Recently, I spent a few days at a conference that dealt with many issues, including euthanasia, that have preoccupied healthcare professionals in recent months. Although I am not a doctor, I attended the MaterCare International Conference for Catholic obstetricians committed to respecting human life at all stages.
As it turned out, as a lay person, I was in good company at the event. Other non-physicians also attended. In the midst of a busy holiday trip, the conference was a welcome break – a chance to ponder some challenging ethical issues, away from the thousands of tourists milling about St. Peter’s Basilica, just metres from the conference venue.
The conference held some surprises. Many Catholics are familiar with the story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the Catholic doctor who sacrificed her life to save the life of her unborn baby. Gianna Molla was canonized in 2004. St. Gianna’s daughter, saved by her mother’s sacrifice, is now an adult and was one of the conference speakers.
A devout Catholic, Vincent Kemme, stands apart from many scientists in a fundamental way. He does not believe resistance to euthanasia can succeed if it is purely secular. In Canada, many who oppose the practice — along with assisted suicide — do so on the grounds that it’s unreasonable, unnecessary and harmful to society, but they often go no further.
Kemme argues that euthanasia is a spiritual problem. The practice has sadly gained the most traction in the Netherlands. About 6,000 people will be put to death there this year, up from 2,000 cases only a few years ago. Kemme argues Dutch society has become largely secular, effectively cutting God out of the picture. He believes it is no coincidence that euthanasia has made the greatest inroads there, although the number of cases in Belgium is also on the rise.
By largely excluding God, the Dutch have done what secular philosophers only contemplated. They have substituted man for God, replacing divine law by human reason, which they consider supreme. Despite the grim trend in the Netherlands — a government report some years back noted involuntary euthanasia was on the rise — Kemme is not without hope for the future.
He believes the solution to the euthanasia problem lies in a return to God and prayer. A Catholic group he belongs to practises daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, underscoring that Catholics should avoid judging those involved in euthanasia, recalling the Church’s longstanding distinction between the sinner and the sin. He believes that resistance to euthanasia will succeed only if we oppose peacefully, without judging. “There is no room for aggression,” he told conference attendees.
St. Gianna Molla
For Gianna Beretta Molla, the path to sanctity began in late 1961 with an unwelcome event: the diagnosis of a uterine tumour during the early stages of her pregnancy. At the time, the attending surgeon offered abortion as an option, one that would very likely save Gianna’s life and allow for future pregnancies, should she so choose. In six years of marriage, this was her sixth pregnancy.
Yet, abortion was one option that St. Gianna Molla never entertained. Asked what other options remained, the surgeon offered one with potential, at least from her perspective. He could surgically remove the benign tumour and allow the pregnancy to come to full term. This option was risky for baby and mother, but offered one certainty: there would be no abortion.
The child was born, and named Gianna. Years later, her father, Pietro Molla, related the sequence of events to his daughter — now a geriatrician in Italy — also a speaker at this conference in Rome. She spoke lovingly of her parents and told the story in her own words:
“Mama prayed that the Lord would save her life and mine,” she said. “Two weeks before the delivery, she told my father, ‘Pietro, if you have to decide between the baby’s life and mine, do not hesitate: choose the child.’”
As it happened, when the delivery took place, it was safe and the newborn was healthy. For her part, St. Gianna Molla survived the delivery, but her condition worsened. In only a few hours, she developed a high fever and severe abdominal pains that did not dissipate.
“After a week of agony, during which Mom often repeated the words, ‘Jesus, I love you,’ her condition continued to deteriorate. She did not want to die in hospital, and so was returned to our family home, where she died, aged 39.”
Gianna, the daughter, named after her mother, has had many years to reflect on the lives of her parents. “Both the lives of Mom and Dad were the occasion of great joy, but also of great suffering,” she said.
Recalling the years her father carried on after his wife’s death — Pietro lived into his nineties until his death a few years ago — his daughter related something he said before his death. “Eternity is not enough for me to thank the Lord for the graces he has sent, in particular, through your mother’s canonization.”
Reflecting on her parents’ lives, Gianna offered her own thoughts, invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Our Heavenly Mother has asked us for an unconditional ‘yes’ to, and our humble acceptance of God’s will, even when we don’t understand it,” she said. “My [experience] teaches me that the Way of the Cross is the way of joy: when we have the Lord on our side, when we follow his holy way, and see everything in the light of faith.”
- Presentations from MaterCare’s Rome 2017 conference are accessible online at the MaterCare Media website, at www.matercare.com
In honour of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of our Blessed Mother at Fatima, schools within the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education, as well as the Catholic Education Office, consecrated their buildings, staff and students to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This initiative follows the consecration of our country and dioceses by bishops and parishes by priests earlier this summer.
Director of Religious Education of Medicine Hat Catholic, Jill Wilkinson, assisted administrators of various schools, with parish priests, to officially consecrate the schools in prayer services during the month of October. At St. Michael’s School, students were reminded of the story of the three shepherd children of Fatima and the appearances of Our Lady urging them to pray the rosary for the conversion of souls. Students and staff prayed the rosary followed by a special consecration prayer and school blessing by Fr. Tomy Manjaly.
Our Catholic Faith is so rich in meaningful traditions, which are imperative for our children to experience. The story of Fatima and the examples of St. Jacinta, St. Francisco and soon to be canonized, Lucia, help students to understand our devotion to Mary and how God chooses even children to spread his salvation throughout the world. The consecration celebration held at St. Michael’s on Tuesday, October 10, was part of the school’s ongoing devotion to our Blessed Mother which consists of a weekly rosary making club and rosary lunch club.
We have such a tremendous freedom in our Catholic schools to educate our children in meaningful, life altering experiences. This was one such moment that I pray will remain with our students and staff throughout their schooling experience and in years to follow.
Catholic schools are privileged to share in the saving mission of the Church by providing education in the faith. Cultivating wisdom and virtue by nurturing truth, goodness and beauty, students come to know, glorify and love God. In addition to educational content, these attributes are taught and learned through the practice of the faith and learning opportunities, which integrate instruction with service.
The Truth that we share is Jesus Christ and it is expressed in knowing the truth of God’s love and mercy for each person and by fostering a relationship with Jesus Christ. In the Calgary Catholic School District, students grow in truth through such activities as Youth for Christ, Alpha, pilgrimages, retreats, liturgies, prayers, devotions, and by participating in the sacraments.
Knowing the truth of God’s love, students discover their inherent goodness, learning that they and all people have been created in the image of God who alone is good. Goodness is expressed, according to Pope Francis, by drawing near to others. We see this exemplified in schools in many different ways. One school prepared an image of a large cross made up of paper hands of different tones to demonstrate that all people are created equally and must be treated with dignity and respect. One school provided items for newborns while others spent time with seniors or with the L’Arche Community.
Recognizing that all people have dignity, students experience and know beauty by serving others. Service is fueled by joy that gives hope and affirms the work and action of the Holy Spirit. Each school community thoughtfully selects service activities that provide students with service learning opportunities to help them grow in faith. In Calgary Catholic, students have served others through a variety of activities such as food, clothing and coin collections, justice fairs, breakfast clubs, being in solidarity with the homeless, and more. Some schools integrated quotes from Pope Francis’ book, Dear Pope Francis, to reinforce responsibility to care for one another.
By fostering faith through truth, goodness and beauty, Catholic schools perform an invaluable service. In the Calgary Catholic School District, we work to share the Good News of the Gospel with our students, who can then, in turn, share this with the world.
Remembrance Day was first observed throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919 to commemorate the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a moment of silence to honour and remember the men and women who have served, and continue to serve Canada during times of war, conflict, and peace. Here is a true story of Jason K. Major, G35 Deputy, MONUSCOFHQ, a soldier who served in Afghanistan for almost an entire year and most recently served in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Jason’s story represents many of its kind and is an example of the outreach conducted through our young men and women in uniform today:
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country where the most grievous human rights violations are a daily occurrence, it is hard for anyone to feel optimistic about the future, yet amidst all of the poverty, there still exist some beacons of hope. The members of Op Crocodile recently had the opportunity to take some time out of their busy schedules to extend a small gesture of love on behalf of generous Canadian donors, to one of these beacons, the Tulizeni Orphanage in Goma.
As we arrived at the orphanage, we pulled past the guards into a walled compound no larger than a typical suburban property in Canada, where we were greeted by a sea of 86 small African children who were singing, laughing, and dancing. They were extremely excited by our arrival and even chanted, “CAN-A-DA,” over and over again. Some of the smallest and cutest among them would approach and look up longingly with their little arms extended in hopes that they might get picked up and hugged in loving affection, while others would come and hug our legs. Picking a little one up was a touching moment for me as it made me think of my own toddler at home who is truly blessed to have two parents who love her, and will never have to experience the things that these orphans have had to endure.
While this was my first time at the orphanage, it was not for many of my fellow Canadians. There is a Canadian United Nations volunteer, Gabrielle Biron from Montreal, who comes out every weekend to volunteer at the orphanage, and several of the other task force members including MCpl Ann Gunner, who make the time to visit once a month to play with the kids. Sometimes they treat the kids and bring out a laptop and borrow a projector from work to show the kids a movie. Other times they bring candies or toys donated either from their own pockets, or from other generous Canadians. You could see in the children’s eyes, and those of the staff, how much they appreciated having us visit, a gesture of compassion and generosity that is sadly not embraced by many other countries involved in this United Nations mission.
Sr. Georgette Marjorie Thsibang, the orphanage manager, took us on a tour of the facility. As we took the tour of the orphanage, I noticed the very cramped living conditions of the 86 kids currently residing there. There were a few bedrooms filled with many beds. The first one we visited had three bunk beds packed into a 10' x 10' room. The smallest kids sleep here, five to a bed, which makes for a room that houses 30 kids. We also visited a larger room, which was also packed with beds. We were told this was the room where the older girls (13-17) who had been raped, lived with their babies. My heart sank as I looked at the number of beds that were crammed into the room. To add to this, when I heard about all of the expenses I was shocked. It costs 195 USD per kid each year to go to school. Even just the operating cost for food is another 100 USD per day to feed the orphans a modest amount of food.
I couldn’t help but think that this place could really use more support and funding. They mentioned that they recently had to return several kids to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp because they just couldn’t afford to keep them and provide for them anymore. All of this comes in the midst of trying to build a new orphanage just outside of town; however, while the land has been purchased, the project is a long ways off. The project hopes to increase their capacity, decrease the cost of schooling by having an on-site school, and includes living quarters for the staff.
On this day, after the singing had settled down and the tour completed, the task force commander, Col Pierre “Pete” Huet, on behalf of a group of Canadian donors, and alongside the members of Op Crocodile, presented a large cheque donation of 2783 USD (4000 CAD before conversion) to the Tulizeni Orphanage to assist with the tuition expenses. The excitement of the kids and gratitude of the staff radiated and, not surprisingly, triggered the next round of singing and excitement. There was so much energy that the kids swarmed around Col Huet and hilariously attempted to pick him up and put him on their shoulders to carry him around as they cheered.
After the handshaking and the many gestures of thanks, they saw us off with big smiles and waves as we departed to get back to our primary task of combatting armed groups and protecting civilians in the DRC. If anyone would like to make a difference in the lives of these orphans, you can contact the task force adjutant by email at MONUSCO-HQ-DCOSOpsCoord@un.org.
You can also send your cheque to Mission Council at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, 120 - 17th Avenue SW, Calgary, AB T2S 2T2, Attn: Tulizeni Orphanage in Goma. Sr. Rita Kim, coordinator of Mission Council, will gladly forward your contribution to Sr. Georgette Thsibang. It just so happens that both Sisters speak English and French and belong to the Franciscan Order.
- During family time, talk about family members who lost their lives in a war (WWI, WWII, Korean War, other areas of war or conflict). Who were these family members? Did you know them or did other family members tell you about them? What is their story?
- Do you have family members in today’s Armed Forces? Do you know where they are serving, where they served and/or where they are now?
- Invite a family member, or a friend, who is presently serving in the military, to your home to share their experiences.
- Encourage your family to develop a prayer that includes praying for those who have lost their lives while trying to protect others; and praying for those who are risking their lives to help those in need. Recite this family prayer throughout November.
Heavenly Father, protect the
men and women of our Armed Forces
as they go about their duty trying, to the best of their ability, to protect those who are in harm’s way.
Equip them with the strength and dignity to act on Christian values
so that they can be true ambassadors of Christ.
Let your Light shine on those whom you have called home,
away from the chaos of
war and conflict.
May they enjoy their eternal rewards.
Guide us in prayer as we remember those who have gone before us;
and those who protect us at the present time.
May we always recognize
the sacrifices made by others
so that we can live in peace,
and may we be open to do our part
to help make the world
a better place for all.
Catholic Education Sunday is a time that allows us to remember how fortunate we are in this province to be able to offer publicly funded Catholic education. Our schools provide our children with an environment where they can learn to be witnesses to the love of Christ, and to keep their eyes ever on Jesus. Since our Faith and our living cannot be separated, our Catholic Faith permeates everything we do as educators.
This year, Holy Spirit Catholic Schools will remain focused on our Faith Plan, Growing in Faith Together (GIFT). Our guiding image for this plan is a beautiful tree that will be revealed over three years. The aim of the plan’s first year was to be “Rooted in Christ,” developing a greater understanding of the foundations of our Faith. This encouraged purposeful study of the Gospels and an appreciation for Christ’s enduring love through the Eucharist. Our second year inspires us to “Grow in Spirit” together. Expanding on our knowledge of Jesus through Scripture, we hope to know Him more deeply in our hearts by nurturing this relationship through prayer.
In celebrating the gift of Catholic Education in Alberta, we are grateful to both God and our provincial parish family that loves us, supports us, and stands up for us. Please continue to pray with us and for us. Along with our students, our families, our staff, and our parishes, we look forward to a beautiful year of Growing in Spirit together!