Coping with September: “We’re All in This Together”, September 12, 2022

The stress that comes with September is inevitable, whether it’s helping your children settle into a new routine and schedule at school or saying goodbye to the often more relaxed pace of summer, acknowledging that life can all too easily get hectic overnight.

This year, however, brings a unique combination of challenges for both children and parents. A return to the classroom after two-and-a-half years of online learning will be adjustment enough for many families but it comes at a time when parents may be feeling added stresses due to the increasing strain inflation has put on the family budget and the daily headlines are full of worrisome topics that can upset both children and parents.

One of the best ways to respond to stress is to recognize that it is real and then talk through what is causing it. A child returning to a classroom after such a long time away from that routine may be anxious about the unknown – “What will my teacher be like? Will he/she be mad at me if I’ve forgotten routines?” or “Will the classmate I found intimidating still scare me?” or “Is COVID still something to worry about? Should I wear a mask even if I get teased?”–and a good, strong line of communication is the best way to begin to respond. Try to open up those lines of communications by asking questions  that can’t be answered with a Yes or No or one-word answer. Instead of “How was your day?” try posing questions like “What was the best part of your day?” which offer a better chance of a child responding with cues as to how the day went and where some of the stresses are. Instead of guessing what a child’s artwork is about, say, “Tell me about your painting.” Offer children opportunities to engage, and remind them in the calmer moments that you are always willing to hear anything, and that one of your responsibilities as a parent is to help them through tough times. (That does not mean, by any stretch, that it’ll be easy, but if your children know this is your philosophy, they’ll be more likely to come to you in tough times. We know young people are feeling stressed. If you have a sense of your child, spotting signs of stress will be easier.)

Remember that you are a partner in your child’s success in school. That doesn’t mean completing his/her work but it does mean checking a younger child’s agenda to see if there are any notes from the teacher about issues in the classroom or assignments that require supplying materials or some form of parental input or participation. While the nature of the partnership changes as children age, it’s still a good idea to ask your high school children whether there are ways you can lend support. If your child knows you care, he/she will be more likely to turn to you for help.

While it’s been frequently stated since cellphones became a tool that even young children own, it bears repeating: carve out non-screen time every day so that there is time for conversation or other forms of information-gathering and entertainment. That stands for parents as well as for children! As old-fashioned as it sounds, the dinner table should be family time, with no Google or TikTok allowed. The dinner table should be a place of respect and sharing, and if there is a dependable routine, children will feel safer raising thorny or scary topics. Even if you are shielding your children from the unsettling news of the day, they may well have heard tough topics raised at school, and if you know what is troubling them you are in a much better position to engage. And if they ask you questions about your own concerns, seek the right balance of honesty and the right amount of information to offer. We never want to scare our children with our adult concerns but should they hear you talking about the price of groceries or gas and they ask you about it, for example, it may open a window to talking about responsible budgeting or the importance of financial prudence.

Ask a child to help you prepare dinner or engage in another chore with you. Sometimes the most important information will emerge when children aren’t feeling grilled for details. It will also help model for them that chores are a part of daily life, and that we all engage in them not only for ourselves but for others, too.  Knowing that you enjoy and appreciate their help can be a real morale-booster for children, increasing self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.

Of course, you want to ensure a respectful and productive relationship with your child(ren’s) teacher(s), too. Remember that this fall will be challenging for teachers, too, as they get back into the swing of in-person classes with students who may need some extra patience.

Finally, remember that this fall will be a whole new experience for all of us. It may take more work for all of us as we learn what the new normal looks like. As you look after your children, look after yourselves, too. The saying that was on everyone’s lips at the beginning of the pandemic still holds: “We are all in this together.”

Rising Food Prices Prompt Tough Choices for Those on a Tight Budget, September 6, 2022

If you’ve been to your local grocery store lately you likely left feeling sticker shock after paying the bill. Even with the arrival of some of Ontario’s bountiful, beautiful, local produce, it’s obvious to anyone who handles meal planning and shopping that prices are headed in one direction: sky high.

Now think of what it’s like for someone already on a tight budget, counting down to the last cent in hopes of being able to buy enough food to cover off the month. What happens to these people as inflation creeps upward, with prices also rising due to lingering supply chain issues? Further complicating things for some will be a cut in wages due to reduced hours or pandemic-related layoffs. That’s hard enough to begin with, but what happens if you have children to feed as well?

Then add in all the other basic –and necessary– expenses like the soaring rents in the Greater Toronto Area and the cost of getting to work, and it’s a recipe for increased hunger and poorer nutrition.

For people experiencing what is known as food insecurity –defined by Health Canada as the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so—these are frightening times.

Statistics from the organization Ontario Dieticians in Public Health suggest that 13% of people in Ontario live with food insecurity, a figure that touches 1 in 6 children. And as many as 20% of Canadians are reporting skipping meals because of rising costs.

For many low-income Canadians, many of them elderly or disabled, the challenge of rising costs further aggravates the existing challenge of living in a food desert, with few grocery stores within walking distance. The City of Toronto, for example, says fully 31,000 households in low-income areas of the city are situated more than a kilometre’s walking distance to the nearest grocery store.

All this means less choice. Bananas and broccoli may be on sale at Fred’s Grocery Store, but Fred’s is three kilometres away and you can’t afford a transit ticket. That leaves you no choice but to go to Stan’s Convenience Store, where choices are limited and prices are higher – for the convenience.

Fewer choices, whether due to access to groceries or because of price limiting a shopper’s options, can have a negative impact on health, happiness and productivity.

For thousands of Canadians, food banks are a part of life, with more than 840,000 Canadians receiving help from a food bank every month. Statistics from FoodBanksCanada reveal that almost two in five users are children and youth, and 1 in 10 arriving at food banks each month are first-time users.

There are numerous reasons for food bank use, ranging from job loss to income failing to cover essential expenses. But as important a role as food banks play, we can never forget that they are not a permanent solution but, instead, a band-aid fix. Food banks rely heavily on donations, which can vary and are subject to fluctuations. Equally important is that food banks were never introduced as a solution, and as a society we cannot rely on them rather than find permanent answers to solve the question of food insecurity.

 As with so many societal issues, there are no quick fixes. Donating to – or volunteering with –food banks and other charities can help ease the immediate challenge. But we are called to educate ourselves on the challenges our neighbours face – and we are also called, as members of the human family, to respond by offering not only help bub solutions.

There are many places to learn more about proposals to address food insecurity.  Food Banks Canada, for example, has some excellent resources to learn more about ways we can ease this shocking problem.

By understanding the issues and possible responses, you can ask candidates running for office what their positions are on q food insecurity, making them aware that you are concerned. You can make your voice heard in community consultations on issues like zoning, brainstorming with suggestions like requiring developers proposing new projects to subsidize grocery stores to ensure everyone has reasonable access. Creative thinking can go a long way to responding to this crisis.

A society where everyone knows where their next meal comes from promises to be a more secure, productive, and just society – and isn’t that what everyone wants?

Learning from Covid to Better Protect Seniors, August 17, 2022

One of the most important lessons learned during the Covid-19 crisis was just how vulnerable Ontario’s senior citizens are. The pandemic exposed significant shortcomings in long-term care, for example, while also highlighting existing problems such as loneliness that many seniors were already coping with when the pandemic came along and made everything worse.

Clearly, we need to do more to protect a generation whose wisdom, guidance, and hard work have been of ongoing benefit to our entire community. We are called to protect the wellbeing – and the dignity – of our older family members, friends, and neighbours and, it seems, we have a far way to go.

Consider these statistics from the Catholic Charities Seniors’ Care Report (2022): In the first wave of Covid-19, for example, 9,262 Canadians had died by September 30, 2020. Of those deaths, 7,609 – fully 82% — were seniors living in long-term care (LTC) homes, twice the average of other industrial countries around the world.

Further, for-profit LTC homes saw nearly twice as many residents infected, and 78% more resident deaths compared with not-for-profit homes.

Not only are these numbers unacceptable, they demand that we come up with alternatives, including examining what it would take to offer care to those seniors who might still be able to live at home. The Canadian Institute for Health Information, for example, estimates that one in four seniors living in an LTC residence could live at home with proper supports, an alternative that is not only more cost-efficient but surely more likely to improve the spirits of those affected.

Organizations like the Ontario Covid-19 Science Advisory Table, a group of scientists and health care professionals who have been assessing the impact of Covid to help inform health care decisions and policy, also suggest ways to improve quality of life in LTC facilities, including not only by using better infection control but also by ensuring that essential caregivers can maintain in-person contact. These are important lessons learned.

Then there is the question of justice for the vast majority of personal support workers (PSW) employed in long-term care homes. The Globe & Mail’s Andre Picard suggested that 90% of face-tVo-face work done with residents in performed by PSWs, many of whom are underpaid, poorly trained and abused by residents. In no way do these realities create a scenario that lends itself to first-rate care.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto offers a number of recommendations to improve seniors’ care, including some that can be put in place immediately, as well as in the next few years. They include closing the worst-performing LTC homes, increasing staffing for both PSWs and nurses, and offering effective and compassionate palliative care. Long-term recommendations include a payroll to fund services for vulnerable seniors, as well as ensuring that all services for vulnerable seniors be funded under the Canada Health Act.

As electors, we are called to turn to our elected officials to see what steps they are taking to ensure measures are being taken to provide the best care in long-term care homes, with healthy outcomes meaning more than profit margins.  And as people of faith, we can let our faith communities know that ensuring the wellbeing of our seniors is a key priority for us and that we want to help bring about improvements.

On top of the systemic steps that can be taken to improve long-term care, all of us can contribute in smaller ways to improving the safety—and lives—of older people in our communities.  One of the hardest aspects of the pandemic was the loneliness it created and exacerbated. When we were all told to stay home as much as possible, many seniors—and others– did not have a “bubble” to join in, or anyone checking in on them. Isolation was therefore heightened. As we continue to emerge from these exceptional times, we can all be mindful of how we can take the painful days of Covid and turn them into something good. We can make a five-minute phone call to say hello to someone we know living alone, or we can knock on the door of an elderly neighbour to ask whether they need anything picked up at the store.  We can also volunteer in the local nursing home, or visit a loved one or friend in long-term care.

We know that anxiety, loneliness and depression were rampant during Covid but these are ongoing issues that we can be more mindful of, and work to help address, in small ways.The extended pandemic period has asked a great deal of all of us and for many the price has been brutally high. Taking steps to  ensure we improve the lives of our most vulnerable seniors would be a wonderful way to show Covid that it hasn’t won.

St. Anne and the Special Role of Grandparents, August 2, 2022

It was a profoundly powerful experience to watch Pope Francis visit Lac Ste. Anne, a pilgrimage site in Alberta of particular importance to many Indigenous people in Canada. As the official Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage website notes, the lake was “first called Wakamne or God’s Lake by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation who live on the west end of the Lake, and Manito Sahkahigan or Spirit Lake by the Cree.” That the visit came on July 26, the Feast of St. Anne, was especially significant. St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin, holds a special place for many Indigenous Catholics because she was a grandmother to Jesus and, in Indigenous communities, family members – and especially elders – are treated with particular reverence and respect. This visit, then, on a feast day of such significance to many Indigenous Canadians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, signaled to many a renewed commitment on the part of the Pope to listen, to engage, and to work harder to understand Indigenous communities.

On a visit designed to carry forward conversations about how to bring about reconciliation and healing over the pain caused by residential schools, the Pope chose wisely in addressing the importance of grandparents to families. Those of us who have no experience of how families were broken apart when children were forcibly taken away from their families and sent off to residential schools cannot begin to imagine the sufferings of the children, of their parents or of their other family members, including grandparents.

In a happy extended family, grandparents can be a great a source of wisdom for their children, helping them develop into confident, capable parents, with grandparents offering tips on everything from how to calm a colicky baby to setting boundaries for teenagers. Grandparents can be a wonderful help in caring for children, doing after-school pick-ups, or providing weary parents with childcare so Mom and Dad an get a break and refresh their relationship. There are endless ways in which grandparents enrich family life.

For grandchildren, grandparents are a unique source of family stories, sharing family histories in a way parents often simply don’t have time to do. Without the day-to-day worries and stresses that come with caring for a young family, grandparents can focus on offering their grandchildren a healthy dose of doting, non-judgmental love, a love that is returned many times over from appreciative grandchildren. The bond between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of life’s sweetest pleasures for families, and to have that relationship disrupted can cause immeasurable loss. Thus, in acknowledging the importance of grandparents, it appears the Pope was again offering acknowledgement of some of the pain the residential schools caused to so many, while also again affirming an oft-heard message of this that age does not wither value, even if roles and duties shift. We all offer value to our communities – and our families.

We don’t know much about St. Anne or her husband, St. Joachim. In fact, she is not even mentioned in the canonical gospels. What we do know about Anne and Joachim comes to us from Church tradition. It isn’t hard, though, to imagine two loving grandparents who likely worried frantically for their daughter when her pregnancy was announced, two loving grandparents who fell head over heels in love with their grandson when they learned of his birth. We can picture a grandmother and grandfather who celebrated moments like the presentation in the temple, or worried when the young Jesus couldn’t be found, just as all grandparents live out moments of celebration and worry. To turn to St. Anne, then, for guidance and support in family matters makes a great deal of sense – and especially for those of us who are grandparents! Recognizing the particular importance of St. Anne to our Indigenous brothers and sisters is a sign of the importance of preserving and protecting family bonds.

St. Anne, who is patron saint of the province of Quebec, has long held a special place for many Canadians. The site we now call Lac Ste. Anne has been recognized in Indigenous communities as a deeply spiritual place long from before the Catholic Church was established in Canada. With the wisdom of a grandmother, St. Anne can help us ponder these realities, these two unique but complementary understandings, in respectful and productive ways.

St. Anne, pray for us.


Papal Visit an Important Moment for Canadian Church, July 24, 2022

The arrival of Pope Francis in Edmonton on July 24, 2022 will represent an extremely important moment in the history of the Catholic Church in Canada. Not only are papal visits rare – this is only the fourth time a pontiff has come to Canada, with St. John Paul II having travelled here three times—but the week-long visit will be an opportunity for all of us to witness on Canadian soil the importance of listening and responding with compassion and action to the suffering in our world. In coming to Canada and meeting with Indigenous communities, Pope Francis will offer us a vital example of living our faith.

The trip comes in response to the ongoing pain experienced in Indigenous communities due to the history of residential schools in Canada. The Catholic Church ran approximately 60% of these schools, places which created a legacy of sexual and physical abuse and emotional trauma for many.

While the issue dates back generations, tensions between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples were brought to the forefront with the release of the federal government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report in 2015. The TRC had a mandate to reveal the truth of what had happened in residential schools, listening to survivors, their families and their communities.

The resulting report included 94 Calls to Action for all levels of government. Call to Action #58 expressly asked that the Pope issue an apology to survivors for the Church’s role in residential schools. The call also asked that the apology come on Canadian soil.

The matter became more pressing in 2021, with the First Nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s discovery of more than 200 unmarked, previously undocumented graves at Kamloops Residential School, once Canada’s largest. As the year progressed, more discoveries of hundreds more of what are believed to be children’s unmarked graves were made at various Canadian locations, shocking Canadians and making headlines around the world.

After meeting with Indigenous delegates who travelled to the Vatican this past Spring, Pope Francis said their testimony made him feel “indignation and shame.” He then promised to come to Canada.

With his schedule for the Canadian visit now confirmed, we look forward with hope to this papal visit. We have a long road ahead of us as a Church to begin to respond in productive ways to the tragic consequences of so many residential school experiences. As much as we need to try to understand what happened in many of these schools, we also need to acknowledge that harm was done and that some members of our Church engaged in sinful behaviour.

The result was that children suffered and died as a result. Their families and communities continue to suffer the intergenerational trauma. The legacy of the unmarked graves serves as a constant reminder that, institutionally, we denied the dignity and humanity of some of the youngest among us, a response that absolutely contradicts everything we say we believe. We need to begin to make amends that are based respectfully on the wishes of our Indigenous communities.

And we focus on the importance of the term Truth and Reconciliation. The two words happen to be central to our faith, with truth a synonym for Resurrection, and Reconciliation a sacrament. In many ways this visit will be sacramental in nature, for we seek God’s grace and forgiveness as we focus on the realities of a sinful and sorrowful past. As Pope Francis comes among us, we hope that, as a Church, we can move forward respectfully and helpfully, no longer denying the past but by attempting to rectify it.

We wish Pope Francis a safe journey as he arrives in Canada for this extraordinary visit, and we pray that it marks the beginning of a new era of healing and understanding for all of us.

A New Website Presence for Catholic Charities, July 22, 2022

“I have seen the Lord.”

With this simple but powerful declaration, Mary Magdalene brings the news to the apostles that Jesus has risen (John 20:18).

Today, on Mary Magdalene’s feast day, we are launching the new website and blog for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto, deeply mindful of Mary’s message.

In her witness to the apostles, the Magdalene is saying both that she has actually encountered the risen Lord and also that she sees – that is, understands – the message of Christ.

The mission of Catholic Charities flows naturally out of that message. We want to honour the sanctity of life by serving the most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities and we are inspired to live out Gospel values by serving all those in need from all faith and cultural backgrounds throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto.
We seek to be a voice for the most marginalized, working as social justice advocates with governments, public and various community stakeholders.

We are inspired to be a leader in reading the signs of the time and adapting to emerging and challenging issues with boldness and innovation for those most in need.

For more than 100 years, Catholic Charities has been working in the Archdiocese of Toronto, not only meeting needs of various communities but also anticipating them, offering practical support while serving as a vital voice on social issues.

In the modern age – and especially given the lessons learned from the upheaval and isolation created by Covid-19— an online presence is an essential component of this work. Therefore, we have updated our website to better serve the community, with easier navigation and more up-to-date information.
This blog will look at critical issues of the day. With hope, we can promote discussion and awareness, and perhaps educate, as well.

A chief goal with our new site is to create a conversation, because it is through dialogue that we can move forward respectfully and productively as we work toward the common good.  Consider this an invitation, then, to join us in these discussions. We’d love to hear from you.