a full congregation once again – if only for a day.

Behind Vatican Walls: How to get an interview with Pope Francis


This past week two radio stations released interviews they conducted with Pope Francis earlier this summer. As always, (almost) everyone was surprised that he gave the interviews, and several of his comments made headlines.

The interviews were given to Radio Renascença – the radio station owned by the Patriarchate of Lisbon and the Portuguese Bishops conference – and FM Millenio, an independent radio station in Buenos Aires. The pope knew both journalists fairly well. Aura Miguel, the vaticanista for Radio Renascença, has been part of the papal press corps for decades and interviewed more prelates and popes than most would ever dream of meeting. She has been on every papal flight this year and took advantage of one of the on-board meet and greets to ask for the interview. Pope Francis told her to send a letter to his secretary. She did. On the next papal flight Pope Francis handed her an envelope. Inside the envelope was her own letter. At the top of the page, in the pope’s handwriting, was a date and time for the interview.

At the risk of giving away a trade secret, this is how Miguel landed this coveted papal interview: She asked.

She asked clearly and honestly as a journalist trying to get an important story, not as a media personality trying to get ratings. Pope Francis accepts interviews not on the basis of which media outlet has more listeners or followers, but which audience needs something that he can offer, and which journalist will report his words accurately and fairly. This is the recurring pattern we see with (almost) all the interviews Pope Francis has given. The full English text of the interview, which was conducted in Spanish and Portuguese, is available here.

The interview with FM Millenio of Buenos Aires was less an interview and more a biblical dialogue that touched on real life. The interviewer was Marcelo Figueroa, an evangelical Christian who hosts a radio show called “Dialogues for Encounter” (Dialogos para el encuentro). While Figueroa did ask some questions, they emerged naturally from the conversation and led to a reflection on how those theme are handled in the bible. Before the 2013 conclave then-Cardinal Bergoglio had agreed to take part in the radio show along with his friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka. The conclave and his election to the See of Peter preempted that program. Essentially Pope Francis was making good on a long standing promise to a friend. Still, that did not prevent the pope from making some very pointed comments about fundamentalism – fundamentalists work in ideas not reality- and friendship: “I’ve been used by people pretending to be my friends.” The full dialogue is available here, in Spanish.  

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections premieres Friday, September 11, 2015 at 8:00 pm ET.

Canadian Bishop Hold Plenary, Pope Gives Two Interview – Perspectives Daily

The Canadian Bishops hold their annual plenary assembly. Sebastian Gomes has details. Pope Francis gave two interviews, we have details.’

Salt + Light is providing full coverage of the CCCB 2015 Plenary Assembly. 

Coast to Coast: September 6 to September 12


Here is some of what has been making headlines across the country:

In light of the numbers of Syrian refugees trying to find a safe home, the Archdiocese of Toronto has launched “Project Hope” to sponsor 100 refugee families.

Meanwhile the Archdiocese of Vancouver shares some of their experiences sponsoring Iraqi and Syrian refugee families.

In Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, Archbishop James Weisgerber and about 30 other people took part in what they called an Encyclical Walk.


Behind Vatican Walls: Rules of Annulments


This week Pope Francis issued two Motu Proprios (declarations issued “of his own will”) that simplify the process for getting a marriage annulment.  Some have voiced concern over the perceived ease with which marriages can now be annulled. Canonists, meanwhile, are wondering how to implement the new procedure in just three months while fielding calls from concerned Catholics. To better understand the changes it is necessary to have a good grasp of what makes a marriage null in the eyes of the church, and what goes into getting a declaration of nullity.

Some key things to keep in mind:

  1. In the annulment process the church does not dissolve a marriage, but investigates whether it was ever valid. That means goes back to the beginning and looking into how it began.
  2. Fees: Pope Francis has said he wants the process to be free. Several dioceses already offer the service free of charge, while others have a “suggested donation” for the service. (Just as there is a “suggested donation” to the parish when a couple gets married). The reality is maintaining a marriage tribunal office involves some basic costs: lights, paper, photocopies and staff. In some parts of the world marriage tribunals do have set, non-negotiable prices for hearing annulment cases. That is what Pope Francis is trying to eliminate.
  3. Some media reported that annulments will take 30 to 45 days to process. Fr. Andrew Laschuk of the Toronto Regional Marriage Tribunal told Salt and Light only a small percentage of cases – those where it is blatantly obvious the marriage was invalid- will have such short processing time.
  4. The new rules take effect December 8. Cases judged before then will follow the old rules. Cases judged after that date, even if they were submitted before, will go through the new process.

Here are some useful links for understanding the whole issue:

What factors can make a marriage “null” or invalid in the eyes of the church? The Archdiocese of Toronto has this helpful list.

Until now, what was the process for getting a decree of nullity?

The Diocese of Madison has already put together this list of FAQs about the new annulment process, including what steps a case will go through after December 8. Click here to find out everything there is to know about the new procedure from “how to begin” to “does the other spouse need to be involved.”

Perhaps the biggest question: how does someone start the process of getting an annulment?

According to Fr. Laschuk the first step is “talk to your pastor.” If for any reason that is not possible, call your local marriage tribunal directly.

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below!


AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections premieres Friday, September 11, 2015 at 8:00 pm ET.


Coast to Coast: August 31 – September 4


Here’s what’s been going on in the Canadian Catholic Church this past week:

In Peterborough, Ontario the Diocese is set to finish paying off its crippling debt. Here’s how they did it.

In Lumsden, Saskatchewan, however, St. Michael’s Retreat Centre had to say goodbye to the Franciscan brothers and priests who have run the centre since the 1950s.

In Victoria, Bishop Gary Gordon has offered the faithful a few things to keep in mind when electing a new federal government. 

Behind Vatican Walls: Papal Visit to Cuba


With 18 days to go before his plane touches down on U.S. soil, the U.S. media is focusing on the places the pope will visit in their country, how to get tickets and where to buy pope memorabilia. At the same time a much different church is quietly preparing to welcome Pope Francis to Cuba.

Father José Conrado Rodríguez, a pastor from Havana told the Vatican newspaper L’osservatore Romano that even though restrictions against the church and religious organizations have lessened in recent years, the Cuban Church is still small and in need of material help. He said the majority of Catholics on the island do not have a place to pray.

The Bishop of Guantanamo-Baraoca told Vatican Radio with the expected arrival of the pope there is a sense of new possibilities and new hope for Cuban – U.S. Dialogue. He went on to say the Church in Cuba faces the same challenges as the Church around the world “moral misery.”

Yet amid the seemingly unfortunately assessment offered by local clergy, one Italian journalist pointed out there is a healthy religious press across the country. Alver Metali cited the magazine “Palabra Nueva” which is distributed in parishes across the country and has the highest circulation of any Cuban publication. While there are others that are better known, the circulation of many of those publications is limited to communist party members, according to Metalli. He claims “Palabra Nueva” is not an exception, but the highest point in the crown of religious press in Cuba.

Yet this small, materially struggling church, and the visit of its leader is causing Cuba to roll up its sleeves in preparation for its third papal visit. While the church has prepared its faithful, authorities have pulled out all the stops: repaving damaged roads on the papal route, sprucing up buildings the pope will see during his travels, and doing much needed infrastructure maintenance – if only in the places the pope will see as he drives by.

Expectations are also high for this visit. The last time a pope visited, Good Friday became a national holiday. When John Paul II visited, Christmas became a national holiday. Pope Francis has already helped bring about a long awaited thaw in the U.S.-Cuba relations without setting foot in the country. How much more impact, what effect will he have once he actually lands?

Vatican Connections returns next week with Season 4 Friday, September 11, 2015!


CNS photo/Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

The love of a family changes the world – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis talks about how a Christian family can change the world by being themselves and CNS has a look at one group of people going back to school.