UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

What love looks like

February is for prisoners, too

By Carolyn Pogue

February is a surprisingly full month, coming as it does in the sleepy, dark wintertime. It begins with groundhogs and ends with leaping. In between we have Black history, healthy hearts, love and the Women’s Memorial March for missing and murdered women. And, if we enter the spirit of St. Valentine, prisoners.

You may recall the story of the Roman priest, which I retold in my book Seasons of Peace: Father Valentine lived in the reign of Claudius, an emperor remembered as a heartless man who enjoyed sending young men to battle. Over time, he found that fewer men wanted to serve in his army. They didn’t want to die in battle, but to stay home with lovers, wives and children.

Claudius introduced conscription and then outlawed weddings for the young. But even emperors cannot stop people from falling in love. Secretly, they still married. One priest performing these weddings was Valentine. His conscience told him that banning marriages and promoting war was backwards. “Promote love,” he said, “and ban war.”

One night, walking a lonely street, he was attacked. Bursting from the shadows, four men grabbed him, beat him and marched him to a damp prison.

Awaiting word of his fate, Valentine befriended Sofia, a compassionate girl who brought him watery soup each day. They became friends. When the jailer announced Valentine’s execution, Sofia was heartbroken. On February 14, 269, the last morning of his life, Valentine asked for paper, ink and a feather. Perched on his wooden stool, he composed a note to Sofia, signing it “Your Valentine.”

There are many ways to give our hearts. We can give it to a person, a group, a just cause. Elda Thomas would have liked Sofia. Throughout her adult life, Elda, a member of Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church in Toronto, has lived a life of compassion. Working with support organizations like the Bridge, she befriends ex-convicts, the ones most of society don’t want to think about. She once told me, “I don’t pretend to understand it all — I didn’t grow up with violence or alcohol, or with a mom in the sex trade, for example. And I don’t condone what the guys have done. But if they are willing to try to walk a new path, away from crime and violence, then I will walk with them.”

Elda’s life’s work has earned the trust and respect of people abandoned by mainstream society. She also received a Caring Canadian Award in 1999 for her efforts.

It is bewildering that these days, our federal government is dismantling working farms that have been proven to rehabilitate inmates and is instead building mega-prisons that we already know will fail inmates and fail society.

This February, I thank God for people who show us love in the deepest sense of the word.


Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image