Notre-Dame Basilica in old Montreal in 2012. There are some unknowns surrounding how the city will incorporate its Catholic heritage as it sets to celebrate its 375th anniversary. Photo/Courtesy of Wei Xi Luo, Wikimedia Commons

Church's role in Montreal's 375th anniversary celebration remains unknown

By  Philippe Vaillancourt, Catholic News Service
  • June 14, 2016

MONTREAL – As Montreal prepares to celebrate its 375th anniversary in 2017, it is yet unclear how the city will honor its Catholic heritage.

Although Mayor Denis Coderre has offered reassuring words on the matter, many political and religious voices fear Montreal's rich religious history will be put aside.

"Be patient," Coderre told Catholic News Service when asked about how he intends to include Catholic heritage in the festivities.

In mid-May, Coderre announced that the city will buy the property of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph. The nuns of the order have been in Montreal since the city's early years in the mid-17th century. Coderre said the fact that the city wants to buy the property is a sign that Montreal cares for its religious heritage.

Weeks earlier, Louise Harel, a Coderre political rival, expressed concern about the upcoming festivities for the city's anniversary. She criticized the way the city is handling its religious heritage regarding its celebration during the opening of a new exposition in a museum that belongs to the Congregation of Notre Dame, a community founded by St. Marguerite Bourgeoys in Montreal in the 17th century.

"I consider that only festive events are on the agenda," Harel said. "It seems to me that we're not really into history. It's as if how history had no beginning, that this history started with the 375th anniversary. It seems unreal."

Earlier this year, Harel was among the first public figures to raise awareness on the matter. In March, she said the fact that Montreal is a multicultural city should not make it shy from its religious past.

"I encourage diversity and the welcoming of newcomers. But we must absolutely pass down what it was at the beginning, and we have become," she explained. "We're not just talking the beginning, we're talking about the foundations, the foundation of what we are today."

Local historians and popular radio hosts also have publicly doubted the city's will to honor its Catholic heritage.

Irritated by such comments, Coderre promises that the founding role played by various religious communities is important and will be duly celebrated.

"The history of Montreal is intimately linked to the religious communities' history. What the Catholic Church brought is also undeniable. We must highlight this in 2017. There's a reason why I went to meet the pope at the Vatican. It all fits together," Coderre explained.

Last year while visiting the Vatican, Coderre officially invited Pope Francis to come to Montreal for the anniversary celebration. Official invitations were also made by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Montreal Archbishop Christian Lepine.

Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, papal nuncio to Canada, has been vocal about it, saying once again in early June that a trip to Canada is a possibility for the pope, though no confirmation has been made yet. The last pope to set foot in Canada was St. John Paul II for the World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002.

In recent months, Canadian church officials have been saying that if Pope Francis is to visit Canada, it would most probably be to go toward the Canadian "peripheries" -- such as victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy or people of the First Nations -- rather than partake in Montreal's anniversary.

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