Safe haven for refugees

The Meera’s look like any other family at the ethnically diverse parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Brampton, Ontario. They warmly greet fellow parishioners as they arrive for Mass, as if they have been here a lifetime. But just a few weeks prior, they were stuck in one of the most dangerous countries on earth.

The family of six — Habeeb, his wife Landa, and their four children — were originally from Iraq. The family was forced to flee to neighbouring Syria, but war would soon follow them there, as well. Ultimately, they were sponsored by St. Anthony of Padua parish to come to Canada as refugees.

Their story is featured on a new episode of Catholic Focus, which airs tonight at 7 and 11 pm ET, repeating on Saturday at these same times. The program is also streaming on demand above.

Gospel of Life extolled at Year of Faith festivities


This weekend, Catholics are gathering at the Vatican to celebrate John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Details about the festivities, titled “Believing May They Have Life”, were revealed at a press conference on May 28.

“We have given it this name to testify to the grand theme that revolves around the Church’s commitment to the promotion, respect, and dignity of human life,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

The Archbishop explained that the schedule will follow the pattern of other weekend gatherings for the Year of Faith. On Saturday morning, several churches in Rome will host catechesis sessions in various languages. Then in the afternoon, pilgrims will visit St. Peter’s tomb before having an opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and adore the Blessed Sacrament.

The event concludes with Mass on Sunday morning, presided by Pope Francis. S+L will televise the Mass with English translation at 11:00am ET/8:00am PT, repeating at 5:30pm ET/2:30pm PT.
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Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Why take a pilgrimage to Ireland?

Credit: S+L/Joshua Lanzarini
Full disclosure: my family tree doesn’t extend even a single root in Ireland. So when I traveled to Dublin last summer for the International Eucharistic Congress, I didn’t know much about the nation’s history. That would explain my surprise  when Tourism Ireland proposed that, during our stay, we visit the country’s religious pilgrimage sites.

‘Why would someone go on a pilgrimage here?’ I wondered. Is the Christian tradition in Ireland really that old? After all, none of the twelve apostles ever ventured to those shores.

As I would soon discover, Christianity in Ireland goes all the way back to the 5th Century. And if you ask the Irish, they do have their own apostle, of sorts: St. Patrick.

It’s easy to disregard St. Patrick as a product of folklore, since legends and secular traditions have somewhat obscured the man himself. But while hagiographies of early saints can be hard to authenticate, Patrick’s historicity is beyond dispute. This, I learned, is due in large part to an autobiographical document called the Confession of St. Patrick, a letter that details his faith and mission.

No, St. Patrick probably didn’t expel snakes from Ireland. And he surely wouldn’t condone excessive drinking on his feast day. Rather, he did, by his own account, baptize thousands of believers and, as a bishop, he ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. His legacy lives on in the faith of Irish Catholics — both on the Emerald Isle and among the sizable diaspora in North America.

St. Patrick isn’t the whole story, though. To learn more about pilgrimage in Ireland, watch tonight’s new episode of Catholic Focus, airing at 7:05pm ET/4:05pm PT, repeating at 11:05pm ET/8:05pm PT (and again on Saturday at those same times).
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Credit: S+L/Joshua Lanzarini

Millions to adore Blessed Sacrament this Sunday

Pope Francis carries monstrance during observance of Corpus Christi feast
This Sunday, Pope Francis will join millions for an hour of prayer with the Blessed Sacrament. The initiative, called Worldwide Eucharistic Adoration, is part of the festivities of the Year of Faith invoked by Benedict XVI.

In sync with St. Peter’s Basilica, where Pope Francis will be present, parishes around the world will hold their own hours of adoration. (Catholics in India have responded to the call with particular enthusiasm; 19 million people are expected to gather in churches and convents throughout the country.)

The theme of the event, appropriately, is “One Lord, One Faith”. The faithful are asked specifically to pray for the following two intentions proposed by the Holy Father:

1. For the Church spread throughout the world and united today in the adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist as a sign of unity. May the Lord make her ever more obedient to hearing his Word in order to stand before the world ‘ever more beautiful, without stain or blemish, but holy and blameless.’ That through her faithful announcement, the Word that saves may still resonate as the bearer of mercy and may increase love to give full meaning to pain and suffering, giving back joy and serenity.

2. For those around the world who still suffer slavery and who are victims of war, human trafficking, drug running, and slave labour. For the children and women who are suffering from every type of violence. May their silent scream for help be heard by a vigilant Church so that, gazing upon the crucified Christ, she may not forget the many brothers and sisters who are left at the mercy of violence. Also, for all those who find themselves in economically precarious situations, above all for the unemployed, the elderly, migrants, the homeless, prisoners, and those who experience marginalization. That the Church’s prayer and its active nearness give them comfort and assistance in hope and strength and courage in defending human dignity.

If your local parish isn’t offering adoration on Sunday, you can join those at the Vatican via S+L. Worldwide Eucharistic Adoration will be aired live at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT, repeating at 9:30pm ET / 6:30pm PT. You can follow the prayers with the online booklet for the celebration.
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Credit: CNS Photo / Paul Haring

Francis to celebrate Corpus Christi with mass and procession

Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring
On Thursday, the faithful will take over the streets of Rome for one of the most hallowed celebrations of the year: Corpus Christi, also known as the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Following the tradition of his predecessors (including Benedict XVI, seen above), Pope Francis will mark the solemnity by presiding at mass at Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran. Afterwards, he will lead a solemn Eucharistic procession along via Merulana to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he will conclude the liturgy with benediction.

The mass and procession will air live with English translation on S+L TV and our live stream at 1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT, repeating in French at 4:00pm ET / 1:00pm PT. You can follow the prayers of the liturgy with the online booklet for the celebration.
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Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

One year later, Mali’s refugees still waiting

“How long do you expect to be in Niger?” I asked Abdul Hamid, a refugee from Mali. When I interviewed him last summer, he predicted that his family would remain displaced for “months or years”. Returning was not an option, so long as violent fundamentalists continued to terrorize his community.

Where is he now, nearly a year later? Given the enduring civil war in Mali, he’s likely still in the same Tabareybarey refugee camp, located 40 kilometres inside the border. Run by the United Nations, the camp provides much of what he needs: relative safety, food, clean water, and a medical tent. Still, when our crew visited the camp during the filming of “A New Leaf”, I could not fathom spending more than a day there.

Even by the arid standards of the Sahel region, the terrain was inhospitably barren. The camp’s inhabitants could do nothing but sit in their tents, day after day, taking shelter from the unyielding midday sun. Scrawny goats — the fortunate ones that weren’t been abandoned en route — wandered about, plucking the last dry leaves from the trees. Our presence was a welcome diversion for the children, who loved seeing their faces played back on the LCD screens of our cameras.

According to the UN, there are still 8800 people in this camp, which holds just under a fifth of all Malian refugees in Niger. At present, NGOs are contending with a cholera outbreak in the packed camps.

Incidentally, Pope Francis raised the issue of refugees this past Friday in an address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. He told participants that “the Church is Mother and her maternal attention is manifested with particular tenderness and closeness to one who is constrained to flee from his own country and who lives between uprootedness and integration.”

Our visit to the Tabareybarey camp is documented in the S+L film “A New Leaf”. S+L will air the film tomorrow at 8:00 pm ET / 5:00pm PT, repeating at 12:00 midnight ET / 9:00pm PT. Also this Wednesday – for one day only – S+L will be streaming the film on demand here. In the meantime, watch the trailer above.

What did we get ourselves into?


An integral part of any successful pilgrimage is that moment of self-doubt when you ask yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

This was a question often uttered along the route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which I walked last fall. On the rough days, as we shuffled along the seemingly interminable path, pummeled by cold rain and hobbled by blisters, we all faced the temptation to quit and go home. Some did.

Yet for me, however, the Camino wasn’t the most difficult pilgrimage I’ve participated in – not by a long shot. That honour belongs to an arduous walk from Midland, Ontario to Quebec City in 2008. A diverse team of pilgrims made the journey carrying the “Ark of the New Covenant”, a wooden religious object covered with icons. It was commissioned to be one of the symbols of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Quebec City that year.

The pilgrimage started inauspiciously, when the team leader contracted pneumonia after walking through a blizzard. Fortunately for me, I was scheduled to join the pilgrimage a few weeks later, so I escaped the worst weather. But that didn’t make it feel much easier.

I met up with the pilgrims in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, as the pilgrimage route veered northeast before circling back to Quebec City. My role was substitute cameraman, since we were filming the pilgrimage for a reality series called “64 Days with the Ark” and our usual crew was unavailable. Keep in mind, I’m a producer at S+L, not a cameraman by trade. On top of the steep technical learning curve, there were the logistical challenges of filming the pilgrimage. Pilgrims, by their very nature, are seldom static. Every day, I would have to run ahead with my unwieldy camera equipment so that I could film the Ark as it approached, only to fall behind, and repeat again and again.

We trekked onwards past Shawinigan, up to the Saint-Antoine Capuchin hermitage, and through countless villages, stopping for gatherings in tiny parish churches along the way.

When I was in Spain, I had no trouble finding fellow Anglophones. Not so in northern Quebec, where most locals were unilingual. Their French, spoken with a thick Quebecois accent, sounded nothing like the second language I learned in school.

The longing to speak in my native tongue exemplified my general sense of disorientation. How did I, an English television producer from the city, end up masquerading as a francophone cameraman in the rural hinterland?

Ultimately, I reached my destination, with conflicting feelings of relief and sadness that my pilgrimage was over. Grateful for having persevered, I returned home with the footage we needed to complete the series64 Days with the Ark”.

64 Days with the Ark will air on S+L Television on Friday nights starting March 17. The finale on June 14 coincides with the fifth anniversary of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.
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Credit: CNS photo/courtesy of International Eucharistic Congress

New documentary asks: Who is Pope Francis?

Do you remember where you were when the white smoke appeared, heralding the election of Pope Francis? That will always be an easy question for me, since I was in the S+L studio doing live commentary. The third smoke signal of the conclave looked distinctly different from the first two, which were easily discernible as black. Initially, this one appeared grey — light grey — and we, along with most other media outlets, were hesitant to make the call. But then as the plumes grew, it became clear: we have a Pope.

I relived these moments as I watched the documentary “Who is Pope Francis?” The conclave ended a mere eight weeks ago. Still, I felt chills as I watched, once more, the announcement of Georgium Marium Cardinalem Bergoglio as Pope Francis. It was an electrifying moment of live television. In hindsight, it’s even more breathtaking, now that we’ve seen his early effect on the Church.

Created by Madrid-based Goya Productions, “Who is Pope Francis?” is one of the earliest and best biographies of the new pontiff. Through interviews and historical footage, a portrait emerges of Jorge Bergoglio, anticipating how his background and character will impact the papacy.

“Who is Pope Francis?” airs tonight on S+L at 9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT, repeating at 1:00am ET/10:00pm PT. It airs again on Thursday night at the same times. Consult the S+L schedule for additional repeat times.

Approved under Benedict, Francis proclaims first saints

Nun looks at image of Blessed Mother Laura Montoya in 2012 in Medellin
February 11 will long be remembered as the day Pope Benedict announced his resignation – the first pontiff in 600 years to do so. But do you recall the event during which he made his stunning declaration? The Holy Father had convoked a meeting of cardinals to vote on three causes for canonization. As expected, the cardinals confirmed the blesseds, whose record of sanctity had already satisfied the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. And then Benedict read the Latin text that left the cardinals in stunned silence.

Just over three months later, those blesseds will be proclaimed saints under a new pontificate. Salt + Light will air the Canonization Mass this Sunday at 9:30am ET/6:30am PT, repeating in French at 4:00pm ET / 1:00pm PT.

So who are the new Saints? Before the consistory in February, Vatican Radio published a profile of each of them: Blessed Antonio Primaldo and companions, Blessed Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, and Blessed Laura of Saint Catherine of Siena (shown above).

Blessed Antonio was a tailor in the city of Otranto, Italy, in the 1400s. In 1480 the city was invaded by Turkish Muslims who threatened to kill all the men, but promised to grant their lives and the freedom of their women and children if they renounced their faith.

Antonio remained firm, and encouraged his fellow citizens to stand strong in their faith. He was the first to be beheaded, followed by 799 others. Relics of the Blessed Martyrs of Otranto are held in the Cathedral crypt.
[Read more...]

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Photo credit: CNS photo/Fredy Builes, Reuters

S+L to stream ordination of new bishop for Hamilton

Photo credit: Diocese of Hamilton
It’s a liturgy that most Catholics never get to experience: the ordination of a bishop. The faithful of Hamilton, Ontario, however, will have this privilege on Tuesday, May 7 – as will viewers on S+L television and online. That day, Fr. Daniel Miehm will be ordained as Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Hamilton.

The liturgy will be live streamed here at 2:00 pm. S+L will televise the mass at 8:00 pm, repeating at 12:00 midnight and the following day at 1:00 pm (all times Eastern).

Bishop-elect Miehm, 52, was born in Kitchener, Ontario. In 1989, he was ordained to the priesthood in Hamilton’s Cathedral of Christ the King – the very same church where he will be made a bishop. Since then, he has served in parishes in Stoney Creek, Hamilton, Ancaster and Milton. His appointment as bishop was announced on February 20, just eight days before Pope Benedict’s resignation took effect.

The principal consecrator and homilist will be the bishop of Hamilton, Most Rev. Douglas Crosby, OMI.
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Photo credit: Diocese of Hamilton