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Some of the least of these

This is a time of change in our diocese, but also of celebration, for the Protection of Minors Diocesan Committee. We say farewell to Bishop Henry and welcome Bishop McGrattan. We also say goodbye to and thank Dave Wilson, our committee chair, who has provided outstanding leadership over the years.

It has been gratifying to have national and local newspapers recognize Bishop Henry’s care for the poor, and in particular, his leadership in founding programs for the homeless in our city.

Our particular cause for celebration is the success of the Protection of Minors initiative in the Diocese. This work has amply reflected Bishop Henry’s identification with those who particularly need our care and concern. Bishop Henry has consistently acknowledged that we must take action to restore the confidence of the world in our Church, as we are the face of Christ’s mission.

In February 2011, he launched our program to protect minors and vulnerable adults, under the diocesan banner of Strengthening Our Parish Communities. He has supported the transformation of how we run all of our diocesan programs. At the same time, the value of those in ministry has been enhanced to reflect their roles in keeping the vulnerable safe. In so many areas, great strides have been made to provide measures to protect the vulnerable:

  • Screening of all, whether volunteers, staff or clergy, who serve the vulnerable
  • Training in both child abuse prevention and elder abuse prevention
  • Supporting pastoral care, especially of the elderly
  • Ongoing efforts to end homelessness and provide affordable housing, such as Acadia Place and
  • Offering strong programs like Elizabeth House, Feed the Hungry and Youth Ministry.

On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Pope Francis addressed the bishops of the world directly, “To contemplate the manger also means to be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbours, especially where children are involved. The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to protect from the Herods of our own time, those who devour the innocence of our children. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children.”

The challenge for our committee has been that of educating parishioners with respect to the need to protect young people and vulnerable adults from any kind of abuse. We can safely rejoice in the development of awareness and success of the program. Today we can say with confidence that our leader has had that courage called for by Pope Francis. Again, we thank Bishop Henry!

For more information about the initiatives, including the online abuse prevention training, please contact your parish volunteer screening coordinator or call Deacon Stephen Robinson or Barbara Raleigh-Smith at (403) 218-5549 or email barbara.smith@calgarydiocese.ca.

Related Offices Carillon Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults
Related Themes Safe Environment Protection

Ritual for the Unspoken Grief

I was away from home and from my husband when my miscarriage happened during my summer pastoral studies in Chicago. I remember answering the door to welcome a colleague during the first few days after the miscarriage. I was not keen for a visit since my pain was still raw, so we both just fell into a long silence after she told me how sorry she was for my loss. When I finally looked up and saw the gleam of tears in her eyes, I broke down and cried with her. Until today I still think of it as the day God wept with me.

When parents experience a pregnancy loss, frequently the grief goes unspoken because secrecy often accompanies the early stages of pregnancy. Support from the community can be rare, as most of the time most friends and family do not know anything about the loss. Even when the grieving parents do share their loss, the many kind comments and sentiments they receive often fail to alleviate the sorrow and guilt parents feel.

Surrounded by ministers who had been shaped by their life experiences and ministries, I was blessed to have been able to confide in those who understood and knew what I had been through. My experience as a liturgical minister did not help in preparing a ritual for my own child. The sorrow was very numbing and I was simply unable to be resourceful.

Looking back, words cannot express my gratitude for my thoughtful colleagues who prepared and organized a Liturgy of the Word to commemorate our loss. It is difficult to put pain adequately into words but rituals speak beyond words alone because they consist of symbolic actions and language. It allowed me to give voice to my pain through prayers and lamentations. It sanctified my experience as I was entrusted to God’s loving care and compassion.

It is truly a humbling experience to be at the receiving end of so much love and support, and to encounter Christ in the face of friends and family. As God’s people, we are not meant to grieve alone. God weeps with us. In the embrace of the community, grieving parents allow themselves to be sustained and cared for as they put the pieces of their lives back together. Our grieving should naturally unite us with the community, a place where both have something to give and receive.

The Diocese of Calgary invites parents, their families and friends to join us in a prayer gathering by attending the Memorial Liturgy for Miscarried and Stillborn Infants on Friday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 1307 - 14th Street SW. For more information or to RSVP, please visit our website at www.miscarriageliturgy.ca.

Related Offices Carillon Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy

Reconciling the Art of the Possible

Learn to do good and seek justice. –Isaiah 1:17

In July 2016 Pope Francis declared, “I want to be a spokesperson for the deepest longings of Indigenous peoples. And I want you to add your voice to mine.” In the video announcing his prayer intention, an Indian woman is shown approaching a podium and pleading for the plight of indigenous peoples to be heard. When the camera pans out, however, the auditorium is empty, a metaphor, perhaps, for the deafness of the world to the plight of oppressed people.

It reminded me of a similar moment many years ago in Australia at a conference on listening to the Aboriginal voice, when a young Indigenous scholar appeared before a large crowd of sympathetic white academics and played a video of an activist reading protest poetry. The sound was muted and the video was allowed to play, silently, for a full 15 minutes. All the while the presenter stared at the increasingly uncomfortable crowd. Then he turned off the TV and announced, before he stormed from the room, “This is what you’ve heard from Indigenous peoples at this conference.” Horrified organizers realized, in that moment, that no Aboriginal guests had been invited to discuss the issue of Indigenous voices. It was a blunder that was not soon repeated.


the greatest antidote
to silence is dialogue


I use the latter example because it occurred in the context of incredibly well-meaning, learned and completely supportive academics at a conference specifically called to address acknowledged silence. Despite this, they still neglected to invite the people at the heart of the concern. It is a lesson that I have never forgotten: that the greatest antidote to silence is dialogue, not speeches – action not intentions. Even the most well meaning will be deaf to change unless we learn to listen.

In the context of the United Nations’ declaration for Indigenous peoples — the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee just completed, the announced inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls, and the most recent controversy over the Canadian Catholic Church’s handling of reparations owed over the handling of the Residential Schools debacle — it seems more important than ever that conversations increase, not decrease.

For St. Mary’s University here in Calgary, this meant the development of an Aboriginal Strategic Plan some three years ago, one that led to the establishment of an Elders on Campus program, an Indigenous Advisory Board, an experiential learning program at Ghost River for staff, faculty and students, and the incorporation of a blanket exercise modeling the devastating impact of colonialism, held at a university retreat where 98% of the institution participated. And in mid-January the University was chosen to host the 3-day National Truth & Reconciliation roundtable.

Needless to say, there is still much to do. What is heartening, however, is how fully the university as a whole has embraced this dialogue, and more importantly, how generously Indigenous communities have welcomed St. Mary’s into the dialogue, sharing their knowledge, their talents and their generosity of spirit. Dialogue together with action is the first step towards reconciliation and healing. Our hope is that this journey towards reconciliation becomes widespread and all pervasive.

As Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations recently pointed out, “Make room in your heart, your soul and your spirit.” Or as Pope Francis put it at a ceremony in Chiapas, Mexico: “How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!’”

Related Offices Carillon
Related Themes Catholic Education

SSVP Celebrates 170th Anniversary in Canada

Jesus reminded us that “the poor will always be among us” [Deuteronomy 15:11].

Frederic Ozanam (1813 - 1853) — a student in Paris, France — recognized that to carry out the mission to alleviate the plight of the poor and marginalized in society is a challenge that is more manageable through an organization. Shortly thereafter, he formed the Conference of Charity in 1833 on the evening of his 20th birthday. Two years later, the name was changed to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP). The organization grew, and 13 years later the first SSVP conference was established in Canada.

Now, 170 years later, 871 conferences of SSVP can be found across Canada thriving on the generous dedication of more than 14,000 volunteers. In Calgary, there are more than 20 conferences involving 365 volunteers.

If successes of an army depend on its generals, so do SSVP’s achievements depend on the pastors of the parishes in which they operate. The St. Peter’s parish SSVP conference is thriving because of the pastoral leadership of Frs. Jerome Lavigne and Jonathan Gibson. Their call into action is heeded by the congregation and as such SSVP has been able to grow and receive outstanding support from parishioners, and the parish councils of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s League.

Because of the new extension to the church, SSVP has moved from using a broom-closet-sized hamper room to an operative food storage area the size of a two-car garage! More than 75 volunteers in our parish purchase, sort and collect food; deliver hampers; visit families; assess needs and seek solutions by contacting other organizations. Shelves are filled regularly by parish donations and generous school drives.

We are grateful to all of the presidents, secretaries, treasurers and other volunteers who dedicate their time and stretch each and every donation to the maximum extent in favour of the recipients.

Related Offices Stewardship Carillon
Related Themes Poverty Parish Life

Learn by Heart: A Gift You Can Give Yourself

Memorization has fallen out of favour these days. In grade school I was required to learn some soliloquies from Shakespearean plays and then write them out in their entirety by memory. Today I cannot recall my own cell phone number but I could still make a fair attempt at reciting the Bard’s verse! I wonder if students are still asked to memorize anything today. Why bother, you might ask, with Google at your fingertips? Catholics have always been known for their recitation of rote prayers and the repetition of rituals. Our faith uses ritual language and gestures to affect us at a level deeper than our conscious thought. Yet, who has not at some time found themselves rattling off the words to a prayer while their mind is elsewhere? The response is not to stop memorizing but rather to consider and practice what it really means to learn something by heart.

To know something by heart means you have it memorized but it also implies that — in the way the heart animates the body by pumping blood — the text or gesture is inside of you, animating your every word, action, and thought. Think about the things that you know by heart: a recipe passed down through several generations, a loved one’s date of birth, your banking PIN. What you know by heart says something about your history, your relationships, and your priorities.


Part of our identity as Catholics includes knowing by heart the texts, gestures, and rituals that shape our belief and bind us to one another.


Most of us have memorized some traditional Catholic prayers like the Hail Mary and a blessing before meals. We also know the Lord’s Prayer and the ordinary parts of the Mass. Yet, when it comes to the Mass texts, we often know them only conditionally. It is easy enough to recite something surrounded by others reciting the same thing or when reading from a screen but if you try to recite the prayers alone, you might falter. Sometimes saying a prayer quickly can help the memory until you trip up and then have to go back to the beginning because you did not really know what you were saying anyway. Or perhaps you can sing the texts but if the melody is taken away, you become completely lost. These levels of memorization are admirable but their conditional nature challenges us to deepen our efforts by revisiting familiar texts, pondering their meaning, learning more about them, and inviting them to penetrate our hearts.

Making the effort to learn by heart is a gift you can give yourself. Once you have learned a prayer by heart, it becomes yours to pray at any time in any place. We do not always know in advance when we will need a prayer and so when the need arises, we may not have at hand a bible, a prayer booklet, and definitely not a projection screen with PowerPoint! With memory you can look into your heart for prayers to implore God’s help, receive consolation, to comfort others, to strengthen those whose faith may be wavering, or to draw together with others in prayer. If you are still looking it up on Google, it is not yet yours.

Part of our identity as Catholics includes knowing by heart the texts, gestures, and rituals that shape our belief and bind us to one another. During this season of Lent, consider learning by heart a new liturgical text. Strive not to only rattle off the words by memory but rather to savour the texts, learn what they mean, and pray the words so that, having learned them by heart, they can animate every word, action, and thought of your life.

Here are some suggested texts to learn by heart:

  • Apostles’ Creed and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed
  • Gospel Canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours: Benedictus (Canticle of Luke), Magnificat (Canticle of Mary), Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon)
  • Psalms, especially 23, 34, 95, 141
  • Angelus and for Easter season, Regina caeli

You can find texts to memorize:

  • in most hymnals
  • in the Sunday or weekday missalette
  • on the Internet

Tips for memorization:

  • read the text over many times
  • read portions of the text and repeat it to yourself
  • repeat the text to others
  • practice writing down the text
  • test yourself on your recall of the text
  • use mnemonic devices like melodies or images
Related Offices Carillon Office of Liturgy
Related Themes Liturgy Prayers
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