Dear Mr. Premier:
You have invited Albertans to engage in a public debate over exactly what to do with our budgetary surplus dollars in view of the retirement of our provincial debt. All of the options already floated, e.g.: lowering taxes, issuing individual dividends to every Alberta resident, directing the surplus to the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, or spending on a variety of services and infrastructure needs, represent noble and worthy causes.
However, I would like to share a few thoughts with you, based on my contact and ministry with people.
Our economy is booming but we're in an economy of paradoxes. Some live in gated communities and some live in boxes under bridges. The stock market and the price for oil and natural gas go up and up yet many of us wonder whether our children will live as well as we do. Our economy is among the most productive and powerful on earth, but in a real sense it is not one economy, it's three.
In the first economy, people are pulling ahead. Well educated, highly motivated people are managing investment, creating jobs, maximizing trade with great economic and personal rewards. They are doing very well economically and in other ways. They're moving ahead.
In a second economy, people are being left behind. Hundreds, perhaps more accurately, thousands of families are without jobs, fathers, a decent income, or a decent place to live. The hungry and homeless in our midst, the immigrants and the migrants that we see in our communities and our towns, have been left behind. Their question is not whether the price of oil will keep rising, but will I be able to pay the rent? Can I afford shoes for my kids? Will we be able to stay together and pay the rent? They are falling even further behind. Discrimination, racism and sexism, of course, make all of these problems worse
Then there's a third economy where most of us live; where we're doing fine at one level, but we feel very vulnerable. Will we keep our jobs? Will we keep our health? Can we afford higher education for our kids? Why are we working harder for less, two jobs, three jobs, four jobs in a family? We're being squeezed. Sadly, it is our children who pay the greatest price for this "winner take all, every person for oneself" economy.
As we celebrate the centennial of our province, we should commit to the restoration of a situation or an environment that promotes equity and harmony, "shalom", in a community.
The Hebrew word "mispat" is a word regularly found in the Psalms and in the words of the prophets, especially when God is portrayed as having a special concern for the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the oppressed. It refers to basic human rights and to the restorative acts of repairing the world. It involves practising fidelity to the demands of a relationship. People who work for a living should not live in poverty nor should they raise a family in poverty.
Please consider the numbers. Over 12% of all individuals in Calgary live below the Low Income Cut-off (LICO) lines in 2000; 11.7% of children and 16.4% of seniors over age 65 lived below the LICO. Over 22,000 Calgarians relied on social assistance (supports for Independence and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) in December 2002.
In 2002, 1,737 Calgarians were homeless - an increase of 34% from 2000. In Calgary, as many as 50% of the people living in homeless shelters are employed. A person earning minimum wage would have to spend 70% of his or her gross income to afford the average rent of $716 a month for a one bedroom apartment. Additional expenses for other necessities such as food, utilities, clothing, transportation and child care mean that many families are forced to make difficult choices in order to reach a subsistence standard of living.
48,311 Calgarians received food hampers in 2002, up 11% from 2001. In Calgary, 31.8% of the visible minority population and 50.6% of people of Aboriginal identity live in poverty.
The wealth-poverty ratio in Calgary is significantly higher than it is for Alberta and Canada. 2001 census figures show that the poorest 10% of the Calgary population had an average annual income of $13,000 while those in the top 10% averaged annual incomes of $248,600.
These numbers are frightening and indicative of the suffering of so many in the face of plenty.
The dilemma facing many parents is what do I have to give up to put my child in dance lessons or to purchase a much needed winter coat? For families in a constant state of financial distress, just paying for a prescription may deplete their small grocery budget and mean they have to rely on the food bank by the end of the month.
Lack of time and money make it difficult for many workers to improve their education, a step that could lead to more stable, higher paying jobs. It also becomes difficult to take the time to enhance their children's life experience. This means going without extracurricular activities that many of us take for granted for our families and children - trips to the zoo, dance and music lessons, birthday parties, participating in sports and other school activities.
The road map out of financial distress is complex and requires addressing a range of issues. Without attempting to be exhaustive, assisting a family would mean providing opportunities to acquire: stable, safe and affordable housing in a safe neighbourhood; stable employment at a living wage; access to employee benefits packages; social services supports to work through times of crisis; assuring that kids receive proper nutrition, extra-curricular learning and recreational opportunities; and literacy and access to training opportunities.
Such assistance to families would be a prophetic sign to the rest of Canada of "The Alberta Advantage." Thanks for considering my reflections.
☩ Frederick Henry
Condolences received: Letter from Apostolic Nuncio and Archbishop O’Brien Bishops Present: Archbishop MacNeil, Archbishop Collins, Archbishop Exner, Archbishop Guimond, Bishop Luc Buchard, Bishop Richard Smith, Bishop Eugene Cooney, and Anglican Bishop B. Hollowell. Special Thanks: Joan Patton, John Rinkel, Sr. Margaret Nadeau, and Fr. Larry Bagnall for their outstanding care and compassion expressed to Bishop Paul during his retirement and illness. Would that we all experience such love in our last days.
The topic of the 2001 Synod of Bishops was “The Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.” Whenever we reflect upon the who, what, where, why, and how of “bishoping” in the Church, we always return to the figure of Jesus the Good Shepherd as the primary image.
# 13 - “As a Pastor of the flock and servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in hope, the Bishop must become as it were a transparent reflection of the very person of Christ, the Supreme Pastor. In the Roman Pontifical, this requirement is explicitly mentioned: “Receive the mitre, and may the splendour of holiness shine forth in you, so that when the Chief Shepherd appears, you may deserve to receive from him an unfading crown of glory.”
Bishop Paul’s motto - “witness among men” - understood the importance of being a “transparent reflection.” He would have been much more inclusive if he were to craft the motto today - but 37 years ago inclusivity was not a big issue.
Today’s gospel reading is a section taken from Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel which develops the parable of the Good Shepherd. Jesus uses this image to describe himself as he builds upon the experience of the people. A shepherd is :
1. Wide awake, vigilant, watchful, caring and careful. Shepherds hardly ever sit down during the entire day, he might lean on his staff but never sat down, lest he lose sight of his sheep. Staff is used as a weapon if a wolf attacked and the crook, which could be wrapped around a sheep’s neck, helped keep the sheep in line. Given Bishop Paul’s stature and my own, we have to stand to keep the flock in view, and consequently we liked to lean on the staff.
2. Dedicated person - lives with and for his sheep. He lives so close to them, he even takes on their smell. He can feel and sense how they are, no change or want escapes his attention. Authority is based on his steady presence, dedication and care. A nomadic life, normally prevented shepherd from having a house or family.
3. By no means a weakling, he is capable and willing to defend his animals to the point of a bloody fight. David - Saul tries to dissuade him - response/ lion or a bear - “seize it by the jaw, strike it and kill it.” Bishop Paul’s tenacious spirit on the hockey rink and football field was well-known.
4. Man of responsibility. Prior to bank accounts and stock markets, capital was invested in herds and entrusted to a shepherd. If one were lost, called to account, and required to make restitution.
5. Source of life. Guides them to pastures, supplies and provides and protects, echoing Jesus’ word from the Gospel: “ I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
As teacher, friend, guide, and spiritual father through more than 50 years of priesthood (30 of them as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary), Bishop Paul O’Byrne nurtured the faith-life of thousands. He served the larger community in various leadership roles with the Catholic Youth Federation, the Medicine Hat Council of Social Services, the Banff Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club and Knights of Columbus, and was the Chairman of the 1988 Olympic Religion Committee. He was active on numerous Committees and Commissions of the CCCB.
He shepherded the local Catholic community through the hectic but blessed days immediately following the Second Vatican Council, and led the Diocese as it multiplied in size and complexity facing the challenges of institutionalized modernism and triumphant secularism. He not only built churches but more importantly community, initiated numerous charitable works and fully engaged social agencies, cared for retired priests, and championed the cause of ecumenism. He really appropriate the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II.
The Blackfoot Nation bestowed upon him the title, “Holy Star, Our Bishop,” and the Blood Nation the title, “Sitting Above.” Images which testify to his status.
However, despite his various involvement and accomplishments, he remained unpretentious, wanted to move away from the more princely attachment of his office, lived modestly and counted among his greatest pleasures visiting schools and talking to children. This practice, of course, calls to mind the words of Jesus - “Let the little children come to me.”
1. Wide awake, vigilant, watchful, caring and careful.
2. Dedicated person - lives with and for his sheep.
3. By no means a weakling, capable and willing to defend his people.
4. Man of responsibility
5. Source of life
Today we can say that “Just as you received the mitre .... may you now receive from him an unfading crown of glory.”
☩ Frederick Henry