This blog is about all the things that give me joy, that make my heart want to burst with delight: books, writing, people, faith, pictures, education, happenings, food, desserts....The world is just full of things able to create in us a luminous heart!

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Ten Favourite Books (Part One)

You know how Oprah has her "favourite things show"? Well, I decided I'd make March the month in which I blog about my favourite things! But I want to add the challenge of not just stating what I love, but attempting to define why. This is no easy task! In fact, in a survey of young people in Southhampton, England, researchers found that the majority of those surveyed were affectively illiterate. What does this mean? Affective illiteracy is to have a "limited vocabulary to express the emotional quality of [one's] response to the world" (Called to Love, Anderson and Granados, 20). To put it another way, these young people were content to simply "go with the flow" rather than plumb the depths of their experiences. Sadly, this epidemic is not confined to youth (though, at 30 I still do consider myself in that hallowed category :). When asked why we like or don't like a certain thing, many of us struggle to find the words to adequately express ourselves.

So, in an effort to combat my own affective illiteracy, I declare March "Affective Literacy Month." Over the next few weeks, I hope to reflect on my favourite books, movies, places and people. So, without further ado, here are my favourite books (Part One)!

Heather's Favourite Books
(In no particular order)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: This novel literally changed my life! It was a reintroduction to fantasy, a genre I'd thought one grows out of like a child puts off training wheels. How wrong I was! Reading Tolkien's mythology made me see the "real" world with greater clarity. I discovered that fantasy's power is to allow you to approach everyday, common, ordinary life as if you were coming at it from a new perspective (an idea whose necessity Chesterton would gladly support me on, I'm sure). Suddenly, a tree was not just a tree, it was a species kept watch over by Ents; it had the power to come alive, if necessary. It was a living, breathing part of the cosmos. Suddenly, heroes took on delightful new proportions. Heart and not stature could change the world. The vivid characters, the entire sub-created world of Middle-Earth, the time and effort Tolkien infused into his work, the dedication to detail, the wonder of getting lost in his world only to rediscover my own....For all these reasons, The Lord of the Rings ranks as one of my favourite, if not my absolute favourite fictional book of all time! Ultimately, when its thick volumes are laid back on my shelf, what remains with me like a living memory is the renewed awareness of my own dignity as a human being, and the promise (if not the realization) of the hope (often deeply buried) which sustains me on the darkest days. Yes, good literature can do all this!

The Book of Ruth: This short book from the Old Testament captivates me with the simplicity of the language which, nevertheless, expresses profound love. I've always admired Ruth's courageous choice to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, to a foreign land, leaving everything she knew behind her to enter a life of uncertainty, hardship, and marginalization. Her words---which are often read at weddings---spoke of her boundless hope in the God of her dead husband. I can just imagine Naomi's gratitude when Ruth took her hands and pleaded with her: "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." Having lost everything---children, husband, home, livelihood---Naomi was alone in the world, but Ruth's pledge of solidarity gave her strength to face returning to her own people. The odd courting of Boaz and Ruth still puzzles me, but their obvious love for each other and the lineage which springs from their union is fascinating. Ruth---an insignificant foreigner---becomes the ancestress of the Messiah!

Le Morte D'Arthur: I read Sir Thomas Malory's tome in university. Although the course was a little tedious, I remember getting absorbed in this book. The characters stayed with me, along with gorgeous Medieval words like "all to-brast" (meaning "shattered") or "to-rent" (meaning "torn apart"). It is a gruesome book full of people being shattered and rent to pieces. On almost every page, you will find a dark, forbidding forest; a hermit; a fair damsel; and, of course, a knight. Sometimes, the scenes got blended in my mind and I'd find myself forgetting which knight had slain who. But the names! Oh, they're wonderful! Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Gareth of Orkney, Sir Gawain, Sir Bedivere, Sir Kay, Sir Geraint, Sir Tristram. Those names hold a magical quality for me. Just saying them opens up the world of Arthur. The spiritual, often eerie, visions and prophecies create a world so unlike our own---more fantasy!---and yet the men who ride off on quests are very familiar. Malory's ability to bring every man's moral struggle to the page in such a vivid manner---at time when characterization was, arguably, quite flat---is a triumph. And, lastly, the fact that Malory, himself, was such a scoundrel of a  man is fascinating. That someone who had descended so low morally could produce a sort of ode to morality is, for me, a visible sign of the longing every person has for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. I highly recommend this book. But, if you can't stand the Middle English, Roger Lancelyn Green's book for children, based on Le Morte D'Arthur, and entitled King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, is also well worth the read!

Persuasion: I know that most people will argue that it is Pride and Prejudice which is Austen's best work---and I would probably agree---but it is Persuasion which touches me deepest every time I read it. I suspect it is because it is Anne Elliot with whom I feel closest. She is not the strong, bold, witty Elizabeth. Quite the opposite: Anne is reserved, even-tempered, shy, and yet she is also very intelligent and she feels deeply. She is looked over and passed up, but her quiet ministrations for her family and friends enobles her. She has loved once and has been persuaded to leave off love, but that love, rooted in the depths of her heart is like a seed planted in fertile soil. As she says near the end of the novel, it is Woman's lot to love longest when all hope is gone. How sad! She makes me want to cry everytime I read how unassumingly she goes about her life. She feels that love has passed her by, that Captain Wentworth cannot possibly ever look upon her with friendship, let alone affection again, and she feels that (in all this) he is justified. She is so confirmed in her beliefs that she totally fails to comprehend Wentworth's deep and deepening attachment to her. Each time I read this novel, I find myself wondering if Wentworth will ask for her again and, every time, I rejoice with Anne at the end!

Our Mutual Friend: This was one of Charles Dickens's last novels. Like Little Dorrit, it's quite dark. I read somewhere that Dickens was going through a difficult period near the end of his life and so, perhaps, these later novels express a bit of the frustration---even jadedness---he was experiencing at this time. However, for all that, Our Mutual Friend earns the spot as one of my favourite fictional stories because of its memorable characters and its stunning descriptions. Dickens is one of the only authors who moralizes on almost every page but who does it with so much grace that you hardly realize you're being preached to! He's often criticized for drawing his characters with broad strokes making them more caricatures than flesh-and-blood characters. I have never shared this view. Certainly, he often presents types, but he always manages to infuse originality into each person so that they stand out on the page as being, on the one hand, a generalization and, on the other hand, someone utterly unique. And the humour! I read most of Our Mutual Friend while travelling to and from work on the bus (it took me over six months to read!) and there were many times I almost rolled off my seat with laughter, but had to hold it in or risk being considered crazy. The nobility of the main characters---even the restless Eugene Wrayburn---charmed me. This was my first Dickens book after David Copperfield. I love it! And the BBC movie is a beautiful portrayal of Dickens' original story.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Learning to Teach Like Don Bosco

Teaching grade 7 students how to knead bread
The point of teacher's college was, for the most part, to set aside a year to reflect upon the great task of being an educator. We sometimes grumbled and groaned over the seemingly endless journals we were forced to produce; the justifications for why we would assess a student in one way rather than another; the critiques of our own and our colleague's practices, etc. But, looking back, the art of reflection I learned during my one year of preparing to be a teacher was invaluable! I still find myself questioning my practice often. The weight of assuming to guide another person is a great responsibility. It requires constantly evaluating and re-evaluating what one is doing. I think every teacher must form his/her own "little mandate" (to borrow a term from the Madonna House apostolate). It should be a kind of "rule of life" which governs how that teacher wishes to conduct him/herself in the vocation of caring for the minds, hearts, and souls of students. Ultimately, being a teacher has nothing to do with the books and the tests and the essays. It has to do with unlocking and discovering, with your students, who and what they are: gifts in themselves and to each other. This is, at least, my goal as a teacher.

Today, I came across something which encapsulated the little mandate of a great teacher and saint, Don Bosco. I would like to share the passage because it contains a description of the things which were closest to his heart and should, I think, form part of every educator's heart. Of course, we may not all embrace the Catholic doctrines inherent in his mandate, but that shouldn't dissuade us from considering what lies behind what Don Bosco was trying to do: which was, I believe, to re-instill in the hearts of his students that they are of immense value! And, if you're a Catholic privileged enough to teach in a Catholic setting, then perhaps his focus on the sacraments will help raise the dignity of your own teaching practice up to heavenly heights. I hope you enjoy the excerpt below:

Don Bosco mending shoes
"Don Bosco's method of study knew nothing of punishment. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a true sense of duty, by removing assiduously all occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial soever it might be, to pass unappreciated. He held that the teacher should be father, adviser, and friend, and he was the first to adopt the preventive method. Of punishment he said: "As far as possible avoid punishing . . . . try to gain love before inspiring fear." And in 1887 he wrote: "I do not remember to have used formal punishment; and with God's grace I have always obtained, and from apparently hopeless children, not alone what duty exacted, but what my wish simply expressed." In one of his books he has discussed the causes of weakness of character, and derives them largely from a misdirected kindness in the rearing of children. Parents make a parade of precocious talents: the child understands quickly, and his sensitiveness enraptures all who meet him, but the parents have only succeeded in producing an affectionate, perfected, intelligent animal. The chief object should be to form the will and to temper the character. In all his pupils Don Bosco tried to cultivate a taste for music, believing it to be a powerful and refining influence. "Instruction", he said, "is but an accessory, like a game; knowledge never makes a man because it does not directly touch the heart. It gives more power in the exercise of good or evil; but alone it is an indifferent weapon, wanting guidance." He always studied, too, the aptitudes and vocations of his pupils, and to an almost supernatural quickness and clearness of insight into the hearts of children must be ascribed no small part of his success. In his rules he wrote: "Frequent Confession, frequent Communion, daily Mass: these are the pillars which should sustain the whole edifice of education." Don Bosco was an indefatigable confessor, devoting days to the work among his children. He recognized that gentleness and persuasion alone were not enough to bring to the task of education. He thoroughly believed in play as a means of arousing childish curiosity — more than this, he places it among his first recommendations, and for the rest he adopted St. Philip Neri's words: "Do as you wish, I do not care so long as you do not sin" (Catholic Encyclopedia,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Song of the Poor Shepherds: An Advent Hymn

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst
Poetry is something I usually don't touch with a ten-foot pole. Personally, I think writing a novel is easier than writing a poem and I've never been good at brevity in my writing. However, every now and then I feel inspired to write a poem and then I work away at it until I'm happy with every word and every placement of those words on a page. I get caught up in imagery and symbolism and somewhere at the end of it all, a poem emerges. My first attempt---a poem celebrating the conversion of St. Maria Goretti's murderer, Alessandro, entitled "Alessandro's Ascent"---was kindly published a few years ago in the wonderful Catholic literary journal, Dappled Things, which (by the way), is greatly in need of financial support if it's going to continue to be published next year.

A couple of weeks ago, while on retreat, I felt that creative stirring again as I sat at a frosted window looking at an intensely blue sky and puffs of white steam rising from nearby houses like incense rising to God. Birds tumbled around the sky, completely oblivious to the cold. From the warmth of my room, I started to think about the "pregnant pause" of the Advent season, the long waiting in the cold for the world's Gift, and the image of the sky and the birds started to intermingle into the first lines of a poem. From there, my imagination leapt back 2000 years to the shepherds who were surprised by the unexpected news of a Messiah born in a manger.

Perhaps it was my recent viewing of the wonderful movie, Jesus of Nazareth, which made me feel such an affinity with these poor men and boys who tripped their way to Bethlehem to see this wondrous thing! In the movie, when the shepherds enter the cave, they're chastised by a bossy old woman whose come in to see to the couple with the new baby. The shepherds, who've come such a distance, stand transfixed at the door, unsure what to do, and obviously feeling the shame of their appearances and their presences in this place. It's as if, in that moment, they are no longer standing in the door way of a soddy, musty cave, but at the entrance of a palace. Only when they tell what they have seen on the hill, does the busy-body move aside and the shepherds sidle in, sheepishly (pun definitely intended!), and worship the baby Jesus. All of these images were swirling around in my mind and the end result was this little Advent meditation called "The Song of the Poor Shepherds"---a song which is, I think, close to all our hearts, whether we realize it or not: the deep-down desire for God. This poem is no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it's about as rough around the edges as the shepherds themselves were. Nevertheless, I do hope you'll enjoy it!

The Song of the Poor Shepherds: An Advent Hymn

By Heather K. Thompson

December 2010

Beneath this sky of azure blue---
Amidst the song of the birds’ tra-la---
Figures move in expectation,
Wayward hearts in celebration,
Voices blend in adoration.
God is drawing nigh.

On a hill near Bethlehem---
Dotted with the least of men---
Angels split the sky to sing,
“Darkness now has taken wing;
Hasten, then, your joy to ring.
God is drawing nigh!”

Listen as their feet go pounding---
T’wards the wish they dared not dream of---
“Can this thing be but illusion?
Lord, my heart is all confusion.
They said flesh was your solution!
God is drawing nigh?”

Panting, craning at the door---
Cold and stench and a baby’s cry---
Yet the air’s like weighted gold here,
And our breath in wonder hold. Sheer
Child divine in human mould. Clear,
God has now drawn nigh!

Beneath this sky of azure blue---
Advent expectations mount---
Wretched Man in sorrow pining,
On the Heart of Heart’s reclining,
Heavenward, our prayers go sighing.
God has now drawn nigh.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Scene from the movie,
Vision – Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen (2010),
about the life of St. Hildegard

 My aunt sent me an email today about simplicity. The words are those of a benedictine sister from the community of St. Rita in Arizona. I was touched by them, especially in the midst of the Christmas season which is so full of busy-ness. Although not all of us are called to the monastic life, I think there's a lot we can learn from our brothers and sisters who live inside the enclosures of these houses of prayer. Likely, the following excerpt will present different ways to different readers of how to introduce simplicity into daily life. For myself, right now, it means being faithful to all the things God has given me to do in a particular day and being discerning about adding other stuff to that list. I think it also means being simple in thought and prayer in the sense of coming to God like a little child and making my requests with the confidence of a little one. One of these days when I have time to de-clutter, it might also mean that! Here is the passage:

“We have less of many things than is customary in our culture. No TV beyond an occasional feast-day film. We don’t call our best friend at the end of a trying day to complain about the boss. We don’t plough through acres of email or go to the mall for a new outfit to enhance the new me. No career ladder to climb. We left behind the cell phone, check-book, credit cards, frequent flyer miles, book clubs, students or colleagues or buddies in the carpool, wardrobe, boyfriends, and a few other items of interest. We left behind a culture that offers dozens of ways of making us feel important. When this issue arose, the disciples asked Jesus, “What then shall we have?” Leaving aside for the moment the ultimate recompense of the Kingdom of God, we are offered the gift of simplicity.”

SIMPLICITY of form and space.

Our chapel is serenely plain, our monastic spaces are well-designed and free of clutter. We revel in an environment suited to an uncluttered life.

SIMPLICITY of heart.

We surrender affectation of manner and the need to impress.

SIMPLICITY of desire.

We seek to set our longings toward God in the face of his Christ. Simplicity can translate into listening, into attentiveness.We listen to the Word of God in liturgy, and in quiet prayer. We absorb the times and seasons of the days and years, letting ourselves be taught by the wisdom of the natural world. We hear the clamour in our own hearts, asking the primordial questions pressing for new and personal answers. We search for the needs of Christ in the needs of our sisters and those of the world."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Truffle-Making

At Christmas, we naturally gravitate towards family and friends. We go out of our way to make time for those dear to our hearts. We communicate, once again, with people whom we've lost touch with, though they're memories have lingered on the peripheries of our minds all year. There's something about Christmas which makes us want to try a little harder, do a little better, and be a little more open.

Well, if you're looking for a way to connect or reconnect with family and friends during this blessed season, making truffles might be a great idea! We usually spend inordinate amounts of money buying those gorgeously wrapped concoctions in the store, but they're so easy to make at home! Besides, it's much more fun to make them than to simply unwrap them! I've been doing them for two years now, and they've become one of those Christmas necessities, along with my mum's famous cinnamon buns which make their appearance only once a year on Christmas morning.

Now, before I give you my recipe, I should make it clear that by truffles, I don't mean the funghi! Yes, there is a type of truffle which is a relative of the mushroom family. Here's a nice definition for it (has anyone ever tried one?) and a picture:

Truffle: "An edible fungus which is found underground. It is round and can be black, white, dark brown or grey in color. The scarcity and decline in truffles has led this once widely used item becoming an expensive garnish. Probably the best and most expensive truffle is the black Périgord truffle. There are some 70 varieties of truffle. Truffles are also sold in jars and cans, truffle oil can also be bought and used to finish dishes with" (

Obviously, the chocolate truffle (the subject of this post), derives its shape and appearance from the naturally-occurring truffle, right down to the soft sprinkling of cocoa "dust" which sometimes envelops these chocolate truffles and is meant to resemble the soil clinging to freshly-picked truffles. At any rate, chocolate truffles are a delicacy in their own right. They're centres are made up of ganache---that delightfully creamy substance I mentioned in my post on chocolate mousse cake earlier this year. The combination of heavy cream, real butter, honey, and your choice of flavourings, make truffles a delectable treat for the palate. What you do with the outside of a truffle is up for grabs! I usually dip the cold centres into couverture (melted chocolate). Some people simply roll the ganache balls in cocoa. The web has lots of ideas, so browse around, or experiment for yourself!

Whatever you do, though, make this recipe with someone else! Truffle-making is a multi-step process with rest times in-between: perfect for sipping tea with a friend or chatting over a glass of wine or simply hanging out together in the kitchen and sharing stories. If you're making them with children, it's a great way to help the kids develop their motor skills---not to mention their patience (but do be prepared for messy faces, hands and walls!).

A hard-won tip: When it comes time to rolling the balls of ganache, sprinkle cocoa on your hands. The cocoa acts like a wheat-floured surface when kneading bread: it prevents sticking! It also means that your hands will be a little less messy when you're finally done---not to mention that you'll leave more chocolate for the truffles by following this simple step.

So, without further ado, here's the recipe. If you try it out, leave a comment and tell us how it went and what, if any, variations you made!




1 large chocolate bar (400-600 grams)

450 mL whipping cream

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons butter

Flavourings, peanut butter, etc. (optional)


1 large chocolate bar


1. Make a double-boiler by placing water in a pot and putting another pot over it. Turn heat to medium-high.

2. Place chocolate in the second pot and melt.

3. While chocolate is melting, combine whipping cream, honey and butter and bring to a boil (either in microwave or on stove top). Remove from heat as soon as cream starts to rise.

4. Pour liquids into melted chocolate and stir vigorously with a wire whip until smooth and velvety (tip: pour liquids in stages)

5. If adding flavours or other ingredients, now is the time to do it!! If adding liquid flavours start with a few drops and test. Flavours will settle as the chocolate cools, so don’t over-flavour. If adding peanut butter, you may want to warm it for a few seconds in the microwave so that it is easy to stir into the chocolate.

6. Put in fridge (or freezer) until set. Test by inserting a spoon into the mixture. You should be able to make a ball with the chocolate. Could take up to two hours or more. Keep an eye on it!

7. When chocolate has set, remove from fridge and, scoop out about one teaspoon at a time. Roll into balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet/tray. (Tip: use cocoa on your hands to prevent sticking. Work fast! Chocolate melts at body temperature!)

8. Place balls in fridge while you melt the chocolate for the couverture. Allow melted chocolate to cool.

9. Dip chocolate balls into melted chocolate and place on lined cookie sheet/tray. You may repeat this step as often as you wish. Allow to set in fridge. Enjoy!

10. Optional: decorate tops of truffles with chocolate designs or royal icing.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Do you ever have those moments when you see something and you wish you had a camera to capture the moment because you're fairly certain you'll never see that sight again? I had just such a moment this morning and I'm still kicking myself that I didn't have a digital camera on hand (note to self: it's time to invest in a digital camera!). The next best thing was to do an image search for icicles and sunlight. The picture on your right is as close a reproduction of the awesome sight I witnessed this morning, but you have to imagine an entire street as far as the eye could see on either side sparkling intensely like that.

It was one of those divine surprises through nature: a little burst of joy! When I left home earlier this morning, the day was grey, chilly, morose...I headed out with my head partially tucked into my scalf and my eyes on the ground watching for black ice patches. I'd just spent about five minutes fruitlessly scraping at my car. I realized, eventually, that there was no way I could get it road-ready and be able to make it to Mass on time. So, I'd set out on foot instead. I was going briskly and was pleased to find that, although the sidewalks looked a little messy, they weren't too slippery. That made my way easier. However, when one of the parishoners and his family stopped to give me a lift, I took it gladly. My bones haven't quite acclimatized to the cooler weather yet and I find myself diving into warm spaces without too much prompting. By February, I'll be walking around fearlessly like any natural-born Canadian, but this is only November, after all!

Anyway, the hint of a surprise on the offing started as I sat in the church and suddenly realized that there was an unexpected shaft of light coming in through one window. The occasional ping of melting ice outside the window was also promising. By the time I emerged forty-five minutes later, there was a great expanse of unlimited blue ceiling with a few stray whisps of white cloud trailing along. Behind me was an ominous grey mass of cloud trying to looking imposing, but utterly failing next to the sheer blue beauty whose proportions roughly rivalled that of a small ocean. And then, the sun came out!

Within instants, the bright blue sky became a prelude to glory. Every bit of ice on tree, ground, hedge and shingle became a prism. As if the earth had suddenly caught a glimpse of its own magnificence, it sighed, and all the trees started gently swaying in the breeze and the sound was as if a million party-goers had lifted their forks and started tapping on the rims of their crystal glasses. The breeze had also stirred up some of the snow, so there were particles of light dancing in the air and settling on my face. It was one of the most delightful experiences of the snow so far. Funny how I forget, every year, how wonderful the ice and snow is. I've been dreading it this year because I enjoyed being outdoors so much over the past few months, but after seeing what I saw today, I'm finally eager to see the landscape draped in white again. I won't go so far as to say I'm eager for the slick sidewalks, but it is good to be reminded that even ice---when suspended on a tree---is a thing of gratuitous beauty.

And speaking of surprises: I know I've already passed this on to most people on my mailing list, but in case you haven't seen it yet, you've got to watch how a food court full of unsuspecting shoppers at the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario, were transported out of their ordinary lives last week by a group of ingenious singers. (Thank you, Rebecca and Mrs. Walker for passing this along). It is definitely one of the coolest things I've seen in a while! Enjoy!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Prayer Vigil for the Unborn

A five-month old baby in the womb
In a couple of weeks, Advent begins: a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus' birth into the world, as well as a time of anticipation for his second coming. An awesome time of prayer and bustle. In the midst of it all, is the realization that, for so many, there is no joy or anticipation over their coming into the world. The reality of abortion follows us into this holy period of the liturgical year. As we coo over the Baby Jesus, we need to remember all the tiny lives in danger of never knowing a loving glance this side of Heaven.

In his wisdom, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared the start of Advent 2010---beginning at Vespers on November 27th---a time of prayer in solidarity for the unborn.

The following is a letter sent through "Spirit and Life." It is taken from the Human Life International e-Newsletter dated November 12, 2010. Read it, pray about it, and hopefully sign the petition. When you've done all that, maybe you'll consider joining me on November 27th in prayer for life in the womb (as well as for the mothers and fathers for whom the coming into the world of their little ones is not a time of joy, but of great distress!). I'm planning on going to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Vanier that day to pray a rosary. Would you like to join me? If so, let me know! If not, I'm sure you'll find some other way to remember the intention in your prayers. God bless you all!

Worldwide Prayer Vigil for the Unborn

On Saturday November 27th, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate a solemn Prayer Vigil for All Nascent Human Life in St. Peter's Basilica, coinciding with the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent. It is the wish of the Holy Father that similar vigils be celebrated in Cathedrals and parishes all over the world, which is expressed in a magnificent letter written by Cardinals Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Ennio Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The beautiful liturgical season of Advent is full of hope-as Christians we prayerfully anticipate the arrival of the Redeemer. Yet at the same time that we prepare ourselves to celebrate the incarnation of our Savior, we have to be ready to defend the unborn against all the anti-life ideologies that dominate contemporary society.

This vigil follows the path marked by the Venerable Pope John Paul II, who strongly recommended that to create a new culture of life, "a great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world." (E.V. 100) This prayer will encourage Christians to remember that they have a fundamental duty to proclaim that nascent life has to be defended always and everywhere. This prayer will give Christians the spirit of fortitude required to be coherent with the teachings of the Church, without making any compromises with the world.

Prayer should be the foundation of our active apostolate, because if what we do is not grounded in the elevation of our hearts and minds to God in a spirit of humble subjection, it can become mere activism. It is in this spirit that HLI sponsored the recent Fifth World Prayer Congress for Life in Rome in October.

Each newly-conceived human person is a sign of hope to world. In the moment of the creation of the immortal soul of a new person, the Lord gives him a mission to aid in His plans for the redemption of all mankind. He gives to this person unique talents for the benefit of society. So if the life of this extremely young person is destroyed, not only do we have abominable crime, but we are deprived of the talents that the Lord had given to this new person for the common good of the Church and society. Just imagine if St. Thomas of Aquinas would have been killed by abortion, the Church would have lost her greatest philosopher and theologian. If the parents of St. Theresa of Avila would have rejected her-our spiritual life would be very much impoverished and the Church would have been deprived of many Carmelite monasteries. And imagine also if Domenikos Theotokopoulos (Il Greco) would have suffered the same terrible fate, we would have been deprived of one of the greatest Christian artists of all times.

Clearly, contemporary society is spiritually, intellectually and artistically impoverished, as we have killed millions of little ones that had the potential to sanctify and enrich society with their God given talents.

In this Advent and in future Advents, we should foster and increase our devotion to Our Lady of Hope, as Cardinals Cañizares and Llovera recommend in their letter on celebrating this vigil. She is normally depicted as majestic, and is often carrying a baby in her womb. This avocation of Our Lady reminds us of the months that she was expecting the birth of the Christ Child that she was carrying in her womb. In particular this title of Our Lady is celebrated on the Third Sunday of Advent, as was earnestly recommended by the Tenth Council of Toledo in the year 656, which was presided over by St. Eugenio III. In the Catholic tradition, Our Lady of Hope is also called Our Lady of the "O" because her celebration coincides with the most beautiful "O" antiphons that mark the last Sunday of Advent: "O Sapientia," "O Adonai," "O Emmanuel," and others of great beauty.

Our Lady is our Hope not only because she brought the Savior to the World; she leads us to Him and is the channel of all His graces.The traditional image of Our Lady of Hope received a heavenly confirmation with the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the sixteenth century, where the image of her imprinted on the tilma of San Juan Diego is of a lady carrying a child.

Of course, we revere our Blessed Mother in all of her traditional, historical appearances. During Advent, however, we look to Our Lady of Hope in a special way. With this ancient title, she points us toward a theological virtue that is particularly necessary in our difficult times.

HLI Poland has sponsored a multilingual, international petition of solidarity with Pope Benedict XVI, who initiated the historic call to prayer for life. All who want to join the Holy Father and the universal Church in this special vigil are invited to sign the petition at The petition will be presented to the Holy Father after the date of the vigil.

For details on how to participate in the Prayer Vigil for All Nascent Human Life, HLI recommends the excellent resource of the US Catholic Bishops at

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula,

Interim President, Human Life International