Many years ago, during one of our study breaks as a student priest in Rome, I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Paris sightseeing, working on my thesis, and trying to learn a little French. My time was also prioritized accordingly - mostly sightseeing!
My greatest discovery and favourite hide-away was the Chapel of Saint Vincent de Paul (95 rue de Sèvres) just around the corner from the Mother house of the Daughters of Charity and the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. It was a quiet refuge in the midst of a bustling busy metropolis. The outside of the building was rather plain and it wasn't a major tourist destination. It's beauty was internal and hidden.
I loved the peace and solitude of the Chapel. It was also special because the bones of St. Vincent de Paul were encased there in a waxen figure displayed in an ornate reliquary which was raised up behind the main altar . The front of the reliquary was made of glass for good viewing. The reliquary was also very accessible by way of side stairs at both ends. I had climbed the stairs several times.
One day, I'm praying in the main body of the chapel when there is a loud commotion behind me at the entrance. I turned around and there is this little middle aged lady bursting through banging doors, obviously on a mission. She is focussed on the reliquary, looks straight ahead and mumbling all the way up the stairs behind the altar.
After a few minutes of audible prayer, she descends, spots me and proceeds to pull me out of the pew, up to the front of the chapel and the reliquary. She puts my hand on the reliquary and breaks out in a great big smile. She has just introduced me to her Vince!
Vincent was, and still is, a "popular" saint, renowned for compassion, humility and generosity. Later, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was created, dedicated to tackling poverty and disadvantage by providing direct practical assistance to anyone in need.
At the Second Vatican Council, St. John XXIII coined the expression "the Church of the poor. " The church of the poor is not composed only of the poor of the Church but the poor of the world, whether they are baptized or not, they belong to her. They are "Christians," not because they declare themselves as belonging to Christ, but because Christ has declared them as belonging to himself: "You did it to me!"
No religious founder identified himself with the poor as Jesus did. No one proclaimed: "All that you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40), where the "least brother" does not mean only a believer in Christ but every person.
Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" wants the joy that "fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus" to spread through evangelization, with a renewed effort to serve the poor.
"If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, "those who cannot repay you" (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, "the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel", and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them." (EV 48)
"Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other "in a certain sense as one with ourselves". This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: "The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely". (EV199)
The basic challenge for us Catholics today is to become, with the help of God's Spirit, grateful enough, free enough, humble enough, letting go enough to be able to see and read clearly the signs of the times in us, and around us so that our world vision may become that of Christ, as we grow in his gift of discovering His risen presence and actions in ourselves, in every person, in every happening in all of creation.
St Vincent de Paul once said: "That when we give bread, we should be on our knees."
☩ Frederick Henry
Statement by the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
for the 100th Anniversary of Canada's Entry into the First World War
On August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany, which had violated the neutrality of Belgium by invading it. Canada, as part of the British Empire, was thereby brought into what would be the first of two world wars. A few weeks later, the Canadian Parliament enacted the War Measures Act, empowering the government to co-ordinate Canada's involvement in this bloody war which would result in the deaths of some nine million military personnel and seven million civilians over the next four years.
How should we today understand this event from the perspective of our faith in the Gospel? How should disciples of the Prince of Peace commemorate this violent upheaval in which the lives of so many were sacrificed?
The horrors of war, the dignity of the soldier
Let us first distinguish between the war and its victims. Barely two months after the fighting started, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Québec, Montréal and Ottawa deplored the torments of the war in words that still touch us today: "Machine guns have plunged innumerable families into desolation: thousands of women are lamenting the loss of their husbands, mothers are grieving their sons, orphans are weeping for their parents. Cities are reduced to ashes, monuments overturned, hearths left cold, fields ravaged, factories closed, industry slowed, battalions mowed down like wheat, lives in their prime are scattered to all winds. So many ruins, dear Brothers and Sisters, have accumulated in this short time!" [unofficial translation of Pastoral letter on the duties of Catholics in the present war, September 23, 1914].
These words remind us that the horrors of war should never be praised, celebrated or honoured.
However, we should honour the soldiers who, out of the conviction of fighting evil, accepted to suffer misery, pain, injuries, and even death. Their sacrifices, and those of their families and friends, should not be forgotten. These were the first victims of the war. Let us gather and mourn their deaths. Let us grieve their shortened lives. On their behalf, let us make a commitment to build peace.
Since that time, Canadian armies have often displayed great humanity, even in the midst of horrible conflagrations. Over the decades, their peacekeeping role and rescue missions in disaster areas have benefitted many. This is a role we must maintain and enhance.
Sometimes, war invades the hearts of some of our military and pushes them into violence and despair. That is a call for us to support our soldiers, those on active duty and those who are veterans, as well as their families and loved ones.
I also want to emphasize the invaluable role played by military chaplains - those priests, deacons and lay people who accompany our soldiers and their families, giving them advice and encouragement, watching with them, praying with them, crying with them. They are true beacons of hope, especially in the dark areas of engagement and fighting.
Commemorating a war by being committed to peace
For Christians, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War must be an opportunity to renew our own commitment to peace. Let us ask God to make each and every one of us an instrument of peace. Let us open our hearts to the Spirit of Jesus, whose fruits are "love, joy, peace" (Galatians 5.22).
Let us remember the words of Pope Paul VI: "Development is the new name for peace" (Populorum Progressio, 87). We see this still in our own day. It is often in the poorest countries, in the most deplorable situations, where war breaks out. War is fed by unemployment, hunger, oppression, and despair. We can build peace by building a world with greater justice, where each person can enjoy some of the beauty of life.
In his 2006 message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed: "The foundations of authentic peace rest on the truth about God and man." These words of wisdom remind us of the deep connection between the proclamation of the Gospel and the commitment to peace.
It is therefore providential that in 2014, 100 years after the start of the First World War, Pope Francis invites the whole Catholic Church to "pastoral and missionary" conversion. Announcing the Good News of Jesus the Saviour has never been as urgent as it is in this environment when war can prove so destructive and deadly. All of us are challenged to be not only faithful disciples of the Prince of Peace, but also his ardent missionaries.
Let us therefore mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War of 1914-18 by renewing our commitment, as part of our great country, to be active witnesses for justice and peace.
+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
August 1, 2014
Déclaration du Président de la Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada
à l'occasion du 100e anniversaire de l'entrée du Canada dans la Première Guerre mondiale
Le 4 août 1914, la Grande-Bretagne déclarait la guerre à l'Allemagne qui avait bradé la neutralité de la Belgique en l'envahissant. Le Canada, pays de l'Empire britannique, se trouvait par le fait même entraîné dans ce qui deviendrait la première de deux guerres mondiales. Quelques semaines plus tard, le Parlement canadien approuvait la Loi des mesures de guerre permettant au gouvernement de coordonner l'engagement du Canada dans cette guerre sanglante qui a entraîné la mort de plus de neuf millions militaires et de sept millions civils au cours des prochaines quatre années .
Comment aujourd'hui comprendre cet événement dans une perspective de foi évangélique? Comment les disciples du Prince de la paix devraient-ils commémorer ce violent bouleversement pour lequel tant de vies ont été sacrifiées?
Les horreurs de la guerre, la dignité du soldat
Distinguons d'abord entre la guerre et ses victimes. À peine deux mois après le début des combats, les évêques des provinces ecclésiastiques de Québec, Montréal et Ottawa déploraient les affres de la guerre en des mots qui nous touchent encore aujourd'hui. « La mitraille a jeté dans la désolation des familles sans nombre : des femmes par milliers pleurent la perte de leurs époux, des mères, celle de leurs fils, des orphelins celle de leurs parents. Villes consumées par l'incendie, monuments renversés, foyers éteints, champs dévastés, fabriques fermées, industrie ralentie, bataillons fauchés comme des épis, fleur des nations effeuillée aux quatre vents du ciel : que de ruines, Nos Très Chers Frères, se sont accumulées dans ce court espace de temps! » (Lettre pastorale sur les devoirs des catholiques dans la guerre actuelle, 23 septembre 1914)
Ces mots nous rappellent les horreurs de la guerre, qu'il ne faudrait jamais louer, célébrer ou honorer.
Cependant, nous devrions honorer ces soldats qui, convaincus de combattre le Mal, ont accepté d'endurer la misère, la douleur, les blessures et même la mort. Leurs sacrifices, ainsi que ceux de leurs familles et amis, ne devraient jamais être oubliés. Ils ont été les premières victimes de la guerre. Rassemblons-nous, pleurons leur mort, regrettons leur trop bref passage sur la terre : et, en leur nom, engageons-nous à construire la paix.
Depuis ce temps, les Forces armées canadiennes ont souvent fait preuve de grand humanisme, même au cœur d'horribles conflagrations. Au fil des décennies, plusieurs ont bénéficié de cette valeur lors de missions de sauvetage et du maintien de la paix dans des zones sinistrées. C'est un rôle qu'il nous faut maintenir et relever.
Il arrive que la guerre se transporte jusque dans le cœur de certains de nos soldats et qu'elle les entraîne dans la violence et le désespoir. Il y a là pour nous comme un appel à soutenir nos soldats actifs et vétérans, leurs familles et leurs entourages.
Je voudrais par ailleurs souligner le rôle inestimable joué par les aumôniers militaires – les prêtres, les diacres et les laïcs – qui accompagnent nos soldats et leurs familles, leur donnent conseils et les encouragent, veillent avec eux, prient avec eux, pleurent avec eux. Ils s'avèrent de véritables phares d'espérance, surtout dans les zones obscures d'engagement et de combat.
Commémorer une guerre en s'engageant pour la paix
Le 100e anniversaire du début de la Première Guerre mondiale doit devenir pour les chrétiennes et les chrétiens l'occasion de renouveler leur propre engagement pour la paix. Demandons à Dieu de faire de chacun et de chacune de nous un instrument de paix. Ouvrons nos cœurs à l'Esprit de Jésus dont les fruits se nomment « amour, joie, paix » (Galates 5, 22).
Rappelons-nous par ailleurs les paroles du Pape Paul VI : « Le développement est le nouveau nom de la paix. » (Populorum progressio, no 87) Nous le voyons aujourd'hui encore : c'est souvent dans les pays les plus pauvres, dans les situations les plus déplorables, que surgit la guerre. La guerre se nourrit de chômage, de faim, d'oppression et de désespoir. Nous bâtirons la paix en bâtissant un monde plus juste, où chaque personne peut goûter un peu de la beauté de la vie.
Dans son message pour la Journée mondiale pour la paix en 2006, le pape Benoît XVI avait affirmé : « Le fondement d'une paix authentique s'appuie seulement sur la vérité de Dieu et de l'homme. » Ces mots de sagesse nous rappellent le lien profond entre la proclamation de l'Évangile et l'engagement pour la paix.
Il est donc providentiel qu'en 2014, centième année du début de la Première Guerre mondiale, le pape François invite toute l'Église catholique à une conversion « pastorale et missionnaire ». L'annonce de la Bonne Nouvelle de Jésus Sauveur n'a jamais été aussi urgente que dans ce contexte où la guerre peut s'avérer si destructive, si meurtrière. Nous sommes tous et toutes conviés à être non seulement les fidèles disciples du Prince de la paix, mais aussi ses ardents missionnaires.
Marquons donc le 100e anniversaire du début de la Grande Guerre de 1914-1918 en renouvelant notre engagement d'être, au cœur de notre grand pays, des témoins engagés pour la justice et la paix.
+ Paul-André Durocher
Archevêque de Gatineau
Président de la Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada
1er août 2014
☩ Frederick Henry
On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada issued an unanimous decision which struck down three Criminal Code provisions regulating prostitution: living off the avails of prostitution; communicating in public for purposes of prostitution; and keeping or being found in a bawdy house.
Initially, I was not only saddened by this decision but perplexed by the reasoning behind it. The decision says, in part: "The three impugned provisions, primarily concerned with preventing public nuisance as well as the exploitation of prostitutes, do not pass Charter muster: they infringe the s. 7 rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."
I'm afraid that many will conclude that once again the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been invoked, the Supreme Court has spoken, and settled the prostitution issue.
The quote ascribed to the great philosopher and former New York Yankee baseball player, Yogi Berra, readily comes to mind - "this is déjà vu, all over again."
A few years ago, the Supreme Court said that Parliament may redefine marriage, it did not say that it must redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. At that time the Supreme Court Justices talked about reading the Constitution,"expansively," and that it is like a "living tree which by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life."
There are more roots to the tree than simply the Charter of Rights and Freedom. There are also historical, cultural, philosophical, moral, and anthropological roots. The failure to attend to the health of all the roots runs the risk of killing the tree and destroying the public good.
Prostitution is not only anti-marriage but it exploits its participants and causes societal harm.
Chief Justice McLachlin stated: "While some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so. Ms. Bedford herself stated that she initially prostituted herself 'to make enough money to at least feed myself.'
As the application judge found, street prostitutes, with some exceptions, are a particularly marginalized population. Whether because of financial desperation, drug addictions, mental illness, or compulsion from pimps, they often have little choice but to sell their bodies for money. Realistically, while they may retain some minimal power of choice-what the Attorney General of Canada called constrained choice-these are not people who can be said to be truly 'choosing' a risky line of business."
The effect of the Supreme Courts decision was suspended for 12 months to give Parliament a chance to respond.
I now see the decision as an opportunity for our law makers to do something right, namely, to change the focus to the criminalization of the purchasing of sexual services. The Government of Canada is perfectly positioned to introduce new legislation on prostitution that will both reduce its incidence and improve the safety and security of its victims.
The evidence of other countries that have experimented with liberalization of prostitution quickly revealed that such changes led to unintended consequences and to an increase in sex trafficking. A New Zealand Law Review Committee report found in 2008 marked increases in violence and coercion of sex workers following liberalization of prostitution laws in 2003. A recent German report suggested that liberalization of prostitution in 2002 has spawned increased participation to levels of 700,000 prostitutes.
On the other hand, in Sweden, the passage of a law that treats prostitution as a form of violence against women that fosters inequality has resulted in a 50% drop in street prostitution. Sweden is also noted for having the least amount of trafficked women in the European Union.
Furthermore, the law has been successful in changing public opinion with over 70% of the population supporting the law.
The Swedish approach, commonly called the Nordic Model, criminalizes the purchasing of sexual services and offers support and rehabilitation opportunities for prostituted women and exit strategies. Women selling sex are seen more as victims rather than criminals. This model recognizes that the root cause of exploitation of women through prostitution is the demand of male customers, without which the global industry of trafficking and prostitution would collapse.
The Catholic Women's League of Canada has assumed a real leadership role on this issue for quite some time and have repeatedly urged all CWL members to write and/or email their MPs and MLAs in support of the CWL's Resolution 2012.01 Criminalization of the Purchasing of Sexual Services. It's now time for us to follow their prophetic lead.
It is particularly timely, that on Ash Wednesday, March 5, Pope Francis sent a lenten letter of support to Bishops of Brazil in their opposition to human trafficking:
It is impossible to remain indifferent when one learns that there are human beings who are bought and sold like merchandise! Think of the adoption of children destined to be sold for organ transplants, of women who are deceived and forced into prostitution, of workers without rights or a voice who exploited, etc. This is human trafficking. It is precisely on this level that we need to make a good examination of conscience: how many times have we permitted a human being to be seen as an object, to be put on show in order to sell a product or to satisfy an immoral desire? The human person ought never to be sold or bought as if he or she were a commodity. Whoever uses human persons in this way and exploits them, even if indirectly, becomes an accomplice of this injustice.
☩ Frederick Henry