"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Monday, December 18, 2023

Making news with my news reporting!

The story appeared in the BC Catholic in June of 2023: The document shown is related to my four-year campaign to wrest information from the Fraser Health Authority about its policies and practices relating to Medical Assistance in Dying.
News coverage of euthanasia, pandemic restrictions, and Indigenous issues helped earn The B.C. Catholic 13 newspaper awards from the Catholic Media Association. The 2022 awards were announced at the association’s annual conference in Baltimore Friday. In addition to awards for news writing, design honours went to the newspaper’s senior visual designer Inca Siojo-Das. Writing awards also went to two long-time B.C. Catholic columnists and reporter Nicholas Elbers. The newspaper performed strongly in several reporting categories. Contributing writer Terry O’Neill won two news writing awards, including second place in in-depth news/special reporting for his article “Overdose Call to Action,” which examined through Catholic social teaching the issue of drug decriminalization as a solution to the drug overdose crisis. Judges called it a “timely piece that keeps key components of faith” at the centre “as it deep dives into the reality of the situation.” Terry O’Neill’s series on the impact of euthanasia on palliative care won second place in investigative news writing. O’Neill also took second place in investigative news writing for a piece describing how soaring assisted suicide is having a detrimental impact on palliative care. Judges complimented how O’Neil’s “clear and organized writing style” fit the investigative piece. O’Neill and editor Paul Schratz took third place in religious liberty reporting for a series of entries titled “Church Under Fire,” which judges said were “tightly written, thoughtful and well told.” Schratz looked at how government pandemic restrictions triggered conflict and confusion among parishioners. O’Neill contributed two columns looking at the rise in anti-Catholic attacks and church burnings following reports of unmarked graves being discovered in Kamloops. Schratz received an honourable mention in coverage of political issues for several articles addressing the growing division in Canada resulting from government restrictions on religious liberties. Schratz also took third place in national/international editorial writing for a piece examining the enactment of the Emergencies Act through a Catholic social lens. Judges said the article did “a good job of providing a sort of public policy post-mortem whose conclusions should be applied in other contexts and should be remembered in case future application might be warranted.” Inca Siojo-Das also received second place for her layout of a feature on icons at Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. Schratz also won third place for regional news writing for “Divided in the North,” which looked at the impact of pandemic restrictions on a church community. Judges said the article nicely illustrated “multiple facets of the complex issue of COVID restrictions.” Reporter Nicholas Elbers received third place for sacramental reporting with his coverage of the translation of the liturgy into Indigenous languages. Judges said Elbers brought an important topic to light in a way that builds community and connection “through clear yet warm rhetoric.” The B.C. Catholic also won first place in the headline category for “Fiddling while Rome learns” on a story about a Metis fiddler in Rome for last year’s meeting between Indigenous representatives and Pope Francis. The newspaper and the Archdiocese of Vancouver Communications Office received an honourable mention in the diocesan annual report category for the 2021-2022 Archdiocese of Vancouver annual report, featuring Siojo-Das’ design work and content from the communications team. Siojo-Das also received second place for layout of a feature on icons at Holy Eucharist Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. The layout was described as simple, creative, and both “easy to read” and “pleasing to the eye.” She also won an honourable mention for layout of a World Cup 2022 feature by Pat Macken entitled “Unity in Faith and Footie.” Two long-time columnists also picked up awards. Colleen Roy won second place in the Family Life category, while Alan Charlton took third in the Arts column category. Judges said Charlton offered “excellent insights,” “careful reflections,” and “effective retrospective” on art past and present. Nicholas Elbers’ coverage of the translation of the liturgy into Indigenous languages earned third place for sacramental reporting. Roy was praised as a “good conversationalist” and storyteller whose topics are interesting, “descriptive and well written.” The Catholic Media Association is the largest association of Catholic media professionals in North America, with more than 200 publication members and 800 individual members. The annual awards honour the contributions of Catholic media organizations and individual media producers in the United States and Canada.

Bouquets of love: offering the lonely blooms instead of tombs

A story I wrote for the B.C. Catholic about one of my projects, published in the spring of 2023:
It’s been 29 years since the pro-life committee at St. Joseph’s Parish in Port Moody launched Blooms into Rooms as a way to animate the Prayer for the Reverence for Life’s call to support the sick and the elderly. The committee also intended the project to signal opposition to the then-ominous spectre of legalized euthanasia. Today, with the virus of “Medical Assistance in Dying” infecting all too many of the sick and elderly, projects like Blooms into Rooms are proving to be more important than ever. The idea for Blooms into Rooms was simple: a few volunteers from St. Joseph’s would visit a single care centre on Holy Saturday and give patients a flowering plant, a homemade greeting card and, most important of all, some companionship. Since then, the flowers project has blossomed, with the result that this Easter weekend volunteers from two Catholic high schools and six parishes will be delivering flowers to almost 1,300 seniors and patients in six communities. Life Compass, the north-of-Fraser Catholic pro-life group, has become a key partner in this project and, for the first time this year, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is providing financial support with funds raised through the Pro-Life Sunday collection. Post-pandemic restrictions still rule out one-on-one visits, but organizers hope the flowers and cards will lift the recipients’ spirits and send the message that they are valued. The importance of projects like Blooms into Rooms is becoming more evident now that MAiD is not only legal and shockingly permissive in scope but is also being actively encouraged as an end-of-life-care option. Blooms into Rooms volunteers from St. Patrick’s Parish in Maple Ridge. Moreover, statistics show the primary reason so many elderly are choosing to seek assistance in ending their life is because they are lonely, depressed, and feel their life lacks meaning or value. Life-affirming Catholics have worked hard over the decades to oppose assisted suicide laws, but even as their warnings of a slippery slope have come true, Catholic opposition has failed to change public opinion, failed to influence politicians, and failed to sway the courts. Many in the pro-life movement are now pointing out how vital it is to connect with the most vulnerable in order to give them the love and support they need to continue to choose life. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, delivered that message in a series of presentations in B.C. in early March. He encouraged Catholic parishes to establish outreach programs aimed at supporting the sick and elderly. Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition speaks with listeners. “Most people ask for euthanasia because they are going through a difficult time of life,” he said. (Nicholas Elbers photo) And a single flower can make all the difference. In the pre-pandemic days when Blooms into Rooms volunteers visited seniors personally, one volunteer brought a small flowering plant to an elderly woman living in a Coquitlam seniors home. The woman was confused and angrily ordered the volunteer to take the plant away. “I didn’t order it and I don’t want to pay for it,” she said. The volunteer explained that it was a gift. The woman responded, “A gift? For me? No one ever gives me anything. Thank you!” She then shed a few tears of happiness. Blooms into Rooms organizers have watched as this sort of connection, multiplied hundreds or thousands of times over, has a positive, life-affirming impact. And they’re not the only ones. Michele Smillie, of the archdiocese’s Life, Marriage, and Family Office, points to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Horizons of Hope program, a toolkit on palliative care, as one of several initiatives aimed at supporting the sick and the elderly. Smillie also says the archdiocese’s Spiritual Care Training program, the latest installment of which wrapped up on March 29, offers effective training to help Catholics connect with persons who are suffering and need support. “End-of-life care is difficult for many, and there are sometimes significant physical, as well as psychological issues,” Smillie said. “We all feel helpless sometimes, overwhelmed, lonely and have some fear of the future. This doesn’t mean we want to be killed. It only means we are human. What we need is good medical care including palliative care and we need community. We need to feel important and that we mean something to someone.” The Compassionate Community Care organization, which is associated with the EPC, provides resources for those looking to advocate for loved ones who are in care. The archdiocese will be presenting the organization’s volunteer-training sessions in the fall. LifeCanada National is also now looking to expand its Dying Healed program in response to the spread of MAiD. The program trains individuals to help those who are suffering mentally, physically, and spiritually, so they can experience “healing of a deeper kind.” Pat Wiedemer, the organization’s president, said she not only wants to make the program more accessible by making it available online but also plans to expand its scope to include individuals who are living alone or have no friends, as well as patients in palliative care. “People have lost meaning in their lives,” she said. She stressed that young people also need support, especially given the looming expansion of MAiD to mature minors. “Despite social media, they’re suffering great loneliness. Look at the rise in the rate of suicide, the rate of anti-depressants,” she said. “We have a generation that doesn’t know how to deal with human relationships.” For Wiedemer it’s sadly ironic that at a time when so many deny the existence of God on the grounds that human connection is sufficient, those connections are being denied to the sick and elderly when they most need it. “We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to make time for life.” Which is what Blooms into Rooms is doing now that it has expanded into Christmas, although its main focus continues to be Easter, when Catholics celebrate not only life here on earth but eternal life. Forms of outreach like these offer yet more ways Catholics can support the culture of life, if for no other reason than such work embodies the second great commandment, to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

Jazz Evensong: Gathering in the key of God

A small Christian church in Burnaby has embraced jazz music to revitalize its congregation and at the same time inspired a Catholic priest in Coquitlam to consider singing from the same songbook. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Brian Fraser, Brentwood Presbyterian Church began offering jazz-music-infused services in 2009 and then weekly Jazz Evensong events in 2017. Today, the church (which is immediately south of Holy Cross Church in Burnaby) has become something of a jazz mecca, allowing musicians to rent the acoustically rich space for rehearsals, and even commissioning composers to write Christian-infused jazz music. Father Larry Lynn speaking with Jazz Evensong organizer Rev. Dr. Brian Fraser. Inspired by Jazz Evensong, Father Lynn is interested in creating a “jazz vespers program” at his parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Coquitlam. During each Wednesday-night Evensong event, Rev. Fraser devotes 10 minutes between musical sets to reflect on connections between the Christian message and jazz music. In late September, for example, he spoke about American jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, a convert to Catholicism, who said, “Jazz is healing to the soul.” Fraser commented: “Now, I don’t have the musical capacity that Mary Lou Williams had. But one of the things that we talk a lot about here at Brentwood – especially the relationship between jazz and faith – is that we are all jazz musicians because the most common form of jazz in the human experience is ordinary conversation.” He explained, “Every time you open your mouth to have a conversation, you are playing jazz. There’s a structure, vocabulary, and grammar. Each of us, with our unique voices, in our unique ways, in our unique situations and contexts, use that structure differently ... One of the things that we keep focusing on is that jazz musicians and Christians tell love stories.” Father Larry Lynn, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Coquitlam and a life-long jazz lover, is intrigued by what he has seen at Brentwood Presbyterian. “I love Pastor Fraser’s initiative to try to bring jazz into his church,” Father Lynn said. “I love that he prayed before the concert and that he invoked Jesus during his talks. He’s providing a space for people to encounter Christ through a medium that doesn’t usually acknowledge the spiritual, even though it can be a thoroughly spiritual experience. “Music moves the soul – that’s the reality and I think jazz, because it’s a kind of exploratory music, might be for those who are open to an exploration of their soul.” On a recent evening when Father Lynn attended Jazz Evensong, the Mike Allen Quartet performed the music of John Coltrane’s landmark jazz album, A Love Supreme, which is widely seen as a work of deep spirituality. Father Lynn said the event moved him to consider the question of where we encounter Christ. “When Christ was walking the earth, he met people at precisely the place he found them,” he said. “And they could be anywhere or anybody: rabbis, tax collectors, pharisees, paupers, beggars, governors, high priests, adulterers, thieves. demoniacs, widows, fishermen, you name it. “He loved them all and showed them the way. I’m sure if he had met some jazz musicians, he would have grooved along with them. But they would have known they were in special company and Jesus would have had them seeing clearly his Gospel message. He would have met them in the key of God!” Father Lynn said he thinks “it would be great” for a Catholic church to explore something like a jazz vespers program. “At my parish, I’m doing a renovation of the church basement and I’m thinking about allowing it to be a venue for small music groups, whether it’s jazz, chamber music, folk music,” he said. “What a beautiful thing it would be to invite folks in and see Jesus in their lives in and through the music they love. How awesome that would be!”