Toronto pilgrims moved by Quebec's Catholic past

By 
  • June 19, 2008
{mosimage}QUEBEC CITY - Pilgrims who venture away from the International Eucharistic Congress grounds in this city are getting some living lessons in church history — almost 400 years of it.

Quebec City is celebrating the fourth centennial of its founding in 2008. And since the Catholic Church was there in the earliest years of this colony of France, it too is looking back into its own history and finding much to be proud of.
On June 18, groups of pilgrims made the rounds to some of the more important Catholic institutions in this city. Among them were the tombs of Blessed François de Laval, first bishop of Quebec, who died 300 years ago, Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine, of the Augustine Hospitaller Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus, and Blessed Marie de l'Incarnation, founder of an Ursuline convent here in 1639.

“I hope you make the connection between the proclamation of the Word and the Word made flesh in the lives of the saints,” said Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Richard Grecco in the Ursuline chapel during a prayer service attended by about 500 pilgrims from Toronto and elsewhere.

“The mission of the church is always to let the Word heal soul and body, to let the Word serve charity and justice. The saints are models of the Eucharist because through them we see the Body broken and shared.”

Grecco was one of four bishops from Toronto, involving Archbishop Thomas Collins and his three auxiliaries, who led a group of 470 pilgrims to Quebec for the congress. Theirs was the largest single group from outside Quebec and they reserved an entire hotel just outside the city in nearby St. Anne de Beaupre.

At the Ursuline convent, they were awed by the ornate 17th-century twin chapel, which has wings facing the altar from two different directions, situated at 90 degrees from one another. They also took time out for personal prayers at the tomb of its founder.

Marie de l'Incarnation, born Marie Guyart in Tours, France, in 1599, was the daughter of a master baker. After a short marriage (her husband died two years after the couple was wed), Guyart had a mystical conversion. She joined the Ursuline cloister in Tours in 1632 and led a small group to Quebec in 1639. In 1642, the community moved into a stone building that continues to house the community.

Marie de l'Incarnation lived out the rest of her life teaching French and aboriginal girls, and writing theological and spiritual treatises as well as an Iroquois catechism and dictionaries in the Algonquin and Iroquois languages. She died in April 1672.

The convent still houses the oldest girl's school in North America while the convent museum houses a rich collection of early French Canadian art.

For many of the pilgrims, the Ursuline convent was just the latest highlight in a string of amazing religious experiences.

“We were drawn to this (congress) spiritually,” said Victoria Coyle of St. Pius X parish in Brantford, Ont. She attended the event with two fellow parishioners, Anne Morrison-Clancy and Modestina Maruzin.

“Seeing different parishes from all over the world come together to share our faith — it's like a new light is shining,” Coyle added.

“We're all a family when we're here,” said Maruzin.

Georgette Helen of St. Dunstan parish in Toronto experienced a mini-conversion of her own.

“To be honest with you, I didn't want to come,” she said. “But since I've been here, it's touched me, it's moved me.”

She was particularly touched by the June 17 witness talks by Fr. Nicolas Buttet, founder of the Eucharistein Fraternity, and Jean Vanier, founder of the l'Arche community for intellectually disabled adults.

“I was so touched, I felt like going to work for them,” she said.

Fr. Kevin Belgrave, who was ordained this spring for the archdiocese of Toronto, said one of the highlights of his week at the congress was the visits to the tombs of the three blesseds. He was with a group that celebrated Mass at the tomb of Blessed Catherine of St. Augustine and he prayed at the tombs of  François de Laval and Marie de l'Incarnation.

“Praying at the tomb of Laval was really moving,” said the rookie priest. “I've really had a strong sense that I'm continuing the work he started.”

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