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Saints of the Church in Philadelphia: St. Katharine Drexel (1858 – 1955)

Katherine_Drexel

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 26, 1858, Katharine Drexel was the second of three daughters of Francis Anthony Drexel. Francis was a nationally and internationally well-known banker and philanthropist. Francis’ first wife Hannah gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth and three years later to Katharine in 1858. Never fully recovered from childbirth, Hannah died five weeks after Katharine’s birth. In 1860 Francis married Emma Bouvier. In 1863 Louise was born. Family prayer was integrated into their daily life. Emma opened the doors of the Drexel home three afternoons a week to the poor. When they were old enough, the three girls helped her distribute clothing, food, medicine, rent money, etc. They learned that wealth was a gift to be shared with those in need.

The three Drexel girls were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example Emma and Francis taught their daughters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week Emma opened the doors of their home to serve the needs of the poor. When the girls were old enough, they assisted their mother. When Francis purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pa., Katharine and Elizabeth taught Sunday school classes for the children of employees and neighbors. Their local pastor, Rev. James O’Connor (who later became bishop of Omaha), became a family friend and Katharine’s spiritual director.

When the family took a trip to the Western part of the United States, Katharine, as a young woman, saw the plight and destitution of the native Indian-Americans. This experience aroused her desire to do something specific to help alleviate their condition. At Francis’ death in 1885, besides providing for his daughters, he left $14,000,000 to charity. This was the beginning of Katharine’s lifelong personal and financial support of numerous missions and missionaries in the United States. The first school she established was St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1887).

Katharine DrexelLater, when visiting Pope Leo XIII in Rome, and asking him for missionaries to staff some of the Indian missions that she as a lay person was financing, she was surprised to hear the Pope suggest that she become a missionary herself. After consultation with her spiritual director, Bishop James O’Connor, she made the decision to give herself totally to God, along with her inheritance, through service to American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Her wealth was now transformed into a poverty of spirit that became a daily constant in a life supported only by the bare necessities. On February 12, 1891, she professed her first vows as a religious, founding the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose dedication would be to share the message of the Gospel and the life of the Eucharist among American Indians and Afro-Americans.

Always a woman of intense prayer, Katharine found in the Eucharist the source of her love for the poor and oppressed and of her concern to reach out to combat the effects of racism. Knowing that many Afro-Americans were far from free, still living in substandard conditions as sharecroppers or underpaid menials, denied education and constitutional rights enjoyed by others, she felt a compassionate urgency to help change racial attitudes in the United States.

The plantation at that time was an entrenched social institution in which black people continued to be victims of oppression. This was a deep affront to Katharine’s sense of justice. The need for quality education loomed before her, and she discussed this need with some who shared her concern about the inequality of education for Afro-Americans in the cities. Restrictions of the law also prevented them in the rural South from obtaining a basic education.

Founding and staffing schools for both Native Americans and Afro-Americans throughout the country became a priority for Katharine and her congregation. During her lifetime, she opened, staffed and directly supported nearly 60 schools and missions, especially in the West and Southwest United States. Her crowning educational focus was the establishment in 1925 of Xavier University of Louisiana, the only predominantly Afro-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States. Religious education, social service, visiting in homes, in hospitals and in prisons were also included in the ministries of Katharine and the Sisters.

In her quiet way, Katharine combined prayerful and total dependence on Divine Providence with determined activism. Her joyous incisiveness, attuned to the Holy Spirit, penetrated obstacles and facilitated her advances for social justice. Through the prophetic witness of Katharine Drexel’s initiative, the Church in the United States was enabled to become aware of the grave domestic need for an apostolate among Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She did not hesitate to speak out against injustice, taking a public stance when racial discrimination was in evidence.

St. Katharine DrexelFor the last 18 years of her life she was rendered almost completely immobile because of a serious illness. During these years she gave herself to a life of adoration and contemplation as she had desired from early childhood. She died on March 3, 1955.

Katharine left a four-fold dynamic legacy to her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who continue her apostolate today, and indeed to all peoples:

  • her love for the Eucharist, her spirit of prayer, and her Eucharistic perspective on the unity of all peoples;
  • her undaunted spirit of courageous initiative in addressing social iniquities among minorities — one hundred years before such concern aroused public interest in the United States;
  • her belief in the importance of quality education for all, and her efforts to achieve it;
  • her total giving of self, of her inheritance and all material goods in selfless service of the victims of injustice.

Mother Katharine Drexel’s cause for beatification was introduced in 1966. Pope John Paul II formally declared Drexel “Venerable” on January 26, 1987, and beatified her on November 20, 1988 after concluding that Robert Gutherman was miraculously cured of deafness in 1974 after his family prayed for Mother Drexel’s intercession. Mother Drexel was canonized on October 1, 2000, the second American-born saint (Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born US citizen canonized, in 1975). Canonization occurred after the Vatican determined that two-year-old Amy Wall had been miraculously healed of nerve deafness in both ears through Katharine Drexel’s intercession in 1994.

Here is an excerpt of Pope John Paul II’s homily during the mass of canonization in 2000:

“In the second reading of today’s liturgy, the Apostle James rebukes the rich who trust in their wealth and treat the poor unjustly. Mother Katharine Drexel was born into wealth in Philadelphia in the United States. But from her parents she learned that her family’s possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate. As a young woman, she was deeply distressed by the poverty and hopeless conditions endured by many Native Americans and Afro-Americans. She began to devote her fortune to missionary and educational work among the poorest members of society. Later, she understood that more was needed. With great courage and confidence in God’s grace, she chose to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.

To her religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, she taught a spirituality based on prayerful union with the Eucharistic Lord and zealous service of the poor and the victims of racial discrimination. Her apostolate helped to bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services. Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics.

May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”

Link to full text of Canonization Homily:

Link to Shrine
http://www.katharinedrexel.org/national-shrine/
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament
1663 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, Pennsylvania 19020

Saints of the Church in Philadelphia – John Nepomucene, C.Ss.R. (1811-1860)

John_Neumann

John Nepomucene Neumann was born on March 28, 1811 in Bohemia, the Czech portion of the present Czechoslovakia. He graduated from a nearby college in Bohemia and then applied to the seminary. John distinguished himself not only in his theological studies, but also in the natural sciences. Besides mastering Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he learned to speak fluently at least eight modern languages, including various Slavic dialects.

During his seminary studies, John had read with great interest the quarterly reports of the Missionary Society of St. Leopold containing accounts of the pioneering work being done in the United States. On the morning of February 8, 1836, he left his native home and made the trip across Europe on foot. Several months later, he set sail for New York aboard a 210-foot, three-masted ship loaded to capacity with emigrants. Six weeks later, the ship entered the harbor of New York.

A few days after arriving in New York, John Neumann sought out and met the bishop, John Dubois. Bishop Dubois had only 36 priests to care for 200,000 Catholics living in all of New York State and half of lower New Jersey. In June of 1836, the bishop ordained John Neumann as a sub-deacon, a deacon, and as a priest, all within on week’s time. Young Fr. John Neumann devoted himself to the pastoral care of all the outlying places in the parish of Buffalo for four years. From his headquarters near Buffalo, he made frequent journeys on foot in all kinds of weather to points ten or twenty miles distant, visiting the settlers on their scattered farms.

Fr. Neumann could not long keep up the strenuous work he was doing. He began to suffer from fevers that lasted as long as three months. At Easter time, 1840, he had a complete breakdown; and after recovering to some extent, he made up his mind to join the Redemptorists. After being accepted into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, John was directed to go to Pittsburgh. He was the first novice of the Redemptorists in the United States and, in 1847, he became the head of the American Redemptorists. He also wrote several German Language Catechisms and a German Bible history. Files of the US State Department show that Bishop Neumann became a naturalized citizen of the United States at Baltimore on February 10, 1848, renouncing allegiance to the Emperor of Austria in whose realm he was born on March 28, 1811.

St. John Nepomucene NeumannIn 1852, he was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia and he accepted the appointment only because Pope Pius IX commanded him to do so. Neumann the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and held that position from 1852 to 1860. On his 41st birthday, Neumann was consecrated bishop of Philadelphia by Archbishop Francis Kenrick at St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore, in 1852. The Diocese of Philadelphia was at this time the largest in the country, comprising eastern Pennsylvania, western New Jersey, and all of Delaware.

Bishop Neumann was the first in the United States to introduce the Forty Hours Devotion in his diocese. Italian immigrants remember Bishop Neumann as the founder of the first national parish for Italians in the United States. At a time when there was no priest to speak their language, no one to care for them, Bishop Neumann, who had studied Italian as a seminarian in Bohemia, gathered them together in his private chapel and preached to them in their mother tongue. In 1855 he purchased a Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, dedicated it to St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and gave them one of his seminary professors, Vincentian Father John Tornatore, to be their pastor.

From the beginning, Bishop Neumann promoted the establishment of parochial schools. There were only two such schools in 1852, but by 1860 they numbered nearly 100. He is responsible for establishing the first unified system of Catholic schools under a diocesan board. This took place a fortnight before the Plenary Council at Baltimore would seconded his proposals.

Bishop Neumann was the founder of a religious order for women, the Third Order of St. Francis of Glen Riddle, whose Rule he drafted in 1855 after returning from Rome for the solemn promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The School Sisters of Notre Dame likewise regard Bishop Neumann as their secondary founder, their “father in America.” In 1847, Father John Neumann, superior of the Redemptorist Order at the time, welcomed the first band of these teaching sisters from Munich. He found them a home in Baltimore and then provided them with teaching assignments in his Order’s parish schools at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia.

Though Bishop Neumann had suffered from frequent illnesses, his sudden death, at the age of 48, was wholly unexpected. On January 8, 1860, he went out in the afternoon to attend to some business matters and was walking back when he suffered a stroke and died. At his own request Bishop Neumann was buried in a basement crypt in Saint Peter’s Church where he would be with his Redemptorist confreres.

The cause of his beatification was begun in 1886. Ten years later, he received the title of “Venerable.” In February 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the proclamation for his beatification, but the ceremony was delayed by the death of Pope John and Pope Paul VI beatified him on October 13, 1963. In a personal letter to each bishop of the world, before the opening of the Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII asked each bishop to aim at achieving the heights of personal sanctity in order to assure its success. He reminded them of their first and highest mission of carrying on a constant policy of instruction and of pastoral visitation so that they can say: “I know my sheep, each and every one,” and that one of the great blessings that can come to a diocese is a bishop who sanctifies, who keeps watch and who sacrifices himself. All these qualities are pre-eminent in the life and holiness of Bishop Neumann, the shepherd declared Blessed during the Second Vatican Council.

Philadelphia skyline

Neumann’s canonization followed in June of 1977. Known for a lifetime of pastoral work, especially among poor German immigrants, Bishop John Neumann was the first American man to be named saint. His feast day was established on January 5th.

Pilgrims came from all over the world to his tomb in St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. From his native Bohemia, from Germany and Holland they came to claim allegiance to one of their own. In 1976 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) visited the shrine and prayed at Neumann’s tomb.

Excerpt of Homily of Pope Paul VI
CANONIZATION OF JOHN NEPOMUCENE NEUMANN
HOMILY OF PAUL VI
Sunday June 19, 1977

“Greetings to you, Brethren, and sons and daughters of the United States of America! We welcome you in the name of the Lord! The entire Catholic Church, here, at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, welcomes you with festive joy. And together with you, the entire Catholic Church sings a hymn of heavenly victory to Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, who receives the honor of one who lives in the glory of Christ.

In a few brief words we shall describe for the other pilgrims some details of his life, which are already known to you.

…We ask ourselves today: what is the meaning of this extraordinary event, the meaning of this canonization? It is the celebration of holiness. And what is holiness? It is human perfection, human love raised up to its highest level in Christ, in God.

At the time of John Neumann, America represented new values and new hopes. Bishop Neumann saw these in their relationship to the ultimate, supreme possession to which humanity is destined. With Saint Paul he could testify that “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3, 22). And with Augustine he knew that our hearts are restless, until they rest in the Lord.

His love for people was authentic brotherly love. It was real charity: missionary and pastoral charity. It meant that he gave himself to others. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, he lay down his life for the sheep, for Christ’s flock: to provide for their needs, to lead them to salvation. And today, with the Evangelist, we solemnly proclaim : “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15, 13).

John Neumann’s pastoral zeal was manifested in many ways. Through faithful John Neumann CSsRand persevering service, he brought to completion the generosity of his initial act of missionary dedication. He helped children to satisfy their need for truth, their need for Christian doctrine, for the teaching of Jesus in their lives. He did this both by catechetical instruction and by promoting, with relentless energy, the Catholic school system in the United States. And we still remember the words of our late Apostolic Delegate in Washington, the beloved Cardinal Amleto Cicognani: “You Americans”, he said, “possess two great treasures: the Catholic school and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Guard them like the apple of your eye” (Cfr. Epistola 2 iunii 1963).

And who can fail to admire all the loving concern that John Neumann showed for God’s people, through his priestly ministry and his pastoral visitations as a Bishop? He deeply loved the Sacramental of Reconciliation: and like a worthy son of Saint Alphonsus he transmitted the pardon and the healing power of the Redeemer into the lives of innumerable sons and daughters of the Church. He was close to the sick; he was at home with the poor; he was a friend to sinners. And today he is the honor of all immigrants, and from the viewpoint of the Beatitudes the symbol of Christian success.

John Neumann bore the image of Christ. He experienced, in his innermost being, the need to proclaim by word and example the wisdom and power of God, and to preach the crucified Christ. And in the Passion of the Lord he found strength and the inspiration of his ministry: Passio Christi conforta me!

…There are many who have lived and are still living the divine command of generous love. For love still means giving oneself for others, because Love has come down to humanity; and from humanity love goes back to its divine source! How many men and women make this plan of God the program of their lives! Our praise goes to the clergy, religious and Catholic laity of America who, in following the Gospel, live according to this plan of sacrifice and service. Saint John Neumann is a true example for all of us in this regard. It is not enough to acquire the good things of the earth, for these can even be dangerous, if they stop or impede our love from rising to its source and reaching its goal. Let us always remember that the greatest and the first commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Matth. 22, 36).

True humanism in Christianity. True Christianity-we repeat is the sacrifice of self for others, because of Christ, because of God. It is shown by signs; it is manifested in deeds. Christianity is sensitive to the suffering and oppression and sorrow of others, to poverty, to all human needs, the first of which is truth.

Our ceremony today is indeed the celebration of holiness. At the same time, it is a prophetic anticipation-for the Church, for the United States, for the world-of a renewal in love: love for God, love for neighbor. And in this vital charity, beloved sons and daughters, let us go forward together, to build up a real civilization of love. Saint John Neumann, by the living power of your example and by the intercession of your prayers, help us today and for ever.”

Find the full text here.

National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia
http://www.stjohnneumann.org/

Who was Junípero Serra and why is he becoming a Saint?

Junipero Serra in US Capitol Statuary Hall

During his Apostolic Visit to the United States of America next month, Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Blessed Junípero Miguel José Serra Ferrer  (Fray Junipero Serra) at 4:15 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday afternoon,September 23, 2015. Earlier that same day, he will be formally welcomed at the White House by US President Barack Obama and also meet with the Bishops of the United States at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

Blessed Junipero Serra (1713 – 1784), a Franciscan Missionary, died at the aged of 70 at the St Charles Borromeo Mission in Carmel, Monterey (California) in 1784, where he is now buried under the sanctuary floor. Pope Francis has recently said that Serra’s work of evangelization “reminds us of the first “12 Franciscan apostles” who were pioneers of the Christian faith in Mexico… . He ushered in a new springtime of evangelization in those immense territories, extending from Florida to California, which, in the previous two hundred years, had been reached by missionaries from Spain.”

Some experts are writing these days about Serra’s negative effects and impact on indigenous persons, Serra defended the indigenous peoples against abuses by the colonizers. The canonization of Blessed Serra, like those of other American saints, speaks to the deep spiritual roots and holiness of America. Among the many questions I have received about Blessed Junipero Serra’s life, ministry in California in the 18th century, and appropriateness and timing of his canonization, are those regarding the very meaning of canonization and holiness as well as the potentially negative impact that this canonization could have upon Native (indigineous) peoples throughout the world.

When social justice struggles become the ideological test for the veneration of martyrs, blessed and saints, we must ask some deeper questions. That persons are declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the pastoral agenda of the Petrine Ministry of the current Pope or of the Vatican.

Martyrdom, beatification and canonization mean that persons lived their lives with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. Though they may have experienced moral solitude, they manifested incredible hope and peace and brought many people to God. The proclamation of new saints and blesseds invites us to look beyond the labels and stereotypes that we often place on the martyrs, blessed, saints and all holy men and women, and consider the ultimate witness and gifts of their lives to God. We must learn from their examples of how they transformed hatred and violence into love, and only love. Having willed the one thing in their lives, the martyrs, saints and blesseds allowed themselves to be touched by God at the core of their beings that was beyond words, conceptualization, imagination and feeling. Such persons let those around them know that there is a force or spirit animating their lives that is not of this world, but the next.  They let us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and show us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

It is hoped that this background information would address the matters of the meaning of canonization and holiness as well as provide for you numerous texts of both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis that provide important elements of Blessed Junipero Serra’s life and ministry. The frequent references to Blessed Serra by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis answer some of the questions people are asking on the eve of Serra’s canonization in Washington.

Who Was Junipero Serra?

Junípero Serra was born in 1713 in Majorca, Spain, a son of Antonio Nadal Serra and Margarita Rosa Ferrer who spent their lives as farmers. In Petra, Spain, Serra attended the primary school of the Franciscans conducted at the friary of San Bernardino. At the age of fifteen he was taken by his parents to Palma to be placed in the charge of a cathedral canon, and he began to assist at classes in philosophy held in the Franciscan monastery of San Francisco.

He took the name Junípero when he joined the Franciscan order in 1730. He taught for more than a decade before going to Mexico in 1749. After working as a missionary in Sierra Gorda and Mexico City, Serra was sent to California. He made the trip by foot despite having terrible sores on his legs. Once he reached California, Serra established his first mission, San Diego de Alcalá, in 1769. He built eight more missions over the next thirteen years: San Antonio de Padua; San Gabriel, Arcángel; San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa; San Juan Capistrano; San Francisco de Asis; and San Buenaventura. Serra worked tirelessly tirelessly to maintain the missions and is credited with helping the Spanish establish a presence in California.

Serra died in 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo located in present-day Carmel, California. The site is now home to the National Shrine to Blessed Junípero Serra, and many visitors go there each year to honor the famous missionary.

Full Text of Biography of Serra from Franciscan Website.

Serra Stamp

Excerpt of HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION AT THE PONTIFICAL NORTH AMERICAN COLLEGE

Janiculum Hill, Rome
Saturday May 2, 2015

“What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth? Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel ad gentes, that heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty. Like Paul and Barnabas, like the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, he was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord. Such zeal excites us, it challenges us! These missionary disciples who have encountered Jesus, the Son of God, who have come to know him through his merciful Father, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries, to bear witness to charity. They challenge us! Sometimes we stop and thoughtfully examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and their shortcomings. But I wonder if today we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy. Friar Junípero’s witness calls upon us to get involved, personally, in the mission to the whole continent, which finds its roots in Evangelii Gaudium.

Full text found here.

Excerpt from ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
ON THEIR «AD LIMINA» VISIT

Wednesday June 8, 1988

“One event of those days has a very special relevance now. It is the visit that I made to the Basilica of Carmel and to the tomb of Fray Junipero Serra. In less than three months from now, some of us will gather again here as the Church beatifies him, officially proclaiming him worthy of honour and imitation by all. In venerating “the Apostle of California” at his tomb I spoke of his contribution, which was “to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age.” I also endeavoured to present his essential message, which is the constant need to evangelize. In that context I stated: “Like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people”.

Full text found at here.

Excerpt from ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

Basilica of the Mission of San Carlos in Carmel
Thursday, September 17, 1987

Junipero SerraI come today as a pilgrim to this Mission of San Carlos, which so powerfully evokes the heroic spirit and heroic deeds of Fray Junípero Serra and which enshrines his mortal remains. This serene and beautiful place is truly the historical and spiritual heart of California. All the missions of El Camino Real bear witness to the challenges and heroism of an earlier time, but not a time forgotten or without significance for the California of today and the Church of today.

These buildings and the men who gave them life, especially their spiritual father, Junípero Serra, are reminders of an age of discovery and exploration. The missions are the result of a conscious moral decision made by people of faith in a situation that presented many human possibilities, both good and bad, with respect to the future of this land and its native peoples. It was a decision rooted in a love of God and neighbour. It was a decision to proclaim the Gospelof Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age, which was extremely important for both the European settlers and the Native Americans.

Very often, at crucial moments in human affairs, God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church. Although their story unfolds within the ordinary circumstances of daily life, they become larger than life within the perspective of history. We rejoice all the more when their achievement is coupled with a holiness of life that can truly be called heroic. So it is withJunípero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the Apostle of California, and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of this land and its people, whatever their religion might be. This apostolic awareness is captured in the words ascribed to him: “In California is my life and there, God willing, I hope to die”. Through Christ’s Paschal Mystery, that death has become a seed in the soil of this state that continues to bear fruit “thirty – or sixty – or a hundred-fold” (Matth. 13, 9).

Father Serra was a man convinced of the Church’s mission, conferred upon her by Christ himself, to evangelize the world, to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid. 28, 19). The way in which he fulfilled that mission corresponds faithfully to the Church’s vision today of what evangelization means: “… the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieux which are theirs” Pauli VI Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).

He not only brought the Gospel to the Native Americans, but as one who lived the Gospel he also became their defender and champion. At the age of sixty he journeyed from Carmel to Mexico City to intervene with the Viceroy on their behalf – a journey which twice brought him close to death – and presented his now famous Representación with its “bill of rights”, which had as their aim the betterment of every phase of missionary activity in California, particularly the spiritual and physical well-being of its Native Americans.

Father Serra and his fellow missionaries shared the conviction found everywhere in the New Testament that the Gospel is a matter of life and salvation. They believed that in offering to people Jesus Christ, they were doingsomething of immense value, importance and dignity. What other explanation can there be for the hardships that they freely and gladly endured, like Saint Paul and all the other great missionaries before them: difficult and dangerous travel, illness and isolation, an ascetical life-style, arduous labour, and also, like Saint Paul, that “concern for all the churches” (2Cor. 11, 28) which Junípero Serra, in particular, experienced as Presidente of the California missions in the face of every vicissitude, disappointment and opposition.

Dear brothers and sisters: like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people. The way in which we fulfil that mission will be different from theirs. But their lives speak to us still because of their sure faith that the Gospel is true, and because of their passionate belief in the value of bringing that saving truth to others at great personal cost. Much to be envied are those who can give their lives for something greater than themselves in loving service to others. This, more than words or deeds alone, is what draws people to Christ.

This single-mindedness is not reserved for great missionaries in exotic places. It must be at the heart of each priest’s ministry and the evangelical witness of every religious. It is the key to their personal sense of well-being, happiness and fulfilment in what they are and what they do. This single-mindedness is also essential to the Christian witness of the Catholic laity. The covenant of love between two people in marriage and the successful sharing of faith with children require the effort of a lifetime. If couples cease believing in their marriage as a sacrament before God, or treat religion as anything less than a matter of salvation, then the Christian witness they might have given to the world is lost. Those who are unmarried must also be steadfast in fulfilling their duties in life if they are to bring Christ to the world in which they live.

“In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything” (Phil. 4, 13). These words of the great missionary, Saint Paul, remind us that our strength is not our own. Even in the martyrs and saints, as the liturgy reminds us, it is “(God’s) power shining through our human weakness” (Praefatio Martyrum). It is the strength that inspired Father Serra’s motto: “always forward, never back”. It is the strength that one senses in this place of prayer so filled with his presence. It is the strength that can make each one of us, dear brothers and sisters, missionaries of Jesus Christ, witnesses of his message, doers of his word.

Full text found at here.

MEETING WITH THE NATIVE PEOPLES OF THE AMERICAS

Excerpt from ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix
Monday September 14, 1987

Serra in US Capitol Statuary Hall 2“One priest who deserves special mention among the missionaries is the beloved Fray Junipero Serra, who travelled throughout Lower and Upper California. He had frequent clashes with the civil authorities over the treatment of Indians. In 1773 he presented to the Viceroy in Mexico City aRepresentación, which is sometimes termed a “Bill of Rights” for Indians. The Church had long been convinced of the need to protect them from exploitation. Already in 1537, my predecessor Pope Paul III proclaimed the dignity and rights of the native peoples of the Americas by insisting that they not be deprived of their freedom or the possession of their property. In Spain the Dominican priest, Francisco de Vitoria, became the staunch advocate of the rights of the Indians and formulated the basis for international law regarding the rights of peoples.

Unfortunately not all the members of the Church lived up to their Christian responsibilities. But let us not dwell excessively on mistakes and wrongs, even as we commit ourselves to overcoming their present effects. Let us also be grateful to those who came to this land, faithful to the teachings of Jesus, witnesses of his new commandment of love. These men and women, with good hearts and good minds, shared knowledge and skills from their own cultures and shared their most precious heritage, the faith, as well. Now, we are called to learn from the mistakes of the past and we must work together for reconciliation and healing, as brothers and sisters in Christ. “

Full text found at here.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Mellifluous Monasticism

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Memorial: August 20

Considered the last of the Fathers of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has been celebrated for centuries as a man of great intellect and greater holiness. As is evident in his prolific writings, Bernard was one for whom the Word of God impregnated every aspect of the human experience. He knew the Bible by heart and was said to speak and write scripturally.

Relying solely on the pages of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Early Church Fathers in the development of his theology, Bernard rejected philosophical traditions that detracted from the integrity of the faith, and dismissed those who sought knowledge for the sake of curiosity, personal profit, or their own renown. In his seminal collection of sermons on the Song of Songs, he wrote: “There are also those who seek knowledge in order to edify, and this is charity. And there are those who seek knowledge in order to be edified, and this is prudence.”

Bernard’s theology was mirrored in his spirituality, which was grounded in his love of Sacred Scripture and his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He was a champion of Lectio Divina — the prayerful reading of Bible passages, and a leading figure in the explosion of Marian devotion that dominated Catholic piety in the twelfth century. For Bernard, life was a radical experience with the love of God; his was a life of fraternity, asceticism, and a daily encounter with the humanity of Christ. Love for Christ, he said, is the first step to genuine prayer.

Born in 1090 to a Burgundian family of great wealth and prestige, in 1113, he entered the premier Cistercian monastery at Cîteaux accompanied by thirty noblemen he had convinced to join him. His life’s work would be the renewal of the Cistercian order and monastic life in general, in addition to the refinement of Marian devotion and theology. Within three years of his arrival at Cîteaux, he was sent to establish a Cistercian house at Vallée d’Absinthe, which as abbot he renamed Claire Vallée, or Clairvaux. From Clairvaux, the “Valley of Lights,” he would reignite the vigour and vibrancy of Western monasticism, and return it to its roots through strict adherence to the austere Rule of St. Benedict. After overcoming its initial growing pains, under Bernard’s guidance the abbey would attract a flurry of postulants, including the saint’s widower father and five brothers.

Before long three more Cistercian monasteries would spring up to accommodate the overflow of vocations flocking to Clairvaux. All in all, Bernard’s work resulted in the foundation of 163 Cistercian monasteries across Europe. At the time of his death on this day in 1153, Clarivaux boasted 700 religious and 363 monasteries attributed their establishment to his influence. The adept abbot was known for his affection for his brother monks, and his reintegration of manual labour into the daily life of the monk, following the model and motto of St. Benedict: Ora et labora, “work and prayer.”

In addition to his pastoral duties as abbot, Bernard played an key role in the suppression of numerous heresies that arose in his day, and was charged with preaching the Second Crusade, which under his spiritual direction was wildly successful in attracting recruits: common-folk and nobility alike. In his day, he was among the most influential figures in all of Christendom, admired as the “conscience of all Europe.” He secured the election of Pope Innocent II over the antipope Analectus III, and in 1145 his disciple and confrere, Bernardo of Pisa, became Eugenius III. The example and influence of St. Bernard’s austerity revolutionized the practice of Western monasticism, and prompted Pope Alexander III’s formulation of the Code of Canon Law. His canonization in 1174 made him the first Cistercian monk to be raised to the glory of the altar, and his eloquence as a preacher gained him the title Doctor Mellifluus, which means “Honey-Sweet” or “Honey-tongued” Doctor. For ages untold, the great abbot of Clairvaux will be extolled for what Pius XII termed the “brilliance of [his] doctrine and splendor of [his] holiness” (Doctor Mellifluus 2).

May we look to his life as an example of the beauty of our faith and the simplicity with which we are to live it out. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, today and always, pray for us!

An excerpt from Sermon 83 of St. Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs

“Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return.”

Memorare of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly unto thee O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother, to thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but, in thy mercy, hear and answer me.
Amen.

Curé of Ars, Curer of Hearts

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Today is the bicentenary of the priestly ordination of the Curé of Ars. God always supplies the Church with saints in each century, but a few of these shine so brightly that everyone can recognize them even during their lifetime. St. John Vianney is such a saint, who easily became my favourite after I had read much about him. When I had the chance to visit Ars ten years ago, I was brought to tears on entering the Basilica of St. Sixtus and praying before his incorrupt body.

Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was ordained in the Major Seminary of Grenoble on Sunday, 13 August 1815, a feat that was nearly miraculous. Without proper education (only a year of school at the age of nine), he failed seminary examinations so badly that earned him the title of “the most unlearned and the most devout seminarian in Lyon”. None of this mattered as the vicar general allowed his ordination at the age of 29 in light of his reputation of goodness and holiness.

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After three years of apprenticeship at Ecully, he was appointed as pastor of the tiny village of Ars-sur-Formans, 30 km north of Lyon, with a population of merely 230. He arrived in Ars when the people were in a constant state of drunkeness, profanity and immorality after the Napoleanic era. At the doorstep of the church, he prayed, “My God, make the sheep entrusted to me come back to a good way of life. For all my life I am prepared to endure anything that pleases you.” His wish was indeed granted, for he would have to endure great sufferings and mortifications for the next 41 years in this village, serving his flock until his death.

Through home visits, genuine care for his flock and powerful witness of purity and holiness, he brought back all the people in the village into the church. His fame spread when people realized he could multiply food in an orphanage. He became known for his ability to read souls, discern spirits and even prophesize. Soon people from near and far flocked to this tiny church to confess to this living saint; he had to spend 12 to 16 hours every day just to hear confessions. His ability to cure people of physical illnesses did not lessen his workload. More importantly, countless people who came to see him were converted from their former lives. By 1855, 20,000 people came annually, to the extent that Lyons railway had to establish a special booking office to handle the waves of travellers.

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Mozzetta of an honorary canon

Much can be read about this saint and many of his homilies are well preserved. Here is an episode of a really sad day in his life that I will share. At one time when his bishop came to visit him, the pastor rejoiced and welcomed him. This attitude totally changed when the bishop announced to the crowd that he was to name their pastor as an titular canon of the cathedral chapter, and invested him with a mozzetta, the vestment proper to the honorary office. He tried to shrug off the cape during the Mass, and never again wore it but sold it immediately for charitable purpose. He avoided all honour and preferred saving souls and self-mortification as reparation of sins.

Vianney’s understanding of liturgy totally influenced me. While he lived and dressed very poorly, he spared nothing for the Sacrament of the Altar. He would make use of the most beautiful decorations inside the church, vested solemnly and employed the beautiful vessels whenever he celebrated liturgy. He understood the liturgy as an action and worship of Christ, unlike the anthropocentric emphasis of liturgy in the present days where people wrongly place the focus on the celebrant or themselves.

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When he met his eternal reward on on 4 August 1859, he left the Church with an example of zeal for souls, piety, sanctity, simplicity, obedience, and other virtues too numerous to enumerate. Pope Pius X beatified him in 1905; Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1925 and made him the patron saint of pastors in 1929. Pope John XXIII devoted his whole second encyclical Sacerdotii nostri promordia just to this saint. Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year for Priests during 2009-2010 in the memory of St. John Vianney and extended his patronage over all priests.

The Basilica of Ars, which was built as an extension of the Curé’s original church, has been celebrating a Jubilee Year for the bicentenary since 2 February 2015 and having its Holy Door open, one of eight churches in the world with this distinctive privilege. Let us make a pilgrimage on foot or in our heart to the shrine, and pray that our Church has more priests like the Pastor of Ars, as his vicar general once said, “The Church wants not only learned priests but, even more, holy ones.”

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Photo credit: Gabriel Chow

Ignatius of Loyola – A Conversion for the World

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*Note: This post was originally published on July 31, 2012. 

One of the most spiritually touching moments I had in my life was last year during my work for the national committee of World Youth Day Madrid. I had the opportunity to visit Loyola, the town where today’s saint (St. Ignatious of Loyola) is from.

Why was this trip spiritually touching? Not just because of the company – I went with two Canadian volunteers and an American priest – but also because of what you feel once you set  foot on that land. You feel like there is a straight line between heaven and earth. You feel touched by a peace that is difficult to find in other places.

We departed from Madrid on a sweltering summer afternoon and drove to the Basque country, specifically to Azpeitia wich is the name for Loyola in Euskara the basque language. When we arrived I felt immediately touched by a peace that is difficult to describe. As time passed that peace helped me open my heart and let God get in.

The next morning, I found myself going up the stairs to the famous Conversion Chapel. I couldn’t imagine how special that moment could be. Ignatius’ conversion is a unique episode. During the battle of Pamplona he was hit in the leg with a canon ball. After the leg healed he thought his leg didn’t look good and decided to undergo corrective surgery. That recovery was longer than the first one. During this process of recovery, he asked for chivalric romances (stories of knights) to read but there were no such books in the house, only a copy of The Life of Christ and some biographies of saints. He decided to read these because he thought it would help him to conquer the ladies of the court. Instead, Ignatius realized how empty he was, and how his bohemian life didn’t bring him peace. In that same room where he had his conversion, I could feel how special and how big was the work God started there.

In that Conversion Chapel God planted the seeds of the Society of Jesus which played a major role in the Christianization of the American continent. That reminded me how sometimes God chooses a not-so-perfect seed to make good things come from it.

On that green land lost between mountains of the north of Spain, Ignatius , a son of Loyola, started a beautiful work of God. His conversion led to the conversion of a large part of the world. After that day in the chapel the sense that God uses not the perfect, but the ones he knows can do the work, accompanies me.

As Ignatius discovered God in his life in that room, I discovered where the message of St. Ignatius of Loyola fit on my life. On this 31st of July when the church celebrates his feast I say, St Ignatius, pray for us.

The Strong Arm of the Church: The Knights of Columbus

A household name for many, the Knights of Columbus have grown into the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. But, surprisingly, there’s still a lot of mystery that surrounds these noble men. In light of the upcoming Supreme Convention, we thought you might want to find out why the Knights remain the ‘Strong Arm of the Church’.

Don’t forget to tune in for Salt + Light’s live coverage of this year’s 133rd Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus.

Transformed from Misery by Mercy

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On the Feast of Mary Magdalene – July 22

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” The famous maxim first appeared in the letters of St. Augustine, when he wrote, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” Mohandas Ghandi later used it in his autobiography when he wrote: “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” But I can’t think of any figure who better exemplifies the essence of this phrase than Saint Mary Magdalene, whose feast the Church celebrate today.

What lessons can we learn from the life of Mary Magdalene? The Gospels reveal a woman marked by a past of demons, who encountered the forgiveness of Jesus and was forever changed. For Mary Magdalene, Jesus changed everything. Jesus was everything. His healing power in her life meant that she could no longer remain her old self, she was transformed, made new in the love of her Saviour. He set her free of the demons that possessed her so that she could pursue a path of discipleship, closely following Jesus and being part of the community of His friends.

What does this mean for us? I think each of us has experienced how easy it can be to become discouraged, disappointed, ashamed, and despairing when we see our own weakness. We can become mired in guilt, anger, and regret when we look at our own frailty and inadequacies. We spin a cocoon of negative emotion that has the power to paralyze us in our own selves. But Jesus never discourages us. He alone is perfect, and calls us to that same perfection. His power propels us onwards to the destiny for which we were created: an eternity of beholding His face, as Mary Magdalene did that bright Easter morning. Mary Magdalene shows us that there is something greater than our sinfulness, our shortcomings and the strife they cause. It is the Man she mistook for the Gardener, and His power to forgive and save us. We are miserable, but He is merciful, and His heart goes out to us. This is the very meaning of Mercy.

Mary Magdalene could have fixated on her demons and remained in the cycle of sin that was dominating her life. Instead, she reached out to Jesus, and allowed Him to reach out to her. She allowed his love to be more powerful than her sins, and her debilitating demons gave way to exemplary discipleship. She heard His call to: “Come, follow me.” And when you do, “Do not be afraid.”

For the Christian, our life-changing encounter with the merciful love of God through Jesus Christ is not just a one-time experience but a constant renewal brought about by the transformative power of Christ at work in our lives. This love is offered to us each day of our lives, and especially when we fail, fall, and flounder. Do we receive it? Do we accept it? Are we open to it? Do we trust in it? Do we allow it to renew us and urge us on? Does it leave us forever changed?

Mary Magdalene had not one demon but seven. Her story is relevant for us no matter what our demons may be. She was a sinner but more than that, she was loved. She allowed her life to become a response of love to the one who loved her first. Weeping she would remain with him at the foot of the the Cross, despairing as he hung dying for the world. “While it was still dark” on the first day of the week, burdened with tears and spices for burial she would venture early to His empty tomb, astonished to encounter Him anew. Especially as we approach the Jubilee Year for Mercy called by Pope Francis, let us encounter Him anew with her, trusting again in His mercy and proclaiming with her: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18) By Him may we be forever changed.

Feast Day of St. Josemaria Escriva: 40th Death Anniversary & The Marian Year of the Family

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Trisha Villarante

Trisha Villarante

This month there will be hundreds of Masses heard around the globe in honour of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, whose feast day is on June 26th. But, in Vancouver, on Saturday, June 20th, about six hundred faithful gathered at St. Mary’s Ukraine Catholic Church to kick off the celebration a little earlier this year. 2015 marks the 40th death anniversary of St. Josemaria since his passing in 1975 in Rome, Italy.

This was the first time the annual celebratory Mass was held at St. Mary’s Ukraine Catholic Church, which reflected the ecumenical spirit that St. Josemaria emphasized during Vatican II. The Mass began at 11 am with confession available at 10 am. Regular attendees of this celebration were well prepared and began arriving before 10 am to find parking and seats. By 10:30 am the parking lot was completely full and attendees were making their way to the church from the neighboring streets.

At the entrance of the church, an impressive exhibit of panels was on display portraying St. Josemaria’s remarkable life in the form of old photographs and biographical excerpts. Each panel highlighted different events from his childhood in Spain, his ordination to the priesthood, the beginnings of Opus Dei in Madrid and Rome, up to his final years of service to God through Opus Dei and the Catholic Church.

Vicar General, Reverend Joseph Phuong Nguyen, was the principal celebrant with several other concelebrants including Fr. Fernando and newly ordained Father Paul Goo. In his Homily, Father Nguyen emphasized St. Josemaria’s life as an inspiration to practice the virtues of humility and trust in sanctifying one’s ordinary life. In his Homily he paralleled the Gospel of Luke regarding Peter and the miraculous catch and the life of St. Josemaria.

“Faith requires a lot of sacrifice, hardships and moments of doubt like St. Peter, but we must always persevere as St. Josemaria did to always be in unity with our Lord.” – Fr. Nguyen

Anna Eastland, an attendee at Saturday’s Mass shared, “Fr. Nguyen reminded us, (holiness and success) is not for the privileged few, because the Lord expects love from us all. He encouraged everyone to be a disciple of Christ in their chosen profession, and to make their occupation a way to Heaven.”

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Members of Opus Dei and their families and friends attended this year not only in honour of the 40th death anniversary of St. Josemaria, but in celebration of the Marian Year of the Family; convoked by the prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarría. The Marian year of the Family is a yearlong intention for 2015, which began on the Feast day of the Holy Family on December 28th, 2014. The special intention was implemented, “to place in our Lady’s hands all the needs of the Church and of mankind, and to follow faithfully the Pope’s intentions.”

This month, Bishop Echevarria released a powerful video about the importance of family and their duty to find Christ in their daily lives. As June marks the halfway point for this Year of the Family, the video acts as reminder that parents have the primary responsibility for educating their children and that the institution of the family is the cell of society. The formation of individuals is dependent on well-formed parents, which is a dire need in today’s world. The video can be viewed here on the Opus Dei website.

St. Josemaria Escriva is coined the Saint of Ordinary Life, and has always put great importance on the institution of the family. In the text, Conversations with Msgr. Escriva (page 91) a brief summary of his emphasis on the family can be found,

“We must strive so that these cells of Christianity may be born and may develop with a desire for holiness… all Christians have a divine mission that each must fulfill in his own walk of life. Christian couples should be aware that they are called to sanctify themselves and to sanctify others… and that their first apostolate is in the home. They should understand that founding a family, educating their children, and exercising a Christian influence in society are supernatural tasks… their happiness depends… on their awareness of their specific mission.”

St. Mary’s church was filled with the spirit of family with newborns, newly weds, parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. It is evident that the teachings of St. Josemaria have been instilled in the hearts of the faithful around the world, and Saturday’s Mass was a humble snippet of what good he has influenced throughout the generations. The Mass was followed by a reception, which flowed from the church basement to the parking lot as everyone gathered to greet one another as one big family.

At the reception, stories were shared about the graces received from the intercession of St. Josemaria and how his influence has helped them and their family and friends. One woman shared that her and her husband’s lives were changed after attending their first retreats run by Opus Dei, thanks to an invitation by her friend. She expressed gratitude for his teachings, which inspired her and her husband to fall in love with their Faith and to connect it with their daily lives in divine filiation.

“The idea that when you open up to (God) in humility and trust he makes you so much more capable of doing things that you would have never imagined. Summed up simply, sanctifying ordinary life and daily work has become essential to us.” – Daniela O

Today, June 26th, thousands of people all around the world will be seeking the intercession of St. Josemaria especially on this feast day.  If you haven’t already, it may be a good idea to take the opportunity to pray for your intentions and those of your family and friends by saying his prayer card.

To learn more about Opus Dei and St. Josemaria Escriva, check out the S+L film Opus Dei: Decoding God’s Work. 

Written by Trisha Villarante

Let’s go to Montreal!

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This week I traveled to Montreal with my co-worker, Karen D’Souza. We were excited to check out Salt + Light’s new pied-à-terre and reconnect with our co-workers in person (there really is no substitution for a face to face). As you’ll see, our new office is very much a work in progress; but, I hope you’ll agree there’s a lot of potential!

Below, Jeroen van der Biezen, Technical Director in Montreal, gives me the grand tour.

And, here’s the Daily Perspectives that Jeroen mentions.

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An added bonus of working out of Montreal this past week, was the chance to stay at the Oratory’s John XIII Pavilion. The pavilion is conveniently located right next to the Oratory. The simple but clean accommodations provide the opportunity to attend daily mass and visit the tomb of St. Brother Andre.

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Since, both Karen and I have a strong devotion to St. Joseph, we were thrilled at the chance to visit the Oratory. Here’s a little vignette of that experience –


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.