Efforts to Promote Social Justice in the English Canadian Region of Holy Cross (1947-2017)
First of all, some preliminary remarks: This is not an exercise in academic history. There are few documents and many of the first-hand witnesses of the beginnings are no longer with us. Nor did I have access to our archives while preparing this document, though a few years ago, I spent a week going through our archives and have a fair idea of what is there. It needs also to be said that I did not drive a firm wedge between charity and social justice. After all, there is no justice without charity. Charity here needs to be understood as love that recognizes and constitutes the other as equal. In this sense, charity is a polar opposite to paternalism. Finally, while I have tried to include some significant examples of justice work, my account is far from exhaustive.
The story begins in the mid-1940’s. The most extensive document about the history of our group is The English Canadian Province of HOLY CROSS, 1943-1984: A Chronicle, written by Fr. Robert McInroy, undated but circulated around 1985. It is impossible to speak of the English Canadian Region’s implication with social justice without looking into the social context in which the group was formed. The first members were largely from the Maritimes (New Brunswick in particular, but also other maritime provinces). Several worked with the Acadians in Memramcook, outside Moncton, New Brunswick. Most had gone through their formation in Montreal. Quebec, at that time, was politically and economically dominated by the English. Montreal’s public language was English and the French were looked down upon. Thus, a small minority of English-speaking priests in a largely Francophone Province had little chance of exercising any initiative even though they were appreciated. As a result, they remained largely located in New Brunswick, in Acadian territory. New Brunswick was and still is divided geographically between Acadian and English (British Loyalist) territories.
Nevertheless, the Acadians got along very well with the English- speaking priests in their community. It needs also to be said that the “option for the poor,” which has come to symbolize the work for social justice in the Church, was not necessarily understood or even well received in our circle at the very beginning. There was a slow process of awareness and acceptance that grew through the years. The impact of Vatican II and the arrival of newly ordained priests in that period was decisive.
The move to form an English Canadian Holy Cross group (1943) opened the door for the English-speaking Maritimers to consider what could be done, not only in the Maritimes, but further to the West, particularly in Ontario and eventually in Alberta. Parishes were undertaken in Montreal and Halifax. The group continued to teach English-language students at the College in Memramcook, N.B. which would eventually become the University of Moncton and led the EC Province to set up on the campus of St. Thomas University in Fredericton in the 1960’s. The
University prepares future teachers and social workers, above all, for New Brunswick. With the end of the reign of Prime Minister Duplessis in Quebec, and the period of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960’s, there were shifts. In Quebec, the French-speaking took charge of their territory. It was an important political, economic and cultural shift. The English were dethroned from their political and economic power. However, the movement for an independent Quebec
caused some consternation among the Acadians (to say nothing of the Rest of Canada). The Acadians, to some extent, saw themselves as abandoned by Quebec. The Holy Cross Acadians had become fiercely proud of their own culture while retaining good relations generally with their English confreres. The English Canadian Province largely adopted the attitude that the so-called “separatist” movement was dangerous and this led to distrust among many in our
group of the French-Canadian Province of Holy Cross priests. So, from the start our group found itself at the centre of one of the most important social justice issues shaping Canada and Quebec. Current efforts in 2019 to reunite our two groups follows in that trajectory.
Notre Dame College School (1947), Welland, Ontario
One of the earliest projects undertaken by the new Vice-Province was a venture into the world of Toronto. Initially Cardinal McGuigan offered an existing school in east Toronto, Neil McNeil. However, there were staffing difficulties, so the Cardinal asked if the Fathers would be willing to go to an outpost at the edge of the diocese: Welland, a small city near the eastern end of the Niagara Peninsula. This meant moving into territory not known by the members at that time and taking on responsibility in a very special social context that, be it said, also led to quite a few vocations. Welland was an industrial city with a large francophone presence (30% – mostly from Quebec) and with immigrants from post-war Europe. As educators in the faith we helped second generation refugees and immigrants to become integrated into the Canadian Church and society. Ours was the first co-ed Catholic high school in the area: Notre Dame College School (NDCS) – with partial government support. A seed of this school had existed as “Grey Gables,” operated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The educational ministry by the Province at NDCS was initially in the Archdiocese of Toronto. By 1958, when the Diocese of St. Catharines was formed, our Province became a significant partner in Catholic secondary school education in the Lincoln and Welland County Separate School Boards by eventually taking the leadership in creating three other Catholic high schools in the diocese.
From here on the social justice work of the English Canadians centres around four people: Jim Mulligan, Frank Wagner, Al Mahoney and myself. That doesn’t mean there were not important contributions from others. But these were the most prominent actors, so it seems logical to present each of the four while trying to keep track of the complicated geography and chronology.
Beginning in 1970, a work of justice education and concrete support to the marginalized became a part of the curriculum at Notre Dame College School in Welland. This began as a starvathon – 24 hours without food but accompanied by education about conditions in the “third world.” Fr. Jim Mulligan was, from the beginning, a guiding light. Five years later the format was changed to a pilgrimage (march) and occupied the students’ attention during an entire month each Fall. This format garnered a large public awareness and spread to several other Catholic schools. After 43 years, it has raised more than three million dollars for projects throughout the world. As time went on, justice education became an integral part of the religious education at NDCS. There were also several walks against male violence against women. The NDCS pilgrimage, promoted by Holy Cross religious, became the model for similar pilgrimage marches at Holy Cross Secondary School, St. Paul Secondary School, and Lakeshore Catholic Secondary School. Holy Cross became a major promoter of the work of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP). At the same time, several sponsorships of refugees were sustained through our schools and parishes.
It is not an understatement to say that the educational work of Holy Cross, through NDCS and the other schools where we worked, helped to open public opinion in the Diocese of St. Catharines to social justice.
Parallel to all this was the emergence of Project Hope (actively supported by Fr. Denis Warburton). It sent containers of clothing, books and other goods to islands in the Caribbean, especially in collaboration with the Sisters of Holy Cross in Haiti.
Fr. Gerry Cormier, who for ten years worked with the Sisters of Holy Cross to build up the library of Regina Assumpta College in Cap Haitienne, also helped youth find work. In Dominica, Fr. Lloyd Bechamp promoted a small pottery- making industry with prisoners to support them financially, and Br. Ronald Rumbolt ministers by organizing and distributing shipments of basic items to the elderly and poor.
From 1984-1990 Frank Wagner would enlarge our impact in the Niagara area as chaplain and lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Brock University in St. Catharines, where large numbers of our NDCS graduates studied. He became active in Tools for Peace, a program to provide tools to workers in Nicaragua after the end of the war there. Frank was also involved with the work of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at Brock University in a number of social justice programs as well as promoting the Ten Days for World Development education program in the Diocese. In this period the Newman Centre at the University collected on two huge posters over 2000 signatures against apartheid in South Africa. One was posted to the President Botha of South Africa, while the other was hand delivered to Archbishop Desmond Tutu by his niece. Frank also made sure that social justice themes were included in his Faculty of Education classes, as well as in several lectures given at the university by Catholic theologians for the annual Columbus Day Lecture which he started.
In 1995, when our Province assumed responsibility for St. Kevin parish in Welland and Frank became pastor, the justice and peace committee was made a priority ministry by Frank and collaborated closely with the annual campaigns of Development and Peace for international justice. At the same time the parish food bank, Out of the Cold Harvest Kitchen, was established to provide meals and emergency shelter. An annual scholarship for public or Catholic secondary school graduates to take university courses oriented to social justice was established and funded by parish fundraising.
In 2004 Jim Mulligan became pastor of St. Kevin Parish, a major source of students for our school. He opened more fully the social justice orientation already there and the parish continued to be a major supporter of Development and Peace as well as anti-poverty initiatives in the city when he initiated a significant study of the social dimensions of poverty in the area.
Our schools and parishes became active supporters and partners in the various national ecumenical coalitions formed in the 1970’s to work for social justice and this evolved into support for Kairos-Canada, a national ecumenical organization coordinating social justice work across Canada. We also supported other social justice groups such as Citizens for Public Justice and Project Ploughshares. These ecumenical coalitions were among more than a dozen outstanding initiatives for social justice that drew the attention of Churches around the world.
All our parishes work with the poor, have food banks where people can come to get groceriesfor free, and all participate in local anti-poverty groups. All have sponsored refugees to Canada.
To back up a bit- something I have going to have to do several times: The English-Canadians contributed significantly to the development of Holy Cross in India, working under the leadership of the French-Canadians. The Breens (Harold and George) and Jack Martin in the North-East, Reg McQuaid (in formation), Harry Stocks with the deaf and Young Catholic Workers, and Don Bielby, working in formation programs for our Indian confreres in the South. This was largely work with very marginalized people: indigenous tribals, the handicapped. Also, Michael McQuillan worked in Ghana, (1947- 1970’s). Because we were a small group, the presence of several of our members in other continents established a strong international link. During the 1980’s, a series of delegations of our members went to visit places where our men were working in order to understand the political and economic challenges they were facing.
This leads me to speak of Al Mahoney who was asked, in 1973 by then Provincial Superior Robert O’Connell, to open an English Canadian mission in Latin America. After exploring several locations, he went to Chiapas, Mexico in 1974 to work with the Indigenous people there and in 1994 got caught up in the Zapatista revolution. He was eventually ousted from Mexico for his solidarity work with the Tzotzil, especially with Bishop Samuel Ruiz-Garcia. Following that Al worked with Central American refugees in Niagara before going on to spend time with the Holy Cross communities in Brazil and Peru and, at the request of Fr. Robert Morin, collaborating with the General Administration for several years on the coordination of social justice work for the Congregation.
Speaking of his years in Chiapas, Mexico, Al Mahoney says:
“I however do consider that all of my approximately 20 years work in El Bosque, Simojovel and later work in Chalchihuitan, Chiapas, Mexico as well as my 4 years in Peru and two yrs. In Brazil, all had a definite strong social justice element; I was involved in the pastoral formation of catechists, health workers, community leaders and deacons where I worked. Such formation was much more accentuated in my time in Chiapas, Mexico. Our wonderful Bishop Samuel Ruiz-
Garcia always maintained that as a central focus in all pastoral work with Indigenous people. The insistence on learning the local languages as part of the social justice, was an integral part of justice work. Including the work of literacy.
“I was helped by the community-building and pastoral work of the 2 Mexican Sisters who formed part of our team with lay leaders, making sure that women’s participation and voice was heard and valued. That meant the slow process of integrating women catechists and community leadership in a predominantly male traditional society. I believe that our efforts were blessed with some success because of those various necessary elements.
“In Chiapas, I had at first 20 villages to attend to and soon after, the incorporation of villages from another neighbouring mission brought that number to 42. And since a willing horse gets the work, our team, eventually was asked to attend to 20 more villages from the neighbouring mission of Simojovel. The social justice element of our approach brought us lots of grief in the long run and rejection of Mexican government authorities.
“During the last 9 years I was in Chiapas—most of it in Chalchihuitan— I was involved in my spare time in an ecumenical work of translation of the entire Bible into the Tzotzil (Mayan) language.
“We had 3 well trained catechists and 3 young Presbyterian pastors who worked
diligently with us in the translation. When I was finally refused re-entry into the Diocese of San Cristobal in Sept. 1995 despite documents that had guaranteed my re-entry, after a brief absence for a course, we had to finish the last short part of the translation by traveling to Guatemala. The situation became much more difficult just before that because of the diocesan acceptance of Guatemalan refugees into the diocese. After 18 years of refusal entry into the country, finally I was able to return to visit and to a Conference for Indigenous peoples in 2013.”
“In 1983 when I was home on holiday, Jim Mulligan advised me that Holy Cross Sisters of the English- speaking group, who then had a few sisters with us in Welland and St. Catharine’s wanted to get involved with the St. Catharine’s diocese’s refugee ministry.
“They had been invited to accompany that effort which grew out of a renewal programme in the diocese where a man who worked at the Fort Erie immigration post, suggested that since they were looking for a social justice effort to back up what they had discussed as part of their renewal programme, made a great suggestion: the many Central American refugees crossing at the Fort Erie border –and it turned out there were others too: from Somalia, a few other African countries and a few Colombians etc.— showing up at the border and needed some orientation as to how and where to settle in Canada. The immigration officer lamented that he and other workers there didn’t speak Spanish. The large influx was in part due to the wars in Central America and the American government’s war on undocumented workers sent many fleeing to the Canadian border.
“There were 2 sisters: Margie Quinn, CSC and Marion Power, CSC who wanted to volunteer, but hoped a Holy Cross priest could accompany them — one who could do pastoral work in Spanish. The sisters already spoke Spanish fairly well. Margie Quinn— who never worked in Latin America but spent only a few months in Chiapas where she became familiar with work that I was doing there— spoke much better Spanish than Marion who spent 12 yrs. in Peru. I was asked by Jim
Mulligan to accept and I did. It was a great social justice effort that had already been beautifully organized by groups of lay Catholics from Fort Erie, Saint Catharines, and Welland parishes. Soon after Niagara Falls joined, and a number of Christians from a few other denominations joined the effort: principally the United Church, Anglicans and a Lutheran couple from Stevensville. The idea was to establish groups of 5 individuals or families who would each take care of an element of settlement; finding decent housing and furnishings, help getting them
health care, work, visitation, accompaniment and religious services. The latter 3 were to be our Holy Cross responsibilities. It frequently happened that since the family members were still working, we’d be called to help with a bit of everything.
“We, the Holy Cross team, were very happy to be part of this great lay initiative which as mentioned above, shortly after its beginning, became also an ecumenical venture, while continuing to be principally centred in St. Catharines parishes. Another interesting point is that it was firmly supported by good Bishops in St. Catharines, Hamilton and Toronto.
“It was also a model of hospitality, collaboration and creation of strong bonds of friendship between the lay people, ourselves and the refugees we served. On Sundays, the Holy Cross team provided the Eucharist in St. Catharines, Welland, Fort Erie and, for some time, in Niagara Falls. We had a central office in St. Catharines and 2 houses of welcome and temporary shelter, one in Fort Erie and another in St. Catharines. My presence as a Holy Cros priest, continued from August 1983 until June 1986 when I returned to Chiapas and to the new mission of San Pablo Chalchihuitan where I spent 6 years until my being shown the door by the Mexican government. I was one of 7 foreign priests expelled from Chiapas during the 1990s until 1996.”
Robert Morin, who was at that point a member of our General Administration, invited Al to help coordinate justice work for the whole Congregation.
“My official involvement in Social Justice ministry was in the years from Sept. 2000 until after chapter of 2004, when I was asked to assume, at first, the role of assistant JPIC coordinator to Robert Morin for the Holy Cross men’s General admin. Soon afterward, Robert had to resign from his role and I continued on for some months. After that, Jim Mulligan was named Robert Morin’s replacement for JPIC concerns on the general administration. I continued as his assistant and
continued to do the leg work traveling back and forth to the St. Mary’s office of the combined Holy Cross administrations where I enjoyed my collaboration with Mary Turgi, CSC and her assistants.
“I tried to and generally was able to travel to that central office about every 2 months to hold meetings with Mary and assistants. During those visits I maintained contacts thru visits with both the Holy Cross Brothers and some of the priests and occasionally and mostly informally, with the seminarians at Moreau Seminary.”
Al continues that ministry in a less formally-integrated effort in favor of refugees in the Toronto Archdiocese.
“I have been involved somewhat but mostly in helping newcomers with English.
The difference between Arabic and English is quite impressive especially for adults. This has been interesting and fulfilling. One or two are convinced they will have me speaking Arabic before I finish helping them with English.
“Another interesting part of my personal involvement in Justice ministry has been my participation in Amnesty International; mostly through campaigns of petitions and recruitment of new members to sign up for the release of human rights of the many people who have suffered persecution, imprisonment—often accompanied by the horrors of torture. It has been so gratifying to see how many such supporters of human rights and defenders of the dignity of life have been freed. Unfortunately, there are many more who have not been so lucky. We continue to advocate for their freedom.”
Now I need to back up once again to 1969 and return to New Brunswick. I arrived in Fredericton, after studies at the University of Toronto, fresh for my first assignment as a professor of philosophy at St. Thomas University, along with Frank Wagner who had been teaching in Dennis Morris Secondary School in St. Catharines and Joe Higgins, who had been teaching at Notre Dame College School in Welland. Our presence was in part a response to the student, including our seminarians, unrest following the 1968 global student protests.
At the time a group of students had made contact with a poor community in town. These people lived along Kilarney Road. One of the students approached me to accompany their efforts to engage the children in sports.
I suggested a community meeting to which the parents would be invited and at which the question would be raised about their priorities for their community. There was a good turn-out and they immediately focused on the fact that the community did not have access to the city’s water system and that, as a result, they were dependent on wells. Most of the wells were polluted. As a result, many of the children were sick. So, we ended up supporting their efforts to convince the government of New Brunswick to build a water system to connect them to the city infrastructure. It took several years, but they got their water. In the meantime, the demonstrations and protests garnered attention.
At one point the Chief of the Micmac Reserve of Red Bank in northern New Brunswick approach me to ask for help in getting a water system for their community. I referred them to my cousin, the head of the water system at the nearby military camp. He sent soldiers to work with the community to install a system. That got the attention of the Ministry of Indian Affairs (as it was called at that time) and he was hired as chief engineer for construction on reserves throughout Canada. This meant building infrastructure but also homes, schools, community centres etc.
During that period, Frank, who had been named director of seminarians, and I initiated a summer hostel for youth in one wing of Holy Cross House, our house of formation and student residence. This continued several years after I left and led to several other projects to serve street-people and transients in the Fredericton area, led by Frank Wagner who was chaplain at St. Thomas University Also, between 1970-1984 a series of initiatives of the Federal government led to summer work projects and outreach programs to local communities, staffed mainly by young adults. Again, Frank Wagner with the support of the local Holy Cross community and properties was actively involved in arranging for the implementation of these projects.
During this same period, CHIMO-the Crisis and Information Centre, the Fredericton Community Kitchen and the Fredericton Emergency Shelter were initiated, incorporated and operated by team of concerned Fredericton citizens including Fr. Wagner who was chair of the Fredericton Clergy Council.
During this same period, and because there was no government facility to care for some children who were wards of the Province, other than the New Brunswick Correctional Centre, Frank founded and was General Director of the Board of Fredericton Group Homes. This first of several Group homes was initially supported by the bishop of St. John, the Catholic Women’s League of St. Dunstan Parish, the local Holy Cross community and the Government of New Brunswick’s Departments of Justice and Social Services.
In the early 1980’s, as a member of the St. John Diocesan Justice Committee, Frank helped organize a project to provide seed potatoes to Nicaraguan farmers, in a cooperation with NB potato farmers. CIDA, the Diocese of St. John, CO-OP Atlantic, and the National Farmers Union of New Brunswick.
So now, Toronto. In 1973 a small group of Holy Cross priests rented a house in a poor neighbourhood on Grant Street, initially made up of a significant percentage of people from the Atlantic provinces, today much more diversified. The initial project was to develop pride among the residents of the neighbourhood. This we did over a period of several years by sponsoring a series of neighbourhood activities and become involved in local organizations like the parish, the school and the community centre. An ecumenical network of Christian lay communities across Toronto emerged and met regularly to support one another in our efforts to serve the poor in our neighbourhoods.
Even before going to Fredericton, it had been clear to me that citizen’s groups were an important piece of getting local needs brought to the attention of government and that the tools of nonviolence were essential. I learned this practically for the first time through participation in the grape boycotts organized by Cesar Chavez.
On one occasion an ecumenical group of clergy, including myself and the secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches tried to speak with the President of a large supermarket chain. He refused to see us and when we just
sat down in the reception area, turned up the head (literally) and called the police. The learnings of this experience served me well a few years later when a small group of four living in a poor neighbourhood in Toronto organized a fast in front of the local jail (Don Jail) in Toronto to protest capital punishment. The day following our arrival in front of the jail, Canada abolished the death penalty and we were catapulted into the international limelight. Later, I had occasion to be part of the protests against the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City and
any number of other demonstrations on specific issues in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. (The Bishop found me far too political to be assigned as pastor to St. Ann’s parish and so I asked to go to Peru.)
In 1979 St. Ann’s Parish was offered to the community and we made an official entrance into the pastoral ministry of the Archdiocese. The first Holy Cross pastor, Andrew Morasse, made a particular effort to welcome and integrate the immigrant community and, later the gay community, which had become prominent in the neighbourhood by then. Our theology formation program operated out of the Grant Street house for several years for before moving further north in the city. Some years later from 2006-2011 “The Toronto Project” with Frs. Frank Wagner and Don Bielby as Directors of Moreau Scholasticate was located in St Ann Parish rectory where Frank was pastor. It was developed to provide theological training to young religious from India with a view to their incorporation into our ministry in Canada. This led to a situation where several Holy Cross religious from India who were part of the Toronto project are pastors of St. Ann Parish and two other contiguous parishes, Holy Name and St. Joseph. Along with the Native Peoples’ Mission located in St. Ann Parish, they have become a large pastoral zone east of the Don River administered by Holy Cross priests from India. It is large, densely populated area whose residents have become less economically challenged due to the gentrification of the houses. However, there are still pockets of very poor persons who need the Food Bank and the area is still the locus of recent immigrants, especially from the Philippines, Vietnam and mainland China.
As pastor at St. Ann parish in Toronto and then later of St. Raphael parish in Burlington, Frank Wagner continued the collaboration with Development and Peace, the Food Bank created at St. Ann by the former pastor, Andrew Morasse, as well as sponsorship of Syrian refugee families. The still successful St. Macarina Counselling Centre was initiated and negotiated by Frank while he was chair of Zone One (the downtown Toronto parishes of the Archdiocese of Toronto). The Centre, sponsored by some of the parishes, offers free or sliding scale service to persons in crisis situations and recommended by pastors. From early on St. Ann had welcomed the only Indigenous Catholic Congregation in Toronto to worship at our parish. That work continues. Fr. Wilson Andrade, the Administrator of the Native Peoples, Mission has presented a proposal for a more intensive outreach ministry of the Mission and awaits Archdiocesan support. At St. Raphael Parish a concerted effort was made to have Laudato Si better known. This was also the case for the three parishes in Toronto (St. Ann, St. Joseph and Holy Name). Practical ways to implement ecological practices at the parishes were part of this.
Off to Peru and then back again:
When I arrived in Peru in January 1980, I was taken to the headquarters of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference on the first day where we discussed the relaunch of a national human rights effort. (Military rule had ended a few months before and conditions were right for this to happen.) I was also invited to go with staff from the Bishops’ Conference to visit a notorious prison in the centre of the Capital: El Sexto. A few months later I found myself 500 kilometers to the north in the city of Chimbote and was asked to join the staff of the diocesan Social Justice
Centre with a specific responsibility for the prison there. Some months later I was asked to write an article about the prison. It turned into a book about conditions in the prison that gained national attention. At that point I had to leave the city as conditions were not favourable for me to continue there. I was then asked by the Maryknoll to become director of LADOC, a documentation service in English monitoring the Church’s option for the poor throughout Latin America while continuing to work in our local parish (the largest in Latin America at the time)
and also then to be responsible for launching a formation program initially with five students. This included also teaching courses at the theology institute. I did all that, though the personal cost ended up being high. After four years, I was asked to join the staff of a newly-founded centre (CEAPAZ – Centre for Study and Action on Peace). The job of our team was to implement a formation program for a new generation of community leaders in marginal areas. For the year I was there, the youth of our parish were the main target. At the
same time, the area of the city where I lived had become quite unsettled and I worked at organizing a number of human rights defense groups in the population (among youth, teachers, local leaders, Religious etc.) Once again, the personal toll was rather high.
My time in Peru served well when I joined the national staff of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) in 1995. I was assigned to edit the national newsletter and began calling on religious across Canada to present stories touching on their social justice commitments. Not long afterward the bulletin was given to someone else and I became the social justice coordinator for the team. This put me in touch with the four regional staff responsible for social justice. At one point we were able to organize a national meeting that gathered several hundred religious to look at issues Religious were engaged in throughout Canada. One outcome was a general commitment of Religious in Canada to issues of human trafficking, as well as poverty.
Leading up to the year 2000, Pope John Paul II called for a special attention to this event and in particular a call to cancel the bilateral debts of the poorest countries in the world. At that point I was representing the CRC at the Aboriginal Rights Coalition and had become co-president. (I was also president of the local housing coop where I lived.) These were three years of considerable public education across Canada and of activities lobbying the government for debt cancellation, something John Paul II had recommended. And it worked! Prime Minister Paul
Martin did indeed cancel the bilateral debts of the poorest countries. Given the success of our efforts, the question was raised of founding a national ecumenical social justice organization to deal with the variety of issues that Canada faced. The result was Kairos Canada. Representing Canadian Religious I sat on the coordinating committee that put the project together and then also on the Board for the first couple of years of its existence.
After this, I became Assistant Executive Secretary for CCODP and again found myself facing serious social justice issues such caused by major tragedies throughout the world including a tsunami in Indonesia, death squads in Central America and the assassination of Indigenous leaders and some Religious in South America. My first year, we raised 26 million dollars in emergency funds to assist affected communities in Indonesia and CCODP coordinated the
global effort of Caritas International to respond to the emergency. It should be added that CCODP has pioneered an approach to emergency aid that is intended to strengthen local community leadership in the process of providing aid. For example, instead of bringing in companies to rebuild, CCODP works with local organizations to allow local people to do the rebuilding themselves.
After I left CCODP, I became involved with a Montreal-based social justice organization now called Connexions. It was known at that point for its work on the question of international debt. I also joined efforts to draw attention to the activity of Canadian mining companies in Central (and South) America. We organized a yearly colloquium bringing together representatives from
communities affected by Canadian mining companies in Latin America and Quebec. When the Occupy movement attracted attention across North America and Europe, a group was organized in Montreal and I became an active participant. In particular I organized a group in my neighbourhood that held events over several years. Then in 2011, students across Quebec
organized a general protest against the threat of a significant rise in tuitions. This went on for a year. With a few senior citizens we organized a group called Les Têtes blanches, carré rouge in solidarity. We participated in many of their marches and demonstrations. Toward the end of that period, the
city passed a draconian law (P6) restricting public demonstrations. This prompted the apparition of casserole marches (pot banging) throughout the city. My neighbourhood was particularly active during this period.
And that brings us up to date: Fredericton, Welland, Chiapas, Peru, Toronto, India, Haiti, Dominica. It’s a complex, one full of initiative and impact.
I want to thank Frs. Jim Mulligan, Frank Wagner and Al Mahoney for their substantial contributions to the content of this text.
Father Richard Renshaw, C.S.C