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Freedom from Religion – The Canadian Edition

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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

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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.

Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins re: Supreme Court of Canada decision on assisted suicide

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By Thomas Cardinal Collins, February 10, 2015

“For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” Psalm 31

In our days, as in the days of the psalmist, so many years ago, people can suffer grievously during their journey through this “valley of tears,” and may even be tempted to request assisted suicide. The Supreme Court has now allowed that, and at first glance, it may seem to be the compassionate thing to do.

There is certainly no need to take extreme measures to extend the length of life. When people are dying, we should surround them with love as they enter into their final experience on this earth, and relieve as best we can any suffering they endure. We need as a society to make effective palliative care more available. But there is a profound difference between compassionately journeying with someone who is dying, or who is suffering when not in danger of death, and killing that person, or helping that person to commit suicide. No one has a right to do that, and it is simply wrong for the state to allow or to encourage that.

Suicide is already a sadly common tragedy in our society, as persons facing what at the moment they feel to be intolerable suffering of some kind, decide to end their life. We all need to reach out compassionately to anyone contemplating suicide, and to offer whatever help we can to alleviate their pain, be it physical or psychological, so they can appreciate the value of their life, and know they are loved. But for anyone actually to assist them not to escape but to commit suicide is wrong. It is a perversion of the vocation of physicians to have them engaged in helping people to kill themselves. Physicians are called to be servants of healing, not agents of death.

Assisted suicide is the deceptively attractive face of euthanasia. The most compelling cases grip our attention and sway the debate, and so the Court opens the door to assisted suicide, all the while seeming to do less than it actually has done by surrounding its action with a set of limiting conditions, seeking to guarantee informed consent, as if that were the key issue. But the state is authorizing the killing of an innocent person, whatever controls are in place, and even those limitations can over time be swept away, leading to the more widespread practice of euthanasia. We have only to look at some European countries to see what lies ahead. We Canadians patriotically believe our country is special, but it is not so special as to be immune to the dynamics of increasing access to medical killing, as individualist rationales make persuasive the argument for that in more and more cases.

The court, recognizing that many physicians, faithful to their healing vocation, will not assist people to kill themselves, makes some very slight room for freedom of conscience. It trusts local Colleges of Physicians and other such groups to deal appropriately with the conscience issue.

This trust is misplaced. Currently the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is proposing a draft conscience policy which states that physicians who refuse to perform a procedure to which they morally object must arrange that the procedure gets done by someone else. In other words, they are compelled to become accomplices. I urge the College not to go through with this unjust policy, and I urge Ontarians, especially physicians, to speak up against it. First the politicians; now the physicians: the assault on freedom of conscience steadily advances in our country.

We all are on the way to death and should gain wisdom from contemplating that inescapable fact, so that we use each present moment to prepare for the moment of our death by living well. We should provide all who are suffering with the best medical assistance we can offer, especially in palliative care for those who are coming to the end of life. Most importantly, we should accompany each person with love, especially those without friends or family. But any society that authorizes killing people through assisted suicide and euthanasia has lost its moral compass.

Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide by the Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher

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Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide by the Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher, Archbishop of Gatineau and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Catholics are called by their faith to assist all those in need, particularly the poor, the suffering and the dying. Comforting the dying and accompanying them in love and solidarity has been considered by the Church since its beginning a principal expression of Christian mercy.

Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today does not change Catholic teaching.

“[A]n act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277).

The Bishops of our country invite Canadians, especially Catholics, to do all they can to bring comfort and support for all those who are dying and for their loved ones, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of autonomy, or fear of pain and suffering, feels they have no choice but to commit suicide. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will continue to promote palliative and home care, and to encourage all the faithful to work for the betterment of the elderly, the disabled, the ill, and those who are socially isolated.

My brother Bishops and I entreat governments and courts to interpret today’s judgment in its narrowest terms, resisting any calls to go beyond this to so-called acts of “mercy killing” and euthanasia. We again call on provincial and territorial governments to ensure good-quality palliative care in all their jurisdictions. We also urge governments and professional associations to implement policies and guidelines which ensure respect for the freedom of conscience of all health-care workers as well as administrators who will not and cannot accept suicide as a medical solution to pain and suffering.

+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

“Death not a good End but a good Transition” Confronting the Reality of Euthanasia

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In light of the very sad and deeply troubling decision of the Supreme Court of Canada overturning Canada’s euthanasia law, I share these words with our readers.

The mainstream media has caused great confusion about the topic of euthanasia and has been extremely deceptive in its portrayal of human suffering and compassion.  Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life.  Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity.  They come from a deeper place– from who we are and how we relate to each other.

The notion that euthanasia and/or assisted suicide can be a reality for us in Canada should come as a wake-up call to all Canadians, not just because of the notion that all life is sacred from conception to natural death, but simply because of whom such a law would affect most, the most vulnerable; the chronically ill, who are a strain on the health care system; the elderly who have been abandoned and who have no one to speak on their behalf, and who feel they may be a burden to others; and the disabled who have to fight every day to maintain their own integrity and dignity.

Our society has lost sight of the sacred nature of human life. As Catholic Christians we are deeply committed to the protection of life from its earliest moments to its final moments. When people today speak about a “good death,” they usually refer to an attempt to control the end of one’s life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death, however, is death not as a good end, but a good transition, that requires faith, proper acceptance and readiness.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

JP II sufferingSt. John Paul II taught us how to respect the frail and the vulnerable. Nine years ago, as he died before the eyes of the entire world, John Paul showed us true dignity in the face of death. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through in the final phase of his life. He offered us a paradoxical image of happiness. Who can say his life was not fruitful, when his body was able to climb snow-capped summits or vacation on Strawberry Island in Lake Simcoe in 2002? Who doesn’t feel the paradoxical influence of his presence, when his voice was muted?

We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions. Nor can we ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It has arrived on our shores and it has invaded our lives.

This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear. The best way to know if we are still in any way a Christian society is to see how we treat our most vulnerable people, the ones with little or no claim on public attention, the ones without beauty, strength or intelligence.

Human life and human dignity encounter many obstacles in the world today, especially in North America. When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

In a very powerful message addressed to the Pontifical Academy for Life this past February, Pope Francis wrote about a very current theme, dear to the Church. “In our society there is a tyrannical dominance of an economic logic that excludes and at times kills, and of which nowadays we find many victims, starting with the elderly”. He affirmed that we see the existence of a “throwaway” culture, in which those who are excluded are not only exploited but also rejected and cast aside.

In the face of this discrimination, Pope Francis considered the anthropological question of the value of man and of what may be the basis of this value. “Health is without doubt an important value, but it does not determine the value of a person. Furthermore, health is not by itself a guarantee of happiness, which may indeed by experienced even by those in a precarious state of health”. Therefore, he added, “poor health and disability are never a good reason to exclude or, worse, eliminate a person; and the most serious deprivation that the elderly suffer is not the weakening of the body or the consequent disability, but rather abandonment, exclusion, and a lack of love”.

The Pope emphasized the importance of listening to the young and the old whenever we wish to understand the signs of the times, and commented that “a society is truly welcoming to life when it recognizes its value also in old age, in disability, in serious illness, and even when it is at its close; when it teaches that the call to human realization does not exclude suffering but instead teaches to see in the sick and suffering a gift to the entire community, a presence that calls for solidarity and responsibility”.

As Catholics and Christians, we have a responsibility to confront the intrusion of euthanasia in our society – especially if we are to understand our moral obligation as caregivers for incapacitated persons, and our civic obligation to protect those who lack the capacity to express their will but are still human, still living, and still deserving of equal protection under the law.  There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

February 06, 2015

Canada has a New Bishop – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ announces a visit to Bosnia, meets with Lithuanian Bishops and appoints a new Canadian Bishop.

Coming…Home?

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Sister Marilyn von Zuben was a missionary in Japan (1963-1976) and in Cameroon (1992-2010). Since she came back to Canada, she has been interested in the re-entry process of returning missionaries. She is starting a support group to help religious who, like her, are struggling with the difficulties of coming back to Canada after years living abroad in a different culture.

How did you get the idea to start this group for returning missioners?

I attended a ten-day re-entry workshop for returned missioners with the organisation From Mission to Mission. I found it so helpful, that I thought, “I can’t keep this for myself.” There have to be other missionaries in Montreal who are floundering like I am and who would be interested in looking at some of our issues together. How are we living transition? If there are people in Montreal who are going through depression as a result of re-entry, this group would allow them to pick up the phone and say, “I really need to talk to someone. Can we go for coffee?” I think it would be great to have a group of people that you come to know well, with whom you feel comfortable and who understand your journey.

What are the challenges facing missionaries who are coming back, and how will your group help them?

All of us have witnessed violence. But that is not something you can talk about at the dinner table. Some people coming back from mission experience depression and others suffer from post traumatic shock. What complicates things is that some of the atrocities they experienced were caused by the government of their country of origin. Therefore, anger can be another dimension of our experience as missionaries.

Many missionaries experience an identity crisis when they return. They are used to being introduced as “my missionary priest son” or “our missionary sister” by family and friends, and now things have changed. For some, there might be a feeling of loss that can bring about spiritual darkness and dryness. Prayer life can seem dry and you might even wonder, “Where is God in all this?” That’s tough!

Also, when we come back to stay, we are much older, so there is a different dynamic at work. All of us are used to being leaders, having lots of ideas, initiating projects, working full-time from very early in the morning to very late at night, and being totally involved with the people. It’s not the same when we come back to stay and, as a result, some people don’t know what to do with themselves.

I’m hoping that this group will provide a safe environment for those of us who need to share our stories but have no other venues in which to do that. I think we understand each other in a very special way. We have questions that people who have not been away don’t even think to ask. We can offer trust and respectful listening.

Hopefully, the group will be a source of resurrection in a variety of ways.

It will also be a place where we will be able to examine the gifts that have been ours as a result of having been loved and trusted by people of totally different cultures. It’s humbling, very humbling.

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Do you think that the community you come back to makes a difference?

Definitely, if you come back to a community where everyone has had a similar experience. All know what you are talking about and they are really interested in your story. There is a difference in how they listen. They make the transition easier. Others feel alone because the people with whom they live have not had the experience of being out of their native culture.

What was it like to come back to Québec after being away on mission?

I did not come back the same women that I was when I left. We have all been changed if we were really involved. And the people interested in the group were very involved. No one was standing on the sidelines watching life go by.

We have also returned to a place that is different from the one we left. Some have been gone for 40 or 50 years and Québec is very different from what it was. It’s a huge cultural shock.

When I came back I found myself thinking, “I don’t fit in.” When I went to Japan and Cameroon, I knew I was a foreigner and I expected to feel like a foreigner. When I came back to Canada, I felt even more like one. I felt like a boat adrift. For example, walking down the street in Montreal, many people don’t even look at each other, much less say, “Good morning.” You just can’t imagine how different that is from what I lived in Africa. It would take me a very long time to walk down the road because everybody would stop to greet me, and I knew everybody.

Is the experience of re-entry easier for the missionaries who chose to come back?

For very different reasons, I was the one who decided, first, to leave Japan and, many years later, to leave Cameroon. But I know that other missionaries had not chosen to come back. Some people are called back by their congregation; others have to come back because they are sick. I also think that some people find change more difficult than others.

In her book At Home in the Journey[1], Jo Ann McCaffrey writes about seeing “re-entry as something positive.” What has re-entry taught you?

I am still in transition. But I am aware of how blessed I have been with the ability to adapt. I am doing fine. I like people. Re-entry has helped me to become more aware of my ability to connect with people. It has also helped me to know myself better and to appreciate even more the gifts of God that I have received. It has also brought forth new creativity as I try to get this group started.

[1] McCaffrey, Jo Ann. At Home in the Journey. Theological Reflection for Missioners in Transition, CCGM Publications, Chicago, 2005.

Written by Marie-Claire Dugas.

Living One’s Joy!

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In the heart of Montreal, there is a very special house with a lovely name communauté Vita-Joie (Live Your Joy). In 2009, the sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame moved into this house to welcome two new candidates, Andrée Maheu and Violaine Paradis. When the sisters were received as novices, the house became a novitiate. Now, Andrée and Violaine are sisters in temporary profession and Vita-Joie’s mission is changing once again, it is becoming an intercultural and intergenerational community. Seven sisters currently live in this house sharing the joys and challenges of daily life, all have very busy schedules and extraordinary vitality!

Community Life and Commitment

This community group is composed of five Canadian sisters (Francine, Sheila, Louise, Andrée and Violaine), one Cameroonian sister (Brigitte) and one Honduran (Mariana). French is the main language spoken in the house in order to help Sister Mariana improve her knowledge of the language but you can also hear English and Spanish around the house.

It is a big house with enough space to accommodate everyone, but a harmonious community life requires some organization and, at times, compromises. The seven sisters share the household tasks, e.g., they take turns preparing dinner according to an established schedule. If one of them will not be home when it is her turn to cook, she prepares the meal in advance and arranges for someone to warm it up when it is time to serve. They all try to be together for prayer and the evening meal but it is not always possible. Monday is the only day of the week when all seven have dinner together. At times there are a few extra people around the dinner table, guests enjoying the warm hospitality that is characteristic of the sisters of the Congrégation of Notre-Dame.

Community meetings are held on a regular basis for the sisters to meet and celebrate together, and to discuss what is going well and what is not. Communication is key to harmonious living together. “One must be very open to the other’s culture,” Sister Francine pointed out and Sister Brigitte added: “There are adjustments to be made in the beginning but after living together for a while it is going better and better.” Everything cannot be put down on paper; you must experience something in order to know what may need to be changed.

Each person has different commitments and obligations which must also be reconciled.

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Sister Francine Landreville is a member of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys provincial administration (an administrative entity of the congregation), she acts as bursar. Sister Sheila Sullivan, an English-speaking Montrealer, holds several different positions after having devoted ten years to the service of the General Administration of the Congregation. She is the formation director for Visitation Province and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Bureau for Children’s Rights. Sister Louise Breton is a counselor and spiritual guide.

The other sisters combine studies and services: Sister Brigitte Minkada arrived in Quebec in 2010; she is currently completing a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Theology at the Dominican Pastoral Institute. Brigitte also devotes several hours a week to “La rue des femmes”, an organization which works with itinerant women, both the homeless and those who are at different stages of making homes for themselves. “My outlook is changing. These women bring me a great deal. Being exposed to this reality has helped break down many prejudices. I try to bring them a real quality of presence.” Sister Mariana Sagastume Ventura is studying at IFHIM (Institut de Formation humaine intégrale de Montréal). Sister Andrée Maheu works at Maison l’Échelon, an organization that helps people suffering from mental illness; her commitment calls on her many artistic talents: she organizes different creative and sports-oriented activities, even making musical instruments to accompany the singing! Sister Violaine works in pastoral leadership at the Centre étudiant Benoît-Lacroix; she is currently working on a play with a group of young adults, Dead Man Walking.

According to Sister Francine, although they are all very busy, living in a small community allows for much more interaction than in the bigger residences. “Life was also much more structured in the old convents,” recalled Sister Sheila, who clearly remembers her daily schedule at Saint-Paul Academy, which included time for payer, religious reading and… sewing!

Different times, different occupations: the garage has been transformed into a workshop where Andrée creates works of art using recycled materials. There are also a few bicycles stored in there for the winter… but our sisters know how to keep in shape with exercise equipment! The house is clearly divided into common areas and personal spaces. To decorate the house, the sisters have hung on the walls works of art from the different countries where the Congregation is present as well as CND creations that were kept in the archives: many of them evoke a strong theme of the spirituality of the Congregation, the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. And of course, one room is used as a chapel.

It is difficult to pray in another language, isn’t it? During community prayer, parts of the prayer are recited in the different languages and the sisters slowly begin to learn them. The sisters go to different local churches. Mariana found one that celebrates Mass in Spanish which allows her to get back to her roots and helps her feel at home.

Apart from the age differences, the diverse languages and varied schedules, laughter is universal and there is a lot of it at the Vita-Joie community! At home, among your family, is where you draw the strength necessary to pursue your mission. This is also true in the international family of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame.

Written by Stephanie Manseau, Coordinator of Communications for Congrégation de Notre-Dame. 

 

Seeking the heart of Marguerite Bourgeoys

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I am a sister of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame (CND). On April 1, 2013, I left Japan on a one-year assignment to be a member of the International Community located in the Mother House in Montreal.

First, let me briefly introduce the history of the CND in Japan. It was in 1932 that five French Canadian sisters crossed the Pacific Ocean at the request of a Canadian Dominican bishop overseeing the Catholic Church in Tohoku District in Japan. The sisters established a mission in Fukushima City, a small agricultural town located 240 km northeast of Tokyo. Though the French speaking sisters could hardly communicate with the local people, they were warmly welcomed by a small group of Catholics as well as non-Catholics regardless of their religions.

Their missionary work progressed in Fukushima City. They built a new convent building and opened a kindergarten. However, war clouds started hovering over Japan.

In 1941, the Pacific War broke out. The convent was confiscated by the Japanese army and converted to an internment camp for foreign nationals. Some Canadian sisters returned to Canada, while others were put under house arrest and relocated to Aizu, an inland region of Fukushima Prefecture. They had no means of communication with the outside world and were obliged to live in deprivation. What saved them was the help of three Japanese candidates who had refused to leave the Congregation in spite of repeated advice from Japanese priests. They stayed with the Canadian sisters, secretly providing them with food and necessities. They prayed together and waited for peace. The war that started on the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception finally ended in 1945, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All of the Canadian sisters who were interned in Aizu could now return to Fukushima City. After the war, the sisters took war orphans under their wing. The following year, they opened an elementary school. Among the students were the war orphans.

Since the war, CND schools in Japan have expanded. Now we have a kindergarten, an elementary school, a high school and a two-year college in Fukushima; a kindergarten and a girls’ residence in Tokyo; an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school in Kita-Kyushu. At present, seventy CND sisters including seven Canadian sisters are engaged in educative and apostolic works in Japan

My parents are Catholic and I was baptised as an infant, which is quite unusual in Japan because the majority of Japanese classify themselves as both Shinto and Buddhist. I was educated in a CND school in Kita-Kyushu City for 12 years and studied for 4 years at a university in Tokyo living in the CND student residence in Chofu. It was at the elementary school that I first encountered Marguerite Bourgeoys when I was six years old. What I remember best during my school days is the smile of a Canadian sister of Irish decent. Her bright and kind smile never left her face or my memory.

In the novitiate, I learned the history of the CND and music from one of the five pioneer sisters who came to Japan in 1932. Though she didn’t tell me in so many words about the difficulty and hardship she had experienced when she first arrived and especially during the war, I could sense the reason why she remained in Japan: her strong love for Jesus, Mary and our Foundress. She stayed in Japan because it was God’s will; because Mary was with her; and because Marguerite would have done the same. When I reflect on the sister’s life in the light of Marguerite’s, I seem to better understand Marguerite and her greatness. The sister died one year and 2 months before my first vows and I was given her cross.

After making my perpetual vows, I became a teacher and taught Japanese at high schools in Fukushima and Kita-kyushu. It was a busy time, but interactions with young students were a rewarding experience. Some of our new students were heartbroken because they had failed entrance exams in other schools, but they were warmly welcomed at CND schools, where they learn: you are precious in my sight, and honoured (Isaiah 43:4). Nothing gave me more pleasure than to see them regain their self-confidence and get back on their feet.

However, I sometimes questioned myself. Before entering religious life, I taught at a Protestant school and met many devoted lay teachers. They preach the word of God at morning worship, and then go to the classroom to teach and guide students. What’s the difference between them and a teacher like me, a sister? This question had been bothering me. When I was offered a one-year assignment to go to Montreal, I thought this might be an opportunity to step back from my teaching life, and to reflect on this question.

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After arriving in Canada, I walked around Montreal, map in hand, whenever I had time. I visited museums and churches, starting with Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. I visited Old Montreal where our Foundress opened the first school. I visited the Old Towers of the Grand Seminary where our sisters had taught Amerindian girls. I saw St. Marguerite’s portraits and statues in many churches. Many places were named after our Foundress. Everything I have seen and heard testifies to how dear she is to the people of Montreal.

The historic and archaeological material taught me how hard Marguerite’s life was in her early days in Montreal. I walked around the Old Port of Montreal on November 16, the day when Marguerite landed at the port of Ville Marie almost five centuries ago. The air was already cool. The port looked deserted with most of the trees losing their leaves. Then came an extremely harsh winter!

I re-read Marguerite’s writing and biographies. I could feel between the lines her solitude and fear of the unknown. In her native France, she made a private vow, lived a consecrated life and was involved in volunteer activities. But she chose to leave her comfort zone and had the courage to venture into a new world. Following God’s plan, she devoted herself to the service of the people and to the teaching of the Good News, the Gospel. She founded an extern religious community with companions. Looking back from present-day Montreal to those days in Ville Marie, I was moved more than ever by Marguerite’s courage and extraordinary accomplishment.

There are lots of great people in the world who built a country. The greatness of Marguerite was not only in her contribution to building Ville Marie. It is above all having established a non-cloistered educative religious order for women.

In her Writings, Marguerite writes about the love of a lover. She loved Jesus with this love, and wanted to live always in the presence of God, as a mother who loves her child intensely does not lose him from her sight.[1] Thus, a consecrated life was her natural choice of a way of life. In imitation of the Virgin Mary living with her neighbor, Marguerite lived with women having the same desire, served the people, and spread the Word of God. I think she wanted her community to be a model of human community and a living witness in this world. She desired most deeply that the commandments of love be engraved in her and her sisters’ minds: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mindYou shall love your neighbour as yourself.[2]

Meeting with sisters engaged in various educative and apostolic ministries helped deepen my understanding of our Foundress. I have learned that living her charism is of the utmost importance to the sisters in their process of discerning, finding their vocation and ministry. We have to discern where we are and where we are called, through our dialogues with ourselves, with our superiors, with Jesus, and with Marguerite. What is required of us is to mature as a person and grow spiritually as a religious, as well as to understand the charism and living it passionately.

Because I became too accustomed to a life of teaching in the protective environment of the CND schools, I might have lost sight of “why I was sent to this mission”. My mission is to embrace Jesus and pass along, by words and deeds, the good news that “You are precious in God’s sight. God loves you. You are of utmost importance to God.” As Marguerite wished, my mission is to spread the commandment of love by building warm relationships with my sisters and co-workers. My mission is a total commitment to a consecrated life, and that is what early missionaries tried to pass down to later generations at the risk of their lives.

Missionary sisters have brought many gifts to Japan: the Word of God, the spirituality of Marguerite Bourgeoys, education, religious life… I know I have received many gifts during my stay in Canada. However, when I think of what I have achieved in Canada, I am not sure. But one thing is certain: I talked about Fukushima.

On March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami struck the northeastern coast of Japan. The earthquake completely demolished the convent built by the missionary sisters in 1935.

This unprecedented disaster crippled the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The radioactive contamination caused by the nuclear reactor meltdown has a devastating long-term health impact on the people of Fukushima. Many families left Fukushima to protect their children from radiation exposure. In fact, the number of students of the CND schools diminished a great deal. In our kindergarten alone, 40 % of children left Fukushima. Facing the dire reality, our sisters asked themselves what Marguerite would have done if she had been there, and launched various projects. First, they set up a scholarship program for afflicted students. They rebuilt a kindergarten, which features a playground enclosed by glass walls so that the children can play indoors without being exposed to contaminated air. Some sisters, with the collaboration of a number of dioceses, have a project to send children away from the radiation exposure to vacation sites during the summer holiday. Some sisters regularly visit victims still living in temporary housing to listen to their problems and concerns, or just to be with them. Recently, a group of volunteers joined this project. They offer emotional support to women facing uncertain futures, especially in regard to raising their children under such circumstances.

Last summer I attended the CND Social Justice Network Meeting on behalf of the Japanese province, and introduced, using a PowerPoint Presentation made by sisters in Fukushima, the current status of Fukushima and how Japanese sisters are dealing with the difficult situations.

The sisters and associates of the American province have set up a support project “the Blessed Sacrament CND Fukushima Solidarity Project. It is a great moral and financial support for our sisters. The American sisters have demonstrated a real sense of compassion, which was so dear to Marguerite. They remind me that I am really a member of the worldwide CND family.

In April, I go back to Japan and will be assigned to Fukushima. I would like to continue to be a liaison between the Fukushima and North American sisters. I am returning to Japan embracing the heart of Marguerite Bourgeoys that I found in Montreal.

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Tragedy in Ottawa – Perspectives Daily

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Today on Perspectives, tragedy strikes Canada’s capital of Ottawa, Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience and the feast of St. John Paul II.