An Olympic welcome from The B.C. Catholic

The B.C. Catholic, award-winning newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia, has published a special Olympic edition.

Cover of The B.C. Catholic's special Olympic edition

“We Believe: A Catholic Guide to the 2010 Winter Games,” includes greetings from church officials, including Pope Benedict XVI; maps, Mass times and parishes near Olympic venues; and stories of faith. Reflecting the diversity of Vancouver and the Olympic athletes, Archbishop J. Michael Miller’s welcome was published in English, French and Mandarin.

The Olympics open in Vancouver and Whistler Feb. 12, and the Paralympics follow in March.  The Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Diocese of Kamloops have worked to prepare for athletes and fans from around the world.

Year for Priests: Praying outside the box

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Over the past couple of weeks, I have met with a number of people about prayer, and since Lent is around the corner it seems fitting to pass along a few fruits from the conversations.

For most of the people with whom I speak, prayer is a conundrum.  We are told that prayer is essential to our spiritual life, but just about everyone I know feels that prayer is a struggle.  We are told that prayer is how we dialogue with God, but most of the time, it feels awkward and one-sided.  In my own past experience, I found that priests often had very little to say on the subject, seemingly because they struggled as much as everyone else.  So what are we to do?

I have always believed the first step is to take the whole idea of prayer out of the 12th-century box in which we keep it.  Whether we know it or not, most of us have a mental picture of what “good” prayer is supposed to be like, and usually it is contemplative, ritualized and originated in a monastery. However, prayer is much more than all that.

Second, we have to understand that there are as many different kinds of prayer as there are traditions in the church.  We can use broad categories like formal, informal, collective, individual, contemplative, active, introverted and extroverted (just to name a few), but even those hardly grasp the vast treasury of prayers prayed by the church.

I should note that throughout my formation, I struggled immensely with prayer, largely because I did not feel the presence of God at 5:30 a.m. in a dimly-lit, absolutely silent chapel.  As an extrovert, I wanted to sing, write and “voice” my prayer.  I eventually discovered that 90 percent of Religious men and women are introverts, so it makes sense that the adopted prayers of Religious are more contemplative.

Ultimately, I believe that prayer is anything that makes us more aware of, and increases our ability to accept grace.  It is anything that reminds us that we are not our own saviors.

Most of us are not called to live in a cloister, so if we take St. Paul’s words, “to pray without ceasing,” to heart, it means that prayer is not so much an action, as it is a disposition – a state of mind.

This means that not only is a rosary a prayer, but so is Mass.  Not only is a chapel a place of prayer, but so is nature.  Prayer can be a discussion about God in a coffee shop, a good book that makes us aware of our need for God, a beautiful song, journal time, and so on.

But all this is not to say that prayer is not a discipline, because it is.  Prayer is not a series of random thoughts, but a concentration on the presence of God in our midst in that moment.

In the end, my favorite quote about prayer comes from Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who once wrote, “Prayer may not save us, but it makes us worth saving.”

No amount of prayer will ever earn us our salvation.  Prayer is our response to God’s grace.  But the more that we pray, the better we become at saying “thank you” and asking others for help and recognizing their needs beyond our own.  Through our prayer, we not only improve our relationship with God, but we also improve our relationship with those around us.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

Click here for more in this series.

Determined Haitians stand strong in the face of insurmountable obstacles

Girls outside tents at a camp on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Port-au-Prince. (CNS/Bob Roller)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – While leaving the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince this morning we passed by a U.N. World Food Program food distribution site. Dozens of earthquake victims were hurrying back to their tattered shelters a few blocks away, large sacks of rice in their possession.

The eagerness of the Haitians to return to their families with this gift of life was evident on their faces. No one looked happy — just very concerned that they get back to feed hungry stomachs.

The sacks, emblazoned with the USAID logo, are meant to last two weeks. After that, the World Food Program plan calls for continued distributions of food across 16 zones around the capital. How long the distributions will continue is anyone’s guess.

The realization that this could go on for a very long time is sobering. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless in the country, most around Port-au-Prince. An estimated 400,000 of the area’s 3 million people have fled to the countryside, placing greater burdens on an already-stressed rural community where the agricultural capacity has been limited by recent hurricanes.

A crucifix remains standing amid the rubble of Sacred Heart Church in Port-au-Prince. (CNS/Bob Roller)

And here we — Catholic News Service photographer Bob Roller and myself — were ending our assignment after 10 days on the ground in the earthquake-ravaged city. We had the opportunity to leave. But these Haitians cannot. They will continue to encounter challenges that most Americans would find unimaginable.

Yet they stand strong as in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They are not giving up. Their example is one for the world.

Now it remains for the world to respond.

Charlie Jacques prays the rosary for comfort outside destroyed Port-au-Prince cathedral

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Just about every morning since the Jan. 12 earthquake Charlie Jacques visits what’s left of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and prays the rosary.

“It gives me comfort and gets me through the day,” the 33-year-old Jacques told Catholic News Service today, unwrapping a bright green rosary from his right hand to shake hands with a visitor.

Remains of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption are seen the day after the Jan. 12 earthquake. (CNS/Caritas)

He sits quietly on a splintered plastic chair tucked into a corner between a brick wall and the wrought iron fence that surrounds the cathedral. His gaze appears distant, thinking about the better times of the past.

For Jacques, it’s been the same routine for more than three weeks since the home he shared with his sister on Dalmas 2 was destroyed in the quake.  He said he lost his job as a laborer at a food depot the night of the disaster.

This morning, Jacques appeared fatigued in his dusty clothes. But he’s holding out hope that someone will help. First he wants food. He said he has eaten little since the earthquake. Second, he’d like a job so he can help support his sister and begin to save money for another home.

He wraps the rosary around his right hand again and returns to prayer.

Persevering Haitian barber rebuilds his shop amid signs of clean up

Chov Jean Jacques takes a break while workers rebuild his barber shop in Sarthe. (CNS/Bob Roller)

SARTHE, Haiti — Signs of clean up and rebuilding slowly are becoming more evident across some of the most seriously damaged neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince.

Barber Chov Jean Jacques is just one example.

We came across Jacques sitting in what was left of his tiny shop on the main street into and out of Sarthe, just north of the Port-au-Prince airport. He was watching two workers — masons Roudy Pierrilus and Louis St. Ilus — rebuild the front wall of his business on the side of the road at the foot of a heavily-trafficked, creaky bridge.

He said he expected to be back in business in a week or so.

The cost to rebuild is about US $1,500, Jacques estimated.  He borrowed money to pay the workers, and the construction-supply business extended credit for the concrete blocks and cement. Once he reopens he expects to repay the loans in due time.

The construction style is typical of many of the thousands of structures that came tumbling down in the earthquake: concrete walls with simple rebar supports. If another quake hits, it will tumble down again.

But people such as Jacques deserve credit and support for the desire to persevere and continue living.

When the earth quaked, Jacques was in the middle of a haircut for a customer. Three customers were waiting their turn. All escaped unharmed but the front of the shop and most of one side wall caved in. And with it most of his furniture and equipment.

“We just can’t say anything. It’s God’s will,” he said of the Jan. 12 quake, which Haitians call “The Event.”

As for where he will get chairs for his waiting customers and a barber chair, he told me, “If you get some, send some.”

U.S. Catholic leaders call for safeguards to protect Haitian children

The heads of five major Catholic agencies that are serving Haitian earthquake victims have written to three Cabinet secretaries outlining steps they feel should be taken to protect  Haitian children who have been left alone as a result of the Jan. 12 quake.

“The compassion of the American people has been evident in their response” to these children, the agency heads wrote. “As social service providers, we believe that certain processes should be established before such children are brought to the United States and placed in adoption proceedings.”

The full text of the letter is available here. It is addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

It was signed by the heads of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and the International Catholic Migration Commission.

Priest says second trip to Super Bowl for him ‘humbling,’ ‘surprising’

Father Peter Gallagher, pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, Ind., is making his second trip to the Super Bowl in four years. (CNS photo/courtesy of Indianapolis Colts)

Father Peter Gallagher, a pastor in the Indianapolis Archdiocese, says he never dreamed when he was first ordained in 1992 he’d be the chaplain for the Indianapolis Colts, much less go to two Super Bowls with the team.

“It’s humbling and surprising to me,” he tells Sean Gallagher of  The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. And the priest who was chaplain for the Colts during the team’s first 20 years in Indianapolis — the late Father Patrick Kelly — has not been far from his thoughts.

“I thought of Pat in both playoff games. … I think in his own way, he’s celebrating,” Father Gallagher said.

Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond have placed a friendly wager on the game, and a nun-prognosticator in Indy has the Colts winning 31-22.

But not so fast. Others who predict these things say the Saints will win.  And the Saints not only have the current New Orleans archbishop in their corner, they’ve also got retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip M. Hannan as one of their biggest fans. He has been a fan since the team began as Peter Finney Jr., editor of the Clarion Herald, New Orleans archdiocesan paper, writes in his Feb. 6 column.

The archbishop, 96, was there at the beginning, when the Saints and their fans were newly minted. He also helped name the team, according to Finney. Archbishop Hannan reassured then-Gov. John McKeithen “that he did not consider the nickname sacrilegious.”

He also wrote a prayer when he was asked to offer the invocation before the Saints very first game on Sept. 7, 1967. It was against the Rams and before a crowd of 80,000. And the words are “every bit as fresh today,” writes Finney.