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A Modest Comeback?

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Cheridan Sanders speaks with Shannon Joseph, President of Trends about fashion and faith.

Is it possible to be both fashionable and modest?

For a few years there, I felt as if the only way I could dress modestly was to look as if I’d been locked up in a bunker underground for the last twenty years. There was literally nothing to decent to buy!

Ok, I might be exaggerating slightly. But I’ve been constantly annnoyed by the limited choices available. Everything seemed to be too short, too tight, too see-through, too low-cut, and so on. It’s enough to make a grown woman weep.  Uncontrollably.  In the change-room. *sniffle

But the times they are a changin’. Because Modesty is making a comeback.

Take this article published in Vogue recently entitled, “How Orthodox Judaism’s Laws of Modesty Gave Me a Sense of Style”. And bloggers like Fabologie and others are showing the world that it is indeed possible to be fashionable and modest.

I don’t think that this is just a passing trend. More and more women (religious and non-religious) are saying enough! The hemline – it stops here! And you don’t just have to buy designer labels to get the look.

After some surfing around the web, I realized that there are lots of smaller retailers out there that are catering to those who want to buy clothes that are both stylish and modest, without compromise. Like this store that literally says that in their tagline.

So all of this got me thinking and, I decided to poll my co-workers at S+L to hear what they thought about fashion, faith and self-expression.

I also interviewed Shannon Joseph, President of Trends for an upcoming episode of Catholic Focus about her organization which works with teens girls to promote healthy self-esteem and positive body image.

“It’s time for us girls to dare to be different, to break out of the cookie-cutter mold and create a unique sense of style that best expresses who we are as people. It’s time to change the face of fashion.“ Shannon Hale, Co-founder of Trends

What’s remarkable about Trends is that Shannon Hale founded Trends when she was just a teen. She was fed-up with what was being sold by most retailers and she set out to challenge the hyper-sexualization of young women in the media and fashion industry. Today Trends is a national organization and their workshops cover a range of topics from how to shop for your body type to a National fashion forum with inspirational speakers.

All this is to say that not only is it possible to be fashionable and modest, but as many women are showing us, faith is a wonderful way to inspire originality and a distinctive identity which is essential to developing an authentic sense of style.


The Producer Diairies

 Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.

Debate around Pope’s environment encyclical reminds Catholics why they’re at the table in the first place


For some time now we have been anticipating the forthcoming encyclical by Pope Francis on the environment. Some would trace the anticipation as far back as that unforgettable audience with journalists a few days after the Pope’s election where he explained the reasons behind his choice of the name Francis, after the beloved Francis of Assisi, the Church’s patron saint of ecology.

The anticipation has pushed many Catholics and ecologists to speculate about what the encyclical will or will not contain.  Though we can make some general presumptions with a degree of certainty—the Pope will undoubtedly build on JPII’s and Benedict’s teachings, and connect the current ecological crisis with the “globalization of indifference” he so often references—it’s probably best not to get ahead of ourselves before reading the official text.  The gravity of the subject should be enough to convince us to set aside our preconceived notions and read the encyclical with an open mind and heart.

These days a more fundamental point has struck me as I watch the anticipation growing and hear more about humanity’s contribution to the earth’s failing health, especially through climate change. It is the reason why the Catholic Church is concerned with the ecological crisis at all, and this goes to the heart of what it means to be Catholic.

It is taken for granted that because Catholics (and all Christians) view the natural world as part of God’s creation, they should value it and care for it. The goal of the Christian life, it is often assumed, is to get to heaven and caring for the created world is a stipulation for getting there. While this is true to a degree, an attitude of individual stewardship doesn’t do justice to the heart of the Gospel or the Church’s official doctrine. It leaves the impression on many minds that Christians should merely do their best here and now knowing one day all will be right in the heavenly kingdom.

For a long time Catholic teaching contributed to this “next world” attitude until the Second Vatican Council shifted the emphasis:

“While we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.” (Gaudium et Spes 39.)

Pope Francis said as much fifty years later in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel:

“Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of “charity à la carte”, or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.” (180)

The growing conversation around the ecological crisis, climate change and the Pope’s anticipated encyclical is certainly a positive thing. There are many voices at the table. For Catholics it would be good to remember what brings us to this table in the first place, and that is to contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God in this world; a world of justice, peace and fraternity.

To the extent that the other voices around the table understand this complex and universal approach, collaborative efforts to fight things like climate change can dramatically increase.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations is one of these voices. In his recent address at a Vatican conference exploring the moral issues around climate change, he said:

“Climate change is intrinsically linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security. It is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.”

He then stated what he believes the Pope will say in his forthcoming encyclical; a statement to be taken seriously considering the UN leader met privately with Francis just before his public address:

“[The encyclical] will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience.”

It is clear that Ban Ki-moon understands the complexity of the Catholic approach to environmental issues; for Catholics care for the environment is more than just an individual faith stipulation.  He also believes that faith groups and leaders have something valuable to contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change, especially Pope Francis. The two men appear to share some strong opinions on the matter. In other words, we can believe the UN leader when he says, “I very much look forward to the upcoming encyclical by Pope Francis.” He’s not the only one.

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.

UN leader meets Pope and addresses climate change conference


(Vatican Radio)  The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Tuesday before going on to address a conference exploring the moral issues connected to climate change. The one day international symposium has been organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and will include a video message to participants from Pope Francis about the Christian imperative of stewardship of creation. The UN leader said he had a “fruitful and wide ranging conversation with the Pope and he commended participants in the symposium for raising awareness of the urgent need to tackle climate change and promote sustainable development. Please see below for the full text of Ban Ki-moon’s address:

Your Eminence Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo,
Your Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson,
Your Eminences,
Distinguished participants,

I thank the Pontifical Academy of Sciences for hosting this important symposium, and His Holiness Pope Francis for extending such a warm welcome.

Pope Francis and I have just had a fruitful and wide ranging conversation. I commend His Holiness, and all faith and scientific leaders here, for raising awareness of the urgent need to promote sustainable development and address climate.

Mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects are necessary to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce inequality and secure equitable, sustainable economic development. That is why I say climate change is the defining issue of our time.

Responding to it effectively is essential for sustainable development. Climate change is intrinsically linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security.

It is a moral issue.  It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics. We have a profound responsibility to the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow. That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue – and in harmony with science.

Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned. Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt. Climate change is occurring – now — and human activities are the principal cause.

Your Eminences, Ladies and Gentlemen, The facts of climate change are upheld by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the major scientific bodies of every government in the world, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Our response has to be global, holistic and rooted in universal values. Climate change affects us all, but not equally.

Those who suffer first and worst are those who did least to cause it: the poor and most vulnerable members of society. Around the world, I have seen how floods, droughts, rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms are causing terrible harm, and prompting families to migrate, often at great peril.

As His Holiness Pope Francis has said, “We need to see, with the eyes of faith … the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person.”

The most vulnerable must be foremost in our thoughts this year as governments construct a global response to climate change and a new framework for sustainable development.

The new Sustainable Development Goals, which will be adopted in September, will provide a holistic approach that puts social and environmental objectives on par with economic objectives.

Eradicating extreme poverty, ending social exclusion of the weak and marginalized, and protecting the environment are values that are fully consistent with the teachings of the great religions. Pope Francis has been one of the world’s most impassioned moral voices on these issues, and I applaud his leadership. The United Nations, too, champions the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.

We share a belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals and the sacred duty to care for and wisely manage our natural capital. And we believe that when people strive toward a common goal, transformational change is possible. That is why we work in partnership with governments, the private sector, civil society and faith-based groups. If ever there were an issue that requires unity of purpose, it is climate change.

Science tells us we are far off track from reducing global emissions sufficient to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. We are currently on course for a rise of 4-5 degrees Celsius. This would alter life on Earth as we know it.

This is morally indefensible. It contradicts our responsibility to be good stewards of creation.

Your Eminences, Ladies and Gentlemen, People everywhere are realizing we must fundamentally change our ways. Some world leaders have called for the creation of an “ecological civilization,” others for “development without destruction”.

Many countries are moving down a low-carbon pathway and investing in clean energy that can power truly sustainable development. To transform our economies, however, we must first transform our thinking, and our values. In this, the world’s religions can provide valuable leadership.

As the Holy See has said, “there is a moral imperative to act, for we all bear the responsibility to protect and to value creation for the good of this and future generations”.

I very much look forward to the upcoming encyclical by Pope Francis. It will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience. It is critically important that people and their leaders hear your strong moral voice in the coming months.

In July, leaders will gather in Addis Ababa, for the third International Conference on Finance for Development. In September, Pope Francis will address the United Nations Special Summit on Sustainable Development. And in Paris, in December governments will meet to forge a meaningful universal agreement on climate change.

Paris is not the end point, but it must be a turning point in finding a common way forward in meeting the climate challenge. We need a global climate agreement that is universal, fair and ambitious. Industrialized countries must take the first steps forward. Reasons of equity and historical responsibility require no less.

But all countries must do more and be part of the solution, in line with what the science requires. Citizens around the world are demanding an agreement and demanding action.

I urge you to join them. Let the world know that there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science on the issue of climate change.

Your Eminences, Ladies and Gentlemen, Your influence is enormous. You speak to the heart of humanity’s deepest hopes and needs. You can remind us all that we do not exist apart from nature, but are part of a wider creation. Together, the major faith groups have established, run, or contribute to over half of all schools world-wide.

You are also the third largest category of investors in the world. I urge you to invest in the clean energy solutions that will benefit the poor and clear our air.

Sustainable development requires sustainable energy for all. I also urge you to continue to reduce your carbon footprint and educate your followers to reduce thoughtless consumption.

Your Eminences,  Ladies and Gentlemen, We are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.

This year, with the upcoming encyclical, the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September, and a global climate agreement, we have an unprecedented opportunity to articulate –and create – a more sustainable future and a life of dignity for all.

This is a future in which we are good stewards of our common home and good neighbours to all. I am grateful for your moral leadership, and thank you for your commitment.

Thank you.

Vatican forms Communications Commission – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis appoints members to a new Vatican Commission for Communications, the Holy Father meets with the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission and a special concert coming to the Vatican.

“Speak to people’s hearts and their minds will follow,” says seminary professor


Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect is a S+L series that goes deeper into the questions surrounding the person and pontificate of Pope Francis.  The series consists of a selection of the full interviews from S+L’s original documentary The Francis Effect.  Find the full schedule for Season 2 of POV here.

Tonight: Josephine Lombardi, PhD

A commonly held view among Catholics is that much of the difference in style between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis comes from the particular emphases of their lives and ministries.  Joseph Ratzinger was always a theologian, a deep intellect and contemplative immersed in the world of academia.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio was always a pastor, a man who spent his days living and working with ordinary folks, accompanying them through the daily joys and struggles.

The Church has always held these emphases in balance.  It might be easy to focus on the differences between the two men, but the centrality of the Gospel in both of their lives and ministries remains a common denominator.  This leads some, like Josephine Lombardi, to the position that Francis’ style and outreach are only the natural—perhaps necessary—pastoral extension of Benedict’s great theological contributions.  The temptation to separate or polarize the two popes can lead to a depreciation and misunderstanding of both.

A theologian from Hamilton, Ontario, Professor Lombardi teaches at the diocesan seminary in Toronto.  As someone who read and appreciated the great theological mind of Pope Benedict, Lombardi’s thoughts on the new ways in which Francis communicates the Church’s message are illuminating.  She is also a wife and mother, and an active lay member of the local church.  Her interview reflects a kind of common sense and common wisdom that are based on a deep spiritual life and a wealth of pastoral experience.

Watch Episode 2 of Point of View: Interpreting the Francis Effect
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
9:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm PT
Only on Salt and Light Television

Canadian Religious Beatified – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis ordains priests in Rome, a Canadian religious is beatified and the Catholic Missions in Canada gala.

Saving the Peace

Girl displaced as a result of Boko Haram attack in Nigeria rests her head on desk at camp for displaced people A girl displaced as a result of Boko Haram attack in the northeast region of Nigeria rests her head on a desk at a camp for internally displaced people. CNS photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters.

One of the most interesting conversations I had during my stay in New Orleans was with Sr. Cecilia Dimaku of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Nigeria. I know most people haven’t ever heard of this congregation, but theirs is a story worth telling.

When Archbishop Ekpu founded the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1975 he did so in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970), a particularly intense and tragic time of tribal conflict.

Also known as the Biafran War, the conflict tore the country apart. By the end of it, two million people had died from famine or conflict.

It is a lamentable story, but one that sets the stage for the arrival of the Sisters, so I’ll just quickly summarize here.

After Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, six years later the Muslim Hausas in Northern Nigeria began massacring the Christian Igbos, prompting thousands of Igbos to flee to the east where their people were the dominant ethnic group. The Igbos doubted that Nigeria’s military government would allow them to flourish, so in 1967 they established the Republic of Biafra for their safety and security.

Unfortunately, diplomatic attempts to reunify the country promptly failed and they were plunged into a terrible war. A war that Nigeria won after it secured the oil fields -the main source of revenue for the fledgling Biafran Republic. The resulting loss of revenue led to a tragic famine in which an estimated one million civilians died.

We know that no culture or civilization can stand except when the womenfolk of that society have assumed their proper place in it.

Archbishop Patrick Ekpu, Founder of Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

It is in the aftermath of this crises that the Sisters of the Sacred Heart were born.

Archbisop Ekpu’s hope was that these holy women would be a symbol of unity, as it gathered women of all tribes together; making manifest Christ’s desire “that they may all be one” from the Gospel of John.

No small vision, when you consider that Nigeria is inhabited by over 500 distinctive ethnic groups.

Left, Sr. Cecilia Dimaku, Former Superior General of Sacred Heart Sisters seated next to Sr. Evelyn.

But that’s not all, the Archbishop also hoped that the new Order would celebrate what is beautiful in African culture. He had rightly intuited the need for a Christian witness that was also an inculturated one.

Up until that point in his country’s history, most nuns were missionaries from other parts of the world, many of them Irish. It seemed time for young Nigerian girls to see an African model of holiness and womanhood.

One of the ways that the Sisters gave expression to this understanding was by adopting a traditional African-style habit and veil.

It was so distinctive in fact that when Pope John Paul II visited Nigeria he commented that it stood out as ‘a concrete expression of inculturating what is beautiful and rich in African culture’.

Fast forward to today, and their charism – the work of affirming all that is good in Nigerian culture while attending to downtrodden women seems to be as important as ever.

Nigerians to hold elections Feb.14
Nigerians vote near Lagos April 26, 2011. A Nigerian cardinal called on candidates in the country’s elections to focus on issues of importance to voters rather than on character assassination and smear tactics. CNS photo/George Esiri, EPA

The Sacred Heart Sisters promote the dignity of women through apostolates in: education, pastoral ministry, medical works and counselling. Much of their work is with young women who have been forced into or have deliberately entered into prostitution.

And, as Nigeria increasingly plays a leading role on the continent of Africa as an economic giant coupled with its growing media industry (Nigeria’s Nollywood is second only to India’s Bollywood) it is clear that the country is poised to influence the hearts and minds of many in Africa, and beyond.

And that begs the question, in a global reality where Nigeria is growing in influence and power, what kinds of cultural values will ultimately be communicated?

Only time will tell, but we can be assured that the Sister’s witness to unity and the promotion of the dignity of women will go a long way to building a culture of peace in Nigeria.

A car burns at the scene of a bomb explosion outside St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja. Five bombs exploded Christmas Day at churches in Nigeria. The explosion at St. Theresa’s killed at least 27 people. Militants of the Boko Haram sect said they had set off the bombs, raising fears that they are trying to ignite sectarian civil war. CNS photo/Reuters

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
Scher on location with George+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting adventure invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, preventing human trafficking, and so much more. The production is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

Coast to Coast: April 18 to April 24


Here is what’s been happening across Canada this week:

The federal government presented the budget this week, after some delay. Somehow the budget is balanced. What does it say about the financial year ahead?

The Archdiocese of Vancouver announced on Friday that Archbishop Emeritus Raymond Roussin has passed away. Roussin was diagnosed with clinical depression while he was archbishop of Vancouver and shared his struggles with the faithful of the diocese.

From Edmonton, a reminder that even the smallest gesture of kindness can have a deep, lasting impact.

In Regina, one former Saskatchewan Roughridger (football, incase you’re wondering) shared his faith journey with participants at a local Prayer Breakfast.

Vatican Connections: April 24, 2015


Bigger than any financial scandal or bishops’ resignation was the story of hundreds of illegal migrants who drowned off the coast of Libya when their vessel capsized. Pope Francis used his Angelus address to draw attention to the tragedy and call on the international community to take “decisive and quick action” to prevent further tragedies. Church officials and agencies have echoed that call, but will the international community – specifically the European Union – take action?

The Promised Land

African migrants cross perilous borders and trek across the Sahara desert to reach Libya or Tunisia where they are placed on boats headed towards Italy, Malta, or even Greece. Increasingly Syrian migrants are undertaking similarly arduous voyages to get to Europe. Karolina Babicka, a migration expert for Caritas Europe told Salt + Light their journey often starts with the loss of the family home in Syria. They move to Lebanon, or Egypt and try to re-establish themselves there. When that fails they move on to Libya and, like their African counterparts they seek out people who are willing – for a price- to put them on a boat to Europe.

The Strait of Sicily, which separates Tunisia from the southern Italian region, is about 145 kilometers wide. The distance between the Libyan coast and Sicily’s southern coast is wider, about 205 kilometers. It looks like a short crossing to a land where peace and economic prosperity seems assured. In the first four months of 2015 and estimated 36,000 migrants made the crossing while aproximately 1,800 are believed to have perished.

The vessels used to smuggle people to Europe are often not seaworthy and easily take on water and get into distress. That is when the Italian Navy steps in. If the vessels do survive the crossing, a better life is far from guaranteed. Babicka says migrants who land in Greece are more than likely to end up on the streets because “the Greek asylum system is in crisis” and cannot provide migrants with the basic necessities.

Operation Mare Nostrum

In October 2013 the Italian Navy established what they called “Operation: Mare Nostrum” (appropriately, the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea) to respond to the increasing numbers of boats and ships arriving or sinking off the southern Italian coast.

Operation Mare Nostrum involved the use of

  • 1 amphibious vessel
  • 1 -2 frigates
  • 2  second line High Seas units with fully operational medical facilities on board
  • 1 team from the San Marco Marine Brigade
  • 1 Coastal Radar network
  • 1 Atlantic patrol aircraft
  • 1 Predator A+ (a drone, it escorts navy ships and films the operation)
  • 1 MM P180 aircraft
  • 2 unmanned camcopters
  • 1 forward logistics site

At any given time there were five Italian ships or aircraft on duty. The Italian Navy says because of Operation Mare Nostrum 150,810 lives were saved and 330 people smugglers were brought to justice. The cost of running the program was an estimated nine million euros per month. Remember, around this time the Italian government was changing practically every month with each new government eventually falling over economic and financial management issues.

European Union steps in

By the fall of 2014, Italy was calling for help from the rest of European Union to step up and help. In November 2014, the EU’s border patrol department, Frontex, launched Operation Triton. It was conceived as a border patrol operation that would rely on funds from the EU and vessels and aircraft contributed by member states.

It has a budget of 2.9 million euros per month to work with. That is six million less than what it cost to run Mare Nostrum. Thanks to Finland, the Netherlands and Portugal, Operation Triton has:

  • 7 boats
  • 2 planes
  • 1 helicopter

Naturally with a smaller budget and fleet, the scope of the operation would be reduced. Operation Triton actively patrols up to 48 kilometers off the coast of Italy.

The head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri told The Guardian newspaper this week the European Union’s mandate is to patrol borders, not search and rescue. Leggeri said he would not ask for more boats, or send them out closer to the Libyan coast because doing so would simply draw more migrants and encourage people smugglers. In his view, the presence of EU vessels off the coast of Libya would be seen as a guarantee of safe passage.

Babicka says this is an example of the lack of political will that seems prevalent among politicians and bureaucrats who could develop more effective immigration policies and humanitarian based operations, but do not.

International outcry

Perhaps the international outcry or even the Pope’s appeal that moved the European Council to hold a special April 23 meeting focused on illegal migration.

In a statement after the meeting the European Council said it would triple the budget for Frontex’s Operation Triton and reinforce its assets. Members of the EC also agreed to try to stem the flow of migrants by addressing the root causes: the EC will support UN led efforts to establish a functional government in Libya and step up efforts to address the situation in Syria.

Organizations like Caritas and the United Nations are welcome the promise of more funding and resources, but say it is not enough. People use illegal immigration channels because, “there are no legal channels available,” said Babicka.

Photo: CNS/Loukas Mastis, EPA

Funeral Mass for Cardinal George – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, the Funeral Mass for Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.