Year of Mercy Reflection

Visit the imprisoned.


While I may not have been imprisoned literally, until recently I definitely have been figuratively.

Over the past couple of years, I have been struggling with forgiveness. Struggling to forgive someone I felt wronged me. I was angry, felt betrayed and felt I was owed something.

But not seeking forgiveness was causing me more harm than good. The Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Year of Mercy has released me from the cell I was stuck in. Receiving God’s grace has given me the freedom and peace I can only find in Christ.

I am definitely grateful for the mercy God continuously offers me. Instead of being trapped in a cell of fear, I am surrounded with arms of love.

Not one single approach to ending homelessness report says

Moving forward is a step by step process.

Homelessness in Canada can be dramatically reduced or even stopped if Canadians are willing to commit to addressing it according to a new report.

The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 was released with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. It examined the current state of homelessness and how they plan to reach their ten year targets.

According to the report released in mid-October, throughout the course of a year at least 235000 Canadians endure some sort of homelessness with an average of 35000 experiencing homelessness on any given night. Canada is making progress with fewer shelter visits and shorter stays.“We are seeing new partnerships, innovative solutions, systems-based plans to end homelessness and improved data collection and measurement of the issue” the report said.

The Ontario government is one of many making progress on its own target of reducing homelessness. The Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness, Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy and Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy are each making investments in the province to reduce homelessness. The report said “Through a series of measures, including policy reform, increased funding and strategic targeting of specialized populations, Ontario is using evidence-based and community-led practices to build capacity to reduce poverty and end homelessness.”

The Government of Canada has committed a $2.3 billion investment into multiple affordable housing strategies, but mainly in the Homeless Partnering Strategy. This money will directly support communities who are in need of assistance to combat homelessness. “Most importantly” the report said “the Government of Canada coupled their investment with a commitment to create a National Housing Strategy (NHS).” The government will release the results of their consultations with Canadians on the National Housing Strategy Nov. 22.

In their plan costing $43.8 billion over ten years, the report highlights the need for a National Housing Strategy to end homelessness. The report recommends the government have a plan with clear outcomes, that renew and expand the Homeless Partnering Strategy, develop a new framework that work closely with provincial and territorial partners and specific strategies for targeting youth, indigenous and veteran homelessness.

The report recommends the continued support and collaboration with ‘A Way Home’ to better support youth on the streets and end homelessness. A Way Home is committed to working with various partners at all levels to adopt Housing First strategies and significantly reduce youth homelessness. Collaboration with Veterans Affairs Canada and models like the federal government investment in Indigenous affordable housing will ensure these groups have better outcomes.

To ensure affordable housing is available for those to get off the streets, the report makes some recommendations. It encourages the federal government to build more affordable housing while keeping those already built and applying a National Housing Benefit and affordable housing tax credit.

Ending with a look forward, the report says “We must strategize, innovate and invest until we have prevented and ended homelessness.”

New program hopes to end the cycle of being trapped by payday lenders

Hope for the hopeless.

Causeway Work Centre launched a new program Friday to help break the cycle of payday loans for those on social assistance and provide them with an alternative option.

The Causeway Community Finance Fund (CCFF) plans to provide individuals with reasonable loans at fair rates that are manageable to pay off. In partnership with Alterna Savings, Your Credit Union and Frontline Credit Union the pilot program will limit interest rates on the emergency loans to the prime interest rate (2.7 per cent) plus two to six per cent. Starting as a pilot year with $100,000 the program will be available to the 900 clients of Causeway and hopes to expand in the years following. Executive Director Don Palmer wants to ensure the pilot is executed well so in the future other organizations and banks can replicate the program.

The CCFF is new to the province of Ontario and will provide greater opportunities for those who would otherwise be unable to afford something bad to happen. In the case of a single mother of three kids who is tight on money, and an appliance breaks she would not be able to replace it without a loan. “We want her to be able to come to us and we want to be able to give her the money she needs on lending terms that are as low as possible and as long as possible,” Palmer said.

In Ontario, the loan industry is worth $1.5 billion. Ottawa has over 70 of the 800 outlets in the province with most being in low-income neighbourhoods where they are visibly present. The average payday lender charges $21 for every $100 borrowed and the loan must be paid off within two weeks. With the average loan being $435 the client is already facing a near $100 in interest. Palmer says this leads to clients going to the pay day lender next door to get a loan to pay off the interest on the first one. With the CCFF “You’re looking at significantly less than half of what any payday lender would ever provide” Palmer said.

Every client who receives a loan through the new program will go through financial literacy training so they do not end up at a payday lender again. This will help the clients of Causeway manage their money so they can end up developing a budget. Participants will be able to “Look at what’s coming in and look at what’s going out. Figure out how they can actually save some money and not go into debt” Palmer said.

Causeway Work Centre is a non-profit organization located in Ottawa that focuses on finding or creating employment for those who face disabilities and addictions. When someone comes to them looking for work they either help the person find a job or place them in one of their own social businesses. The four businesses they run include; catering business Krackers Katering, landscaping business Good Nature Groundskeeping and bicycle repair businesses Right Bike and Cycle Salvation. These programs provide employment, but also aid participants in going back to school or getting a job in another Ottawa business.

The CCFF is another way Causeway has innovated in hopes to alleviate the burdens of their clients.

St. Faustina play opens floodgates of mercy

Old story with a modern twist.

Leonardo Defillippis, director and founder of St. Luke Productions, has done something with his newest play that Shakespeare cannot — offer God’s mercy.

Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy is based on the life of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish sister of Our Lady of Mercy in the 1930s, whose personal encounters with Jesus inspired a devotion to the Divine Mercy.

“It’s a very fascinating and extraordinary story of how she’s called to help others and have mercy on others and how she calls out for mercy for others who are having huge troubles,” said Defilippis of the play that will tour Ontario, starting in Cornwall Sept. 24.

Defillipis describes the play as a “wake-up call of reality” for audiences. He said it reminds us all that God desires each and every one of us to return to Him, but just like Faustina, we have a responsibility to pray for their souls and help them get back on the right track towards Heaven.

Defilippis sees St. Faustina as a great role model for young people facing the pressures in society. He recalled a letter from a young women who got out of a toxic relationship after seeing the play because her heart was so moved.

“She is watching this play while going in the wrong direction in a bad relationship and she sees the play and it awakens in her heart that she does not need to be with the man,” he said. “I think it gives real great hope, to say we are going to be a new people, a young people that are going to help transform the world. That is what Faustina does, that is what the saints do, especially young saints.”

The play is a unique meditation on St. Faustina’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, partnered with a series of modern subplots portrayed on a multimedia screen.
The majority of the play is around one player on stage. Defilippis looked high and low for the perfect actress to play the part. Chosen from a group of 85 women who auditioned for the role of Faustina, lead actress Maria Vargo was chosen not only for her great talent, but also for her great faith.

The 38-year-old native of St. Louis resisted the faith while growing up in a Catholic home. In 2008, while in Lourdes, Vargo realized her life was not going in the direction she wanted and decided it was time to take control.

“When I was there, it was an opportunity to resubmit myself to the Lord,” Vargo said. “It affected the work that I was then going to do as an actress… It enlightened my heart and mind to see that not only living a certain way, but inside your soul starts to change.”

As part of Vargo’s training for the role, Defilippis sent her to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Although fearful at first and unsure of what she would do for a week with the nuns, Vargo found the experience incredibly worthwhile. She had the opportunity to go through their daily duties, read the constitution of the order, reflect on obedience and learn more about what Faustina’s experience would have been like in the convent.

“At the end, I was sad to leave,” she said. “It was a really beautiful experience that helped me, especially because in the role she’s in the convent, I’m living her kind of life.”

Being the only actress on stage interacting with a screen as part of the multimedia presentation, Vargo admits the experience was foreign to her. After learning the timing, she realized how beautiful the play is to allow audiences to feel as though Jesus is to talking to them and not just Faustina.

“Don’t miss an opportunity to see good theatre and really an opportunity for your heart and mind to be moved in a deeper way,” Vargo said.

Sisters in Spirit Vigil a Reminder of the Work Left to do

Healing is a long journey.

A vigil held last Tuesday by Sisters in Spirit attempted to give a voice to thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls while calling on the government to act.

The vigils held across Canada on Oct. 4, in partnership with the Native Women’s Association of Canada are intended to honour the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women by bringing together families of victims and community members who want justice. In Ottawa, the vigil took place on the steps of Parliament Hill and was an opportunity for families to share their stories and support each other in the healing process.

Jocelyn Iahtail was one of the many mothers standing on the steps of Parliament Hill Tuesday speaking on behalf of her daughter. Iahtail’s newborn, Nitayheh, which means “my heart” in Cree died Nov. 13, 2001 because of her mother’s assault.

“I always say I had my own 9-11 experience,” she said while holding the Red Ribbon Dress unveiled that day in remembrance of her daughter.

It was a significant day for her because after nearly 15 years she arrived at a place where she unveiled a memorial to her daughter.

Although she and her son were in attendance to present the dress, her other daughter could not come to the vigil because her emotions were too raw to express publicly. Iahtail said she came to the vigil “to give voice to my daughter because she can’t speak for herself.”

Laurie Odjick, of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation hasn’t seen her daughter Maisy since Sept. 6, 2008. She wants justice, but not the kind that the government has continued to promise, but not implemented.

“I for one am tired of standing in front of the house of broken promises” she said to shouts of shame from the crowd.

Another inquiry with recommendations, government report or photo-op is not going to help her she says. Odjick wants to know what happened to her daughter.

With Aboriginal Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minster Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minster Patty Hajdu beside him, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau began addressing the concerns from the crowd and speakers saying “These buildings behind us and everyone who has sat in them failed. Failed to uphold the values and principles which they were supposed to defend.”

He understands the impatience and frustrations many face, but said that change is not something that will happen overnight. With the help of all Canadians, he says his government will work hard to restore the critical relationship we share with indigenous peoples and commit to doing more.

For many, including Assembly of First Nations Chief Ghislain Picard, there is still a lot of work to do, including implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Justice is not yet at our doorstep.”

Bird Debate Gets People Squawking

Great Canadian National Bird Debate was fun for all.

Canadians love their birds. The National Bird Project hosted The Great Canadian National Bird Debate Monday night at the Canadian Museum of Nature in an attempt to answer one question; What should our national bird be?

In partnership with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Canadian Geographic will recommend a national bird to the federal government in hopes to have one named by Canadas’s 150th anniversary. Canadian Geographic began the process with an online poll that received over 50 000 votes and narrowed the competition down to five finalists.

The black-capped chickadee, Canada goose, gray jay also known as whiskey jack, snowy owl and common loon were represented by George Elliott Clarke, Mark Graham, David Bird, Alex MacDonald and Steven Price. The event brought together 200 people, was broadcast to thousands online and trended number one on Twitter in Canada for the duration of the debate.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna raised the issue that affects us all: climate change. According to McKenna there are 72 species of bird at risk in Canada and it is our responsibility to work together and protect them.

“Birds play a critical role in our ecosystems. They eat insects, they dispense seeds, they pollinate plants, and they are also a critical indicator of a healthy environment.” she said in her opening remarks.

The Canada goose is a species that has been raised from levels of extinction due to the efforts of Canadians. For Graham, this is an indicator that the goose would best serve as our national bird because it demonstrates the good things that happen when Canadians come persevere.

The Americans national bird, the bald eagle has also faced threats of extinction. If it wasn’t for the efforts of the U.S. government, it would be an extinct species. Panellists here prefer a bird that represents Canadians through its attributes. Bird prefers the gray jay because it is a great merger with climate change.

The bird population in Canada is a great indicator of whether or not Canadians are doing their part in protecting the environment. Representing the loon, Price says “They’ll attract more Canadians to love and conserve the lakes and the coastlines we need to preserve. Loons call us to keep nature’s cleanup on course.”

MacDonald said, the snowy owl is the only bird that serves as a symbol of the North and represents its peoples with fierceness.

The winner is still anybody’s bet, but in an audience poll the gray jay was the clear winner.

The recommendation will be announced on Nov. 16, 2016 at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s College of Fellows Annual Dinner in Ottawa.