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Mom Made Me Do It

Rosemary-Azu

Rosemary Azu is hard to miss in a crowd. She has a natural presence that draws people to her. The fact that she is usually dressed in brightly coloured traditional Nigerian dresses also makes her stand out. That natural confidence in her own identity has helped her build her own successful mortgage and real estate business, and raise three sons. But Azu’s face really lights up when she talks about the women at her parish and her Catholic Women’s Leauge council. “Catholic women are different…Catholic women are gifted, and we have to be proud of that!” she says.

It is hard to believe that she almost did not join the CWL and had to be convinced by other women every time she was asked to take on greater responsibility within her council.

Azu moved to Coquitlam, British Columbia in 1993 and looked for a parish to join. At that first parish she heard an announcement that the CWL council was holding a meeting. “In Nigeria the Catholic women’s organization is open to all married women, you don’t need to join or sign up,” she explained. Adding that in her native country when a Catholic woman marries the other married women of the parish present her with the uniform of the Catholic women’s organization.

Her first experience with the CWL in Canada was definitely a very different experience. “I showed up at the announced time and had to knock on the door [of the meeting room]. They opened the door, let me in, and continued with the meeting,” Azu recalls. She sat at the back of the meeting room for two hours listening to the members “all of whom were over 80 years old” discuss council business. At the end of the meeting Azu said the group prayed. “No one asked me why I was there. No one talked to me. I left that meeting and never went back,” she said.

Time passed. Azu discovered that based on where she lived she actually should have been attending All Saints parish in Coquitlam. She began attending that parish and things changed. Azu made friends there and became an active member of the parish community. One of those friends was the woman who served as Organization Chair for the parish’s CWL council. Azu recalls “she kept telling me I should join but after that first experience at my previous parish I said ‘no way, not for me.’”

Azu might have gotten away with saying “no” had her father not been visiting. As fathers do, he encouraged his daughter to put aside her idea of the CWL and try again. He also relayed the story to Azu’s mother who was back in Nigeria. That was the decisive factor. Her mother urged her to get involved. Azu joined the parish CWL and quietly participated in the council’s various activities as much as she could. At the time she had three young sons, was working full time, and planning to start her own business.

In 2006, while her mother was visiting from Nigeria, a friend from Azu’s CWL council asked if she would let her name stand in the upcoming elections for council executives. Azu hesitated but her mother urged her to “be more involved with the women.” A week later the same friend called back to say Azu had been elected council treasurer. She went on to serve two consecutive two year terms as treasurer, followed by a two year term as as Christian Life Chair. “Then I decided I was going to sit on the backbench for awhile,” she said..    

That was not to be. A trusted friend and mentor in the parish, who was also a CWL member, asked Azu to stand for Organizational Chair. Out of sheer respect for this fellow CWL member Azu agreed to let her name to stand. She was elected and served a two year term. Again, at the end of the two year term Azu intended to step aside and let someone else get involved. Again the same friend approached and asked her to let her name stand for election once more. Thinking she would end up serving another two years as Organizational Chair Azu agreed. Instead she was elected Council President. Azu’s mother was overjoyed. Azu says all she could think was “I have two full time jobs, I have no time!”

Azu’s mother convinced her to accept this new responsibility. “My mom told me ‘there is something these women see in you that you don’t see yourself.’” She took the leap and accepted her election as president. “I thought I was not ready, and it is true I was not. But you can’t be ready because God makes you ready,” Azu said recalling her experiences as council executive.

Her mother’s advice seems to have been accurate. During Azu’s time on the council’s executive committee, membership has grown. In the the last three years the council has gone from 163 members, to 165 to 175 members. In part it may be due to the fact that “I love to talk to people,” says Azu. She makes a special point of talking to the women of the parish. “We are all members of the Catholic Women’s League by virtue of the fact that we are all Catholic Women. I tell them the only thing they need to do is make it official by filling in the [membership] form.”

Of course one woman can not lead alone, nor can she lead a group that only has meetings but does not take action. “There are three past-presidents in our council, and I rely on them for support and advice. When I need help it is always there. That shows me that God is in this.” Azu said. Together Azu and the women of All Saint’s CWL council work to meet the needs of their parish community and the country.

Azu’s council collects clothing, food and money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society which provides support to people in need. To support education, the council gives out two bursaries each year: one to a student entering High School and one to a university student. Of course, to help foster a sense of community within the parish and provide parishioners a chance to get to know each other the council provides hospitality after Sunday Masses.

Although she says there are still days when she doesn’t know how she will balance the demands of her business, her family, and the CWL council, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I tell women don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. You can’t make a difference watching from the corner” she said..

Photo c/o Olaf Photo.

One Rock 2015

OneRock

Last weekend, our Salt and Light team had the honour of being on hand for the sixth annual One Rock Youth Festival just outside of Calgary, Alberta. The Tsuu T’ina Rodeo Grounds provided a cozy home for the event, attended not just by young people, but young families and those of all ages from across western Canada. The bulk of the organizational effort was shouldered by the Diocese of Calgary, who with over 200 volunteers hosted three-day gathering.

Originally conceived as a “Catholic Woodstock” by the pastor of a remote parish 100km east of Calgary, the event has blossomed into something much bigger. It now draws a couple of thousand people and has the full backing of the bishops of Alberta. I noticed particularly during my time at the festival, the degree to which Calgary’s Bishops Fred Henry was invested in the proceedings. There was an obvious love for the atmosphere and those present, as was evidence by the beaming smile he bore for each of the three days he attended. Bishop Henry and his brother bishops in Alberta have shown a true desire to provide an opportunity for young people to recharge and deepen their faith lives in a way that is full of fun, but also deep in substance and truth.

There was an impressive list of speakers and musicians who brought alive the weekend, however the true stars were the volunteers and the attendees. Despite being plagued with cold and damp mid-August weather, it hardly dampened their spirits. In fact, countless numbers still camped in tents despite the conditions, and were rewarded with a bright and sunny Sunday morning Mass.

Six years in, One Rock is still in its infancy and continues to grow in size and scope. Our Salt + Light crew were able to capture moments from throughout the weekend and this fall, we’ll share with our viewers a half hour look at this budding event. It is our hope that One Rock can truly shine and that what started as a dream in a small town in southern Alberta, will become a festival that will find its way into the national spotlight.

Women’s Business

WomenBusiness

When one thinks of Prince Edward Island one tends to think of glowing sunsets over green fields, farms where animals roam free, small towns where everyone knows everyone else, and quaint green-gabled homes. One would not immediately think of the province as a place where 37 percent of people use the services of food banks to make ends meet. That’s more than twice the national average.

Low wages, a lack of full time jobs and high rates of seasonal work contribute to the disproportionately high rate of food bank use in P.E.I. Among those looking for help making ends meet are women. One of the things women using food banks often can not afford, but urgently need, are feminine hygiene products. This past spring the Catholic Women’s League in P.E.I. got in on a campaign to stock food bank shelves with those necessary, but often forgotten, products.

The “Taking Care of Women’s Business. Period.” Campaign was launched by a Tracey Comeau, a P.E.I woman who read about low income women feeling like their last shred of dignity was robbed when they could no longer afford feminine hygiene products. Comeau launched a 28 day campaign to collect women’s sanitary products and drop them off at local food banks.

The CWL Provincial Executive heard about the campaign and decided to get on board. Louise Doiron, the CWL Provincial President, sent an email to every CWL council on the island with details about the campaign.

“We told our members to buy whatever product they would normally buy, even soap and other items we know women need, and drop it off at their local food bank,” Doiron explained.

While Doiron does not know how many items were delivered by CWL members, the 28 day campaign launched by Comeau collected 1, 439 boxes of feminine hygiene products.

Inspired by the success of the campaign and the way CWL members, responded, Doiron says she is thinking of ways the league could get feminine hygiene products to even more women in need.

Photo c/o Olaf Photo.

Getting things done as only women can

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In Abu Dabi in 1993, there was one Catholic Church. The work week in the Arab Emirate was Sunday to Thursday. For Jacqueline Nogier and her husband – both Catholic teachers who were working in Abu Dabi- that meant going to church after work on Sundays. This was Nogier’s life for two years. It taught her that it is possible to live one’s faith quietly and have it play a central role in one’s life. Still, when she returned to her home to Canada she couldn’t stop herself from jumping in feet first and getting involved in something that would allow to her live her faith openly, on a daily basis.

Home was Snow Lake, Manitoba, a town of just over 900 people located 684 kilometres north of Winnipeg, with an even smaller Catholic population.

Nogier says on the one Sunday a month when Mass is available, an average of 15 people attend. That means when something needs to be done “If everybody doesn’t help, nothing happens” she says. This sense of responsibility towards her community, and the need to live her faith in way she had not been able to while abroad resulted in Nogier taking some decisive action.

In 1997, shortly after returning to Canada, “I turned to my Mom and said let’s join the CWL (Catholic Women’s League) together” Nogier recalls.

“Mom” is Ella Nogier, a retired grade two teacher with a sharp wit, contagious smile, and abundant energy that she channels into whatever needs to be done.

Recalling how she joined the CWL Ella Nogier states, “there was a council in our parish, but many members didn’t go to meetings and the president ended up having meetings by herself. So my daughter and I decided we had to help her out.”

That might have been the catalyst, but joining the league gave Ella Nogier “something to do with my daughter” and fellowship with other Catholic women. “It is amazing to be with people that pray the same prayers as you. They know the Hail Mary. Not everyone [in Snow Lake] does.”

The female fellowship Ella and Jacqueline experienced in their council ignited a flame that kept growing. Jacqueline says “I didn’t want my growth and my learning to stop.” So Jacqueline accepted position on the provincial executive council, “and I pulled my mom along.”

Jacqueline also “pulled” her sister Melissa along into the league. “I found something cool and I wanted to share it with my Mom and my sister,” she recalls. And so it was that Melissa Nogier joined the CWL 15 years ago.

Her contact with the league went back to her teenage years when her mother signed her up to serve at the annual tea. Melissa says at a certain point “I realized I can’t expect women my mom’s age to continue [their work] forever.”

Her increasing exposure to the work of the CWL through her mother and sister’s involvement opened Melissa’s eyes to the needs that the league tries to respond to at the parish level. She joined the league, signing up in the same council as her mother and sister, and started taking on more and more responsibility.

Six years ago Melissa moved to Vita, Manitoba and discovered that her parish did not have a CWL council. She kept her membership active in her home parish in Snow Lake, and still helps out the council’s activities from afar. “I went home to visit and was handed four books of tickets of sell, so I did” she recalls.

Though all three Nogier women joined the CWL for different reasons, all three say they have found the league a source of spiritual and human fellowship. Melissa says “connecting with women of different ages who share one common belief” gives her a safe place to express her values, something “that doesn’t happen very often” outside the league.

Ella Nogier similarly speaks of the beauty of having the fellowship of other women, but with the added bonus that it gives her an extra connection to her two adult daughters. Meanwhile Jacqueline, who now serves as Resolutions Chair on the CWL National Executive, says her desire to keep growing and serving the work of the league has given her leadership skills and confidence she did not feel she had before. On a person note, it gave her “an extra layer of sisterhood” with her sister Melissa, and a vehicle to connect with her mother as an adult.  

Photo c/o Olaf Photo.

Canadian Delegates Approved for Synod – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis approves Canada’s delegates to the Synod of Bishops on the Family, the Holy See Press Office hits out at a leak and Catholic News Service looks at growing number of Catholics running for President.

Behind Vatican Walls: Papal Poem ‘Martin Fierro’

Papal_Poems

The Vatican received a who’s-who of international leaders, each one bringing their own agenda and a unique assortment of gifts. In the span of three days, leaders from Argentina, Russia, and Canada came to visit, with a delegation of bishops from Latvia and Estonia squeezing in for an Ad Limina visit.

Russian leader Vladamir Putin brought the pope a picture of the Church of Jesus Savior, which was recently rebuilt in Moscow. Argentina’s president, the highly styled Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, showered the pope with gifts. She brought a basket of Argentine foods (almost certainly Yerba mate, Dulce de Leche, and Alfajores), a picture of Blessed Oscar Romero painted by an Argentine artist, and several books: one about MercuSur, the South American common market organization, one about Argentina architecture, and a copy of the epic Argentine poem “Martin Fierro” which has been quoted by the pope on various occasions.

Given that when the pope mentions a book it becomes a best-seller, what is this “Martin Fierro”?

Written in 1872 by Jose Hernandez, the 13 canto poem traces the path of a content but poor gaucho Martin Fierro. He is taken from his quiet life on the Pampas by the government and forced to help protect the country’s border from natives because he failed to vote in the last election for the local judge. Fierro is a poor gaucho, but life in the government fort is even worse than anything he’s known before: he and his fellow gauchos live in squalor and are treated brutally. Eventually Fierro’s rebellious streak kicks in and he deserts his post. Returning home he discovered his wife, children and home are gone. With nothing left, he wanders the Pampas alone.

Eventually, while in a humble drinking establishment, Fierro gets into a knife fight and kills a man. Sought after by the police, he flees and becomes a fugitive. Along the way he meets Cruz, a police officer who more attracted by Fierro’s ideals than keeping law and order. To avoid being captured Fierro and Cruz make their home among the natives.

A second poem, “The Return of Martin Fierro” sees the two men emerge from their exile. Fierro finds his two sons who are now grown and gives them his long-overdue fatherly guidance. The lessons he teaches and the advice he gives are core Christian values: hold firm to your faith in God, help the poor and aged, work hard, respect women.

The poems are considered an expression of the Argentine national identity: God-fearing people who keep their head down, work hard, treat others well, yet are mistreated by those with power and money. At the same time the poems were considered a warning against the European ideas being introduced to the country.

***

The renowned Italian composer and director Ennio Morricone has composed a Mass for Pope Francis and the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuit order.

A concert presenting the new Mass setting was held at Rome Il Gesu church this week. The concert was recorded by Italian state broadcaster RAI and will be available on the Rai5 website.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below.


AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Pope Asked to Apologize by Truth and Reconciliation Commission – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission releases its final report which includes a call for Pope Francis to come to Canada and apologize to those impacted by Residential Schools, the Holy Father sends a video message to Sarajevo and the Vatican clarifies comments made about Cardinal Pell.

Coast to Coast: April 18 to April 24

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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.

Freedom from Religion – The Canadian Edition

Religious_Freedom

Freedom of religion, it is something that generally speaking, Canadians take for granted. You can wake-up on Sunday mornings, and drive/walk/ride to the local parish. The music plays, the congregation prays, the priest offers the sacrifice of the mass. For most, the conversation ends right there, freedom of religion delivered, your social contract with the state lives to see another day. However there is so much more to it than that. Faith is so much more than being able to assemble. Challenges to those rights are not always as overt as the violence and discrimination faced by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Cue up 2008, Montreal, Quebec: a private Catholic Boys’ High School called Loyola, takes issue with the new provincially mandated Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. In the wake of doing away with religious schools, the government created a secular ethics program, which seeks to give students a “balanced” look at different faiths. Loyola being a private institution, applied to the Ministry of Education for an exemption. While not objecting to the bulk of the program, the school felt that it could not and should not have to teach Catholicism from a “neutral” or “unbiased” point of view. Administrators argued that it would be impossible and simply not right for teachers to have to leave their faith at the door for a period of each day.

With the government not willing to back down and Loyola not willing to compromise their beliefs, the battle went the way of the courts resulting in a ruling in Loyola’s favor. The government appealed and won, setting up a highly touted main event in the Supreme Court. Ultimately it was Loyola’s day, as just last week, the highest court in the land ruled that the provincial government had indeed infringed on the religious freedoms of the school.

There is no shortage of important points to be unpacked from this case, but the one that stands at the forefront, is the overarching reach of the state. The Government of Quebec has argued that it must equip young people for the future, for the secular society of which they are supposed to be productive members. They also believe that they have a vehicle in the form of the ERC to do so and that it belongs in Catholic private schools. However at what point did the state assume the powers of parents, families and Churches? It is not the job of state to teach people how to be moral. Certainly the state must legislate and enforce laws, however morality has rarely been the forte of governments throughout history.

The state cannot and should not have to try to protect people from themselves. This move, which follows the abolition of religious schools in the province, is at the very least, the tacit admission that faith plays an important role in forming people’s moral compass. However it isn’t the government’s job to mould society or its people. All of that comes organically through formation delivered by families, as well as the Churches and communities they are a part of. The government’s role in all of this is to preserve freedom. That freedom gives parents the chance to foster children in what they believe to be an appropriate environment, allowing them flourish and become their own person.

Yet in the case of Loyola, we have seen the opposite transpire. The government has de facto abdicated its responsibility as the guarantor of such an environment and in fact become the culprit. How sad, that this pivot comes as we make such incredible advances in the sciences and the arts. With all of this great knowledge there are those who argue that they must protect people from themselves, from what their faith may teach them. All of this to ensure, that people grow up to be productive members of an increasingly self-secularized society.

Canadians can be grateful that the justice system has fulfilled its mandate and upheld the laws of the land. However it is unlikely to inhibit such attempts curtailing the religious freedoms people of faith hold so fundamentally close to their hearts. If this case has taught Catholics anything, it is that they must be thankful for and respectful of the rights and freedoms of all. These come from God, the creator, whose authority and age, outstrips and predates any piece of legislation conceived. These freedoms are great and powerful and as with any great powers, come great responsibilities. Faith must be used to build a better world, to create a more just society and ultimately inform and inspire people to lives of virtue.

Celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph

St_Joseph

The Catholic Church celebrates St. Josephs’ feast day on March 19. St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, fathers, families, homes and workers. Joseph is also believed to protect pregnant women, travelers, immigrants and people buying or selling homes.

In 1870, St. Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church and he is also one of the principal patrons of Canada. Please join Salt + Light in a month long novena prayer to St. Joseph. We invite you to pray for our ministry and for your own special intentions. Please find the prayer below:

Glorious St. Joseph
Appointed by the Eternal Father
As the guardian and protector of the life of Jesus Christ,
the comfort and support of His Holy Mother,
and the instrument in His great design
for the Redemption of mankind,
then who had the happiness of living with Jesus and Mary
and of dying in Their arms,
be moved with the confidence which we place in you
and procure for us from The Almighty,
the particular favours which we humbly ask through your intercession.

(Here ask for favours you wish to obtain)

Pray for us, then, O Great Saint Joseph
And by your love for Jesus and Mary,
And by Their love for you,
Obtain for us the supreme happiness of living and dying in the love of Jesus and Mary, Amen.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

If you would like to share your special intentions with us, please let us know.