In Her Footsteps at the JP2IIFF

Tomorrow,  April 2 we celebrate the 9th anniversary of the death of Bl. Pope John Paul II. The next day, is day-one of this year’s John Paul II International Film Festival, which has been taking place every year since 2009 in Miami, Florida.

The inter-faith Festival is inspired by Pope John Paul II’s invitation to promote Love, Truth, Unity, and Human Dignity though the use of film and media, and features filmmakers from around the world in an effort to enrich the mainstream film industry with works that highlight the beauty of our humanity.

Because of his love of the arts and to his deep understanding of the arts, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter in 1999 encouraging artists of all kinds and faiths to use their talents to uplift society, to teach and preach human dignity, and unveil the mystery of Man and God alike. The JP2IFF was founded 10 years later as an answer to this invitation and to challenge filmmakers and the community to do the same: To use their gifts to create a deeper understanding of our human race, no matter what our religious, cultural, or economic background may be.

Every year the festival has a theme. Past themes have been “Faith Through the Storm” (2009), “Mystery of Love” (2011) and “Revelation” (2012). This year’s theme is “Inspiration”, taken directly from JPII’s Letter to Artists. In it he wrote:

What is the affinity between the words ‘breath – breathing’ and ‘inspiration’? The Spirit is the mysterious Artist of the universe. I would hope that all artists might receive in abundance the gift of that creative inspiration which is the starting point of every true work of art.

It’s no surprise that people all over hunger for meaning, and more and more we turn to the TV and to cineplexes looking for meaning. It’s clear that film has the power to inspire like no other medium. I can think of the many films that have been imprinted on me; that have moved me, challenging me to be the best version of myself. Film can also capture beauty like no other medium. Inspiration is the taking in of beauty, allowing it to transform you. At its best, a film’s beauty can leave a lasting imprint on the human character.

And not just this year, but every year the JP2IFF presents films that inspire us, films that reveal such splendid beauty that we are compelled to breathe in their message, allowing it to transform our thoughts, feelings, and give us something new to exhale into the world.

This is also our hope here at Salt + Light. In 2009 among the Festival’s selections was the S+L TV production, Road of Hope: The Spiritual Journey of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan. This year, among the many feature length and short dramatic and documentary films from Ecuador, France, Germany, Iran, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, South America, Spain, the UK and the U.S. the S+L TV production In Her Footsteps: The Story of Kateri Tekakwitha has been selected for the festival.

Among other selected feature films are: Francis: The Pope from the New World (The Knights of Columbus); Gimme Shelter (Day Twenty-Eight Films) and Heaven Is For Real (Tri-Star). In the short film category, the Canadian The Mary Contest by Vancouver’s Teresa McGee, has also been selected.

The 10-day Festival runs from April 3-12, 2014 and includes not just film screenings, but also panel discussions, professional seminars, and multi-cultural music and art events.

I’d like to encourage all of you who are in the Miami area, to support the festival and the films by attending. In doing so, you’ll be encouraging all these professional and up-and-coming filmmakers to better their craft. You’ll also be encouraging the making of films that share messages of hope, triumph and love and that uplift the spirit. You can purchase tickets and see the Festival schedule at the Festival’s website.

Caritas Panama joins end hunger campaign with song

The people of Caritas Panama have taken up the END HUNGER campaign to another level with this beautiful and moving song, LEVANTO MI VOZ POR QUIEN NO TIENE PAN (I raise my voice for those who have no bread).

The international campaign hinges on a very simple premise: There is enough food in the world and it should be shared with all. But do we believe this?

Caritas believes that it is a scandal that nearly a billion people are hungry today in a world that has the resources to feed everyone. The more than 160 national organisations that make up Caritas Internationalis are joining together in their first ever global campaign to call for an end to hunger by 2025. 

Pope Francis kicked off the Caritas Campaign with a video message by saying that food is not just a basic need but it is also a right. But it is a right which is trampled on every day for the 842 million children, women and men who are hungry in the world.  He said, “We are in front of a global scandal of around one billion – one billion people who still suffer from hunger today. We cannot look the other way and pretend this does not exist. The food available in the world is enough to feed everyone.”

 And the people of Caritas Panama believe that a great way to rally people to support a campaign is through music. The song, was written, produced and performed by a collaboration of Panamanian Catholic artists and professionals.

How will you support this campaign to end world hunger by 2025?


Written and composed by Maríaestelí Rios
Production: Carlos Samaniego and En La Roca
Performed by various Panamanian Catholic singers/artists: Angélica Quintero (Ecos del Silencio), Evaristo Gonzalez (Ministerio de Música Ágape / ExVive la Música TVN), Annita Castillo (San Juan Apóstol Parish, Brisas del Golf), Niudska Beitía (Ministerio de Musica Nabí), Oliver Portillo ( Distynto) and Maríaestelí Ríos (En La Roca)

Learn more about Caritas Panama on their website or follow them on Twitter.

We have radio!

Ten years ago when I first started doing media presentations in schools, I’d ask the students, “what is media?” and they would talk about TV and films. Sometimes a student would mention news media or even video games. Today when I do the same presentation, all students can think about is social media. Times have changed.

According to the Oxford dictionary, the term “media” is the plural of “medium”. The definition of medium is “an agency or means of doing something.” Literally, “medium” is a conduit – think of your science class when you learned about heat conductors. In Catholic theology we speak about sacraments as “media” in the sense that they mediate something else.

But the term “media” is not used to mean water or sacraments; it is used, specifically to mean communication media, or rather mass media of communication. So, anything that is used to communicate something to the masses is “media”.

And the Church has been using media to communicate the Good News as early as St. Paul. In fact, the Church was the champion of media as it used art, music, theatre and then print to spread the Good News.

But a book can only reach a few thousand people. A newspaper, perhaps could reach tens of thousands. It was not until the advent of Radio, at the beginning of the 20th century, that we could begin speaking about mass media. All of the sudden it was possible to reach millions with just one broadcast. And from that moment, the Church has been using radio to spread the Good News. In fact, it was in 1931 that radio-inventor himself, Guglielmo Marconi, who set up Vatican Radio under Pope Pius XI. The rest, as they say, is a fascinating history.

I think it’s fair to say that even today, with all the technological advances and the Internet (despite the fact that for students it’s all about social media), radio is still the most popular media. Radio is a very inexpensive medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities. It is also a great medium to freely reach some of the most vulnerable populations: The illiterate, the disabled, shut-ins and the poor. I remember while growing up in Panama, going out in the interior of the country and even in the most remote locations, everyone had a radio. Radio allowed them to know what was going on in the rest of the country. And who doesn’t listen to the radio in their car? Radio allows everyone, regardless of their education level to participate in public discourse. Radio also has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief (especially in remote communities), and radio is extremely intimate: When you listen to the radio it’s as if it’s just for you. Radio allows everyone to be on the same playing field. It is a great medium of equality. However, despite the fact that they say radio reaches about 95 per cent of the world’s population, according to UNESCO, up to a billion people in the world, still do not have access to radio today.

This is why in on November 3, 2011, UNESCO approved the creation of the World Day of Radio. The day is celebrated every year on February 13th and aims to raise awareness about the importance of radio. The day also helps to facilitate access to information through radio and enhance networking among broadcasters.

This is why, Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, recognizing the importance of radio and the need for Catholic radio in Canada, in 2009 partnered with the Archdiocese of New York’s The Catholic Channel (Sirius XM 129) to produce the Salt + Light Hour, a weekly radio program. The SLHour started from a small idea and with limited resources. It has become a leading Canadian Catholic audio program and podcast that offers quality music and interviews with artists and authors. Over the last four years the SLHour has featured most English-speaking Catholic artists. Among them, Fathers David Delargy and Martin O’Hagan of The Priests, John Michael Talbot, Matt Maher, Sarah Hart, Steve Angrisano, Jesse Manibusan, Critical Mass, Susan Hookong-Taylor, Audrey Assad, Sarah Kroger, L’Angelus, Janelle,  Fr. Rob Galea, Chris Bray and many, many others. Some notable authors that have been on the program are Ralph Martin, Peter Kreeft, Fr. Scott Hurd, Lino Rulli, Elizabeth Scalia, Shawn Carney and Mother Dolores Hart, to name a few.

The program continues every week. As producer and host, I hope to bring you the best of Salt + Light: Inspiring messages, insightful interviews, interesting commentary and music; plus news updates with Alicia Ambrosio, Saint of the Week with Andrew Santos and diocesan updates from Canada and abroad, as well as great segments from our contributors. As I write this, the SLHour is not only carried on The Catholic Channel, but also on the Spirit Catholic Radio Network, which owns five FM Stations in Nebraska and parts of Iowa and South Dakota, and on WJTA 88.9 FM Holy Family Radio in north-eastern Ohio. For those of you outside of those broadcasting areas or without Sirius XM, you can stream the program or download it at our website: or as a free podcast off iTunes.

And if any of you are managing English-language Catholic Radio stations, let us know if you’d like to carry the SLHour. Stay current with the Catholic Church in Canada and the world, and nourish your faith with the SLHour.

Happy World Day of Radio and visit us on Facebook.

Saint Marianne Cope, Beloved Mother of Outcasts

Sister Marianne Cope (formerly Barbara Koob) was born January 23, 1838 and baptized the following day in what is now Hessen, West Germany. The young Sister Marianne worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York. In 1870, she was elected superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Seven years later she became second Mother Provincial of her order. Just when it seemed that her religious life was planned out, in 1883 she received an unexpected invitation from Fr. Leonor Fouesnel, emissary of the Hawaiian government, to come and help the “afflicted members” of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

She left for Hawaii with six sisters in 1883, planning to get them settled and then return to Syracuse. She ended up spending the rest of her life in Hawaii. After five years managing a hospital in Honolulu, she volunteered to go to Molokai, an isolated peninsula at the base of enormous cliffs to which lepers were condemned for the rest of their days. According to witnesses, Molokai at the time was something like a combination of a graveyard and a prison. The stench was so vile that even Fr. Damien had to smoke a pipe to keep from vomiting.

By frequent hand-washing, keeping the convent off-limits to lepers and refusing food prepared by lepers, Mother Marianne and her sisters managed to spend decades ministering to the physical and emotional needs of lepers in close quarters without ever becoming infected.

The life of Mother Marianne complements the life of St. Damien (1840-1889), beloved for his self-sacrifice for the lepers of Hawaii to the point of contracting the disease himself. Mother Marianne, for her part, decided from the outset to observe certain basic rules to protect herself and her Franciscan sisters from leprosy. She spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, working closely with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society as they were abandoned on the shores of the island, never to return to their families. After Fr. Damien had died, Mother Marianne took charge of the refuge had had built for boys. She was about 50 years old when her mission at Molokai began. She died at 80 years old on August 9, 1918 from kidney and heart disease. At her death, a Honolulu newspaper wrote: “Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage, and was known for her gentle smile.

People of all religions of the islands still honor and revere Father Damien, now St. Damien, and Mother Marianne who brought healing to body and soul. She was beatified at the Vatican on May 14, 2005, one month after the death of Pope John Paul II. With her canonization by Pope Benedict on October 21, 2012 her life is held up before the world as true model of holiness and friend of God.

New Year’s resolutions

Deacon Pedro in Venezuela
I don’t know about you, but I stopped making resolutions for the New Year, years ago. It’s not that I wasn’t keeping my resolutions (well… sometimes) but that it all seemed so arbitrary. We should always be trying to improve, no? So why only do it at the end of the year? It’s sort of like Lent. We give things up for Lent as penance, but deep down inside we figure that if the penance also improves us, then we win twice.

Maybe it is just me.

For the last couple of years I’ve resolved (however) to do less during Christmas. It’s so easy to get so busy at this time that we lose focus on what the season is really about. I have to admit that my whole family has gotten really good at this: We’re holed up (literally) for two weeks. And if there is a lot of snow, cold or ice storms, even better! My resolution to spend time with family was not that hard this year.

But since my ordination in May 2012, it’s been a bit harder to do less. On top of work and family commitments, I now have Parish and diaconal commitments and at this time of the year, these usually include many parishioners inviting the deacon to dinner, coffee, dessert or whatever gathering they may be having. I can’t do them all, but my resolution is to do one of these a year.

The other thing that has changed is that I now receive many more chocolates than I used to for Christmas. It’s very important to appreciate and thank people who work for the Church and so I do not object in principle to giving gifts to the deacon, but gifts of cash do make me uncomfortable. My resolution is to take all that cash and donate it to a charity.

I also try to do a bit more reading during my Christmas break. This year I’m reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Envangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. I don’t think I’ll finish it before my break is over, but I don’t have to stop reading when the break is over. So far I’ve been moved by his call to all pastoral workers (I guess that includes all deacons and all of us at Salt + Light, so it includes me) to see our call to evangelize as who we are and not just as an extension of ourselves or our work (EG#78). That sounds like, “stop complaining that you don’t have any free time or time for your family.” But what he’s really saying is that I don’t complain about having to be a husband 24/7 because it’s who I am. I don’t take a break from that. We evangelize because it’s who we are. We evangelize because we love. Evangelizing is loving. That’s all.

My resolution is to love more and complain less.

I’ve never told you, but I love preaching. It’s one of my favourite things about being a deacon. Because in my parish there are two priests and two deacons, I only get to preach about once a month. Last year I only preached once during Advent and then once again at the end of January. But this year the first Sunday in Advent found me in Venezuela where I had the chance to serve at a Mass at a local Parish in Maracaibo and then speak to the congregation after Mass. Back home, I had the opportunity to preach for two Sundays of Advent as well as for our parish’s High School Christmas Mass. This was perhaps the highlight of my Advent season. But God has a sense of humour. The Gospel reading for that day was Matthew 1:1-17, the genealogy of Jesus! Always a good Gospel reading for a high school Mass. Preachers do love a good challenge. My resolution is to take as many opportunities to preach as possible (this one actually makes me a little afraid – I guess I still have to get to that part of Evangelii Gaudium).

My parish, Holy Martyrs of Japan in Bradford, Ontario, has a Spanish-speaking community and we have a Mass in Spanish every Sunday. It is the only Mass in Spanish north of Toronto, so it is fairly well attended. Since last year we’ve been offering a Christmas Eve Mass in Spanish. It was well attended last year. This year, our priest said to me, “I’ve been a priest for 25 years and have preached at many Christmas masses. You preach this year.”

“Sure,” I said.

The issue when preaching for me is not standing in front of a group of people and speaking. I can do that just fine. The problem is having something to say. That’s really up to the Holy Spirit. And Christmas is one of those occasions when you can make your homilies a little different, a bit more creative. What to do? What to say?

I looked at the readings and I discovered that the Gospel for Christmas Eve Mass in the evening is Matthew 1:1-25: The genealogy of Jesus, and then some. Thanks.

My resolution: Let the Spirit do his thing.

And so what came out (and by this I don’t mean that I winged it – I prepared extensively) was what really had been in my heart: Family, helping those who need help and proclaiming the Word.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? God comes into the world into a family (and into our families) so we can get to him and calls us to lovingly proclaim that Good News in word and deed. That’s not just what Christmas is about, but what our whole Christian life is about. This is why I think the whole world is so taken by Pope Francis: He feels like he’s family and he talks the talk, but he also walks it. Those are always the best teachers, said Pope Paul VI: The ones who are witnesses first.

Today I went in for a quick, half hour meeting with my pastor to finalize our prayer service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I came out two and half hours later, with seven dates in my calendar: More opportunities to preach, to serve and to help build up marriages and families; More of preaching the Gospel with joy. No complaints. My resolution: Let the Spirit do his thing.

So much for no resolutions!

Photo: Deacon Pedro proclaiming the Gospel on the first Sunday in Advent at San Ramón Nonato Parish in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

God is a God of family

It’s Christmas and all our worries- the food, the dinner guests, our families, the presents- seem to be multiplied. Jesus’ birth is supposed to bring us peace, but instead, during this time of the year, it seems that what we have least of is peace.

And we go to Christmas Eve Mass looking for a little bit of peace. We hope to listen in the Gospel that beautiful Christmas story that we all love with the starry night, the angels, the shepherds and the little lambs (or at least we assume that there are lambs if there are shepherds). But instead of that story, we have to listen to a long list of names: the geneology of Jesus! (Matthew 1:1-25) All these unpronounceable names. Names like Jeconiah, Zerubabbel and Rehoboam. Forty-two names. What does that have to do with Christmas?

It has to do with God’s patience; with his faithfulness and with his plan. And that’s what Christmas is about: God’s patience, his fidelity and his plan. It’s a Scripture reading that reminds us that God is bigger than all of us and bigger than our plans. In Jesus’ ancestors we have all the heroes and all the gangsters of Hebrew history. We have all the saints and all the sinners. These are the protagonists of the story of God’s love for his people. Beginning with Abraham, the greatest of them all. Abraham was a great one, the father of all the Jewish (and Arab) people. He had a great faith. And his son Isaac was also great. But Isaac’s son, Jacob was a bit of a liar and Jacob’s eldest, Judah was the darling brother who had the brilliant idea of selling his little brother, Joseph into slavery. The one who follows Judah, Perez was conceived because Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar thinking she was a prostitute. And so, we continue, with a long line of not-so-perfect ancestors until we get to King David, the great King David. He was great and also had great lust. He sleeps with the wife of Uriah (who, by the way, was David’s good friend and one of his generals) and when David finds out that she’s pregnant, he arranges to have Uriah killed in battle. Still, after all the adultery and murder, it is one of the children of David with the wife of Uriah who grows up to be the great King Solomon, one of the greatest kings of Israel. But then we continue with Solomon’s children, grand children and great-grand children whose sins led to the division of the Kingdom and the Babylonian exile. And from the exile, fourteen generations later, St. Joseph is born. Joseph marries a young woman who was already pregnant…

It’s just like our families, eh? We all have, in our families, sinners and saints; heroes and gangsters – everyone has in their family someone who’s divorced or struggling in their  marriages. Everyone has a great uncle who was an alcoholic and some cousin, sister or aunt who was unmarried and pregnant. All families struggle though lies, insults, yelling and tears. Living in family gives us lots of opportunities for forgiveness and for patience; for “putting on love” (Col. 3:12-17). All of us sometimes are sinners and sometimes are saints. And it is into that human family that our Saviour is born. Into a family like yours and like mine. And that’s the family with which we sat down for a not-so-perfect Christmas dinner a few nights ago, to celebrate with food, drinks, music and the exchange of gifts.

That’s how we celebrate the birth of God-made-man. That’s how we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the king of kings. But this king’s birth is not celebrated with drinks, music, presents and so much food that we have to waste it. The birth of this king comes to us through the womb of a young woman who is pregnant before marriage. This king is not born in a palace. This king is born in a stable because no one has a place for them to stay. This king has no place to be born in and so he is born in a dirty, stinky stable next to the animals that let him sleep in their manger. This is the God-of-gods and yet he comes as a defenseless baby whose diapers have to be changed. And the news of this king’s birth does not come first to the rich, the powerful or the educated. The news comes first to the poorest of the poor, to the shepherds. And after this king’s birth the Holy Family has to flee to another country because Herod wants to kill the child. This king-of-kings doesn’t have were to live and so he lives his first years as a refugee in a strange land… This is our God: The God of sinners, the God of adulterers, of liars and those who do not trust in God. He is the God of the poor, of those who don’t have much, those who have no education and those who have no place to stay. Recently Pope Francis said that “the faith of the Church comes to us through the heart of the poor.” I am not entirely sure what he means by that but I think that it has to do with the fact that even though God comes as a human being in order to save everyone and the Good News is for everyone, this news usually comes to us through the small ones. It’s always been that way. And if we have problems finding God, perhaps it’s because we are looking in the wrong place.

God is made incarnate in our poverty. God makes himself flesh in our pain and in our fear. God finds his birthplace in the stable of our insecurities and our feeling inadequate. We can find God when we feel tired and lost. If you cannot find God, look for him in the poor, in the oppressed and the afflicted. Look for Him among the refugees and the captives. Look for him in your hunger, your stress, your sickness, in your ignorance and your unemployment. Look for Him in your brokenness; that’s where you will find Him.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. We celebrate the fact that God chose to come into the world through a family; a family like yours and like mine; with all the joys and struggles that come with being family. At Christmas as well, we are reminded that one day Jesus will also come again in Glory. That is the second coming that we await in joy. But we also celebrate a “third coming”. Christ comes to us every day when we ask him to and especially when we gather as  family to receive him in the Eucharist.

This God, the God-of-gods, who is bigger than all; the King and Creator of the Universe, God who can carry all creation in the palm of his hand, just as He makes himself so small so as to be inside the womb of a teen-aged girl, He makes himself small, in the form of unleavened bread, so that we can gaze at him, so we can adore him and so that we can receive him as food; so that He can really come into us and feed us and nourish us. Let us not be like the inn-keepers of Bethlehem and let’s receive Him. Let’s let him come and be born inside of our tired and weary hearts.

And this God who is a God of family, this God who brings us peace, will enter into your life and into your family and will fill you with peace so that we can truly sing with the angels, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill!

The Christmas Onlys: 10 million Canadians attending a Christmas service

Christmas onlys
You would think we are a religious nation. Some 1 in 3 Canadians – adding up to more than 10 million people – say that they are attending special Christmas services.

To put things in perspective, that total in our allegedly secular nation easily exceeds the number of Canadians who earlier this year watched the Super Bowl, Grey Cup, or the final game of the Stanley cup final. And the number is only slightly below the number of people who say that, the day after Christmas, they plan to join the stampede to Boxing Day sales.

Such are the findings of a new Angus Reid Global on-line survey of 1,508 Canadians completed earlier this month. The measure of error is 2.5%.

Sociologist Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge, who assisted with the survey and analysis, says the magnitude of Christmas service attendance is both unexpected and remarkable. “At Christmas time, 14% of Canadians who worship fairly regularly will find themselves sharing the pews with another 18% who normally are somewhere else – making for a total of 32%. Not a shabby market share for late December.”

What is particularly noticeable is the attendance spike for people who are Roman Catholic, United, and Anglican.

Some 23% of Catholics outside Quebec normally attend services. But that figure will more than double to 48%. In Quebec, where regular attendance has plummeted since the 1960s, just 13% of Catholics typically attend services; but the Christmas level will balloon to 38%.

In the case of the United and Anglican churches, normal attendance levels in the 25% range will jump to temporary Christmas service levels of around 50%.

The increases in evangelical churches, where regular attendance is the highest in the country at around 45%, will be a bit more modest, but still could reach almost 60%.

The 18% of Canadians who are “Christmas only” attenders are slightly outnumbered by regular worshippers in the three Prairie provinces. However, they out-number the regulars in British Columbia, Ontario, and – in particular – Quebec and the four Atlantic provinces.

The “Christmas Onlys” are just as likely to be male as female. They do, however, stand out in tending to be younger than regular attenders: they comprise 18% of Canadians who are under the age of 55, compared to 11% for regular worshippers. The finding is important. It shows that lots of younger Canadians have not abandoned religious groups. They still are showing up on their own from time to time.

Reflections on the Findings
What does it all mean, especially in a place like Quebec, where just about everyone has assumed the Catholic Church is in deep trouble? Or in the rest of the country, where the common lament is that the golden days of solid attendance are long gone?

For starters, it means that faith, led by Christianity, continues to be important for a sizable number of Canadians. But things need to be kept in perspective. The finding that 2 in 3 people are not in Christmas services is also a reminder of the current Canadian religious reality of polarization. Some people value faith, some don’t, and a lot of ambivalent, “religiously undecided” people are currently in the middle. They could go either way.

That qualifier aside, the numbers at Christmas services point, Bibby says, to an important fact: “There’s lots of latent faith in Canada. The valuing of faith readily surpasses active involvement. Or to put things in more crass and memorable terms, the number of people who find faith important readily surpasses the number of bottoms in pews.”
The prevalence of latent faith should surprise no one. Close to 8 in 10 of the people who only attend at Christmas reported in this latest survey that they were raised in pro-faith Protestant and Catholic homes. So it is that the same proportion acknowledge that “the religious aspect of Christmas is important to them personally.”

The “Christmas onlys” are near-unanimous in embracing the concept of “Christmas” over “Holiday Season.” They will resemble regular attenders in celebrating with trees and decorations, along with carols, gifts, and giving. Some 60% of their Christmas dinners will be preceded by table grace – compared to 87% for regular attenders.

“Some of the Christmas Onlys,” Bibby comments, “want little more from religious groups. These ‘same time next year’ people are into what we’ve been referring to for years as ‘religion à la carte’.”

But, a cause for pause is that a significant number of these same people, who constitute something of an “‘ambivalent middle” between embracing religion and rejecting it, have been saying that they are open to greater involvement. The asterisk? They have to find their involvement to be worthwhile for themselves and their families. By ‘worthwhile,’ most are talking about solid ministries that address their spiritual, personal, and relational needs. “It seems to me,” observes Bibby, “that these are hardly unreasonable or excessive expectations of groups that aspire to be more than clubs for the initiated.”

The proverbial bottom line? “This reading of Christmas attendance should come as great news for Canada’s groups,” says the University of Lethbridge sociologist. “It provides a reminder of what’s possible. To put it mildly, this is hardly a time for leaders to respond by chastising people for packing the place once a year. That would be like the lame sports owner who looks at the sold-out park and complains, ‘Yah, the place is jammed, but the fans don’t come out all that often.’”

In sharp contrast to such debilitating morbidity, the presence of the much-maligned “Christmas crowd” should serve as a reminder of the existence of remarkable opportunity and need – and the urgency for life-giving responses on the part of the nation’s religious groups.

Dr. Reginald Bibby is a best-selling author and professor of sociology at The University of Lethbridge who has been monitoring social trends in Canada now for four decades. The trends research is continuing in collaboration with pollster Angus Reid Global and Andrew Grenville. The findings on the significance of Christmas will be part of Bibby and Grenville’s new book, The Future of Life in Canada, which will be released in late 2014. Media contacts: Reginald Bibby: Andrew Grenville:

The “O” Antiphons: O King…

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 22, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 2:4; 11:10, Psalm 47:8; Jeremiah 10:7, Daniel 7:14; Haggai 2:8, Romans 15:12 and Ephesians 2:14, 20.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of all peoples and their hope, cornerstone uniting Jews and Gentiles in one people: Come, and save man whom You formed from the dust of the earth. [Read more...]

The “O” Antiphons: O Dawn…

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 21, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 9:1; 58:8; 60:18-20, Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79, John 8:12 and Revelation 22:16

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Dawn in the East, splendor of the everlasting Light and Sun of Justice: Come and give light to those sitting in darkness, in the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

From O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
Verse 6:
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Dawn in the East
We pray our Lord to give us light of His revelation and life to all mankind, to lead everyone on earth out of spiritual darkness into the glory of a life unending.

(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Key of David

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 20, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 22:22, Jeremiah 13:13; 51:19, Matthew 4:16; 16:19 and Luke 1:79

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel! You open and no one closes, You close and no one opens: Come and lead out of prison the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 5:
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Key of David
Jesus, our Lord possesses the royal power of His ancestor David in a far fuller and higher way. What he commands is done. By His death on the Cross, He broke open the gates of death and led the souls of the just into everlasting life. He broke the power of the devil who had helped all people captive in sin and the fear of death. We pray Him to come and free us from slavery to sin and to the fear that sin brings with it.

(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)