Prodigal Son returns

By  Sophie Freynet, Youth Speak News
  • October 25, 2006
The balcony of the Catholic Church in Sainte-Anne, a small, semi-French-speaking town in Manitoba, is where I sat with a handful of Catholic teens on Sundays growing up. While our parents usually sat downstairs, we were removed from the congregation, not held to pay too much attention during Mass. Often, Sunday mornings spent on that balcony was the only church connection young people had.

As is the case in other francophone parishes in the archdiocese of Saint-Boniface, there is a feeling of disconnection from Mass and the church, especially with young people.

And yet, the heritage of my community is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. A glance at a map of southeastern Manitoba shows a dozen French-speaking towns in the region that make up the Franco-Manitoban community. Sainte-Geneviève, Sainte-Anne, Saint-Adolphe, Saint-Pierre were undoubtedly pioneered by Catholic Quebecois a few centuries ago. The early institutions in our community were founded by religious orders (mostly Oblates), and still today, sturdy Catholic churches take their place on the main roads in the heart of each town.

Catholic rituals, prayers and songs are as much a part of the fabric of the Franco-Manitoban community as are the traditions surrounding the Festival du Voyageur, an annual French winter festival in Winnipeg. However, the firm adherence to the Catholic faith that characterized our past is dwindling. This is happening in a context where social groups are opening up to each other, where we are taught to question our principles and to think critically. Moreover, there is a push for the separation of religion from everything else.

There is a perceptible sign that points to the distancing from faith in francophone communities: churches have closed. Catholic vocabulary is turned into profanities, à-la-Quebecoise. This disconnection is felt especially among youth. It’s common to practise our faith without understanding, to pray without believing. As doubt sets in, people begin to let go of their faith. Some people deliberately reject the church.

The dissociation from faith in a community that is deeply rooted in it may be seen as rather tragic. However, in a positive light: this is as an exciting chance for renewal. By renewal I don’t mean reinventing our church, but rediscovering it.

I personally experienced a renewal in my faith when I left my Franco-Manitoban community and I was challenged on the foundations of my faith by friends I met in university. Realizing I did not understand my religion well sent me into a faith crisis. By questioning my faith and searching for answers, I have decided to adhere to my faith more fully. 

Pope Benedict XVI recently addressed the bishops of western Canada, and spoke about the parable of the Prodigal Son. He said that “Man’s temptation to exercise his freedom by distancing himself from God is frequent.” As the story goes, it is when the son comes back after turning away from God that he appreciates his home. The Pope said that God’s forgiving love “leads people to enter more profoundly in the communion of Christ’s church.” 

I have faith the struggle of our Franco-Manitoban community  will make us stronger. The sons and daughters of the church will return with a new appreciation and a desire to delve more fully into communion with Christ.

(Freynet, 21, studies international development and globalization at the University of Ottawa.)

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