Archive for September 2006

Our wisest commentator

September 29, 2006

In my judgment Murray Dobbin is Canada’s greatest freelance journalist. In a more just world, sob sisters like Rosie Dimanno (an expert on every subject) and Christie Blatchford, would be relegated to weekly columns and Dobbin would replace Margaret Wente at the Globe. Alas in a corporate dominated world and country, we thank God for small mercies and—Murray Dobbin. You can catch Murray weekly at the Tyee.

Here is part of one of his latest on “Steve” Harper, our war loving President and interim PM

The War Prime Minister

By Murray Dobbin

It is alarming for many Canadians to watch Stephen Harper, the head of a minority government with the support of fewer than 40 per cent of citizens, turn Canada into a nation of war. But that is what is happening.

The roots of Harper’s preference for war go to the core of his view of government: maintaining a strong, war-fighting armed forces is one of the few roles that Harper believes government should have. He is fighting a war against a battle-hardened and determined enemy in one of the most the most fiercely independent nations on earth. The complexity of Afghan society
confounds all but a few who would try to understand it. Yet, for Stephen Harper, understanding Afghanistan seems almost irrelevant. But it is relevant because this is a war that Canada and the West cannot win, any more than Britain and the Soviets could before us. And Canada will share disproportionately in its ultimate loss in terms of dead and wounded, billions of dollars wasted and our international reputation sullied for a long time to come. It will go down in history as one of our country’s biggest foreign policy disasters.

Stephen Harper’s contempt for Canada and what it became in the decadesfollowing the Second World War is firmly on the record. Most of his comments — his sneering dismissal of our egalitarianism and sense of community — relate to social programs like medicare. He once declared Canada “…a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its…social services to mask its second-rate status.”

It was not until recently that he revealed his disdain for Canada’s three decades of peacekeeping. In a CBC interview conducted as Parliament resumed sitting this month, Harper showed that he relished the fact that Canadian soldiers were war-fighting, and dismissed Canada’s peacekeeping history as
virtual cowardice: “For a lot of the last 30 or 40 years, we were the ones hanging back.” He even mused that the deaths of Canadian soldiers were a boost for the military — cathartic after years of not being able to kill or die like real soldiers. “I can tell you it’s certainly engaged our military. It’s, I think, made them a better military notwithstanding — and maybe in some way because of — the casualties.”

Utterly blind to how the rest of the world sees the conflict in Afghanistan, Harper told the CBC that Canada’s role in Afghanistan is “…certainly raising Canada’s leadership role, once again, in the United Nations and in the world community.”

You have only to look at Harper’s history and his government’s “five priorities” to understand why he would get Canada and himself deeper into a conflict he cannot win. For five years in the middle of his political career, Harper was with the National Citizens Coalition, an extreme right-wing organization that was founded by an insurance company millionaire explicitly to fight public medicare. Its slogan is “More freedom through less government.” It is virtually impossible for Stephen Harper to recognize Canadian leadership in any field — such as medicare — that he believes Canada should not be involved in. For the Conservative prime minister, the Afghanistan conflict may be literally the first time that Canada has shown real leadership in decades.

Dying to be proud

Stephen Harper can finally be proud of Canada, now that we are making war. It does not even matter to him that more question the country’s commitment to the increasingly distorted mission in Afghanistan (49 per cent) than support the mission (38 per cent). Embarrassed for years about living in a socialist country, Harper can now hold his head high where it counts: in Calgary and Washington, D.C.

Four of Harper’s five priorities following the last election reflect his “less government” imperative. Cutting taxes is critical to creating “less government” because so long as you have robust revenue (even surpluses), citizens will expect you to deliver those things they desire. Combatting crime is one of the “core” activities of Canada for Harper and all neo-cons. While priority number three, cleaning up government, is a noble cause, many
experts on the effective running of government say that aspects of his huge Accountability Act will serve to paralyze the federal government. His “child care” grants were transparently designed to ensure that government would not be involved in the provision of child care at all.

In the secretive and tightly controlled world of the Harper government, it isn’t always easy to determine who Harper is listening to for advice. But his disdain for government and his enormous intellectual arrogance suggest that bureaucrats, including civilian military officials and the diplomatic
corps, are not high on his list. These are the people who would have tried to give Harper an objective analysis of how the Afghanistan conflict was going back in February when he took over as prime minister. But given that they were part of a military establishment that was responsible for the peacekeeping culture he detested, he was unlikely to listen to any cautionary advice.

They were part of the problem, not part of the solution.

This the first in a three-part series. Next: How the West destroyed Afghanistan.

Vancouver based journalist Murray Dobbin writes the State of Nation column for The Tyee.

The Prosperity Gospel-Elmer Gantry lives!

September 28, 2006

On of my good friends, I am sure to needle me, recently sent me a report of a revival meeting in the San Francisco/Oakland area where he is on a mini-sabbatical. I must admit I did enjoy the article as a riff on PT Barnum’s “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But a sucker in the name of Jesus—that’s sad. But not uncommon in today’s world where Republicanism and GW Bush’s bully pulpit has devalued the coin of what Christianity is all about.

The San Francisco chronicle writer Leslie Fulbright covered the revival meeting of televangelist Creflo Dollar (I kid you not).Thousands showed up to hear Brother Dollar whose performance was described as “part comedy,scripture and musical entertainment.” The evening was billed as part of a “Change” convention, a series of gatherings across the USA where folks come to to change for the better—by finding wealth.

In the States where capitalism has run totally amok since Ronald Reagan’s disastrous presidency which stole more from the poor than any president in US history.I simply can not be hard on the 20 million who can not feed,clothe and shelter themselves and their kids all the while holding down a Walmart job. These are decent folks betrayed by a cruel system and they deserve our compassion. Read Barbara Ehrenreich’s books Nickle and Dimed and Bait and Switch to catch a flavour of life under savage capitalsism.The real thugs are the multimillionaires like Bill Frist the Republican Senate Majority Leader Congressman who made his fortune on private medical care and sees his duty as holding the minimum wage at $5.00 and change.So 2,500 appeared in Oakland to submit in the latest prostitution of Christianity.

The well turned out Dollar advised the crowd “Some Christians need to get a life, to enjoy life in abundance and stoop taking everything so serious.Get a boat or jet ski.It’s all right to enjoy life.”Good advice to single parents for sure.if they lived on either coast they could jet ski down to pick up their food stamps.”

Reporter Fulbright had the intelligence to contact the great black theologian James Cone who shook his head at such nonsense.”The size of the congregation becomes evidence of the quality of the Christian commitment rather than the measure of the concern and solidarity with the poor. weak and marginalized. It’s not reality; it’s entertainment.” Yet the poor continue to get suckered.Dollar has churches in Georgia and New York, hosts a TV show and oversees a network of 1,000 churches.He brags about his Rolls, his suits and his private plane. You’d think that would disqualify him as a serious follower of Jesus, but hope springs eternal in the lives of the desperate who fund crooks like Dollar, an evangelist who knows little about the Bible, nothing about praying but a helluva lot about preying.

I have always admired the biblical astuteness of the Black community in the USA and have told audiences this for years. Watch how the Blacks vote to get a whiff of where the gospel is-and isn’t. The vote is consistently 90% anti Reagan-Bush.(Not that the Dems are so Christ-like-but you get the idea).The poor where Christ locates himself will more than not know who’s zooming who and you can trust this evangelical wisdom as a general rule. Hucksters however come in all shades and Dollar is living proof of this.

Sinclair Lewis when he wrote Elmer Gantry, his scathing novel (1927) about the hypocritical, money grubbing evangelist surely had no idea about the phonies who would spring to life and make Elmer look like a backwoods rube.But there they are still enriching themselves on the backs of the poor-The Falwells, the Robertsons, Swaggerts, the Jim and Tammys proclaiming a Jesus who gets crucified again and again by these biblical illiterates. Brother Dollar is simply the latest incarnation.

It brings to mind the shortest sentence in the New Testament:”And Jesus wept.”

Remembering Connie Smythe

September 26, 2006

The Canadian Broadcasting Company is presently running a series on the history of Hockey in Canada and while flipping the channels the other night I happened to catch two episodes of this well crafted show. Much of those two segments featured the life of Connie Smythe, the legendary builder of the Toronto Maple Leafs.The shows reminded me just what a tough SOB Smythe was.

Born around the corner from the Gardens (Bleecker Street), the bantam 5’6” Presbyterian was an incredibly driven man.Captain of the U of T hockey team in 1915, the twenty year old Smythe signed up for duty in World War l.Two years later and now “The Major”, Smythe was the only one of his Sportsmen Battery not killed or wounded. Filled with shrapnel at Vimy Ridge, he bore the scars of war the rest of his life walking with a pronounced limp hereafter. Now the owner of a Military Cross, he joined the Royal Flying Corps and was presumed killed in action but had actually been interned in a German POW camp.

After the war and with the building boom in full flight, Smythe made a fortune in the sand and gravel business, but his real love was hockey. A run in with the owners of the New York Rangers brass (he was the coach), sent the Major back to his home town and in 1927 with his partner Frank Selke, he purchased the Toronto St. Patrick’s for $200,000.Here we see the first clue to the shadow side of Smythe. A lifelong anti-Catholic he did not like the Irish mick name of the St. Patrick’s. Hence the new name The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ignoring the radical downturn in the world economy in 1931, Smythe in the earliest stages of the Depression built Maple Leaf Gardens in five months, paying off his contractors on margin and offering stock to investors.This is one gutsy guy.

I first met the major in the late 40s and early 50s.I often had a catbird seat on his antics. Courtesy of my dad’s relatives, my brothers and I were often taken to the Gardens to sit in a box set near ice level.We had to dress up and be on our best behaviour as Saturday night at the shrine was a great social event.For decades nobody would dare show up except in their Sunday best. Shirts and ties were de rigueur and if you weren’t in your seat by 8:30 you missed the opening face off . The Major ran a tight ship. It was Protestant Canada at its peak.The monarchist Smythe even had the 48th Highlanders playing from high up in the end blues. It was quite an impressive show.

Smythe was a ferocious competitor. I often watched this small man become enraged, his face turn purple as he dragged his game leg (always with spats on) around the rink hectoring officials and the opposition. Ted Lindsay in particular drove him crazy.One of the greatest left wingers in NHL history, Lindsay was snapped up in 1945 under Smythe’s nose by Detroit Red Wings. This tormented the Major for years. Lindsay,a Catholic, had played at St.Mike’s (SMC) and should have been Leaf’s property but he was overlooked as too small-and probably too Catholic.Connie had little time for RCs and old players will tell you the Pittsburgh farm team always was stocked with Micks, not good enough for the fiery Orangeman.Welcome to the golden years of Toronto the Good!

Ever the realist Smythe realized with the postwar immigration Catholics were flooding into the country and some would inevitably become great players.Hence the Maple Leafs gave good Catholic hockey-playing boys an education and a C form, a contract which locked them into the Leaf organization for life. SMC provided the Leafs with a steady roster of Catholics—Tod Sloan and his cousin Davey Keon, The Big M, Frank Mahovlich, Les Costello, Gus Mortson, Dick Duff and several others.

It is widely acknowledged that it was Smythe who barred the first great black hockey player Herb Carnegie from the NHL. Alas, the Major was a man of his time, carrying much of the prejudices of his cultural and religious background. However as I watched those segments of the CBC series, I was happily reminded of the man’s incredible drive and dedication. Hockey and Canada owe a lot to the Major.

Sinatra-warts and all

September 23, 2006

Years ago on Frank Sinatra’s 75th birthday I penned a hommage to the brilliant artistry of the man, arguably the greatest pop singer of the last century.His interpretations of the great American song book (Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Arlen, Elllington et al) were more often than not the definitive renditions of these musical slices of life.In particular, he excelled in the three minute versions of affairs of the heart.At any rate, I thought him worthy of a 700 word column.

One friend, a longtime social justice fellow traveller was less than impressed. He let it be known through a mutual friend that he thought I was wasting my time on a person like Sinatra. Instead of being angry at him I chuckled at his open disgust. I simply chocked it up to our different religious traditions. He had come from one of those very earnest churches in the Protestant tradition which had a very transcendent view of God, a highly moralistic but stark view of the divine. For better or worse I had by chance landed in a Catholic tradition where the Divine was mediated through history, people, events, in other words, a sacramental universe where the Ultimate was apprehended through the contingent, the eternal through the human. Bach and Mozart had a Catholic sensibility. For me, Sinatra did as well.

As one who has devoured all the biographies of Francis Albert, I recently picked up the latest by the British journalist Anthony Summers(Knopf,2005) and from my angle his is the definitive version of the man’s life and work.

Summers builds on Kitty Kelly’s delightfully scandalous bio of Ol Blue Eyes,His Way (1986). Since then we have had daughters Tina and Nancys’ adoring looks at their father. Then there was the brutal My Life with Sinatra where Sinatra’s ex-valet George Jacobs paints a devastating portrait of his boss as a sex addict. Summers has gone way beyond the above and has sussed out sources which prove the Mob’s role in Sinatra’s rise to the top.

This book is not for the faint of heart or the Sinatra worshippers. The British author develops a theme many writers have spun before —the dominance of Sinatra’s foul mouthed mother in his life, perhaps a clue to his own mercurial and abusive behaviour to many people. A Democratic ward healer in Hoboken and the local abortionist, mother Dolly left her only child alone for much of his formative years. As first wife Nancy has said, Frank was never good enough. He grew up a deeply insecure young man who could never express admiration or feel indebted to anyone. The pampered child turned out to be a spoiled adult. He could be especially cruel to friends and relatives like.Dean Martin died begging for his forgiveness. A long romance with alcohol(Jack Daniels) ensued often fuelling his anger and rage.

Sinatra’s “discovery” at the Rustic Cabin by Harry James in 1938 has been well documented. What hasn’t been was his friendship with local hood “Gyp” DeCarlo who became Sinatra’s sponsor and when the crooner joined Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and his future was assured, Dorsey refused to release him as a solo act– until Good Fella Mr.DeCarlo made the trombonist an offer he could not refuse.

Missing in the book is the role of Torontonian Ruth Lowe’s role is Sinatra’s ascent to the top. The former had lost her husband early in their marriage in 1938 and then penned the now classic I’ll Never Smile Again. Sinatra never looked back and Lowe penned another Sinatra classic his early signature tune Put Your Dreams Away which was played at Frank’s funeral.

Summers covers territory wellknown to his legion of fans-his debt to Dorsey and Bing Crosby, the anger of war time males at Sinatra’s 1A classification(he had a punctured ear drum), his doomed affair with Ava Gardner and his near suicide attempt, his extraordinary comeback in the 1954 film From Here to Eternity, his many private acts of kindness and his debt to arranger Nelson Riddle.

It is however in Sinatra’s strange lover affair with hoodlums Lucky Luciano, Sam Giancana, Joe Fischetti and his lying about his debt and relationship that Summers adds to the Sinatra story. He provides ample proof that Sinatra had a strange fascination and friendship with these paysans.

Here it is warts and all, a satisying look at a troubled, conflicted man who despite his flaws happened to create the greatest ouevre of popular singing in our time. His human failings are laid bare for all to see but his singing legacy remains undiminished and unparalleled.

Parliamentary decline in integrity

September 21, 2006

Who can take these people seriously?

In an insider’s account (Full Circle) of the new right wing “Conservative” party Tory insider Bob Plamondon tells a pathetic story of Belinda Stronach’s defection from the Conservatives.Juicy tidbits are also revealed about the role of “The $50,000 Man”, former PM Brian Mulroney.The latter who receives 50 grand a speech now is of course the same man who destroyed every last vestige of the Red elements of the former Conservative party.To most Canadians he is still radioactive but in a culture which remembers little, he is being resurrected by non other than ex-Liberal, multimillionaire Gerry Schwartz. Are you still following?

Schwartz of course is the one whose money convinced Paul Martin to tilt towards Israel but the Liberals did not tilt enough lately. Power couple Schwartz and wife Heather Reisman (Chapters) are now Tories because they loved Stephen Harper’s blank cheque to Israel in the disastrous Israeli assault on Lebanon which left over 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead and the country’s infrastructure in tatters.

Mulroney since he is still despised by most Canadians had to secretly meet Harper and Peter MacKay the leader of the old PCs.Also recall MacKay’s dad, Elmer gave up his Nova Scotia seat in the 80s so Mulroney could enter the House of Commons.This is before the latter met Karlheinz Schreiber who tells us he gave Mulroney $300,000 for his “advice”.

Still with me?

Recall the merger convention when all Canadians heard MacKay promise David Orchard that he would not pursue a merger with the Alliance Party,Canada’s answer to the GW Bush Republicans.
MacKay broke his promise for the sake of a Cabinet post under Steve “Measured Response” Harper. This used to be called “lying.”

Now here comes Stronach whose main claim to fame is her father’s wealth.A political neophyte with no discernible credentials, she spent $3.95 million to get elected in York Region. Voila she’s in-but can’t take Harper.She breaks her beau, MacKay’s heart by bolting to the Liberals-for a cabinet post.

MacKay has gone on of course to become our Minister of External Affairs where he has shown his sterling credentials to all and sundry.He has lately cozied up to the worst US Secretary of State in living memory, Condoleeza Rice.His gushing over meeting her was the most embarrassing Canadian moment since “50 Grand” warbled When Irish Eyes are Smiling with Ronald Reagan.

The loss of integrity in politics has become monumental in the television age. Overweaning ambition and money dominate as never before.The NDP struggle valiantly to defend the common good, the poor and the environment.Canadians should be grateful for the “third party.”Never formed a government, always made a difference.

Religious revival in America

September 19, 2006

Recently President George W Bush said that he felt there was a religious awakening in America. He may be right but he is looking in the wrong places.

It certainly wont be from his supporters who have made it clear by their actions that that they are out of touch with God’s agenda. A Republican presidency which keeps 20 million working Americans living under poverty and 50 million with no health care is no friend of God; one which engages in a class war against decent people by keeping the minimum wage around $5.50 is both cruel and anti-family. By forcing parents to put in so many hours thus keeping them from their children is beyond contempt. The wealthy pro Bush Republicans or as he cynically called them “my base” in Michael Moore’s scathing indictment, are no friend of the poor and distant from the Divine.

Martin Luther King Jr phrased it succinctly 35 years ago.”Any nation spending more on armaments than on human uplift is heading for spiritual suicide.”$435 billion so far on Iraq and the appalling scab pulled back during Hurricane Katrina are twin sides of the same coin.Tax breaks for the rich, the finger to the poor.

If there is a religious awakening in America it is the evangelicals suddenly waking up to the centrality of the environment as a religious issue; if there is a hol;y revival it is in the anonymous people in the ecology and antiwar movement who are resisting the antihuman policies of the Bush administration.

The Master warned us of BS artists who “honour God with their lips but not their hearts” and he put it best in Matthew’s gospel:”Not everyone who says ‘Lord,Lord’ gets into the kingdom but he who does the will of the Lord .”(7:21).The will of the Lord is not war making and a bloated military budget.It is always:the poor first.

They are God’s base.

A rabbi for our time

September 15, 2006

The silence of the synagogue:Reuben Slonim’s double solidarity

by Ted Schmidt

As the catastrophic assault on Lebanon began, one which numbered over 1300 civilians in Lebanon,200 in Gaza and 40 dead Israeli innocents,all over the Christian world the words of a Jewish prophet was read aloud to diverse congregations.

Amos of Tekoa (a town near Bethlehem) had made his way to the famous northern shrine of Bethel, 19 kilometres north of Jerusalem. The humble prophet ,”a dresser of sycamore trees” was there to speak truth to state power legitimated by by a co-opted priesthood. The year was circa 750 BCE , the king was Jeroboam ll. Amos’ perennial message was simple:”Let justice roll like living water.”(5:21) Do not become Pharaoh;stop being Goliath. Amos was told to leave.

Invited to preach on this text at the historic Anglican church of Holy Trinity on July 19, I reminded the congregation that once Toronto had its very own Amos in the Jewish community. Rabbi Reuben Slonim (1914-2000) arrived here from Winnipeg in 1937, a newly minted rabbi, Beginning at the McCaul street shul, the first Canadian to head a Canadian congregation, Slonim spent fifty years reprising the theme of his first sermon: “I wanted a decent community organized for justice mercy and peace” he commented in his autobiography To Kill a Rabbi.

As the Jewish state became a reality in 1948, the Zionist Slonim, influenced by the moderate voices of Martin Buber and Ahad Ha’am, insisted that Israel must develop the land for all its inhabitants. The state must rest upon the foundations of liberty, justice and peace as envisioned by prophets like Amos. To his shock and near devastation, he was booed off the stage as a “Jew hater” and “Arab lover.” He had perceived in his own community, ” an astigmatism, a supreme egoism…this new state was their monument, their pride was in the externals, the army, consulates etc.”

As a journalist Slonim made thirty trips to the Middle East,covering wars and interviewing the major players. It was however the Six Day War (1967) which sealed his fate. He wrote: ” It had plunged modern Jews into an orgy of chauvinism from which they have never recovered.” Fired from his congregation he continued to champion Jewish universalist values. Torah for him triumphed tribe. “Ethical obligation must supersede ethnic identity. ”Reuben Slonim paid a ferocious price for his principled defense of those values. Like his prophetic ancestors, he had heard the voice of the victims. His many trips to Israel had given him a privileged view of Palestinian suffering which hometown Jewish audiences never saw and refused to hear.

In describing synagogues as “country clubs for the wealthy” Slonim was simply naming the change which secularization and consumerism had wrought in both Christian and Jewish communities. As Canadians grew wealthier the prophetic voice of both synagogue and church were muted. Torah and gospel were compromised . The spirit of commerce invaded both the sanctuary and sacristy. Both were held hostage in a suburban captivity unable to speak God’s unsettling words to their middle class congregations.

Today the rabbinate seems paralyzed unable to speak out against the state power of Israel like Rabbi Slonim did. While anybody with a scintilla of historical consciousness should grasp the visceral identification of Jews with Israel,in the end it is a state which has been inflicting disproportionate suffering on Palestinians for decades.

The major sin against Torah is idolatry: do not make an idol of the state. Only God is ultimate. The God of Abraham,Isaac and Jacob, the God of the prophets demands mercy and compassion. The” Holy One of Israel” can never be used to justify the subjugation of another people. This is the God Rabbi Slonim preached. Sadly we do not hear this echo in the synagogue today. For that matter such a God seems foreign to the Christianity which George Bush professes.

Both communities need to emulate Slonim’s double solidarity-with the security of the state of Israel but also with the suffering Palestinian people,the root cause of Middle East hostilities.

The good news is that moral voice is alive and well in Israel the pages of Haaretz, in B’tselem which monitors the widely disproportionate human rights abuses, in the Rabbis for Human Rights, in the lives of thousands of brave Israeli secular who unlike Jews of the diaspora, see the ongoing humiliation and can no longer bear it. It is this flowering of the authentic Jewish spirit which Reuben Slonim would have loved.

The believing person is a political person

September 13, 2006

Dan Berrigan many years ago said that “Believing man(sic) is political man”, a statement which should resonate with Christians.One’s deepest beliefs should lead one to politics—not of the Republican Party nor of any party, but the politics of the reign of God.For Christians this would mean a Beatitude agenda, an option for the weakest, for mercy and compassion and a hunger and thirst for justice.It would be the same “politics” which got Jesus murdered,

One of the great tragedies of the present moment is to see Gospel, Torah and Quran undermined by ideology as politics.One of the most pernicious deformities of Christianity is a toxic brew called Christian Zionism,a bizarre belief that somehow God has deeded the whole of modern Israel/Palestine to Jews and in the words of the late Grace Halsall, an early tracker of this abuse of scripture:

“What is the message of the Christian Zionist? Simply stated it is this Every act taken by Israel is orchestrated by God, and should be condoned, supported, and even praised by the rest of us.”

Tom McKillop: Order of Jesus

September 12, 2006

Previous writing from Catolic New Times will be posted on weekends.

Tom McKillop: Order of Canada, ‘father’ of families, friend of Jesus
By Ted Schmidt

One day in the summer of 1960, I came down to the old ramshackle club which stood at 121 Bellwoods Avenue in Toronto’s Little Italy. I was there to ask for advice from my baseball coach Carmen Bush, already an inner city legend. As I walked in I noticed the simply framed motto of the club, “The Other Guy.” Underneath was a picture of a man autographed with a note of thanks to Carmen. I asked him who he was. He told me his name was Tom McKillop and that he was the living embodiment of the club’s motto.

Later we drove up to a west end park where McKillop was working as a playground supervisor during his summer vacation from the seminary. This was my introduction to the man known simply as “Tommy” or “Big T.”

Forty five years later I found myself among the hundreds who flocked into Holy Name Catholic Church in Toronto’s east end recently to hug and say thanks to a man who had such a profound impact on the youth of Toronto and who had just been invested with the Order of Canada.

Over the years “Big T” and I would meet with our common mentor and when he died at age 89, we eulogized our former baseball coach, one of the first men inducted into the Canadian baseball Hall of Fame. We were in many ways still a couple of baseball-mad downtown teenagers who knew that this son of illiterate Italian immigrants had taught us valuable lessons which transcended the ball field. Big T had described Carmen as “the voice with the message.”

As tribute after tribute flowed from the stage in the Holy Name Church basement, I insisted that we not be too quick to canonize McKillop; that like all of us, he had feet of clay as well as being one of the slowest runners on Bush’s teams in the 1940s. Carmen had often related the story to me, each time chuckling as he retold it. It seems that in the Juvenile city final in 1947, Tommy was up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, when umpire Joe Murphy called him out on a third strike. Ever the intense competitor, Tommy turned around and bellowed, “You son of a bitch.” It was so shocking — so unexpected — that it was if time had stood still. Nobody could believe it. Tom’s dad, Tom senior, sitting behind the plate, soon let his son have it. Murphy and Bush were in shock. It was the last time anybody heard McKillop swear.

A passion for sports

Tom McKillop was born in 1928 of working class parents in Toronto’s west end. Like all depression era kids he channeled much of his youthful energy into sports, and in particular baseball. He was so nuts about the summer pastime that to the chagrin of his parents, he took off before his final exams at university to try his hand at professional baseball. Tommy was one of the many who “had a cup of coffee” with the ‘pros.’ He lasted but three weeks with a Philadelphia Phillies farm team.

Back to Toronto, his ‘pro’ dreams dashed, he wrote his university exams and embarked on a teaching career that included a heavy dose of athletics. Slowly the idea of priesthood emerged and impressed by the Paulist Fathers of St. Peter’s parish, Tommy entered the novitiate in New Jersey, then on to Washington for more study. Considered a little too intense and with a small speech impediment, he was cut again. Not easily dissuaded, McKillop entered Toronto’s St. Augustine’s seminary and was ordained at the mature age of 36 in 1964.

Assigned to St. Mark’s parish and veteran pastor Gerry Cochran, the energetic McKillop immersed himself in parish work which naturally included youth ministry. With his sports background, he was then drafted by Archbishop Philip Pocock to head up the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). “Big T” was ready, mature through his life experience and fired by the vision of Vatican II to take youth ministry in another direction. His long experience in sports convinced McKillop that young people were hardwired for a much deeper immersion in life. He had grown past the rink and the diamond. Youth Corps (YC) was born in 1966. Its founding vision was based on the communal vision of Jesus in Luke 9 and 10. “Then Jesus called the twelve together … and he sent them out to proclaim the reign of God … After this the Lord appointed seventy others …”

The original team, comprised of three men and three women moved into the community to serve, at first in hostels and poor parishes, then in prison visitations, poverty issues, Latin American solidarity and peace work. McKillop, radically centred in Jesus, listened deeply to the inchoate passions of his younger cohorts. Together, the YC team learned to discern the evolving signs of the times.

Big T’s impact

Joe Mihevc, (YC 1979-83) now a dynamic Toronto city councilor commented on the team approach. “Tom could flow with the agenda and take everything in stride. He recognized the passionate energy of all of us and was always open to supporting good ideas other than his own. Tom inspired a kind of Canadian liberation theology and the host of young people who were touched by Youth Corps. And then there were those 85 weekends over 20 years, when Christian families were strengthened in Sharon, Ont — absolutely amazing.” Ellie Kaas who later worked with Tom as an associate at Holy Name said, “Tom is a visionary. He sees young people with their gifts of energy and passion creating small communities of justice and compassion in the church.”

Sil Silvaterra (YC 1977-79), now who works in the Legal Aid Programme at Osgoode Hall said, ”“Big T” was bent on shaping young people in Cardinal Cardin’s model of see, judge and act. He used the yearly “Events” to energize and train young Catholics, to organize evenings with Dorothy Day, Viktor Frankl, Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, Mother Theresa, John Howard Griffin and many others. Years later, I came across management consultants who charged outrageous fees for the very organizing methods Tommy taught gratis with grace. In many ways he was a prophet, helping to found Christian family weekends and even CNT. And like most prophets, he was barely acknowledged by the local hierarchy.”

Bob Carty, (YC, 1969-72), the award-winning documentary maker on CBC’s Sunday Edition, reflected on YC’s goals. “Youth Corps’ goal was never to change a generation but to work with smaller groups in depth. The benefits inevitably showed up in 10 or 20 years, where those people were in society.
Rosana Pellizzari (YC, 1978-80) now Medical Officer of Health at the Perth District Health Unit said, “Tom simply walked the walk when it came to witness, activism, spirituality and leadership. He taught me everything I know about teamwork and steadfastness.”

Perhaps the greatest accolade for McKillop’s creation was that of the reigning expert on youth ministry in North America, professor Michael Warren (St. John’s, NYC). “I have examined youth ministry in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada. It exemplifies the thought of Vatican II. I know of no youth efforts as theoretically sound as Youth Corps.”

The late bishop Tom Fulton, a former auxiliary in Toronto was a great supporter of YC, wrote “Big T” after World Youth Day that “your founding of YC was rooted in the vision of Vatican II. It was Christocentic and designed for community building. It remains valid to this day. It is the answer to the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’”

McKillop left YC in 1984 to take up pastorates in east Toronto and Newmarket. Youth Corps soldiered on for a few years, but fell out of favour with the current archbishop who closed it down in the early 1990s. Youth ministry in Toronto has never recovered from its regrettable demise. Nonetheless, the serene McKillop (retired since 1997) carries on counseling and helping in quieter ways — always the companion in the order of Jesus. Catholic New Times Jan 15,2006
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9/11: 5 years later

September 11, 2006

When I was editing the Catholic New Times, the twin towers collapsed. How does one write about such a momentous moment?That was our question. Sitting around the table we agreed that a respectful silence should be our first response-but not our last and only response. Many things became obvious to me.

Given that the predominant nerve centre of global media was New York City,this terrible disaster would be magnified beyond all other human tragedies. Twenty to thirty thousand also died silently in Third World countries that day out of sight and out of mind expiring for reasons of global greed and the radical inattention of developed countries. They died because of the barbaric and inhuman structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and the IMF dominated by the United States. As Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote: this week: “The day that you read this, approximately 6 to 9 times as many children as all the people who died in the World Trade center on 9/11 will die before you go to sleep- and they will die because we in the U.S.,the richest country of the world have been unwilling to take the steps necessary to share what we have with them.”

They died as the poor always have for ideological reasons. Well fed bureaucrats decided that though the Third World already had paid off its principal debt, compound interest should still be extracting the last ounce of blood from these stones.While the US is giving $3 billion a year to Israel to continue oppressing Palestinians, poor Africans are still dying of malaria.

Thirty years ago In a moment of brutal candour the man who soiled the Nobel Peace Prize, Henry Kissinger told the Chilean ambassador around the time of the US backed Chilean coup:”You don’t understand, Mr Valdez. You do not count. History moves on an axis from Washington to Tokyo to Moscow.”

9/11 was already emblazoned in the minds of Chileans. September 11,1973 was the darkest day in Chilean history. A low level military sycophant named Augusto Pinochet with the help of the CIA staged a coup overthrowing the legally elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. 99% of Americans did not know or want to know the ugly imperialist history of their own government. They were staggered when the black prophet Martin Luther King had warned his countrymen in 1967 at the height of the VietNam war that his country “was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”Americans continued to sleep.One million innocent civilians were killed in the American invasion.

Nor would U.S. citizens care to know that Sept 11,2006 will be the 100th anniversary ‘of the Mahatma’s historic nonviolent resistance against the disenfranchisement of Indians in the Natal. The nation which had never suffered a casualty on its own soil in World War ll, yet consistently lectured Russians who lost over 20 million on theirs, suddenly had received a terrible body blow. Citizens who routinely ignored peace groups’ annual memorialization of the one day murder of 80,000 humans in Hiroshima, cried out in collective pain. Fellow global citizens everywhere responded as humans should. They grieved over the death of innocents and the world did respond as all civilized humans should. “Maintenant, nous sommes tous Americains,” said the French. Five years later this laudable sentiment has been squandered by the worst presidency in American history.

At CNT we tried to educate Canadians who live in the same self absorbed developed world just why somebody would want to drive planes into the symbols of American global hegemony: the Pentagon and Wall Street. Iranians understood,Cubans understood,Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans understood, Indonesians understood, Vietnamese understood, Brazilians and Dominicans understood,Palestinians understood. All had been victimized by the brutal policies of The US government. A film maker named Michael Moore, the most effective Catholic in America tried to tell his own people about their hidden history. The ordinary citizen had no idea.

Can anything worthwhile come out of such an act of barbarism? Quite possibly. According to a recent poll( by Léger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies) a majority of Canadians believe U.S. foreign policy was one of the root causes that led to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and Quebecers are quicker to criticize the U.S. administration for its international actions than other Canadians.Much of the world understands the shadow side of US foreign policy.

Many Americans have been driven to a rigorous self-examination of what has been done globally in their name.The catastrophic policies of the Bush administration have accelerated their concern.9/11 was a wanton act of murder.Those innocent people did not deserve to die. Their loved ones did not deserve to suffer like this.Violence only breeds more violence. Clear headed analysis which strips away national myths and ideology posing as religion is the only way forward.