The 22 April manifesto is calling on Canada to regulate more strictly the Alberta oil sands, among other things. Photo courtesy of Suncor

Quebec churches on board for Earth Day protests

  • April 21, 2012

What could be the largest protest ever on the streets of Montreal has full Church backing. Earth Day protesters who gather next to the Place des Arts in downtown Montreal will be backed up by Church bells ringing from most of the city’s 230 Catholic churches.

Organizers are predicting the April 22 protests will draw more people than March demonstrations against a 75-per-cent tuition hike. The student protest brought about 100,000 onto Montreal’s streets. Earth Day has a broader appeal in Quebec than the tuition fee issue, said Green Church director Norman Levesque.

“They’re calling it Quiet Spring because it’s a revolution,” said Levesque. “We’re trying to propose another way of thinking.”

The Assembly of Quebec Bishops has alerted pastors and the faithful that they want church bells ringing out at 2 p.m. across the province in support of Earth Day protests. Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine sent out an additional letter to parish priests and parochial administrators urging them to organize parish groups to take part in the protests.

“The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec encourages Christians to involve their parish communities in this Quebec Springtime,” said an AECQ press release that includes suggestions for public reading of a 22 Avril manifesto that calls on Canada to remain committed to the Kyoto Protocol and make serious efforts to control and regulate Athabasca oil sands and other natural resource industries.

“People will want to express their concerns not just around the environment but about everything around the common good,” said Marco Veilleux, the Jesuit provincial delegate for the social apostolate in Quebec. “There is a criticism — a lot of anger. This event will mobilize people.”

As is often the case in Quebec, the protest got its start with Quebec’s artistic community. Songwriter Gilles Vigneault (“Mon Pays”) appealed for churches to ring their bells by saying that he is a church warden appealing to every other church warden in Quebec. Cirque du Soleil is promising to spice up the protest with a special, secret presentation. Quebec artist of the year Dominique Champagne launched the Quiet Spring movement with an appearance on Quebec’s most popular television talk show, Tout le Monde en Parle.

On the Church side, support for the 22 Avril Quiet Spring includes Dominican Father Benoit Lacroix, a 96-year-old author of some of Quebec’s most popular books about Scripture and spirituality. Church-based activists including Levesque, archdiocese of Montreal social justice office director Brian McDonough, retired bishop of Amos Gerard Drainville and Sr. Estelle Lacoursiére have been active organizers of the protests.

The protest needs the Church, said Quebec dancer and 22 Avril spokeswoman Margie Gillis.

“This is a basic, fundamental, human issue for all of us and of course the Church has a strong and fundamental role to play in that,” she told The Catholic Register.

Quebeckers have come to see the environment as a moral and human issue, said Gillis. Efforts by the provincial and federal governments to protect and promote Quebec’s asbestos industry have shocked people, she said.

“People here in Quebec are saying ‘Asbestos? We are selling a known carcinogen to other countries? I don’t want to be responsible and I don’t want my government to be responsible for making money by killing somebody,’ ” said Gillis.

Whether it’s asbestos mining, fracking for shale gas in the St. Lawrence Valley or federal government subsidies to oil sands developers in northern Alberta, environmental issues are the source of a lot of Quebec anger aimed at both the provincial and federal governments, said the archdiocese of Montreal’s McDonough.

“This spoke to the hearts and minds and conscience of Quebeckers. The Church people are part of that movement,” said McDonough.

It’s also an issue on which the Church has the credibility that comes with 30 years of campaigning on environmental issues. The Quebec bishops’ 2001 statement “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor” and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2003 and 2008 pastoral letters, “The Christian Ecological Imperative” and “Our Relationship With the Environment: The Need for Conversion,” have been dusted off for study in parishes in the run-up to April 22.

The ecumenical Green Church project is distributing signs for the protests with slogans that include: “For the love of God take care of the Earth,” “God bless environmentalists for they take care of creation,” and “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” The last of these is the title of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 World Day of Peace message.

“All these things began to penetrate into the consciousness of Catholic Christians,” said McDonough.

The vocal minority in English Canada that questions why the Church would promote environmentalism is absent in Quebec, said McDonough.

“That’s completely out of sync with the Catholic Church as it’s experienced in Quebec — seriously out of sync with what’s happening in Quebec,” he said.

While conceding that protests will be bigger in Quebec, Gillis doesn’t think the 22 Avril Quiet Spring will be limited to Quebeckers.

“Everybody across Canada has got something to say,” she said. “There are going to be Earth Day movements across Canada.”

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