Catholic fervour of past recalled during procession

  • June 20, 2008

{mosimage}QUEBEC CITY - As many as 25,000 Catholics from around the world poured through the narrow streets of Quebec City June 19, accompanying the Blessed Sacrament in an outpouring of religious fervour absent from this city for at least half a century.

The procession was one of the highlights of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress being held the week of June 15-22. The Blessed Sacrament, held in an oversized modernistic monstrance, was driven through the streets on a platform pulled by a truck. Along with the sacrament rode Cardinal Jozef Tomko, papal legate to the congress; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec City; and Cardinal Théodore-Adrien Sarr, archbishop of Dakar, Senegal.

Jean Audet watched the procession with his 34-year old son Louis.

"It's very old, it reminds me of my young time," the elder Audet said, though he is no longer a practising Catholic. He explained that when he was young the English were Protestant and the French were Catholic. The young men were embarrassed when their girlfiends knelt on the sidewalk.

Though once the most devoutly Catholic part of Canada, Quebec society abandoned the church in droves in the 1960s during a tumultuous period of social change. Today roughly 10 per cent of Catholics still attend Mass, though symbols and saints names for streets and villages constantly remind the province's habitants of their religious past.

{mosimage}The presence of the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by cardinals, bishops and priests, at the end of the more than one-kilometre-long crowd gave it a solemn finish. While many onlookers stared curiously at the passing sight, occasionally a few would fall to their knees as the Blessed Sacrament moved past.

Meanwhile, near the front of the line there was a more festive atmosphere where hundreds of young people mixed among their elders. The parade started with a Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus Honour Guard, followed by the Ark of the New Covenant, a large wooden box carved in the shape of the ark and covered with icons. This ark had spent the last two years criss-crossing Canada in order to build up involvement in the congress among Catholic youth.

Following the ark were the “13 giants” — marionettes at least five metres tall representing male and female leaders from the almost 400-year history of the Catholic Church in Quebec. Among “les giants” were St. Jean de Brebeuf, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Margaret Bourgeoys, Blessed Maria de l'Incarnation and Blessed François de Laval.

Cheers arose each time one of the giants would bow or wave at the crowd.

Among the participants was 15-year-old Jordan Clark of Kensington, Prince Edward Island, waving his province's flag.

“I love being with people who want to celebrate our faith,” he said. “I've felt a strong bond with religious people in this congress who have come from all over the world.”

Another participant was 23-year-old Cody Gabrielson of Winnipeg. Carrying a conga drum strapped over his shoulder, he said he was drawn to the congress by a “deep love for the Eucharist.”

The procession, he added, drove home how diverse yet unified the Catholic Church is.

“I now have a deeper understanding of how unified we are.”

Some elderly women waved flags from their windows along the five-kilometre route.

Outside three homes for the aged, residents, some in wheelchairs, also watched the procession.

The Blessed Sacrament made two stops along the way. The first was a short prayer and adoration service at St. François d'Assise and the second was at St. Roch. Both are old historic churches in the city, while St. Roch, the city's largest church, has a reputation for service to the poor and sick. At St. Roch, the Blessed Sacrament was the focus of a liturgy of blessing for the sick.

After St. Roch's the crowds thinned because the final destination, the Agora, an amphitheatre on the waterfront, could only hold 5,000 marchers. Some carried torches; others carried candles.

The rain that had pounded the streets on and off all day held off for most of the procession. A brief shower did nothing to douse the joy. Umbrellas popped up, and many, including some of the priests and bishops, wore the clear plastic raincoats provided in the Congress registration knapsack.

(With files from Deborah Gyapong/Canadian Catholic News)

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