October 24, 2012

Catholic Montreal lives

Within 20 minutes of my house are shrines to Canada’s two newest saints. To the south, visible across the St. Lawrence, is the spire and façade of St. Francis of Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, the simple little church that honours St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Heading in the opposite direction for a few minutes brings into view the unmistakable dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory, the imposing shrine to St. Brother André Bessette.

Both, of course, have been elevated to sainthood in the past two years — St. Kateri on Oct. 21; St. Brother André in October, 2010. I wish I could say this fresh and welcome bursting forth of sanctity has had an immediate beneficial effect on the city of Montreal, or even my neighbourhood. That might be hoping for too much too soon. Perhaps the power of the communion of saints obliges dutiful patience at least equivalent to that required for the process of sainthood itself.

What has been notable is the attention paid to both canonizations in a city that normally prides itself on its smirking, cynical secularism and its contempt for all things related to the Church. With Brother André’s elevation, particularly, there was a genuine buzz that was amplified by official civic and media interest. The interest in St. Kateri, the Lily of the Mohawks, was more muted. Her church, after all, is on the city’s south shore across the rickety Mercier Bridge, not in fashionable Outremont.

Still, significant attention was paid in quarters that might have been otherwise expected to ignore it. It was, if nothing else, an opportunity to flay the Church yet again for its sins against the aboriginal population. There was also the irresistible attraction of working in pop culture references to Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers, in which Kateri is the object of a character’s obsession.

The enduring appeal of at least local saints, even if only as a morbid fascination with the Church’s purported eccentricities, confounds the authorized Quebec attitude toward Catholicism and, indeed, Christianity itself.

For generations now, Quebecers have been taught to regard their historic, foundational faith as if it were grandmother’s corpse in a rocking chair in the attic: if we ignore it eventually the smell will go away. But what ho! It turns out there is plenty of life in the old girl yet.

Recognition of that life would unquestionably have a salutary effect not just on the future of the Church as an institution, not to mention the souls of the faithful yet-to-come, but also on Quebec’s connection to, and understanding of, its past. Research being done by a young scholar I know provides a sense of how clouded that understanding is, and the larger cultural damage that is the result.

The researcher has become fascinated by the role of religious women, particularly the Ursuline nuns, in the development of early New France. While popular depiction smothers the landscape of that era with Jesuits in black robes, he is discovering how much even cloistered women religious were able to contribute to the establishment of the settlement and, more importantly, to peaceful interaction with indigenous peoples.

His research is in the early stages yet so he is shy about attention, but the evidence is starting to show that the first Ursuline teaching and nursing sisters were a focal point for the exchange of knowledge in arts such as weaving and basket making as well as in botany and chemistry. He has found a treasure trove of personal letters and official reports revealing that pivotal role. It has turned up not in Montreal or Quebec City, where one might expect to find it, but in archives in Paris and other French cities.

What’s fascinating is not just that the French archival material has gone untouched for so long, but why it has been ignored. Quebec academics, he says, don’t like to go outside Quebec to research their own history. And if it involves the Church? Well, they’d rather tiptoe past the door to the attic than enter and find out how grandmother’s doing in her rocking chair. Why not? It’s what they’ve been taught to do for generations. Yet if all history is ultimately local, as a wise man once said, what happens to a people when the very institutions that shaped its locale are declared verboten?

All we can do then is pray that the saints in the neighborhood will preserve us.

Published in Peter Stockland

Tragedy at a Montreal psychiatric facility should stop proponents of  medicalized killing dead in their tracks.

On June 16, one day after the B.C. Supreme Court struck down Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, someone in the high security psychiatric unit of the Centre Hospitalier Université de Montréal asphyxiated a patient. On June 21, a second patient was suffocated.

But here’s the thing: neither death was recognized as a homicide, let alone raised alarm bells, until the next day when an attempt to choke a third patient to death was foiled. A former slaughterhouse worker with a lengthy history of violent crime, who checked himself into the ward the very day the first patient was killed, was charged June 27.

Published in Peter Stockland

QUEBEC CITY - While university students, anti-capitalists and environmentalists have routinely mustered tens of thousands into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City over the last two months, a small coalition of conservative Christians managed 650 for the second annual Christian March from the Plains of Abraham to Quebec’s National Assembly.

The number of marchers for the June 2 event was down from about 1,000 the year before.

Published in Canada

Most of us wish the title of Greg Wolfe’s book Beauty Will Save the World could come true.

But few of us would automatically agree with the argument made in Italian dramatist Romeo Castellucci’s newest work — On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God — that even human waste can serve the faith.

Published in Peter Stockland

Two questions about political progressives have always stumped me: What do they think we are progressing toward, and how will they know when we get there?

Three months of student protests in the streets of Montreal fail to provide   full answers, but they are prime evidence of an outcome. Nearly 50 years of progressive politics have produced a generation whose very vanity is a form of violence as bad as, perhaps worse than, smashed store windows, nightly street riots and quasi-terrorist attacks on the public transit system.

Published in Peter Stockland

OTTAWA - Archbishop Christian Lépine’s installation April 27 as archbishop of Montreal inaugurates a new era for the Quebec episcopacy, said a McGill University historian.

“Now there’s a new generation of bishops who are very much in tune with the needs of young people in their dioceses, and this is crucial for the new evangelization,” said John Zucchi.

A generation of bishops who were in their 70s, “many of them concerned with a 1970s and ’80s way of looking at the Church,” have retired, replaced in recent years by a new age cohort that has “rejuvenated” the episcopacy and brought fresh perspective, Zucchi said.

Published in Canada

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.

Published in Features

OTTAWA - Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, who reached retirement age last June, and appointed Christian Lépine to succeed him as Archbishop of Montreal.

Named last July as auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, Lépine, 60, was ordained to the episcopacy last September with auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd. His installation will take place on April 27.

The archbishop-elect served as director of the Grand Seminary of Montreal from 2000 until 2006, and since 2006 as pastor for two parishes in the diocese before becoming an auxiliary bishop. With degrees in theology from the University of Montreal, and philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Lépine also served for a year in the Vatican's Secretariat of State and for a year in the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Published in Canada

How do you reform an episcopate and provide new leadership for the Church in a particular nation? Canada is now the model for the Church universal on how it can be done.

The dramatic appointment of Christian Lépine as the new archbishop of Montreal, only six months after he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese, has drawn attention to Canada as the exemplar of how an episcopate can be reconfigured for the challenges of the new evangelization.

Just 18 months ago, in the fall of 2010, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec City, arrived in Rome as the new prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. The prefect is the most senior advisor to the Holy Father on the appointment of bishops. High on the new prefect’s agenda was the renewal of the bishops of Quebec, with a number of retirements pending.

Published in Fr. Raymond de Souza

OTTAWA - When asked what advice or encouragement Cardinal-designate  Thomas Collins might need in his new position, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte laughed.

“I will it say it’s courage,” the cardinal said from his office in Montreal. “To be a cardinal, it’s a lot of work. It is not only to elect the Pope!”

Collins will become a member of many congregations, or dicasteries, in the Holy See, Turcotte said. “Cardinals are the counsellors of the Pope in those different congregations.”  He can expect to do a lot more travelling to Rome, he added.

Published in Features
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