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A Heart-Touching Experience

The other day while driving along a busy north London roadway I spotted a shopping cart full of someone's worldly goods. What I saw next broke my heart; on the ground was a man, motionless, lying beside his "house". I was in an inside lane of a busy four lane road, and somewhat distracted while driving. "Is this man okay, is he just sleeping or has he overdosed accidently?” I was unable to handle a moving vehicle and do some kind of physical assessment of the man. However, I did pray that someone would stop and help this person.

Still concerned, I checked my side view mirror and noticed that a woman, dressed in black, was moving toward the man. My heart-felt burden turned to peace. I witnessed a random act of kindness. I don’t know the outcome of their encounter but hoped that it might end in him finding a home.

This led me to reach out to Unity Project (a shelter helping homeless young people). I met Sylvia, a woman on a mission to assist the homeless. She embodies their Mission Statement, providing emergency shelter and transitional housing for youth and adults eighteen and older that is safe. The most powerful statement I heard from Sheila was “that a person during their first walk down the alley to Unity Project’s front door, feeling completely ashamed with very low self-esteem, to ask for help and then weeks or months later they walk away from Unity Project with their heads held high.” I made my donation, and though not much, I hoped it helped in some way.

To the woman who did stop to help this man, I say thank-you from my heart.

Guest Blogger: Monica Spilsbury (retired staff nurse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, London neighbourhood)



Weekly Pause & Ponder

Redemption means overcoming all forms of patriarchy …. Suffering is a factor in the liberation process, not as a means of redemption, but as the risk that one takes when one struggles to overcome unjust systems whose beneficiaries resist change. The means of redemption is conversion, opening up to one another, changing systems of distorted relations, creating loving and life-giving communities of people here and now…

Rosemary Radford Reuther.  Christianity’s Dangerous Memory by Diarmuid O’Murchu.


Weekly Pause & Ponder

We must regain the conviction that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.  We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty…. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of genuine culture and care of the environment.

Pope Francis.  Laudate Si, ’229www.ncronline.org. June 17, 2017.


At long last: Canada makes amends to Omar Khadr 

There has been intense and divisive debate in Canada over the past two weeks following news that the Canadian government has reached a settlement with Omar Khadr. The settlement resolves the lawsuit he had brought for compensation related to Canada’s role in the abuses he experienced during a decade in US ‘war on terror’ detention.

It is worth going back in time and recapping what brought Omar and the Canadian government to this moment.

Fifteen years ago, almost to the day, 15 year-old Canadian citizen Omar Khadr found himself in the midst of a firefight and airstrike in a compound in Afghanistan.  He was, in fact, a child solider, and should never have been there in the first place.  But his father, now well known for his extremist views and links to Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders, had willingly propelled his teenage son out onto the battlefield.

By the time the fighting was over, the militants with whom Omar had been partnered were dead.  Omar was so badly injured as to be near death.  One US soldier had been killed and another badly wounded.

Omar was, however, rescued by US forces. He had life-saving surgery and did not die on the battlefield that day.

And thus began an unimaginable journey through injustice for young Omar Khadr. A journey he will likely never be able to completely put behind him.

No one would have anticipated on that day, however, that Canada would become complicit in the injustice and abuse he endured.

Omar Khadr was eventually accused with having thrown a grenade during that firefight that killed the US soldier who had died.

It was a full eight years – April 2010 – before a trial against him on those charges finally got underway at Guantánamo Bay. 

Omar had been transferred to Guantánamo 3 months after he was captured.  He had first been held at the notorious US detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where torture and ill-treatment was rampant.  15 year-old Omar was threatened, terrorized and abused while he was held there.

At Guantánamo Bay, Omar Khadr experienced the range of human rights violations for which the off-shore US detention camp quickly become globally infamous.  He was held first for years without charge or trial.  He continued to experience torture and ill-treatment, including the cruel ‘frequent flyer program’, which subjected prisoners to sleep deprivation over days at a time, a form of treatment widely recognized to be a particularly debilitating form of physical and mental torture.  His young age was never taken into account: not by acknowledging that he was a child soldier and as such a victim of human rights abuse for that reason alone; and not by treating him as a juvenile detainee and ensuring he was given access to educational and other programming.

And finally, in 2010, when his ‘trial’ began, he experienced another dimension of Guantánamo’s many layers of injustice: the deeply unfair military commission hearings process, which fell far short of international fair trial standards.

And where was Canada?

Certainly not standing up for Omar Khadr’s rights.

Instead, Canadian intelligence officials showed up at Guantánamo Bay two times in 2003 to interview Omar Khadr and did so knowing that he had been through the ‘frequent flyer’ treatment just before their arrival.  The Supreme Court of Canada, in rulings in 2008 and 2010, slammed Canadian officials for that conduct and unanimously found that Omar Khadr’s Charter rights had been violated.

Canada certainly did not come to Omar Khadr’s rescue.

While the government of other Western nationals held at Guantánamo Bay did advocate on behalf of their citizens and, one after another, gained their transfer back home, Stephen Harper’s government defiantly refused to lift a finger.

Canada made things worse for Omar Khadr.

It was not that the Harper government remained silent; instead they deliberately and consistently fueled an inflammatory and bigoted campaign of untruths and half-truths about Omar Khadr.  It was clearly all about politics. It guaranteed that Omar would stay at Guantánamo for a very long time. 

Omar Khadr eventually entered into a plea deal with his US jailors.  He pled guilty in return for an 8 year sentence.  He served 2 further years at Guantánamo Bay before he was finally transferred back to a Canadian prison in September 2012 to serve the balance of his sentence.

And then in May 2015, on the basis of positive reports from corrections officials and an appeal of his conviction in the US courts considered to have a likely prospect of success, Omar was released on bail.

During the past two years Omar has lived openly in Edmonton.  He has pursued studies.  He has made a strong and positive impression on everyone who has crossed his path.  It has truly been remarkable to see the resilient and hopeful young man who has emerged from these many years of abuse, torment and suffering.

The announcement of compensation and an apology should have marked a celebratory moment of justice.  And it was and is; most certainly.  And we should indeed celebrate.

But it has also been truly disheartening to once again see an eruption of hate and vitriol unleashed against Omar backed, very sadly, by the Conservative Party, now in Opposition.  That has been a sobering and cautionary reminder that we have more to do in working against intolerance and racism, shoring up a commitment to human rights in our national security practices, and standing firm for fundamental concepts of equality and fairness.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph have been valiant partners in Omar Khadr’s long struggle for justice.  From very early stages, long before there was wide sympathy and support for his plight, the Sisters clearly understood what was at stake.  I was always struck by how much interest and concern there was to have an Omar Khadr update every time I came to visit.  I was so bolstered myself, feeling tremendous support and solidarity every time I headed down to Guantánamo for trial observations.  And I know that many letters, petitions and cards made their way from London, Ontario to Washington, Ottawa, Guantánamo and to Omar personally, demanding justice and sending best wishes.       

Tempting as it would be to close the Omar Khadr file, we aren’t there yet.  The Conservative Party has said they intend to bring the issue of the settlement to Parliament in the fall.  A legal case by the widow of the US soldier who was killed and the other soldier who was injured, seeking to enforce a default court judgement they won against Omar in a Utah Court several years ago, is also going ahead.

All of that aside, however, justice has been done.  That truly is tremendous and so very much long overdue.

In reaching this settlement the Canadian government has acknowledged and recognized that Omar Khadr was wronged by his own government and that for that we must make amends.  And that matters, very much.

Guest Blogger:
Alex Neve, Secretary General,
Amnesty International Canada



Take Time to Retreat

It is customary for each member of a religious congregation to make an annual retreat of at least six days. This sacred time is a means of renewing the mind, heart and spirit. It`s a time for quiet and peace-filled refocusing. I recently completed my retreat with a group of our Sisters in the presence of a leader who provided spiritual input to enhance our time together.

Silent retreat times call me to slow my pace, turn off the noise of the world and listen to my interior being. Away from the daily hurly burly and stresses of life, I can listen to the Spirit in my heart.

Retreat days assist me in deepening my relationship with God as I ponder the realization that everything in our universe is connected. I am nudged to deepen my relationship with myself and others and to live more fully our oneness with Mother Earth. I take time to peek at my shadow side with its fears and negative emotions.

Slowing down the pace of life takes time. I find that after several days of quiet walks in nature, taking rejuvenating naps and sitting quietly, I feel closer to God, more in tune with myself and more prepared to return to life in our busy world.

Not everyone can arrange for extended retreats but most of us can make time for a walk in the neighbourhood. There one can enjoy the peaceful sights and sounds of nature. Songbirds in the trees, children at play and neatly trimmed yards add beauty to the surroundings and provide a space for renewal.

With summer holidays underway, remember that during Canada’s 150th celebration as a country, admission to Canada’s national parks is free. What a fine opportunity to plan time alone or with family surrounded by God’s magnificence.  It is a feast for the senses. Taking time for rest and relaxation is not a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Jean Moylan, CSJ



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