Peter Stockland: Good news during Quebec’s secular winter

By 
  • January 24, 2020

In the week when the Quebec government announced cancellation of the last substantial religious element of provincial school curriculum, Concordia University’s Catholic Students Association was reaching out to those starting the winter term.

“We need more missionaries,” Talitha Lemoine said at Concordia’s campus. “Once people encounter Jesus, they want to go to Mass. They want to go to church.”

Lemoine, assisting the Catholic Students Association as part of her role leading Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) in Montreal, had some good-news numbers to support her enthusiasm. On the first day alone 159 students stopped by the table. Over the course of the outreach, 245 had left follow-up information indicating a wish to be contacted. The male-female split was almost 50-50. Interest ranged from those with absolutely no clue about Christianity to those raised Catholic who had slipped through even the loose net of Quebec cultural Catholicism.

“People are ready to respond. They just have to hear the message,” Lemoine says. “If people aren’t living the faith, it’s because people aren’t sharing the good news.”

If that sounds like evangelical naivete with a cherry on top, it isn’t. A franco-Manitoban from Winnipeg, Lemoine worked with CCO for four years in Quebec City before coming to Montreal. She knows first hand the hard shell of secularism that seeks to separate, isolate and ultimately minimize faith in social, cultural and political life.

The process has exerted itself most visibly in the recent dark tribalism of the province’s so-called Bill 21, which extends the province’s 60 years of anti-Catholic animus to other faiths by banning most public employees from wearing religious symbols in workplaces. It was also at work in the announcement earlier this month that the Ethics and Religious Culture program of school curriculum would be dropped in favour of increased classroom hours for environmentalism, sexuality and what the minister responsible called other “21st century” topics.

The Ethics and Religious Culture program itself was a thin gruel substitute for authentic religious teaching introduced after the demolition of Quebec’s religiously based school system in favour of language-based educational partition. Even that was too much for the province’s hard-core secularists. They yelped for years that the teaching of ethics should be uncontaminated by pedagogy that treated religious belief as at least a cultural phenomenon. 

Such closed-mindedness seemed rebuffed when Montreal’s Loyola High School successfully fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold its right to teach the program from a robustly Catholic perspective in a private institution. The resulting court decision declared the duty of a secular state is to foster religious diversity, not extinguish it.

If the proponents of Quebec secularism failed to read that memo — hence abominations such as Bill 21 — the experience of Lemoine and the Catholic students at Concordia suggests that might not be so earth-and-Heaven shattering after all. Lemoine recounts an encounter with a young man who approached the group as a committed atheist ignorant of the basic rudiments of Christian faith and Catholic teaching. He’s now an enthusiastic member, a convert, living an active life of faith. 

Similarly, Lemoine spoke with a young woman raised in the Hindu tradition who, after conversing for a while, said: “You really do believe in a God who loves you.”

“It was my chance to say to her ‘yes, I do.’ That’s what we are really asking for: the chance to talk about God’s love and mercy in order to give others the same relationship with Jesus that we’ve been given.”

Invitation is the operative word, of course. Care and respect are essential to ensuring that those who stop by are open to follow up conversations. Lemoine estimates the “further contact” rate at about 50 per cent over four years. Of those, she says, two-thirds who ask for more information actually get involved. The key, however, is that a high percentage of those who do begin become committed to the study groups and other activities.

Now, isn’t that good news in a January week of seeming secular winter? 

(Stockland is publisher at Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Never mind the medieval demagogy. Anti-tribalism means anti-sectarianism. What happened in the Dark Ages stays in the Dark Ages, along with the Counter-reform and the Inquisition. Living means evolving means moving on.

Mac Pap
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