A series of murals behind the altar of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica painted over in the 1950s were restored to their former glory for the Halifax landmark’s 200th anniversary. Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth

Editorial: Celebrate the church

By 
  • July 2, 2020

There is a world of issues to worry about these days, playing havoc with our physical and spiritual well-being. So it’s good every once in a while to stop and, as the cliché goes, smell the roses.

For that, we turn to Halifax, which this past week celebrated the 200th anniversary of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, the oldest Catholic church in Nova Scotia and one of Canada’s historic sites. The COVID-19 restrictions have forced formal celebrations to be put off, but that should not stop anyone from taking a moment to consider the magnitude of the milestone. Indeed, it ought to prompt us to consider how much churches bring to our all our communities as real, working symbols for much of the cultural, architectural and faith history of this country.

In St. Mary’s case, that history began in 1820 with the laying of a granite cornerstone on the site where the old wooden church, St. Peter’s, stood. Nine years later, it celebrated its first Mass. Thirty years later, it was expanded, the Gothic Revival building taking on landmark status with its granite spire towering 189 feet (57.6 metres these days) over the street. It has seen much of the history of this country pass across its storied gables, including the tragic Halifax Explosion of 1917 that shattered all its stained glass windows.

It endures as a centrepiece of its Maritime city and a haven for the faithful.

Fortunately, it is not alone. Canada is blessed with churches that are both visually and spiritually inspiring. Aside from St. Mary’s, other striking basilicas include Notre-Dame de Québec in Quebec City, St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, Nfld., St. Michael’s and St. Paul’s in Toronto, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec, Notre Dame in Montreal, St. Boniface in Manitoba and St. Dunstan’s in P.E.I.

No less inspiring are the little gems of architecture, from simple wooden edifices like the historic Our Lady of Good Hope in Fort James, B.C., to Our Lady of Victory, the aptly nicknamed “Igloo Church” in Inuvik, N.W.T., to the brand new Our Lady of the Mountains, nestled in the Rockies in Canmore, Alta.

Each is a treasure … as is the church in your neighbourhood.

In 2016, addressing the Pontifical Academies, Pope Francis had this to say about churches: “It is necessary that sacred buildings, beginning with new parish churches … are set forth, albeit in their simplicity, as oases of beauty, of peace, of welcoming, truly fostering an encounter with God and communion with one’s brothers and sisters, thus becoming a point of reference for the growth of inhabitants, and for a harmonious and strong development of the community.”

The awful COVID-19 virus forced churches to shut their doors. Yes, we have missed the public Mass and the sacraments. But we have also missed the familiar, comforting surroundings of the church. It’s time to get re-acquainted.

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