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Weekly Pause &  Ponder

The truth is: the natural world is changing.  And we are totally dependent on that world.  It provides our food, water and air.  It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.

-David Attenborough  


With the help of friends and the grace of  God

I am seriously thinking about cancelling January 12.  Yes, every year from now on.  Why should February be the only month with a flexible number of days?  You may wonder what brought this on.  Well, let me explain.  Who would believe a quick trip to the library to pick up a book would end up in a trip to Emergency? That is exactly what happened to me on that fateful day, January 12, last year. I fell. No, not on the obvious place. Why fall on ice when you can trip over your own two feet in a public library?  What a place to fall.  In the public eye began the endless saga of a shattered wrist.

Fortunately, I was not alone.  My companion, as shocked as was I, drove me to Emergency in a nearby hospital. Nine hours, four x-rays, three casts, four attempts to set the bone later, the doctors were finally sufficiently satisfied to send me home.  My friend, who had stayed at my side throughout the night, drove me home at 3 am. What was to be a quick trip to the library to pick up a book ended up being a painful nine-hour stint.

At a follow up appointment, I met a wonderful orthopaedic doctor. By March, he decided my wrist had healed well enough to start physio therapy. During the next several months I was fortunate to see a very competent physio therapist at regular intervals. At home, I followed her regiment of daily exercises, and occasionally saw my doctor. However, by August it became evident that in order to regain greater mobility with less pain, I required surgery.

After what seemed like an endless wait, the long-awaited phone call came. On December 3, I was to have surgery which would hopefully result in increased mobility and no more pain. After the surgery, back for physio I went. Now, thanks to the skills of my wonderful doctor and therapist, I am no longer in pain! And what’s more, I have regained a considerable amount of mobility in my wrist. However, as you can imagine, daily exercises are still necessary to strengthen my emaciated muscles and further increase the mobility of my wrist.

You would think this is the end of my saga. Well, think again.  Would you believe, exactly a year later, in the evening of January 12, I find myself back in the same Emergency.  No, not after another fall.  Severe abdominal pain brought me there this time.  After several hours of probing and poking the problem was tentatively diagnosed, and I was sent home with antibiotics and pain pills. This time, recovery took only a few days and thankfully I needed neither surgery nor therapy. 

So, can you see why I am seriously thinking about cancelling January 12 next year?  No more visits to Emergency! No, thanks. Two years in a row is more than enough. So, what did I learn from all of this?  If nothing else, this past year has taught me to be a little bit more patient with myself and more aware of the kindness and generosity of those with whom I live.  Always, there was someone there to help this ‘one-armed bandit’ in one way or another. I also discovered how I, predominantly right-handed, could do so much, not only with just one hand, but with my left hand. During those long months, despite ongoing pain in my wrist, I lived life to the full, adjusting to what, for a while, became my ‘new reality’.  We never know what life throws at us, but I learned anew how, with the help of friends and the grace of God, seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome. What a valuable lesson to learn.

- Sister Loretta Hagen, csj


Amnesty International: 58 years on, collective action for human rights matters more than  ever

On May 28, 1961 a British barrister, feeling outrage at the injustice in our world, was inspired to act. Peter Benenson had heard of the cases of two university students – arrested, tried and sentenced during what was at that time a cruel military dictatorship in Portugal – locked up simply because they had dared to raise their glasses of wine in a toast to freedom.

Peter knew that what had befallen those two students was by no means exceptional, and that there were people in every corner of the world, jailed because of their political beliefs, their religious faith or the colour of their skin; prisoners of conscience as they came to be known.  Vitally, he also knew that he would not be alone in his sense of outrage. 

So Peter Benenson set out to harness that collective concern and turn it into a force for change; a force for justice. In 1961 he did not set out to found a global human rights movement.  Less ambitiously, but with a force of determination that soon involved countless others, he launched a year-long campaign for “amnesty” for those he called the forgotten prisoners, encouraging people to write polite letters to political leaders around the world, calling for freedom for women, men and young people who never should have been detained in the first place.

Critics and naysayers thought that Peter Benenson was delusional. Why would people want to take time to write letters on behalf of people they had never met and never would, who lived in countries they would never visit?  And why would cruel despots care what a plumber in Manchester, office worker in Helsinki, grandmother in Melbourne or college student in Vancouver had to say?

But Peter Benenson was not delusional; he and every activist who flocked to his campaign were in fact visionary.  People do care enough about the rights of others to write a letter; care deeply in fact.  And even tyrants worry about world opinion; not always, but frequently enough that we know that global pressure can and does make a difference in the face of grave human rights violations.

Peter’s modest ambition of sustaining a year long campaign did grow into Amnesty International, which has grown to become the world’s largest human rights movement, has been honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize, and is present on the ground today in all corners of our globe. 

Here in Canada Amnesty International has 400,000 supporters who actively take up cases close to home, notably the pervasive human rights violations experienced by Indigenous peoples in the country; and campaign for an end to atrocities in countries such as Yemen and Myanmar and protection for courageous human rights defenders in countries like Colombia and Honduras.

And 58 years later, sadly, Amnesty International has, in many respects, never been more important. 

Far too many countries continue to be devasted by the ravages of war and armed conflict, with an agonizing list in 2019 that includes Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Libya.

Far too many politicians – including in the United States, Brazil, the Philippines and a growing number of European countries – win elections by promoting policies of hate, fear and division; with the most marginalized in our societies being targeted for threats and violence.

Additionally, we know that the rapidly spiraling impacts of climate change pose what is fast becoming the most urgent human rights challenge of our time; yet continues to be met by denial and resistance by far too many governments and powerful economic interests.

It may seem overwhelming.  It may very understandably lead to the question, what difference could I possibly make? Just as it did in 1961.

And that is why the Amnesty International vision still holds true.  The problems are immense and may seem insurmountable.  But there is always one thing you can do right now to make a difference for one person, or for one community, or for one country.  And there is a friend, co-worker, neighbour, relative or fellow student who you can urge to join you in that effort; and another and another… 

That is where change comes from; it always has and always will. That is also the vision of the Sisters of St. Joseph community, a spirit of solidarity and collective responsibility that has been of such immense support to Amnesty International’s human rights efforts over the years.

Today, we cherish that close connection; and together we renew our commitment.  Together, tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come: we will press on and we will not relent until the glorious promise of universal human rights protection is a reality for everyone, everywhere.

Alex Neve, Secretary General,

Amnesty International Canada






Weekly Pause &  Ponder

Things good in themselves…perfectly valid in the integrity of their origins, become fetters if they cannot alter.

Freya Stark, The Lycian Shore (1956)


The Minister Lady - Called to  Serve

In this day and age, there is a tendency to call all and sundry ‘guys’ (so tiresome, to say the least, don’t you agree?).  So, the other day I am caught off-guard when someone in the hospital where I work addresses me as ‘minister lady’.  To my knowledge, this title is notably bestowed on women of nobility or claimed by singers like Stefani Germanotta aka Lady Gaga, but not on a hospital chaplain. Furthermore, it is rare these days that a woman in general is called a ‘lady’, and in my eleven years as a hospital chaplain I have certainly never been called ‘minister lady’.  This accolade caused me to pause and reflect on all that is entailed in my daily ins and outs as a ‘minister lady’.

  As I mentioned already, I have been a chaplain at Victoria Hospital, one of Canada’s largest, most diverse hospitals, for close to eleven years.  For this ‘minister lady’ it has been both a challenge and a blessing. It has been the context of vast experiences, unsettling at times yet always inviting me to welcome and embrace the opportunities to learn, to grow, to think outside the box, to embrace the constant changes in health care - to ‘enlarge’ my heart. 

Some of you probably know that London, Ontario, is by far not as diverse as is multicultural Toronto.  However, since Victoria Hospital is a regional hospital, patients come from a wide geographical radius.  The hospital is, furthermore, connected to Western University which caters to a huge student body from many different countries and has a large medical student and nursing student body.  On any given day at the hospital there are not only patients of many different cultures and ethnic groups.  There are doctors, nurses, residents and student nurses who are Canadians or foreigners, believers or non-believers, Christian or non-Christian, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jewish, Mennonite or Amish.  And here am I, the ‘minister lady’, a member of a Religious Congregation, in this government hospital with its multicultural milieu just maybe making a small difference in the lives of those to whom I daily minister.

Though I am hired by the Catholic Diocese of London to provide pastoral care for Catholic patients, people of just about every other denomination and nationality also daily cross my path.  In my diverse encounters with Catholic patients I have supported families who are confronted with the sudden death of a child, with patients who received devastating news of a cancer diagnosis, parents coming to terms with the loss of a still born baby.  I have been asked to support palliative patients contemplating the option of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) and parents who were advised to have a genetic termination because their baby had severe abnormalities.  All of these encounters were opportunities to set aside my personal beliefs, my values, and any lingering prejudices in order to support these people.  I have sat with a homeless woman admitted for mental health challenges due to drug abuse whose life at first glance looked so very different from mine, and yet I felt such compassion for her in her plight. Listening to her talk about her pain, her difficulties, her struggles, quickly made me realize that we were just two women who each have their struggles, who, in fundamental ways, were not that different from each other. 

Along the way, I learned to handle different theological stances, often being challenged to think outside the proverbial box and am often amazed by how much more we have in common with people who ‘seem’ at first glance so different from us.  Again and again I am invited into the chaos of people’s lives, learning to engage the differences, to widen my heart, to listen and support, to being non-judgmental.  Within the last year or so I have, for example, become increasingly aware of the incredible challenges parents of transgender teenagers face and have become the confidant of staff who struggle to cope with teenagers who are dealing with gender dysphoria, which, by the way, is becoming a far greater phenomenon than many of us perhaps realize. 

Talk about being stretched, constantly embracing the new and different.  All these various pieces of the kaleidoscope of my work as a ‘minister lady’ at the hospital have proved to be a gift and a blessing, albeit in disguise – and often an emotionally draining one.  Many a day I go home thinking to myself, now I have seen it all, and then a new challenge comes along, a new invitation to make room in my heart, in my ministry as a ‘minister lady’ to be a co-creator in building God’s kingdom.       

- Sr. Magdalena Vogt, CPS


Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.