The Old Chapel housing the miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Cape was built with small stones in 1720. Behind it looms the newer basilica that seats 1,600 people. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Bishop Pierre-Olivier Tremblay lighting a ‘fire’ to overcome despair

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  • September 10, 2018

OTTAWA – The future of the Catholic Church depends on rediscovering the fire of mission and overcoming the “despair” brought on by scandal in the Church, says Bishop Pierre-Olivier Tremblay.

“We have to live doubly that witness against the counter witness of people who did the opposite, scandalizing the people of God,” said the new auxiliary bishop of Trois-Rivières and rector of Canada’s National Marian Shrine Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Our Lady of the Cape, referring to the sexual abuse scandals that continue to rock the Church worldwide.

These scandals have produced shame and demoralization and reasons to say “no,” rather than “yes” to the Catholic faith, he told an Aug. 23 gathering of representatives from several English-language Catholic apostolates from Ottawa and Toronto.

“What I want is to be realistic,” he said. “It is not an easy time.”

Tremblay is hoping to inaugurate an anglophone pilgrimage on Aug. 22 each year — the feast of the Queenship of Mary — to the shrine at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, 140 kilometres east of Montreal. It would complement the huge francophone pilgrimage every Aug. 15 on the Assumption.

“It’s our time now. If we don’t do it, nobody will,” he said.  “If we don’t do it, the faith is going to be lost for a lot of people.”

At the request of Pope Francis, all shrines worldwide have been moved under the jurisdiction of the Council for Promoting New Evangelization from the Congregation for the Clergy, Tremblay said. That means shrines that had been “for people already convinced” are to become centres of New Evangelization.

“People used to come from parishes in buses,” Tremblay said. “That’s declining.”

Yet he noted people, including non-Catholics, still visit shrines and walk the Camino de Santiago to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela, the Shrine to St. James in Northern Spain. “They are searching,” he said. 

Because Quebec is a place where almost every town and village is named after a saint or a feast, “we are ground zero for New Evangelization,” Tremblay said.

The shrine is undergoing a $44.3 million process of revitalization involving funding from three levels of government.

Tremblay, who was ordained to the episcopacy at the shrine on July 22, noted his episcopal motto means “fire on earth.”  

“You have to bring some wood; you have to work to keep the fire alive,” he said.  “Protect your fire.”

Many people who face challenges will allow their fire to stop burning, he said. “You won’t help the world if you extinguish your light.”

There has been a Catholic presence at Cap-de-la-Madeleine since the 1600s and the early days of the New France colonizers, who used to trade with Indigenous peoples in the area where three rivers converged.

It has been the site of two miracles attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first in 1879, known as the Miracle of the Ice Bridge. The pastor at the time, Fr. Luc Desilets, had plans to replace the stone church on the site, but needed bigger stones from the other side of the St. Lawrence River.  The plan was to bring them across when the river froze, but that year there was no ice. The priest made a “public commitment to Mary,” asking for her intercession, Tremblay said.

Nothing happened until March 19, when ice on both sides of the river began to form a bridge in front of the church.

For nine days and nights, the people were able to cross back and forth with horses, sleds and stones that they used to build the bigger church.

“When we work together with God, no obstacle can stop us,” Tremblay said, noting the bridge was called the Ice Bridge of the Holy Rosary.

The second miracle occurred when the old stone church was restored and dedicated as a Lady Chapel on June 22, 1888. Inside was a statue of Mary someone had donated to the parish.

Desilets and two other men witnessed the statue open its eyes and for 15 minutes take on a living appearance of the Blessed Mother.

“She sees all the intentions we’re bringing her,” Tremblay said. “She looks to Trois-Rivières. She is looking west. Looking at reality and asking us to have our eyes opened.”

As part of the shrine’s revitalization, Tremblay blessed roses at the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary altar in the old chapel, re-instituting a practice that Desilets had started. People can join the confraternity electronically via www.catholicincanada.com.

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