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Five years in, reconciliation moves slowly

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 08:25
Still “a long way to go” to implement TRC Calls to Action

By Wendy-Ann Clarke, The Catholic Register

[Canadian Catholic News] – Five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its final report, there is agreement that strides have been made in the journey towards healing with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Church officials and Indigenous leaders recognize there is still some way to go.

Released in 2015, the TRC report included 94 Calls to Action to achieve true reconciliation, including two — Calls to Action 48 and 49 — aimed directly at church parties to the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Agreement. These call for churches to adopt and comply with the principles of UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) as a framework for reconciliation, and calls on religious denominations and faith groups to repudiate concepts used to justify sovereignty over Indigenous peoples and their lands.

In 2016, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) released a document outlining the Catholic commitment to UNDRIP, and earlier this month the federal government of Canada followed through with legislation to implement the declaration. But the work has just begun.

“We still have a long way to go because we’re a society still marked by injustice in so many ways,” said Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen. “In societal indicators of wellbeing, such as employment rates, suicide rates, access to health, access to good drinking water, access to education, incarceration rates and poverty rates, in almost every area Indigenous people in Canada are on the losing end.

“That just points to a systematic injustice and embedded racism and the need to be very proactive (as the Church) in accompanying Indigenous people in their struggle for justice.”

While Bolen says the TRC has been effective in moving the conversation around reconciliation to the forefront in the Church, he adds that the document serves as a reference point as the Church works to support and uphold the dignity of Indigenous people in any way needed, whether directly outlined in the TRC or not.

A large part of that, Bolen says, comes from listening to Indigenous voices and honouring their valuable contributions to Canadian society now and going into the future.

“I think recent teachings of Pope Francis, especially on the environment, highlight the wisdom that we need to learn in order to go forward,” said Bolen. “Often that wisdom is very well articulated in Indigenous traditions, understanding of the land, understanding of creation and our relationship with other creatures.

“I always find it beautiful to hear an Indigenous prayer, which acknowledges the two legs and the four legs, the swimmers and the winged ones. It speaks so beautifully of other creatures and our relationship with the rest of creation.”

Bolen has made reconciliation a priority in Regina, establishing the Archdiocesan Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, a Diocesan Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR) was established as a follow-up commitment made during the TRC national event held in that city in June 2012.

“The group’s mandate is to provide a forum for listening and sharing, through stories and prayer; to collaborate with the diocese toward building and strengthening relationships; and to support healing from the Indian Residential School experience,” says the mission statement of the DCTR established in the diocese of Saskatoon. “Our goal is to raise awareness throughout the diocese about injustice issues, and barriers to reconciliation, and to discern a way to walk together on a path of understanding, education and action, fostering relationships in light of the gospel.”

National TRC Commissioners Senator Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson, and Chief Wilton Littlechild (l-r) during the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission event held in Saskatoon in June 2012. (File photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Overall, the pace of moving forward has been glacial. Truth and Reconciliation commissioners Senator Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild and Dr. Marie Wilson expressed concerns in a Dec. 15 statement, saying there has been a “slow and uneven pace of implementation of the Calls to Action.”

Graydon Nicholas, newly appointed Chancellor of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., agrees.

“There have been some accomplishments that have been made when it comes to child welfare, the issue of languages and the fact that there was an actual inquiry launched on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls,” said Nicholas, who was born into a Maliseet family on New Brunswick’s Tobique First Nation and is also Chair of Native Studies at St. Thomas. “But there are also other things that need to be considered very soon if the (TRC report) is going to have any momentum into the future.”

One of the major areas of concern has been lack of progress by the federal government on Call to Action 53, to establish a National Council for Reconciliation to assess and promote reconciliation efforts. When Nicholas first read the TRC document in 2015 he recognized this point as an important pillar in ensuring the Canadian government is held accountable to fulfill all TRC commitments. It took two years for an interim board to be appointed to create a report to examine what could be done in regards to this. The report was filed in 2018.

“Unfortunately, it’s been sitting I guess in the ministry office or whoever’s responsible since that time and nothing has been done about it,” said Nicholas. “I think to me, that’s one of the major disappointments, because (the National Council for Reconciliation) is what we need structurally to make sure that things happen.”

Archbishop Bolen has served in both the Saskatoon and Regina dioceses in his home province of Saskatchewan where there are large Indigenous populations within each diocese — both First Nations and Métis peoples. He describes the relationships he has built with the Indigenous communities as “life giving.”

Looking at the bigger picture of reconciliation beyond the TRC, Bolen says he is committed to working side by side with Indigenous communities to achieve the healing and progress necessary as a diverse Church community.

“I have really learned so much and benefited so much setting up structures to grow those relationships and deepen that spirit of walking together, that reflects the TRC,” said Bolen, who also serves as part of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

“As a Church, we’re not taking our starting point from the TRC but from the challenges faced by Indigenous people today and a desire to want to work together.”


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100 Words – Epiphany: “Willingness”

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 07:31

By Peter Oliver, Olive Branch Marriage and Family Ministry

… in the days of King Herod,  behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matt 2:1-2)

God puts stars in our lives – acts of kindness, insights, moment of faith, examples of courage.  God also put a star in the lives of the Magi and it awakened something called willingness.

Willingness (releasing the grip on my plans in favor of God’s) is difficult but star-following, epiphany-seeking, get-my-life-together people must become willing.

What makes willingness hard? What makes it possible?

Consider the kings the wise men encounter.  The first is Herod, a conniving man, filled with fear and a desire to control.  The second is Jesus, a child utterly vulnerable and dependent – the very incarnation of willingness.


[This is a weekly blog re-published from with permission from author Peter Oliver. Each post is exactly 100 words.]

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Bishop Hagemoen blesses new Catholic health facility: the Hospice at Glengarda

Thu, 12/24/2020 - 12:46

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

In a small and quiet celebration, the new stand-alone residential Hospice at Glengarda in Saskatoon was blessed by Bishop Mark Hagemoen.

The new hospice – located at Hilliard Street and Melrose Avenue in a former Ursuline Sisters’ residence in southeast Saskatoon – is scheduled to begin accepting patients in the New Year.

Because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, only seven people gathered Dec. 23, 2020 for the blessing celebration.

Bette Boechler, MC for the Dec. 23 event and Executive Director of Samaritan Place and of the new Hospice at Glengarda, noted that the limited celebration is not what would have been envisioned months ago.

However, in some ways, the pandemic makes the launch of the new building even more meaningful, she said. “It really makes me think about the privilege we have in looking after people at the end of life – it is totally a gift,” Boechler said.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen blessed the new Hospice at Glengarda in a quiet celebration Dec. 23, 2020, as Francis Maza of Emmanuel Care (left) and hospice Executive Director Bette Boechler look on. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Bishop Mark Hagemoen also noted that blessing the hospice in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly poignant. “This is a wonderful day,” he affirmed. “In a time of pandemic, we need healing and hope. We pray in a very special way for the caregivers, here and beyond, who make it possible for us to move forward.”

Bishop Hagemoen also reflected on the history of Catholic health care. “Education and health care has long been a part of the Catholic identity and mission … for decades and indeed for centuries.”

In particular, the bishop noted the contributions of women religious orders, including the Ursulines of Prelate, whose Glengarda residence in Saskatoon has been renovated and transformed into the new 15-bed stand-alone residential hospice, with funds raised through a “Close to Home” campaign by the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation.

“I not only congratulate Emmanuel Health in partnership with the Sisters for this launching, but I am also very thankful to almighty God that the identity and mission of this Catholic health care institution –which is open and outreaching to all of God’s people, in the city of Saskatoon and beyond – will continue,” Hagemoen said.

Related article: “Close To Home fund-raising campaign completed for new Saskatoon hospice”

Related article: “Former Ursuline residence converted to hospice”

During his prayer of blessing, the bishop said: “From the beginning of the Church, the service and care of the poor, the hungry, the sick and the dying has been a mark of the Christian in the world. And today, with the building of this hospice, we continue to fulfill that spiritual and social responsibility, which the Gospel calls us all to live.”

Bishop Mark Hagemoen blesses a crucifix during the blessing ceremony held Dec. 23 for the new Hospice at Glengarda Catholic health facility. Bishop Mark Hagemoen prays during a blessing celebration Dec. 23 for the new Hospice at Glengarda Catholic health facility. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

The bishop added: “Catholic tradition faces the reality of suffering and death with the confidence of faith and the assurance of hope and blessing … Suffering and death are not a final end, but rather a journey, a passage transformed by the promise of life everlasting in the Resurrection.”

All those involved in the new Hospice at Glengarda are called “to journey with the dying person and their families, with care and compassion, comfort and hope,” he said. “We care for people in such a way that they find strength and comfort in knowing God’s abiding love for them.”

The new hospice “stands as a testament to our commitment to continue the healing ministry of Jesus in our city,” Bishop Hagemoen said.

Speaking on behalf of all the Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan, Hagemoen thanked all those involved in the project, including the many partner organizations and the many who donated to the “Close to Home” campaign.

Blessing a small container of holy water, Bishop Hagemoen prayed that the hospice will be a place “filled with the goodness and blessing of God,” where all are welcome and accepted. He then blessed different spots in the building, including a common area and a patient’s room, as well as a crucifix that he then placed it on the wall.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen places a newly-blessed crucifix in one of the patient rooms during the blessing ceremony for the Hospice at Glengarda in Saskatoon Dec. 23, 2020. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Bishop Mark Hagemoen prays before a newly-blessed crucifix in a patient room. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

After the blessing, Sr. Anne Lewans, General Superior of the Ursulines of Prelate, spoke about the history of the Glengarda residence, including the origin of the building’s name: Garda is a lake in Italy near where St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline order, was born.

Lewans described the arrival of the Ursulines of Prelate in Saskatchewan more than a century ago, and their decades of service in education, pastoral ministry and health over the decades.

Sr. Anne Lewans, OSU, of the Ursulines of Prelate, speaking during the blessing celebration for the Hospice at Glengarda held Dec. 23, 2020. Bishop Mark Hagemoen prays during a blessing celebration Dec. 23 for the new Hospice at Glengarda Catholic health facility. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Invited to Saskatoon in 1953 to teach at St. Frances Cabrini school, the Ursulines of Prelate eventually moved into the Glengarda residence, which was constructed in 1959. Sr. Lewans described the many ministries and ways in which the sisters lived out their motto of “Educating for Life,” serving as “witnesses to the joy of a prayerful, simple Christian life” and striving to live the baptismal call “with fidelity and with openness to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

“We are thrilled that our home is now becoming the home of another ministry that is responding to another need in our community,” said Sr. Lewans. “We see the Hospice at Glengarda as a continuation of our mission, and so those who make their home here, and those who care for them, will always be in our prayers.”

Sr. Anne Lewans, OSU, General Superior of the Ursulines of Prelate, stands in front of the newly-completed hospice, located in the Sisters’ former Glengarda residence in southeast Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Darryl Bazylak, Chair of the Board of Directors of Emmanuel Health, acknowledged that the new building stands on Treaty 6 territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis. He also acknowledged the history of Catholic health care in Saskatoon, which included the establishment of St. Paul’s Hospital after Grey Nuns of Montreal happened to stop in Saskatoon during an epidemic, and responded by providing their nursing ministry.

Bazylak pointed out ways in which St. Paul’s Hospital has been a leader in areas such as dialysis, kidney transplants, and palliative care, including lobbying and working to establish the residential Hospice at Glengarda to answer another unmet need.

“The ongoing success of Catholic health care is achieved through ongoing collaboration with our health care partners,” Bazylak stressed, thanking all the partners involved in the project, including the Saskatchewan Health Authority and a range of Catholic organizations, including the Ursulines of Prelate, the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation (which raised 100 per cent of the capital costs of the new building), and Samaritan Place, which will be responsible for the ongoing operation of the hospice with operational funding from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

A donor wall at the entrance of the new Hospice at Glengarda. Capital costs for the building were covered by donations to the Close to Home campaign conducted by the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Francis Maza, Executive Lead of Mission, Ethics and Spirituality for Emmanuel Care also spoke, bringing a message from Mary Donlevy-Konkin, board member of Emmanuel Care and vice-chair of Emmanuel Health.

“Emmanuel Care is accountable to the Church and to ensure that our Cahtolic institutions are not just a visible expression of compassion and healing in a community, but also that the services offered in each facility bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel and are congruent with our mission,” he said, reading Donlevy-Konkin’s message.

“That mission is measured both by the quality of care and the compassionate attitude and approach with which it is provided.”

Bishop Mark Hagemoen blesses a crucifix during the blessing celebration for the Hospice at Glengarda. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Executive Director Bette Boechler (left) describes some of the patient amenities of the Hospice at Glengarda to those who attended the blessing ceremony Dec. 23. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Touring the newly-completed facility. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)


Video highlights:


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Christmas message from Bishop Mark Hagemoen

Tue, 12/22/2020 - 12:28

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” – Isaiah 9:2

With that passage from the Prophet Isaiah, Bishop Mark Hagemoen begins his 2020 Christmas message, in an “extraordinary” year like no other.

“The pandemic has stripped so much – and continues to do so” Bishop Hagemoen acknowledges in his Christmas message, before reflecting on the meaning of the Christmas message during this COVID-19 year.

Christmas Message from Bishop Mark Hagemoen – Letter PDF

The bishop concludes his Christmas message with words of hope: “Well, we can’t celebrate like we used to this year, but maybe this means we can take a hard look at Jesus Christ: the babe whose birthday we celebrate every year. He does boldly go where no one has gone before – which takes Him right into the heart and messiness of our lives – in order to bring love and light … and which will take Him on the unique journey of pouring out His life in service: the demonstration of the greatest love the world has ever known – and this redeems, saves the World.”

Please note: Only 30 persons at a time can celebrate Christmas Mass this year in Saskatchewan, with parish registration for Mass required. Mass with Bishop Mark Hagemoen will be livestreamed at and on the diocesan YouTube channel including on Christmas Eve at 4:00 pm (note earlier time) and Midnight, as well as Christmas morning at 10:00 am. Video streams will be archived so that individuals and families can pray “live or later.”





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Fight against euthanasia / assisted suicide continues as another delay to Bill C-7 granted

Tue, 12/22/2020 - 12:11

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – Canada’s Catholic bishops say it is “not too late to reconsider” and stop the expansion of legally-assisted suicide/ euthanasia in Canada.

The bishops are calling on all Catholics and Canadians opposed to expanding the medical assistance in death system (known as MAiD) to speak out against Bill C-7 as the federal government has now been given until Feb. 26 to bring federal law in line with a Quebec court decision from 2019. That Quebec court ruling declared making a person wait until their death is already “reasonably foreseeable” to access medically-assisted death is unconstitutional. Bill C-7 passed third reading in the House of Commons and is now before the Senate.

Canada’s bishops are hoping that the additional time to consider proposed changes in Bill C-7 that was granted by a Quebec court on Dec. 17 will persuade the country’s politicians to pull back from making it easier for Canadians to kill themselves with the help of a doctor.

In a strongly worded statement released Dec. 18, the executive committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) called on Canadian politicians to reconsider changes to assisted-suicide/euthanasia rules, which the bishops say are being rushed.

“Over the course of the past several months, there has been significant debate among Canadians over Bill C-7. Among the amendments that are being introduced, it seeks to expand access to euthanasia by eliminating the ‘reasonable foreseeability of natural death’ criterion. This would allow those who are not dying to request and obtain euthanasia or assisted suicide in Canada,” the CCCB’s Dec. 18 statement said.

Canadian Catholic Bishops respond to decisions related to Bill C-7

Link to CCCB statement (ENGLISH)  / (FRENCH)

“The Catholic Bishops of Canada remain steadfastly opposed to all forms of euthanasia and assisted suicide. We are especially concerned by the accelerated and reckless pace in which the Government is attempting to pass Bill C-7,” the CCCB statement said.

“Despite the numerous warnings by disability organizations and physicians about the devastating consequences of Bill C-7, the truncated and flawed legislative process has overstepped legitimate democratic debate, while simply racing to meet a provincial court deadline rather than taking the time to deliberate fully the implications of Bill C-7.”

Concerns about the constitutionality of the bill and the impact Bill C-7 will have on disabled Canadians – which passed third reading by a two-to-one margin in the House of Commons Dec. 10 but which was still in the committee review stage in the Senate before another extension was granted to change the law – have been the key focal points of euthanasia opponents during the ongoing debate over Bill C-7.

“We welcome this decision by the court, which will give Parliament the time it needs to complete its consideration of the proposed legislation, which is of importance to many Canadians and families across the country,” federal Justice Minister David Lametti said when Parliament was given more time to change national law.

“We know Canadians, especially those who are suffering intolerably and would become eligible for MAID under the proposed changes, are anxious to see the proposed amendments come into effect. The Government of Canada remains committed to working with Parliamentarians to respond to this important court ruling as quickly as possible.”

While MPs representing all parties in the House of Commons passed Bill C-7 by a two-to-one margin on Dec. 10, which along with eliminating the need for a person’s death being reasonability foreseeable to qualify for medically-provided death, Bill C-7 would also eliminate or ease some of the other safeguards in the law such as lowering the number of witnesses needed when a person consents to euthanasia/assisted suicide, the bill was under review by the Senate when the latest timeline extension was granted.

Bill C-7 would also eliminate a 10-day waiting period to perform an assisted suicide after consent is given and opens the door to allowing for advanced directives that could see a person be put to death even if they are mentally incapable of consenting when they actually receive medically-provided euthanasia.

Critics of expanding the euthanasia/ assisted suicide system say that hearings at the committee level in both the House of Commons and the Senate show that there is no real consensus among Canadians (as the federal government claims), to make significant changes to the medically-provided death system before a promised five year review of the system and palliative care options in Canada is undertaken.

“Throughout the testimonies given at both the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, it became evidently clear there is no consensus in Canada on the proposed expansion of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, despite the Government’s claim to the contrary in order to justify the passing of Bill C-7,” Canada’s bishops said in their Dec. 18 statement.

“We ask our legislators, both in the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada, to conscientiously rethink this current legislation and the amendments being considered in advance of the formal parliamentary review,” the CCCB said.

“It is not too late to reconsider Canada’s approach to euthanasia and assisted suicide, in order to ensure an ethical response, one that promotes the inherent dignity of each human person when faced with the profound questions surrounding what it means to be human, the quality of life, human suffering, death and dying.

“We are encouraging the Catholic faithful of Canada, other religious communities, and all people of good will to become better informed on the content and grave moral implications of Bill C-7, and to address their objections and concerns directly to their local member of Parliament and the members of the Senate,” Canada’s bishops said.


Video of Bishop McGratten statement to committee:


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Vatican says COVID-19 vaccines “morally acceptable” when no alternatives are available

Mon, 12/21/2020 - 20:13

By Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency

[Vatican City – CNA] – The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) has stated that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available.

In a note issued Dec. 21, the CDF said that in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are unavailable to physicians and patients — or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage or transport conditions — it is “morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

This does not in any way imply a legitimation of the grave evil of the practice of abortion or that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses, the Vatican congregation said.

As COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed in some countries, questions have arisen regarding the connection of these vaccines to aborted fetal cell lines.

The mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer are not produced with aborted fetal cell lines, although aborted fetal cells were used in tests during the early states of vaccine design.

Three other leading vaccine candidates developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, are all produced using aborted fetal cell lines.

The CDF said that it had received multiple requests for guidance regarding the Covid-19 vaccines, “which in the course of research and production, employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from two abortions that occurred in the last century.”

It noted that there had been “diverse and sometimes conflicting” messages made in the media by bishops and Catholic organizations.

The CDF’s statement, approved by Pope Francis on Dec. 17, 2020, went on to say that the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 poses a grave danger and therefore the moral duty to avoid the remote passive material cooperation is not obligatory.

“It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” the CDF said in the note signed by its head, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, and secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.

The Vatican congregation encouraged pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies to “produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.”

“In fact, the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a  moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses,” the note stated.

The CDF also stated that vaccination “must be voluntary,” while noting that those who refuse to receive vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses for reasons of conscience “must do their utmost to avoid … becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”

“In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.


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Surviving the season of loneliness — Covenant House in Toronto reaches out to youth

Mon, 12/21/2020 - 20:01

By Wendy-Ann Clarke, The Catholic Register

Already vulnerable and alone, many homeless and at risk youth are finding themselves dealing with more than the coronavirus and its restrictions this Christmas.

To them, loneliness is another pandemic.

For the staff at Toronto’s Covenant House, helping young people to cope with these feelings at Christmas is nothing new. Working with homeless and runaway kids often in crisis and abandoned or estranged from family, Maria Ricardo says COVID-19 has only further compounded the difficulties of the season.

“It has become very challenging for our young people who don’t have a sense of direction, a sense of purpose to get out of bed in the morning,” said Ricardo, Covenant House mental health and substance use counsellor.

“We have a lot of young people with increased anxiety, increased depression and increased substance use because the thing about isolation is it really mimics the trauma that you experienced when you were at home or on your own. I have a lot of young people saying the memories are flooding back of how alone they felt in life.”

As Canada’s largest agency serving youth who are homeless, trafficked or at risk, Covenant House’s team of counsellors, youth workers, transition and community workers offer a wide range of services to more than 300 young people daily. With often delicate family relationships, many of the youth are not able to live with relatives and due to COVID-19 are not welcome home this Christmas because of concerns over possible virus transmission from their communal living environment.

For the youth living at Covenant House, the celebration will go on as they come together for a socially distanced Christmas dinner. It’s the youth living independently that pose the biggest concern this holiday season for Ricardo.

“We have to be super mindful of our young people who are on their own in the community,” said Ricardo. “That means that our staff work extra hard at making sure they’re texting, calling, e-mailing to make sure that they have contact with our young people consistently over the holidays so that they know they’re not alone.”

Since COVID-19 hit, the organization has had to be diligent and creative in meeting the needs of clients who range in age roughly from 16 to 24 years, and are among some of the most vulnerable in society.

Ricardo says face-to-face interaction is part of the healing process and how staff communicates to them they are valued. With the move to virtual services and limited in-person interaction with masks and social distancing, staff have had to find the delicate balance between maintaining safety and meeting the emotional and psychological needs of clients.

“We know that the relationship is where trauma originates and the relationship is what accesses healing for people,” said Ricardo. “With everything moving towards virtual services, this became a very challenging thing because we know that these young people have been deprived of good, healthy relationships and human contact in many circumstances.”

It’s very hard to communicate love and respect, wellness and positive regard virtually.

“So as a whole, Covenant House has had to do a lot of work on how we communicate these things. We’ve had to decide what places we absolutely have to go virtual and what can we do to keep as much human contact as possible.”

Covenant House has maintained core programming and face-to face therapy sessions for its most vulnerable clients while allowing for more virtual options for young people who may be more progressive in their recovery from trauma.

Roughly 80 per cent of Ricardo’s case load has continued in-person with masks, social distancing and sanitation measures in place.

Several other staff have had most of their cases transferred to the virtual space. Beyond the move to online counselling sessions, Ricardo says their young people are also suffering from losing the people, places and things that make them feel connected such as being able to go to school and interacting with classmates.

This has been a sacrificial year for staff and that will continue throughout the holidays as many with vulnerable family members may not be able to see them due to the volume of people they are interacting with through work.

“A lot of people and a lot of staff have elderly parents or people with compromised immune systems,” said Ricardo. “We’ve had to put aspects of our life on hold as well for the betterment of our young people. We do that because we know that we are coming from a place of privilege and for our young people, they don’t even have that option with the fragile relationships that they have.”


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Medical panel talks culture of life in the workplace

Mon, 12/21/2020 - 19:52

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – Wanting to die often has to do with a deeper level of suffering than appears on the surface. That’s the experience of Dr. Rafael Sumalinog, a Catholic physician-resident in internal medicine practicing in Vancouver.

Speaking to about 15 young professionals at a virtual YP Lounge event, he said when a patient asks him about medically-assisted suicide/ euthanasia (known as “Medical Aid in Dying or MAiD”), he shifts the conversation.

“I see a lot of adults, often elderly folks, with a lot of medical issues, often pain and confusion, things like that. I saw a patient who … wanted the option of MAiD … As soon as people suffer or face a lot of adversity, there is a button that people at least want the option for, the button to get out.” But Sumalinog has realized depression and a “deeper level of suffering that has not been addressed” was behind his patients’ desire to die.

Sumalinog was one of two doctors on the panel who spoke about what it means to be pro-life in today’s medical system. Riley Chen-Mack, a resident in pediatrics who became Catholic and pro-life as recently as 2018, also addressed the event.

“For me, becoming Catholic was part of the journey in recognizing that a universal truth exists and plays into my work, every day. However, I have colleagues who hold pro-life views that are not related to any specific religion,” he told The B.C. Catholic after the virtual event.

“For example, I cannot reconcile how our health-care team can perform life-saving surgical procedures on a 25-week-old child, while in the same complex an abortion can be performed on a premature infant up to 24 weeks gestational age. To me, it seems like these universal truths of life and death currently are at the hands of whatever decision is made by the health-care team and parents,” he said.

“Things cannot be this variable based on what the parent or physician is thinking that day … There is a grounded truth for all of us.”

Chen-Mack is concerned about the expansion of euthanasia for children, which is now being considered in Canada. “We know that the executive function of the human brain – the ability to self-regulate behaviour in situations, to make fully coherent decisions – does not fully develop until late teen years, even into the early 20s for some people. At this point, you’re no longer considered a pediatric patient,” Chen-Mack said, calling for a “hard look” at how the medical system assesses a child’s capacity to make a life or death decision.

He said having solid relationships with parents and community supports are crucial for children, especially in times when life seems too difficult.

“We have many children come into hospital with an eating disorder, who have been starving themselves because they ‘don’t like their bodies.’ They have been starving themselves to the point of being medically unstable. We don’t let them continue to starve themselves once they’re admitted under our care, even if they want to – we recognize that they are lacking insight in that moment. Instead, we … address a deeper wound that is the root of this behaviour,” he said.

“I wonder why other children who enter the hospital, not liking their bodies and wanting surgical or medical procedures to make permanent changes to them, are not treated in the same way, and with the same compassion? There are few children in their teenage years that do like their body! It tells me that these children need to be protected.”

For Chen-Mack, “culture of life” is about valuing every day and learning to cope with challenges that will arise.

“A community that says, ‘I understand that you are going through this pain or this wound, but we will meet you where you are at and support you through this pain together,’ is much different from a society that says ‘I will take away this problem from you by making a permanent life-change that you may regret later,’ without involving other support to address the deeper wound that is causing the behaviour.”

Also on the panel was Cristina Alarcon, a pharmacist for 20 years who refuses to dispense birth control pills. She told the virtual gathering she has been pro-life as long as she can remember, but grew into her convictions in a real way during her studies.

“Shortly after entering pharmacy school, I realized there would be problems, there would be things that would be difficult for me, but I was able to resolve them little by little.”

One of those first major complications was when the morning-after pill became a patented product in the U.S. in 1999 and Canada in 2000. “It had always been an overdose of birth control pills,” but the morning after pill took it to another level.

The headlines were all over the place saying pharmacists were overjoyed that this had come about. I said: ‘I don’t think we’re all happy about this.’”

She refused to dispense it, feeling challenged in her conscience. The pill is now available without a prescription, but some pharmacies carry abortion or euthanasia drugs Alarcon remains opposed to.

“I wouldn’t take a job where I would be forced to dispense [them]. I would rather switch careers,” she said. “I’ve been able to negotiate. I’ve been working in various places and never had to go against my conscience in any way.”

Alarcon has been so open about her values, she’s become something of an ethics consultant among her peers. It’s not only to do with birth control pills, either; she’s been involved in conversations about business ethics and other sticky issues, too.

She said being honest and upfront about her beliefs, coupled with professional skill and a willingness to help colleagues in other areas, has helped her gain respect among colleagues and stay employed without betraying her conscience.

“There’s a misunderstanding of what conscience is. Everything is relegated to your private beliefs or your whim. It’s a complete misunderstanding,” she said. “We don’t do something just because it’s not going to harm us, but because we genuinely believe in the good of the other person. It’s all tied together.”

Simalinog echoed similar sentiments. “It’s one thing to have these concepts on a screen and have people read about them,” he said. What people need to see is “your personal example, living it out and being true to your principles and values.”

Young Professionals (YP) Lounge is a program by Vancouver’s Life Community.


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100 Words – Christmas 2020: “What now?”

Mon, 12/21/2020 - 19:34

By Peter Oliver, Olive Branch Marriage and Family Ministry

Joseph, her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19

Jesus isn’t found in a perfect Christmas; he is discovered in our real Christmases.

Mary is pregnant and Joseph plans to divorce her, but his plans change when an angel appears to him in a dream. Families facing separation and divorce this Christmas might cry out, “God, where’s our angel?”

It’s important to notice two things about this passage. First, the angel invites Joseph to make a decision that requires more courage – hence, the reassurance, “do not be afraid” (Matt 1:20). Second, this decision to welcome what Joseph can’t understand makes God astonishingly real. Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us!


[This is a weekly blog re-published from with permission from author Peter Oliver. Each post is exactly 100 words.]

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