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This is Christmas – Decorating the Christmas Tree

Pakistani boys decorate Christmas tree on roof of house in Islamabad

Pakistani Christian boys decorate a Christmas tree on the roof of their house in Islamabad, Pakistan

I love images and as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words.  My hope is that this over the next couple of weeks that our mini-blog series called,  This is Christmas will speak volumes of God’s presence in our lives, especially in times of uncertainty. All you have to do is see how Christmas is celebrated in varying contexts around the globe to realize this. One thing that continually strikes me is how universal our Christian faith is, and how powerful it is to see signs of faith in a world that is often a full of ambiguity, suffering, and despair. Its particularly meaningful to contemplate how this ancient message of God’s redemptive presence  in our  midst remains as arresting as the first day it was proclaimed through  ‘a voice crying out in the wilderness’. How paradoxical; how daunting and yet reassuring to know that our Creator walks with us. God is present and waiting. Isn’t that a beautiful realization? Beautiful enough to save the world.

All images courtesy of  Catholic News Service.


CNS photo/Zohra Bensemra, Reuters

Light the Way to Climate Action – Toronto


In the lead up to COP21—the landmark international climate change summit in Paris—a massive climate mobilization has started happening around the world.

On Sunday, November 29 at Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto, an event called “Light the Way to Climate Action” saw thousands of people come together of all faiths and backgrounds to stand in solidarity with millions around the world.

The Catholic Climate Movement inspired this global act of solidarity.  Over the past few months they’ve gathered close to a million signatures of Catholic bishops, priests and lay people who care about climate change and want to encourage their governments to take bold action.

The event on Sunday at the Ontario Legislature was a resounding success.  Many more people than were expected showed up for a march through Queen’s Park and a spiral dance.  The message was clear: no to fossil fuels, yes to clean energy.  Statistics show that over 80% of Canadians believe the federal government should lead the way in Canada’s efforts to lower emissions and transition to clean energy.  With the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, and the Catholic Climate Movement, the Catholic Church has become an important voice on the world stage in the battle against climate change.

Here’s an interview we did with Luke Stocking of Development and Peace:


Check out some photos from the event on Sunday!




Jesus Shows Us the Face of the Father’s Mercy: A Pastoral Letter for the Year of Mercy 2015-2016



Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s Mercy”. With these words Pope Francis invited everyone to take part in a special Jubilee Year of Mercy. It will begin on this year’s Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015 and end on next year’s Solemnity of Christ the King, November 20, 2016.

Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness,” the Holy Father wrote in Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy) instituting the Year of Mercy.

What is the Holy Father asking us to do during this special year? Two things: first, to make a good personal confession and secondly, to commit ourselves to perform works of mercy.

How are these connected? Well, it’s important for us to experience the loving and forgiving mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a graced encounter that brings inner healing, peace and joy. Once we have tasted God’s mercy ourselves, we are moved often to share that gift with others who have needs both material and spiritual.

So I am inviting each Catholic to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation—to go to Confession—at least once during the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis continually reminds us that we may tire of asking God for pardon and mercy, but he never tires of showing us mercy.

Then, in gratitude for God’s forgiveness let us show mercy to those in need. I am inviting each Catholic of our Archdiocese of Ottawa who is able to do so to perform sometime during this special year one corporal work of mercy and one spiritual work of mercy.

The corporal works of mercy are well known: to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to shelter the homeless; to visit the sick; to visit the imprisoned; to bury the dead. We are asked by Christ to recognize him in anyone in need: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me” (Matthew 25.40)  

The spiritual works of mercy are less well known but they are also important for the spiritual vitality of our faith community: to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead. The first three may require a special level of authority, competence or even extraordinary tact. The latter four are ways for us to express in daily living our life as disciples of Jesus.

Pope Francis has given each diocese the privilege of designating a Door of Mercy in the cathedral church. Traditionally such a sacred door represents the passage to salvation as well as the entryway to God’s mercy. There are seven permanent Holy Doors in the world, including the one at Notre Dame Basilica in Quebec City. These doors are normally sealed from the inside and are opened during jubilee years when those who travel to the Holy Door or Door of Mercy on a spiritual journey—known as “pilgrims”—can enter through them to gain a plenary indulgence connected with the jubilee.

On December 8, Pope Francis will usher in the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. The following Sunday, December 13 churches throughout the world will open designated “doors of mercy”.

In Ottawa, we will bless our special Door of Mercy in Notre Dame Cathedral on December 8 at special 7:30 PM Mass marking our cathedral’s patron Mary Immaculate and formally open it to pilgrims at the 9 o’clock Mass on Sunday morning, December 13.

Pilgrims are encouraged to pass through this special door during the Year of Mercy, thinking not only of God’s mercy for each of us but also of ways they can be charitable to those around them.

After passing through the designated door, pilgrims are called to complete their pilgrimage by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, professing the faith by reciting the Creed and praying for the Holy Father’s intentions. They can do this to obtain an indulgence for themselves or for one of the deceased. More information about indulgences and how to share in these spiritual riches is available at each parish and details are posted on the archdiocesan website (catholicottawa.ca).

I hope that many Catholics, including those who have become distant from the church, will make a pilgrimage to pass through the Door of Mercy at Notre Dame. You are invited to do this individually or with fellow parishioners, members of a parish or Catholic association (prayer groups, Cursillo-Challenge, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League, etc.).

Let us invoke Mary’s intercession that many may come to know more deeply the joy of God’s compassion and loving forgiveness and be able to pass it on to others in good works during this Year of Mercy.

Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Archbishop of Ottawa

Want to be happy? Settle for less.



Turns out living simply and settling for ‘good enough’ is a sure fire way to be happy. Barry Schwartz in his popular TED talk on the paradox of choice suggests that we’ve been ingrained with the idea that the way to be happy is to maximize our freedom. And the way that we maximize our freedom, we presume, is to maximize our choices. But as Schwartz demonstrates, not only are we not happier when we have too much choice; we also experience decision paralysis and diminished satisfaction.  Why? Because too many choices makes us question our decisions, sets our expectations too high, and the result is we blame ourselves for our mistakes (as pointed out in this article.)  It also interestingly explains why New Yorkers despite their plethora of choice have a hard time finding a spouse.  As Barry Schwartz puts it, ‘the key to happiness is to have low expectations’. You may chuckle at this thought as I did,  but in a sense I think this is what Pope Francis is getting at when he reminds us to live simply.  Living simply means that we are choosing to limit ourselves so that we can be truly happy and ultimately free.


Here’s what I’m saying,  there’s this Franciscan mission I once visited, I remember the place because the house echoed when you entered it and I felt that I could literally count all the objects inside  the place and, except for some flowers next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, there was nothing that wasn’t essential. Now, these Franciscans didn’t have much choice (in the conventional sense) but  I’d say that they were probably the happiest people I’ve ever met.

Now there’s a host of reasons for their joy, but I believe part of the secret to their happiness lies in the simplicity of their lives. Their radical commitment to live in solidarity with the poor means that there are a host of decisions that they’ll never have to make, and overall they will be more satisfied with what they do have.  And since every day is lived with a reliance on Divine Providence it allows them to experience genuine delight more frequently because they’re not expecting everything to be, well, perfect all the time. When was the last time you were genuinely delighted? It was probably when you weren’t expecting anything at all.


And this leads me to how we view limitations. There’s an insight I had watching the movie Gravity. Our entire lives we think of the law of gravity as something that needs to be overcome; gravity is that force that keeps you down, prevents you from getting to the stars! But, what I came to realize through the course of that movie was that no, gravity is really, really good. In fact, its  amazing –   because its what keeps you from flying off into space, its what make life on earth possible, and what makes flight enjoyable!  Limitations allow us to flourish.  So all this to say that when Pope Francis calls us to live simply, he’s  actually inviting us to be happy. To experience true abiding happiness.  And that, my friends, has got to  be worth a try.


CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

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



Remember when Pope John Paul II visited Uganda and Kenya?

While we celebrate Pope Francis’ historic visit to Uganda today, I thought I’d share with you this classic image of Pope John Paul II during his apostolic visit to Uganda in 1993. Wonderful, isn’t it?

During the 26 and a half years of his pontificate, John Paul II was a pilgrim to 129 different countries on 104 apostolic voyages, traveling 1,247,613 km (approx 750,000 miles).

How’s that for racking up airmiles!

Kenyans greet Pope John Paul II with music in Nairobi in September 1995. For the pontiff it was a busy year of travel -- 12 countries in all. In total his trips during the first 25 years of his papacy have taken him to 129 nations. (CNS file photo) (Aug. 28, 2003) See POPE25-TRAVEL Aug. 28, 2003.

And here in this photo, Kenyans greet Pope John Paul II with music in Nairobi in September 1995. 1995 was a busy year of travel for Pope John Paul — 12 countries in all.

Don’t miss a minute of Pope Francis’ historic trip to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. Watch it all right here on Salt and Light.

CNS photo from L’Osservatore Romano, Arturo Mari and CNS file photo

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries

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



The Uganda that Greets Pope Francis


During his trip to Africa, Pope Francis will land in Entebbe, Uganda on Friday, November 27. It will be the second country he visits during the voyage. As is custom, he will pay a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic and meet with civic authorities and the diplomatic corps. That same evening he will go to Munyonyo to greet catechists and teachers.

This portion of the visit bring the Holy Father in contact with a Central-Eastern African state known for its lakes and rivers: Lake Victoria and the White Nile. It is  a land crossed in the south by the Equator. It is a land of nearly 35 million inhabitants.  The capital, Kampala, owes its name to the imagination of the English who, when they arrived in this territory called it “Hills of Impala.” The Impala, of course, being  a species of antelopes.

Over the past forty years the country has experienced a constant state of political instability which we can trace to 1978, the year in which Idi Amin  – a politician and military dictator of Uganda as well as President of the country from 1971 to 1979- decided to invade Tanzania under the guise of a territorial dispute.

The plan soon proved unsuccessful and led to a huge defeat that allowed for Tanzanian invasion of Uganda, complete with looting. This represented the total defeat of the regime. Amin fled first to Libya and then Saudi Arabia. He was replaced in April 1979 by a university professor, Yusuf Lule.

After the rigged elections of 1980, the current President Yoweri Museveni took command of the National Resistance Army guarding the southern areas of the country. His command inaugurated years of guerrilla warfare, torture and bad government.

In the late 80’s, civil war tore the country apart with over 300,000 deaths. It was a struggle between the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) supported by neighboring Tanzanians, and Musveni’s NRA who took control of the country and Alice Auma’s forces, leading a para-religious army.

Victory went to the NRA. However, Joseph Kony organized an army (initially Liberation Army of the Lord, then Salvation Army Christian Kingdom, then the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA) in order to defend the rights of Acholi minorities who had exterminated during the dictatorship Idi Amin Dada, and established a theocratic state.

Only ten years ago, however, the International Criminal Court accused the leader of the LRA for crimes against humanity. He perpetrated rape, assaults, murder, child abuse, use of child soldiers, and mutilation.

The situation has stabilized in recent years. Uganda is currently a semi-presidential Republic and the president is Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement.

The Pope will find a country where about 85% of the population are Christians. Among them the two largest groups are Catholics and Anglicans who make up 45 and 35 percent of the population respectively. Only 12 percent of Ugandans are Sunni Muslims while an even smaller 2 percent of the population professes traditional African religions. Other non-Christian faiths account for less than one percent of the population.

The Holy Father will visit two shrines dedicated to the martyrs of Uganda: one a Catholic Shrine, the other Anglican. In the Catholic shrine he will celebrate a Mass for the Ugandan martyrs. It will be followed by a meeting with young people at Kololo Air Strip in Kampala, a visit to the House of Charity of Nalukolongo, meetings with the bishops of Uganda, and with the clergy and religious of the region.

That meeting will the pope’s last appointment before leaving for Bangui in the Central African Republic, the last leg of his African journey.

Pope In Kenya: Impromptu Address of Pope Francis during Meeting with Religious and Clergy


On Thursday, September 26, 2015, Pope Francis met with the clergy and religious men and women of Nairobi at a sports field at St. Mary’s School. The Holy Father set aside his prepared remarks and spoke from his heart in his mother tongue. Below you will find the full video footage of the delivery with simultaneous translation into English provided by Monsignor Mark Miles. The full text of the Holy Father’s remarks will be published here once a translation is made available.

Pope arrives in Kenya – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives Pope Francis arrives in Kenya and Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa issued a Pastoral letter for the Jubilee of Mercy

A Catholic Response to the Paris Attacks: Peace as a Work of Penance


As I begin writing this, one week has passed since the series of terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13. I currently live about 6 km from the scene of the worst of the bloodshed of November 13: the Bataclan concert hall where 89 of the 129 deaths occurred.

At about 10:15 that evening, I was finishing work for the day on an assignment when a notification from the CBC application on my cell phone flashed briefly: “Hostage-taking in Paris…” Heavily focused on my assignment, I didn’t read the rest of the notification or open the application. I hardly felt in danger from a hostage-taking that could have been happening anywhere here in one of the world’s largest cities. I would read the CBC article later, I told myself.

Not much later, I received an urgent message over social media from my friend and former colleague, Salt and Light TV Producer Alicia Ambrosio: “Are you ok”? I immediately received another message from a fellow Basilian reminding me to post a message on Facebook that I was safe. Until 3:00 am on Saturday, November 14, I was sending and replying to messages from family, friends, and Basilians to assure them of my safety.

This is not the first time I’ve been living in France when a large-scale terrorist attack has taken place, with reverberations around the world. I was a 20 year old, third year biology student on exchange from the University of Alberta when I arrived in Lille on September 11, 2001. Exhausted and trying to stay awake to adjust to the time zone, I decided to watch TV. In the student residence’s crowded little TV room, the first images I saw on French television were of airplanes piercing through one World Trade Center tower and then the other.

For days afterward, I exchanged e-mail messages with worried family and friends. Many messages I received and sent concerned the state of the post-9/11 world: Was there a peaceful way to respond to the attacks on New York? What are the ethical foundations for “just” war, and would they be met if the U.S., Canada, and European countries were to go to war against countries said to support these terrorists? What were the implications of all this for peaceful Muslims, some of whom lived in the same residence I did? Would they be feared by much of the world after 9/11? And so on…

Our world faces many of the same questions today after attacks on Paris and in Nigeria, Turkey, Kenya, and Beirut, Lebanon, as we did after September 11, 2001. I cannot help but think of the powerfully disturbing final conversation of the 1986 Roland Joffé film, “The Mission,” between the Catholic Church’s representative on site, Cardinal Altamirano, and the Portuguese Governor Dom Hontar. The Treaty of Madrid has split control of land belonging to the Guaraní natives between the Spanish and the Portuguese. The Jesuit Guaraní mission has been ordered disbanded, the Guaraní dispersed. Guaraní and Jesuit resistance has resulted in the decimation of the Guaraní under Spanish gunfire. Hontar says to Cardinal Altamirano, the viewer unsure whether he is trying to excuse his complicity in the Guaraní massacre or is truly troubled in conscience, “We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus.”

Cardinal Altamirano, either to correct Hontar, to assuage his own guilt, or both, replies: “No, Señor Hontar. Thus we have made the world… Thus I have made it.”

Thus we have made the world. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, after the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, after every act of terrorism, violence, and war in between, and with every attempt at peace, the questions remain: What kind of world have we made? What kind of future world are we making?

I will not pretend to disentangle the complexities of current Middle East conflicts and politics. There are countless questions we can ask about how we have arrived at the present global situation, some calling into question events, decision and political moves, some of which happened decades or even centuries ago.

But The Mission’s Dom Hontar is right in one thing, in spite of himself: “We must work in the world.” In spite of ourselves and our nations’ leaders perhaps we, too, have a responsibility to work in our world as it is. In particular as Catholic Christians we have a responsibility to hear again the words of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations in October 1965 and to apply them to our time: “Jamais plus la guerre! Never again war”! Never more abject poverty! Never again racism and xenophobia! Never again any kind of violence, whether in the home, verbally in the media (including social media), in politics, or within or between nations!

Ours is the Biblical call to defend especially the dignity of “the orphan, the widow, and the resident alien,” the migrant and the refugee. This does not mean to restrict acceptance of refugees unduly. Nor do I advocate stretching our countries beyond economic capabilities by setting hard and fast limits on the number of refugees, from Syria and everywhere, whom we are prepared to accept. It means adequate screening of refugee applicants coupled with a posture of openness and basic justice amid this unprecedented world crisis. The logistics of this will be different from country to country, but we must, socially and individually, work to this end, the common good and, with it, true peace.

To work toward the common good on such a worldwide scale in this time of crisis will entail deep examination of our social and national as well as individual consciences, not wallowing in guilt but moving from our sorrow at the state of our world and at the toll of human lives lost to each doing our small part, with God’s grace, to improve it. To work toward peace now is necessarily a work of penance.

Thus we have made the world, and thus we must continue to make it.

Fr. Warren Schmidt, CSB

CNS photo/Paul Haring


Fr. Warren Schmidt is a Basilian priest who currently resides in Paris. He is working on completing his doctorate in Sacramental Theology at the l’Institut Catholique de Paris. 

Pope Francis asks for Prayers for His Upcoming Trip to Africa – Perspectives Daily

What are Pope Francis’ hopes and aspirations for his upcoming trip to Africa this week? Find out here as Pope Francis tells us in his own words.

Salt + Light will be bringing you coverage of Pope Francis’ trip through Kenya, Uganda, and Central African Republic. You can find the link to our broadcasting schedule at http://saltandlighttv.org/apostolicvisit/