Joining Together to Pray for Peace

The images emerging from the Middle East are searing. Children killed, seniors held hostage, entire families losing their homes and forced to flee, innocent people on both sides of the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, as well as others in neighbouring countries, living in fear of what comes next.

While the hostilities are happening thousands of miles away, the tension can be felt locally, as well. Canada is home to the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world, with more than 335-thousand people identifying as Jewish,  and Statistics Canada’s latest figures show that more than 45-thousand people of Palestinian descent live in Canada.

With many people from each community living in the Greater Toronto Area, the anguish of each group is highly visible, with everything from protests to posters – and, sadly, sometimes hate speech and vandalism—reminding us daily that a significant part of the world is in turmoil.

We cannot turn away from this crisis, yet the entire situation can leave us feeling frustrated, trapped by not knowing how we can help, how we can attempt to bring about peace.

This Friday, though, there is an opportunity to engage, to stand in solidarity with all people suffering in the Middle East. Pope Francis has declared Friday, October 27 to be a day of fasting, penance and prayer for the world, allowing all of us the opportunity to engage in one or more activities with others throughout the world who desire peace for all. The Pope has expressed his desire that the hostages be released, that humanitarian aid be allowed into Gaza and that paths of peace in the Middle East and elsewhere be forged and cultivated.

Archbishop Francis Leo has echoed the Pope’s call for this Friday, inviting people to “participate in a way most suitable for their community. This may include Eucharistic Adoration, Daily Mass with special intentions for peace, praying of the rosary as well as clergy and the faithful offering their own personal prayer time, fasting and penances for this intention.”

These days, when we speak of fasting, many Catholics think of Lent, and the notion of “giving up.” In this instance, fasting offers us a very practical reminder of the suffering of others. A brief few hours without food is not hard for most of us, but the resulting hunger pains can point our hearts and minds back to the suffering of people we’ve never met, making us more aware of our own blessings, and of the onus on us to help in whatever way we can. (Of course, taking the money saved from fasting, especially if it becomes a periodic habit, and donating to a related cause, lending another layer to the notion of “giving up.”)

When we talk of penance, understandably our mind goes to the sacrament of Reconciliation and specific actions assigned us. But when embraced, penance can also become an ongoing process of conversation, examining our failings and our sins and working to eradicate them and to embrace the light instead of the dark. It is unreasonable of us to judge others when we haven’t turned our minds to our own failures. By working to improves ourselves, we cannot help but contribute to a more peaceful society. So ask yourself: have I caused conflict in my own daily life? Do I hold biases regarding certain people? Is my approach to others one of anger versus kindness? Taking Friday to engage in some self-examination can be a fruitful start to eradicating the things we do that do not contribute to peace.

And, of course, there is always prayer. Sometimes we make the process of prayer more challenging than it need be, feeling we have to pray specific prayers clearly stating specific goals. When we try too hard, we can come up short, allowing structure and process to stand in the way of sincere conversation with God, to stop us from listening to God.

But anyone reading headlines or watching TV news should feel confident in recognizing that now is a time to let the cries of our hearts be heard, and to appreciate the power of raising our voices collectively.  There are millions of others like you who are disturbed by the crisis in the Middle East and, for that matter, unrest around the globe. We may not always understand or appreciate complex world situations, but we can all understand wanting to end suffering.

We must also remember the many other countries and regions in conflict with one another across the world and the innocent people who are caught in between.

And so, if your heart urges you to cry out, “Peace, please!” please do. And this Friday, know that you are not alone but adding your voice to those heard around the world.

“Home is Where the Heart is.”

“Home is where the heart is.”                                                                                                            “Home, sweet home.”                                                                                                                         “There’s no place like home.”

 It can be easy to be sentimental about the place called home when, like many of us, you have never had to worry about having a roof over your head.

 But for many of the people seeking assistance from Catholic Charities’ member agencies and affiliated organizations, finding a safe, affordable place to call home can be a brutal, worrying struggle.

 Each day, it seems, news headlines tell horror stories about the scarcity of rental housing in the GTA, as well as what feels like ever-increasing prices, with rental costs soaring far beyond the reach of those on a fixed income,

 Particularly shocking is the wait for subsidized housing, a problem seen across Canada. In Toronto, for example, it can take 14 years for a subsidized one-bedroom unit to become available. It is upsetting but hardly surprising, therefore, to see tent cities sprinting up, with residents unable to find anywhere else to go.

 Recently, Canadians were shocked to discover that asylum seekers were sleeping in the street in downtown Toronto because there simply were no shelter beds available. For many observers, the response was the same: “This is simply unacceptable.”

 But every day, our agencies see people struggling to find a place to live. Teen mothers, people struggling with substance abuse or with mental health issues, the elderly… the length of the list should make all of us uncomfortable. It may also surprise as well because, for example, many seniors living in poverty are women who have had full careers and yet cannot afford rent. Housing is often a more precarious issue for people than we know.

 For people with limited income, finding a place that is within budget is just one piece of the puzzle because, if you don’t own a car, you also have to calculate such challenges as whether there are grocery stores within a reasonable distance, and whether public transit is close by.

 We are always grateful when member agencies are able to address immediate housing needs. At Rosalie Hall, for example, pregnant teens who have faced trauma have a safe place to stay while they learn how to become moms.

 And St. Michael’s Homes offer a safe place for men with mental health and substance abuse problems.

 At Mary Centre, they provide a variety of residential services for people with intellectual disabilities.

 While not all our agencies offer a residential component, staff at all agencies will attest to the extraordinary housing challenges facing people on the margins. It’s a problem we hear about daily. We know we all need to do more. Without stable housing, everything from holding down a job to ensuring children’s education is uninterrupted is at risk.

 There are many ways you can help your vulnerable neighbours in what is increasingly being labelled a crisis.  Obviously, all levels of government need to work together to figure out productive ways to create more subsidized units,

 The province of Ontario needs to extend rent controls to all rental units rather than merely those built before 2018 so that tenants are not surprised by unanticipated rent increases that can seriously damage renters’ budgets. 

 There also needs to be a stronger crackdown on what is known as “renoviction,” which sees tenants evicted, with upgrades done to the property so that landlords are able to rent the unit at a higher price.

 And, of course, we need immediately to increase the supply of emergency beds available to people in a housing crisis. 

 No doubt there are numerous creative ways all levels of government can respond to ensure that the right to safe, affordable housing is protected, but that requires cooperation and, as always, for the rest of us to raise our voices to say that we care about this pressing issue.

 For our communities to function properly, let alone to flourish, we need to let policymakers know how strongly we feel about ensuring there are homes for all. We shouldn’t even have to consider this topic up for debate. 

 It’s a matter that should be particularly close to Catholics’ hearts, as the earthly ministry of Jesus begins with the Holy Family having no shelter, and soon after becoming migrants. We are a church that stems from an understanding of the harshness of this issue, and we are called to do more.


Every Child Matters

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a recent – but very powerful – addition to the Canadian calendar.

The day was introduced on September 30, 2021, as a way to remember the children who were sent to residential schools and never came home, as well as the survivors of those schools, their families, and communities. They were all isolated from their families and struggled with loneliness – pining for family and community connections.

Between 1867 and 1996, the Canadian government ran 140 residential schools, often working in tandem with religious communities, including various Catholic orders. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so thoroughly documented, often the children attending these boarding schools were forcibly taken from their families, and their own Indigenous culture was stripped away, with Indigenous languages lost. No matter how well-intentioned the creation of the schools may have been, many of these schools often inflicted harm that resulted in a life of trauma. Many children attending schools across the country were subjected to physical, sexual, spiritual, and emotional abuse.

Worst of all, of course, was the fact that many children died while attending residential boarding schools, far from their homes, and families were not informed of these deaths, with no marked graves to allow family any sense of connection or a place to grieve, creating an ongoing sense of loss.

As Catholics, we play a role in this sorrowful legacy and have a great deal to learn about what happened, how we can properly express contrition, and how we can help. We have inherited a very painful part of Canadian history. There are still many survivors in Canada today, scarred by their experiences in these schools. Many children and grandchildren live with intergenerational trauma, recognizing the suffering of their ancestors, whether it is the lingering sadness over a lost childhood or even the challenge of being a parent when there were no parental models growing up, or of having trouble showing affection when none was shown to them as children.

Pope Francis’s visit to Canada in July, 2022 was an important step in beginning to heal the suffering caused by residential schools. His request for forgiveness from Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people answered #58 on the TRC’s list of 94 Calls to Action.

The papal visit served as a key moment in the church’s relationship with the Indigenous people of Canada. But what can we do as individuals? The first step is to learn about what happened, because it is impossible to engage in the process of reconciliation without knowing what the problems have been. A good place to start is the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s website: Another excellent resource is Listening to Indigenous Voices, which explores Indigenous worldviews, examines the history of colonization, and concludes with sessions on righting relationships, decolonization, and indigenization.

Voice your support for the ongoing cooperation of our church in providing documents and records to help the process of finding answers. Watch documentaries and attend lectures. Pray for the missing children and their families, for survivors and for finding ways to help the healing.

And today, put on your orange shirt – or wearing anything orange you might have– because orange is a visual reminder that every child matters. It’s a small gesture but it represents extending a hand to begin the process of understanding, which is key to reconciliation.

When you are out and about today, whenever you see an orange shirt, think of the lost children and the suffering of so many because of those losses. And make that mindfulness a daily thing, so that we think of reconciliation not only on special days of the year but on a regular basis. It is a first step in healing the past. No amount of work will resolve the loss. However, efforts towards reconciliation make us hopeful for a future where communities can find peace with one another and learn together.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:37-40


Inspired and Guided by the Great St. Michael

It is fitting that Catholic Charities Week should close today, September 29, which is also the feast of the Archangels – Sts. Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael. While Catholic Charities’ patron is St. Vincent de Paul, and our history begins on Sept. 27, his feast day, St. Michael, as the patron of Toronto, is thus an inspiration and a protector for the work that Catholic Charities and our 20 member agencies engage in every day throughout this archdiocese.

It is impossible as a Catholic to lose sight of the importance of St. Michael to our archdiocese. From our great cathedral basilica to a world-class hospital and a renowned university, many major institutions bear the name of St. Michael.  

While all angels are considered messengers, archangels hold the special role of chief messenger, delivering very special information. We know from the Gospel of Luke, for example, that it was Gabriel who came to Mary to inform her that she was to be the Mother of God, while Raphael, although not mentioned in the New Testament, has traditionally been known for healing.

And then there is St. Michael, our archdiocesan patron. He is associated with courage and valor and is a protector, guarding the faithful – and the Church –from evil. He is a patron to many, including the sick, and he battles for justice.

Thus, for so many of the above-mentioned reasons, St. Michael is a role model for us. His courage inspires, and for the people working in our agencies, courage is something they hope to see take root in flourish in the people they deal with each day. His message to us is one of going forward, taking on the challenges of the world to serve all we encounter.

At a time when we face so many challenges, whether it’s global unrest and unease, or fears about economic upheaval and climate change, or any of the countless issues that can cause us worry, it is reassuring to know we are not left on our own, and that Michael is guiding and guarding us.

Perhaps key to our relationship with Michael, though, is his role as defender of our faith. Catholic Charities is rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, which compels us to seek justice and equity for all, regardless of the religious beliefs of the people who seek our help. All are welcome in the Catholic Charities world. But our motivation as an organization stems from the Gospel, and the great commandment to love one another. Our work flows from the faith of the Church, and Michael’s presence in our prayer lives is therefore an important reminder of why we do what we do.

St. Michael holds a place of special significance in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Our work plays out in that very diocese, and the good people of the Greater Toronto Area support the work that we do. Therefore, our lives remain intertwined, with the wingbeat of Michael never far away, guiding us, protecting us, and leading us onward.

St. Michael, pray for us!

Catholic Charities and ShareLife: Working & Serving Together

Since 1976, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto (CCAT) and ShareLife have been working together to help care for some of the most vulnerable people living in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Although Catholics throughout the archdiocese will be familiar with both names, many may not know that ShareLife’s primary purpose is fundraising, while Catholic Charities’ duties involves oversight of the agencies receiving those funds, as well as the distribution of those funds, in consultation with ShareLife, based on needs-based assessments. With an ongoing relationship between CCAT and our 20 member agencies, Catholic Charities also attends to administrative details, such as facilitating the sharing of services between agencies and arranging regular meetings of agencies’ executive directors, and CCAT takes on an advocacy role, voicing concerns on our members’ behalf about challenging social issues, and support for solutions to improve lives.

When Catholic Charities was established in 1913, Archbishop Neil McNeil appointed Fr. Patrick Bench superintendent of the umbrella organization, designed to oversee the affairs of existing Catholic charities in the city. Fr. Bench was given a small office on Church St., but no budget, as the agencies under the new organization already were raising their own funds.

As time passed, Fr. Bench recognized that while existing agencies were doing a good job, there were still needs to be met, and so Catholic Charities’ work expanded. In 1919 Catholic Charities joined the Federation of Community Service, which was established to pool funding for a network of agencies, regardless of religious affiliation, and the results gave various Catholic charities a strong financial boost.

This relationship was short-lived, however, as in 1927 the federation determined that Catholic agencies would receive no funding in the following year. Some cited an anti-Catholic bias, while others suggested the decision reflected the fact that Catholic Charities, caring for a significantly larger community of new arrivals to the city, received a greater share of funding than other agencies.

Archbishop McNeil responded quickly, launching the Federation of Catholic Charities, reorganizing the existing agencies to include a fundraising wing, and in three short weeks, raised $178,000, a stunning foreshadowing of what was to come. 

During the war years, Catholic Charities joined the United Community Fund, the precursor to the United Way. It was a smart move, because the fund’s size and stability allowed CCAT to expand services, improve facilities and offer better pay. 

In 1976, Catholic Charities faced a crisis of funding as it withdrew from the United Way.  How can the Church continue to sustain its good works?  This time, the answer was to create a fundraising appeal:  ShareLife.  True to its mission, ShareLife has been alongside CCAT to ensure that the most vulnerable people living in the Archdiocese of Toronto have been provided the support they need, and we continue to respond with Gospel hope.

Today, ShareLife is a familiar name in Catholic parishes throughout the archdiocese, with speakers from various member agencies of Catholic Charities often addressing parishes during the annual spring campaign. What people may not realize is that most of Catholic Charities’ funding comes from ShareLife, which also raises funds for St. Augustine’s Seminary, as well as other Catholic operations. 

CCAT staff and board members are in constant communication with the staff at ShareLife, informing them of member agency needs, and drawing up budgets to ensure funds raised and available to Catholic Charities are used in the most productive manner, assisting as many people as possible. We appreciate ShareLife’s strong stewardship and financial acumen and, given the challenges of tough times such as the pandemic, its commitment to its mission.

We remain deeply grateful for ShareLife’s annual campaign, which reaches out to parishioners and parishes, Catholic schools and businesses for support, offering a straightforward way for the people of this archdiocese to help their neighbour, ensuring funds are handled – and delivered – in a manner than ensures trust and a confidence that our neighbours are truly cared for.

Catholic Charities has been creative and resilient in the face of the challenges – and opportunities we have faced over the past 110 years. Now, with ShareLife standing alongside us, we know we can continue to serve the people of this archdiocese in faith, hope, and charity.

The Model of St. Vincent de Paul

September 27 is a day of celebration at Catholic Charities for two key reasons: the day marks the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, an ongoing inspiration for all of us, and it is also the anniversary of our founding in 1913.

 It is no surprise that St. Vincent de Paul is the patron of Catholic Charities, as his tireless efforts to respond to poverty are remarkable. He also worked with prisoners and created seminary education to ensure that priests had proper education to help them minister effectively. The saint co-founded the Vincentian order, as well as the Daughters of Charity. It is said that when he died, all of Paris mourned. His name remains in the public eye in part because of the work of the chapters of St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers in parishes.

Today, learning from the model of St. Vincent de Paul, the 20 member agencies of Catholic Charities serve five key constituencies in our community: children and youth; young parents; people with disabilities; seniors; and community and family services. A cynic might say that not everyone on the above list is experiencing poverty but such a literal interpretation would indeed be short-sighted, for poverty is not just about one’s bank balance but about the absences in lives that create barriers to living the most productive, rewarding life possible.

That poverty could take the shape of loneliness, for example, and our member agencies are a place to find a friendly face and, often, activities that provide social interaction. Society of Sharing, for example, sends volunteers out to visit isolated, housebound seniors, brightening their day and reducing social isolation.

That poverty could also be a lack of knowledge to help confront new situations. Agencies such as Rose of Durham working with young parents, offering workshops and information to support marginalized young moms and dads, allowing them to flourish in their new roles.

Catholic Crosscultural Services responds to the needs of newcomers, who arrive in the Greater Toronto Area often facing a lack of any – or all of – housing, employment, language skills or connections. CCS offers settlement services, allowing newcomers the ability to imagine that one day their new home really will feel like home.

If we are being honest, some form of poverty touches all of us at some point in our lives, whether it is spiritual, emotional or practical. Agency staff and volunteers are keenly aware that each person they interact with may be carrying a burden at that moment, whether seen or unseen. That knowledge creates compassion and community, because it is a powerful reminder that we live not in isolation but in community, and that we are called to serve one another.

While he was born more than five centuries ago, there are many quotations attributed to St. Vincent de Paul that are remarkably timely and timeless.

“If God is the centre of our life, no words are necessary,” he is believed to have said. “Your mere presence will touch hearts.”

This truth should serve to comfort those who feel they have not done enough to answer the endless needs of modern life. Being present to other people is an invaluable gift, one our staff and volunteers know intuitively.

He is also believed to have said “Charity is the cement which binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Simple but powerful. And absolutely true, whatever form that charity takes. Sometimes it is a donation, and other times the willingness to be present and listen.

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.


Let’s do our best beginning right now…to give ourselves to God in everything always, and everywhere, in order to be hungry and thirsty for this justice.

~ St. Vincent de Paul (CCD XII:137)

The Transformative Work of Volunteers

There are many phrases that acknowledge the value of people working together for the common good. “It takes a village to raise a child,” the old saying says, for example, or “Many hands make light work.”

The staff at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto (CCAT)–as well as the CCAT member agencies– know well how important the advice, wise counsel, and, sometimes, the extra set of hands, of volunteers can be. For us, volunteers are part of the Catholic Charities family, always willing to help and serve as needed, and for that, we are truly grateful.

When thinking of volunteers, the first who come to mind are our board of directors.  The people who serve as directors are an invaluable sounding board and add an additional level of scrutiny to all that we do, helping us to ensure we are doing the best to serve vulnerable communities while reflecting sound stewardship. Members, who are recommended by a Nominating or Governance Committee and then approved by the Board, play a key role in the life of Catholic Charities and member agencies. This group of volunteers offers highly expensive, otherwise not-so-affordable services for nonprofits, pro-bono work that runs into so many hours which allows Catholic Charities and the member agencies to enhance the work and stretch our limited resources.  The advice, the expertise, the insights, and the practical suggestions offered by board members help CCAT and agencies ensure the best outcomes in decisions relating to the quality of service delivery to program users. They lend a rich and diverse set of backgrounds to the work that we do — lawyers, accountants, human resources professionals, social workers, teachers, and any number of other careers that can inform the vital decisions made around the boardroom table.  

But our vast community of volunteers are also selected because of other items on their resumes, including such gifts as a theological education or volunteer experience, as the decisions and steps Catholic Charities and member agencies take in any given year are informed not only by dollars and cents but also by Catholic Social Teaching, and a hands-on knowledge of how the Church lives out its faith in practical ways.

For agencies that are tight for resources, these volunteers who are people with outstanding goodwill for the greater good of our community, make the work possible and provide opportunities to scale up an agency’s reach, scope, and impact. These volunteers allow agencies to increase their capacity to offer services to more people and increase the quality of services they provide.

When volunteers get closer to the work that takes place in agencies and learn of the challenges their communities face, whether we are talking about teen moms, or people new to Canada, or lonely seniors, we share the experience – and the privilege – of seeing the vulnerability in others. That vulnerability resides in all of us in various ways, and it links us directly to Christ. The staff and volunteers who learn to recognize that vulnerability in others take that knowledge with us, their lives changed.

There is a true bond that forms when you’re a volunteer embraced by the Catholic Charities family.  Recently, Marion Barszczyk, a beloved former Catholic Charities employee, passed away. After her former colleagues were informed, those volunteers who had worked closely with Marion were told of her death. As the message we received said, “I know how close you were with Marion.”

Absolutely true —and a sign that volunteers are respected, valued, and appreciated—just as they appreciate the opportunity to serve.

As we celebrate Catholic Charities Week, we also celebrate our volunteers. We are profoundly grateful for the help they lend to our work, and we are delighted to be able to offer the opportunity to serve because often, our volunteers say they’ve received more than they’ve given.

For us, volunteering is a win-win scenario. Thank you!



A Story of Humble Beginnings

A full decade has passed since Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto (CCAT) marked our 100th anniversary in 2013. On the occasion of our 100th anniversary, we updated the CCAT history that had been drafted for our 75th anniversary in 1988 and were not surprised to find that much had changed or expanded, because Catholic Charities has always been able not only to respond to needs, but also to anticipate where and when our most vulnerable community members will need help. It’s why we not only work with our 20 member agencies but also advocate for them as well.

In the 10 years that have passed since our centenary, much has changed again in the life of our community, from the presentation of significant challenges such as the upheaval created by the COVID pandemic and the increasing awareness of a mental health crisis to more welcome developments such as the arrival of a new Executive Director with the experience and vision to continue to guide CCAT with confidence, always mindful of our mandate to serve society’s most vulnerable.

Challenges and change have been constants in the life of Catholic Charities since we first opened our doors. Yet as we mark our 110th anniversary on September 27, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, our goal remains the same: to facilitate the provision of social services, leadership and advocacy for its member agencies and the people they serve, all rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, which focuses on the poor and marginalized, and urges all of us to build a just society and safeguard human dignity. We are proud to say that Catholic Charities and our member agencies don’t just respond to immediate issues but take stock of where we are as a society and constantly work to better the lives of all, but especially those on the margins.

To mark Catholic Charities Week, which runs from September 25 through September 29, we are taking you back to our history, a story that has humble beginnings but is marked not only with a dogged resilience but also with great success. Did you know, for example, that Catholic Charities played a role in the legislation that led to the creation of OHIP?

Many of the lessons learned over the first hundred years have helped immeasurably in the past decade. A careful eye to efficiencies, collaboration, and sharing resources, for example, allowed our member agencies to weather the worst of the COVID pandemic.

And while the world slowed down during COVID, needs did not. One of the projects we helped to fund was Journey Home Hospice, a new palliative care facility for homeless people in downtown Toronto, the first of its kind.

In the fall of 2022, long-standing Executive Director Michael Fullan announced his retirement from Catholic Charities after a career spanning 29 years, with his first day on the job having fallen, appropriately enough, on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul. An exhaustive search took place for his replacement, and Catholic Charities was delighted to offer Dr. Agnes Thomas the role of Executive Director. Dr. Thomas assumed the role earlier this year.

 “My strong suit is to be a servant, helping others to succeed,” she says of herself. “ I think of leadership as creating impact and influence, bringing people together in a spirit of synergy and collaboration and helping them to reach their potential. If your people are good, your community will be great. I am appreciative that we are not working for people but with people.”

When we marked our 100th anniversary 10 years ago, we created a tagline line reading, “100 years of caring.” While much has changed in the intervening decade, our commitment to serving – an advocating for – society’s most vulnerable, remains unchanged.

Here is a link to the story of our first hundred years. 100th-Anniversary-of-Catholic-Charities.pdf It is a story of history and hope, of faith and fruitfulness. It is also a story that stretches far beyond our modest offices in downtown Toronto to the far reaches of our populous archdiocese. It’s not our story but the story of our church and our community.

This week, we are celebrating the foundations of goodness and hope that have led us for over 100 years and moving forward with planting the seeds of Hope in the face of adversity and hopelessness.


Celebrating World Youth Day 2023

I can still recall waving to the skies as the helicopter carrying Pope John Paul II flew over my neighbourhood, with the Pope heading to Lake Simcoe for a brief rest amid the World Youth Day activities taking place in Toronto in 2002.

I hadn’t known much about World Youth until it came to Toronto, but I was quickly caught up in the excitement, becoming a big fan. Rarely had I seen my hometown feel quite so nice. There was a very gentle vibe in the city, with both citizens and guests extra patient and polite as we let our collective guard down and chatted with strangers in a friendly, upbeat way. The days-long event was prime-time TV. I heard many non-Catholics, including my husband, express surprise at what a beautiful event was taking place around us, and I suspect it changed more than a few hearts and minds about the Catholic Church.

Toronto has changed greatly in the 21 years since World Youth Day took place here. So has the world. We are a much more cynical, sometimes sour bunch, fueled both by legitimate challenges such as COVID and worries about the economy and the health of the planet but also by the nasty comments and conspiracy theories you can read posted on social media, often written by people hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet.

And this is why World Youth Day matters more than ever. Having had a child participate in Toronto’s event, I know the benefits for the whole family because WYD is based on encounters. In this cynical world, it is great for teens and young adults to meet others who share their faith. What results is a joyful experience that can carry them forward in their daily lives.

When I look at pictures from Portugal of the most recent gathering earlier this month, the participants seemed to be enthusiastic and engaged, including in receiving both Communion and Reconciliation. Yet when I look at social media, I find an ongoing torrent of negative comments, including calls for this tradition of almost 40 years to be cancelled.

And that prompts one question: Why? I have seen everything from criticisms about how participants were dressed, even though August is the warmest month in Portugal, to a priest who served as a DJ being criticized as inappropriate, even though he was providing entertainment for young people engaged in a days-long event. This mother thinks the kids deserved some fun time, too. Perhaps one of the most controversial issues this WYD was time dedicated to interreligious dialogue. Those of us in the greater Toronto area know we live in one of the most diverse locations in the world. If we truly are to love our neighbour, learning a little bit about other religions and religious rituals can only help that goal. And one of the most powerful ways to reflect on one’s faith is to see it in light of other traditions.  It helps us understand why we do what we do, why we believe what we believe.

I wonder whether some of the armchair critics actually spoke with participants to learn more about what they did while in Portugal and what they have learned. Participation in World Youth Day is sometimes mistakenly seen as a frivolous vacation, but it is anything but. It can mean sleeping on floors, joining long lines to use the washroom, and sometimes – as happened to thousands of pilgrims in Toronto – waiting in the pouring rain. I can still see my son’s sodden sleeping bag left out on our back deck to dry after a rainy wait for Mass. It took ages!

There is fundraising involved to travel to WYD, and participants are giving up key summer job hours to take part. World Youth Day isn’t a frivolous vacation but a chance for those fortunate enough to attend to test-drive their faith in an adult way, leaving home and family behind for a few days and travelling to another place, often very far away, to engage in their faith, to celebrate as a community and, heaven forbid, to have a little bit of fun.

To me, World Youth Day 2023 was a success. Our temptation these days to politicize everything is unfortunate because, to this viewer, WYD was a joyful and fruitful celebration, reminding us that the Church has a strong future in those who participated. How do we take issue with that?

We are Easter People

What does it mean to be Easter people? Christians are encouraged to be –are, in fact, called to be – Easter people. There are many profound theological explanations for what the term implies, all tied to the miracle of the empty tomb on Easter morning. But, at its most essential, to be an Easter person is to be a person of hope.

Often, the simplest things can bring us hope –– the sight of a crocus poking through the snow after a long and trying winter, for example. But we also place our hopes in far more serious matters, like trusting in the ability of our various levels of government and the will of society to care for all people, including our most vulnerable neighbours. We want – we need – to know that things can be better.

Canadians have been through long and trying times in recent years, with the stress of the pandemic,  financial turmoil, random violence, and great rifts exposed in our political and cultural fabric. Many people appear stressed, short-tempered and overwhelmed, and often those feelings flow over into interactions with other people.

But as Easter people, we don’t stand on the sidelines as the world goes by. Instead, hope calls us to help and to engage. Easter people participate, raising our voices to express our hope that we can do better, whether it’s by engaging in the electoral process, or volunteering to help our neighbours, sharing our blessings, or remembering people in our prayers. That hope rests not in individuals and isolation but in community and engagement.

Hope is the great inspiration for Catholic Charities and our 21 member agencies. Every day we hear moving stories of change and positive growth, whether it’s that of a family learning sign language to communicate with a deaf child or a migrant family being offered a place to stay; a teen mother approaching her delivery date being given essentials to care for her baby, or a person fighting addiction finding the supports needed to begin the journey to sobriety.

Our faith rests in the great hope of the Resurrection, which holds out the promise of forgiveness of our sins. That good news is a powerful motivator to reach out to others to help.

 It is that knowledge that moves our agencies to contribute to the common good for all people. We know that even in the darkest hours we can help our neighbours improve their situation, finding comfort, peace – and hope.

 As we celebrate Easter, we are mindful that Muslims are marking Ramadan and Jews, Passover. We offer our sincere good wishes to all our neighbours and remain committed to our call to serve all people, in great hope, regardless of background or faith tradition– because we are Easter people.