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Friday 29 August 2014

Mideast Church leaders denounce ISIS for ‘crimes against humanity’

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai

The Patriarchs and Church leaders of Eastern rite churches have again denounced what they call “crimes against humanity”  committed by Islamic State (formerly ISIS) militants in Iraq and Syria.  Meeting outside Beirut, Lebanon, the Patriarchs condemned the persecution and killings of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, saying the continued existence of Christians in the region is being threatened by the jihadi group’s campaign of terror.

Thanking those who’ve been offering humanitarian assistance to the displaced, the Patriarchs are calling on the international community to stop the “criminal actions” of Islamic State and  are challenging Islamic institutions to forcefully condemn the extremist group.

The statement is the latest in a series of actions taken by leaders of the Catholic Church’s most ancient rites which originated in the Middle East some two thousand years ago.

Last week, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai of Lebanon visited Christian and Yazidi refugees in Erbil, in northern Iraqi Kurdistan.  He joined calls from the Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Sako, to stop the massacre of innocent civilians.

Earlier in August, the Eastern Patriarchs issued a statement saying “Christians in countries of the Middle East are suffering from harsh persecution, being kicked out from their homes and lands by takfiri extremists amid total international silence.”

“We call upon the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court to take swift, effective and immediate salvaging action,” the statement said.

The Patriarchs appealed to the United Nations to take firm action “to ensure the return of the people to their lands by all possible means and in the quickest possible time.”
Text found at: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/08/29/church_leaders_denounce_isis_for_%E2%80%98crimes_against_humanity/1105416

Cardinal Vegliò: Action is needed to defend minorities in Iraq

Pope Francis on Thursday met with Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, to discuss the plight of those fleeing the Islamist violence in Iraq. The so-called Islamic State controls large areas of both Syria and Iraq, and has been conducting a campaign of terror, especially against religious minorities, including Christians.

Cardinal Vegliò told Vatican Radio the Pope said the Church must be in the forefront  in efforts to  defend the weak.

Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò

 “The Church must help those most in need, because their rights are being trampled upon,” he told Vatican Radio.  “The Church is for the poor and the voiceless.  We must be present and never tire of saying these things in homilies and speeches; and to influence, if possible, the political situation.”

He recalled the words of Pope Francis when he returned from Korea, and said “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor.” Pope Francis also emphasized the means to do this “must be evaluated.”

Cardinal Vegliò said it was up to the “international community” to conduct this evaluation, but warned there would be no excuses if nothing was done.

“It would be the same thing as when Hitler killed the Jews, and afterwards many said ‘no, no, we did not know anything.’ It is total hypocrisy,” he said. “We must do something.”

So far, the Cardinal said the international community has done too little, and faulted the United Nations and Europe, which is geographically close to the region.

“Unfortunately, in Europe we have so many problems, so we are selfish and only think of ourselves, and very little about others,” he said.  “However, our problems are relatively small compared to those of the Iraqi people, who are fleeing to avoid being slaughtered...I hope Europe  shows sensitivity – and some countries have already begun to do so -  and gives them a chance to be accepted in their countries - Germany, France, England, Italy, Spain: All rich countries compared to these poor ones.”

Cardinal Vegliò said he also hopes the Church is part of the solution.

“And when we speak of the Church, we are not only thinking of the Vatican or the Curia,” he explained.  “The Church is a reality everywhere, and the Church has the sensitivity to help these poor people, these migrants, these refugees, these displaced people.”

Saturday 23 August 2014

Speaking out for the ancient Christian Churches of the Middle East

An excellent article appeared in the NATIONAL POST today by Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom. 
Last December Ambassador Bennett attended the celebration of priesthood for four Ordinariate priests at Notre Dame Basilica in Ottawa. One of these was your scribe. I am pleased to call Andrew a friend.
The article follows.

The ongoing destruction and dislocation of the Christian population in Iraq and Syria as a result of brutal persecution is a profound human tragedy. Entire communities, having fled their historic homes, now face the terrible choice imposed by the jihadists of the Islamic State: submit to Islam, leave, or be killed.
Images from the rolling deserts of Northern Iraq represent only the most recent episode in a harrowing trend. While Christian populations in the region have experienced ongoing decline over the past 60 years — comprising an estimated 18% of the regional population in 1948 vs. less than 8% in 2010 — the emergence of fundamentalist, political Islam has resulted in a dramatic escalation of violent persecution of Christian groups.
Church of the East Choir - One of the ancient churches dating to the second century A.D.
The rich spiritual and cultural heritage of the 2,000 year-old Christian communities established by the Apostles is now vanishing. The 1400-year history of co-existence between Christians, Muslims, and a myriad of other faiths — while not always respectful — is now ending. The cradle of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East is being effectively de-Christianized.

In the past, we in the West have been reluctant to speak out on behalf of persecuted Christian groups abroad. Whether this reflects a domestic cultural instinct to shy away from public reference to religion, or a concern that such advocacy could be somehow cast as renewed Western imperialism, the consequences of continued silence are the same. Christians in the Middle East now live under the very real threat of eradication.

Canadians must speak out consistently and loudly in defence of the inherent human dignity of these persecuted people. While we must defend the freedom of religion of any and all communities under threat, the time to speak up for Christians in the Middle East is now.
The federal government has taken a clear and principled stand against the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State against innocent Iraqi civilians, including Yezidis and Christians. Five million dollars in additional aid is being provided to address now-dire humanitarian needs in Iraq. We also are assisting with the delivery of critical military supplies from contributing allies to Kurdish forces fighting in the region.
Ambassador Bennett with Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Our cherished Canadian values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law compel us to bear witness to the persecution of Christians in the Mideast. Those values compel us to call on those responsible to end their persecution, both those engaged directly in acts of violence such as the Islamic State and those forces and state actors behind them. We must shrug off fallacious appeals to non-interference in matters of religion, and to reject prevailing assumptions about the “intractability” of conflicts in the Middle East.
Canada is, by its very pluralist, multicultural, and multi-faith nature, uniquely called to promote freedom of religion abroad, and to protect those who face persecution simply because of the faith they profess or their choice to not profess any particular religious belief.
As noted recently by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “The very notion of religious freedom is what the Islamic State is working to eradicate, and what the Iraqi and Syrian people and the international community cannot surrender.” The United States and our allies in the European Union have echoed this concern, condemning the atrocities and abuses of the Islamic State. And the Vatican, in Pope Francis’ own denunciation of the violence, has noted the unique responsibility of religious leaders, especially Muslim religious leaders, to speak out against Christian persecution. Taking up the call, a spokesman for Shi’a Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani recently called in Karbala for greater efforts to alleviate the suffering of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

I hope that all Canadians regardless of religious or philosophical persuasion will join me in speaking out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, not only in solidarity with the growing chorus of others around the world, but because to speak out is to defend and uphold the Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance. It is to cry out for an end to grotesque acts of violence against our fellow human beings, and most especially because it is the right thing to do.

Dr. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, is a sub-deacon in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Thursday 21 August 2014

MASS INTENTIONS - Catholic sharing in the Communion of Saints

Excerpted from Mass Intentions By FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS

An individual may ask a priest to offer a Mass for several reasons: for example, in thanksgiving, for the intentions of another person (such as on a birthday), or, as is most common, for the repose of the soul of someone who has died. One must never forget the infinite graces that flow from the Sacrifice of the Mass which benefit one’s soul.

Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Mirae caritatis (1902) beautifully elaborated this point and emphasized the connection between the communion of saints with the Mass: "The grace of mutual love among the living, strengthened and increased by the sacrament of the Eucharist, flows, especially by virtue of the Sacrifice [of the Mass], to all who belong to the communion of saints. . . . .Faith teaches that although the august Sacrifice can be offered to God alone, it can nevertheless be celebrated in honor of the saints now reigning in Heaven with God, who has crowned them, to obtain their intercession for us, and also, according to apostolic tradition, to wash away the stains of those brethren who died in the Lord but without yet being wholly purified."

In his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, our beloved late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, taught, "In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Church prays that God, the Father of mercies, will grant His children the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that they may become one body and one spirit in Christ. In raising this prayer to the Father of lights, from whom comes every good endowment and every perfect gift, the Church believes that she will be heard, for she prays in union with Christ her Head and Spouse, who takes up this plea of His Bride and joins it to His own redemptive sacrifice" (No. 43).

. . . . the tradition of offering Masses for others, particularly the dead, originates in the very early Church. Inscriptions discovered on tombs in Roman catacombs of the second century evidence this practice: for example, the epitaph on the tomb of Abercius (d. A.D.180), Bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia, begs for prayers for the repose of his soul.

Tertullian (c. A.D. 200) attested to observing the anniversary of a spouse with prayers and sacrifices, i.e. the Mass: "Indeed she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship with him in the first resurrection; and she offers her sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep" (On Monogamy, X). Moreover, the Canons of Hippolytus (c. 235) explicitly mentions the offering of prayers for the dead during the Mass.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), in one of his many catechetical discourses, explained how at Mass both the living and dead are remembered, and how the Eucharistic Sacrifice of our Lord is of benefit to sinners, living and dead.

St. Ambrose (d. A.D. 397) preached, "We have loved them during life; let us not abandon them in death, until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord."

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) stated, "Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them."

St. Augustine (d. 430) recorded the dying wishes of his mother, St. Monica in his Confessions: "One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."

We find not only the origins of this practice dating to the early Church but we also clearly recognize its importance. Given this understanding, we can add some specifics. When a priest offers Holy Mass, he has three intentions:

First, to offer the Mass reverently and validly in accord with the norms of the Church.

Second, to offer the Mass in union with the whole Church and for the good of the whole Church.

Third, to offer the Mass for a particular intention, such as the repose of the soul of someone who has died.

Therefore, the effects of the Mass bring certain benefits or fruits. The general fruits of the Mass are the effects upon the whole Church — to the living faithful as well as the poor souls in purgatory. For this reason, in the Canon of the Mass (the Eucharistic Prayer), a special mention is made for both the living and the dead.

The special ministerial fruits of the Mass are applied to the particular intention of the Mass, i.e. "for whom the Mass is offered."

The special personal fruits of the Mass benefit the celebrating priest who acts in the person of Christ in offering the Mass and to the people who are in attendance and participate in the offering of the Mass.

These fruits are both extensively and intensively finite, since each of us is finite.

The intention of the Mass is also determined by various factors: The Church may stipulate the particular intention; for example, all pastors are required to offer one Mass on Sunday for the intentions of the living and deceased parishioners of a parish.

A priest may also have his own particular intention in offering a Mass, such as the repose of the soul of his parents.

Finally, a person may ask a priest to offer a Mass for a particular intention; usually, a stipend is given to the priest for offering the Mass, which thereby in justice creates an obligation which must be satisfied.

We find not only the origins of this practice dating to the early Church but we also clearly recognize its importance. When we face the death of someone, even a person who is not Catholic, to have a Mass offered for the repose of his soul and to offer our prayers are more beneficial and comforting than any other sympathy card or bouquet of flowers. To have a Mass offered on the occasion of a birthday, anniversary or special need is appropriate, beneficial and appreciated.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Protestant Pastor's account of coming to Catholicism

Excerpted from a 'Catholic Herald' article by Ulf Ekman, Pastor of a Swedish Charismatic Megachurch.
Our conviction that we needed to become Catholics grew slowly, over a number of years, but the actual decision to take this step came rather late. Our question was: how should we communicate it? It could really not be done over a longer period of time, step by step. That would have caused great speculation and confusion, nationally and internationally in our great network of churches. Over the last couple of years our friends and co-workers realised that we were more and more attracted to Catholic theology, morals, liturgy and culture. Few of them, though, perceived that we would actually make the step and convert. In the months and weeks before we announced our decision we involved the board of the church and some other colleagues to be prepared to help us in the process of communicating this news to the congregation.

. . .  there were many in the congregation who actually understood. They were thankful that a new pastor had been in place for more than a year. These members respected our decision and understood that it was based on what we perceived as a call from God. We were not deceived, but led by God in this matter, even though they didn’t understand why and how. We received many encouraging letters from both Protestants and Catholics.
We also encountered an interesting, and somewhat postmodern approach from some. They where ready to accept that God could call us to the Catholic Church, but they could not accept the doctrines of the Church. One preacher expressed it this way: “OK, you became a Catholic, but for sure you don’t believe what they believe, do you?” They spoke as if I really had a choice or could be selective in my choosing. When I answered that I do believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches, it seemed very odd to many of my Protestant friends. It was hard for them to understand that to be Catholic actually means to believe as a Catholic, even for me.
For us, truth was the very thing that mattered. We have always believed in the Word of God and that there is an absolute truth, revealed by God. Now, more and more, we had come to see that there is a concrete historic Church founded by Christ, and a treasure, a deposit of both objective and living faith. This attracted and drew us into the Catholic Church. If we believed that the fullness of truth is embedded in and upheld by the Catholic Church, then we did not have any choice but to fully unite with this Church.
When the time finally came to be received into the Church we felt more than ready, anxious to leave no-man’s-land. It felt like finally becoming who we really were. At last the longing for the participation in the sacramental grace came to an end.
We have tried to explain to our friends that we are not rejecting that which God gave us in our Evangelical and Charismatic environment but, as the saying goes, “Evangelical is not enough.” It is not wrong in its love of Scripture and upholding of the basic truths of the Gospel and its fervent evangelising. All this is necessary, but it is not enough. The Charismatic life, with its emphasis of the power and the leading of the Holy Spirit is necessary, and it is an amazing gift. But it cannot be lived out in its fullness in a schismatic and overly individualistic environment. Understanding this opened us to the realisation of the necessity of the Church in its fullness, with its rich sacramental life.
So we do not reject our background and the rich ministerial experiences we have had over the many years as founders and leaders of Word of Life. We are forever thankful to the Lord, for all He has done. But we are immensely happy and grateful that we now understand that we really need the Catholic Church in our continued life and service to the Lord.
So now, as we begin this walk there is so much to explore. Now that all our former duties, obligations and positions are gone, we can, at least for now, live at a pace that allows a more reflective life. We have been used to constantly upholding the ministry, our church. Now the Church lifts us up. The sacraments have become a tangible reality in our lives and they sustain us in a concrete way. Something – grace, I am sure – is here in a way that it was not before. A fresh breeze is blowing through our lives. We look forward to exploring and fully identifying with all that we now are a part of. It is very exciting to live fully for Jesus Christ – in the Catholic Church.

Ulf Ekman is the former pastor of the Word of Life church in Uppsala, Sweden.

NOTE:  Discussion continues at a number of levels about the possibility of a Lutheran Ordinariate and about other ways of welcoming Protestants and others into full communion.

The significant growth of the Catholic Church in Korea which has been remarked on during the Holy Father's visit may offer some lessons in how to evangelize those in highly advanced technological cultures. Along with those who have worked in Megachurch milieu there is much to consider. 

Friday 15 August 2014


Parents with students in Public, Private or Separate Schools may have their children 
(Gr. 3 - 8) audition for the Choral Programme being offered this Fall at STM Baldwin Academy after school.

Children will learn English Choral singing including the classical Anglican repertoire.  

All children are welcome to audition.

Applications at www.thomasmorechurch.ca

Saturday 9 August 2014

An Urgent Call to Prayer and Action for Iraqi Christians

Following are excerpts from message sent by Fr. Tom Rosica:

Dear Colleagues and Friends . . .

In light of the growing crisis for Iraqi Christians, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, spoke with Vatican Radio and expressed his perspective on an effective response of the international community.

“At this moment, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and other members of the Christian community, including the World Council of Churches, are taking a strong stand in defense [of the Iraqi Christians] and their right to survive and to live in peace in their own home, which for the last 2,000 years has seen them active and contributing to the development of the region.”
“However, we are faced with a certain indifference at the practical level with the international community. It is difficult to convince—because of false modesty, I would say—the Western powers to take a strong stance in defense of the Christians.”

“Now there is action beginning on the part of the international community. We are talking about a special session here in Geneva with the Human Rights Council. There has been a special meeting of the Security Council in New York and some governments are beginning to express their suggestions for practical action in defense of these populations in northern Iraq and the United States has decided some military action.”

“I think, in the long run, what is needed is a dialogue of reconciliation and the acceptance of diversity in the different political and cultural contexts of the Middle East, so that a person is considered a citizen with equal rights and equal duties for the states, free to associate with other people who are of the same faith without being catalogued as a minority.”

“At this moment, we hope the voice that is surging from different Christian and religious communities, from moderate Muslims, from people of good will around the world, may find the response of concrete humanitarian assistance that is provided for the Christians in northern Iraq as well as some political and even effective military protection.”


Pope sends plea for peace via Twitter

Displaced Iraqi citizens take refuge at St. Joseph Church in Ibril, in northern Iraq.

In a renewed plea for peace, Pope Francis sent the following message through his Twitter account today at 10:00 am: "I ask all Catholic parishes and communities to offer a special prayer this weekend for Iraqi Christians." #prayforpeace.

The pope sent a series of three message yesterday to urge Catholic faithful to pray and work for peace, in particular during this difficult time in Iraq and the Middle East.

Rev. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
English language assistant to Holy See Press Office

Friday 8 August 2014

Virtues Education

At the Toronto conference "Faith in the Public Square" this week at the Munk Centre (sponsored by St. Augustine's Seminary and the Archdiocese of Toronto) the importance of both the language of virtues and education in the cardinal and theological virtues emerged as a focus for understanding much of what has happened in public discourse. 

Whether in the political, social, academic or economic arenas, the paucity of virtue in discourse, practice and education illustrates the growth of intolerance and the growth of prescriptive or convergence pluralism. 

Dr. Iain T. Benson highlighted this focus on virtue in his concluding address, summarizing the contributions of Catholic thinkers from around the country to the question of how we may move forward with the presentation of faith and genuine dialogue in a true pluralism which allows for many voices in what has become an increasingly "naked public square" in Canada. 

Using the seminal description of the late John Neuhaus of FIRST THINGS, the conference began by highlighting his prodigious contributions at various levels of social discourse and engagement in civil society.

In the secularized public square the language of "values", "choice","tolerance" and "diversity" has dominated communication to the detriment of civil society. This language articulates the intolerance of the dictatorship of relativism towards people of faith as it seeks the silencing of the authentic Catholic voice and of other voices of faith in the public square. 
[Dr. Benson has noted that he does: "endorse toleration as a key aspect along with accommodation to living together with DISagreement."]

The mainstream media, however, are often intolerant of any who do not subscribe to the liberal or "progressive" agenda which is, in fact, set by an elite who are very much out of touch with civil society.  Those in government and increasingly in the legal and economic spheres summarily disallow the language of, and the nurture of,  the cardinal virtues (wisdom, justice, prudence and courage) much less the theological virtues (faith, hope and love).

The nebulous language of "values" which is plasticine in the hands of politically correct elites allows them to forward their agendas of sexual license, abortion on demand, euthanasia and open relationships of all kinds.  Most prominent currently is the demand that all conform to the secular "same-sex and gender identity" agenda with respect to marriage and family. The dismantling of the traditional family is at the forefront of this agenda being advocated by use of the "values" Newspeak that pushes aside the language of virtue, the nurture of virtues and education in the virtues.

Calling for a new "tri-alogue" between the Law, Government and Civil Society, Dr. Benson indicated a way forward to true pluralism which allows, once again, a voice to those with religious convictions. Civil discourse allows for and requires civil virtues to provide an interchange between conflicting views as we work out common ground, respecting the legitimate positions of other world-views.

Eschewing the "values" monologue which seeks to foreclose debate and discussion, Catholics and others must re-frame discussion while discovering and developing the tools of civil discourse common to all.  A re-orientation of the debate to shared principles of natural law which are accessible to all regardless of faith or commitments is necessary. Dr. Benson insists that all have faith of one kind or another, including atheists who place their faith in various mental constructs. The challenge is to allow for civil discourse without the totalitarian control of the debate by a politically correct establishment.

As David B. Hart has so ably pointed out, the Christian revolution needs to be reasserted in the current age: 

Innumerable forces are vying for the future, and Christianity may prove considerably weaker than its rivals. This should certainly be no cause of despair for Christians, however, since they must believe their faith to be not only a cultural logic but a cosmic truth, which can never finally be defeated. 

( p. 241, ATHEIST DELUSIONS: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, Yale U. Press)

Thursday 7 August 2014

Be sure to inform your home educating friends in the Toronto region of this programme offered on Thursdays beginning this September.  It is a great opportunity to supplement a home education programme and to give children the gift of singing and appreciating sacred choral music.

More information and application forms at: thomasmorechurch.ca