Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Is the Church in Quebec headed for renewal?

Isabel de Bertodano asks the above question in the latest issue of The Tablet. She doesn't give a clear answer, but she does consider how two major events coming next year - an International Eucharistic Congress and the commemoration of Quebec City's 400th birthday - are bringing greater attention to Quebec's religious history. You need to register to read the Tablet article online, so here are representative snippets:
The Ursuline Museum in Quebec City has on display a belt made by the sisters in the seventeenth century. It emulates belts created by the native peoples the sisters encountered in New France. But the Ursuline sisters have adapted the traditional technique, replacing shellfish beads with glass beads imported from Europe, making the beads much lighter and less cumbersome to wear.

This blend of cultures, distilling what is best from each, encapsulates what the French, particularly the religious orders coming to the New World, attempted to do in the region. Although it is clear that the French considered themselves superior to the indigenous people (evident in their description of the native people as "savages"), instead of the brutal assimilation carried out by the English and Spanish on the native people further south, the French tried to operate a healthier system of exchange and profit.

As Quebec City prepares to celebrate the four-hundredeth anniversary of its foundation next year, there is an effort under way to remind the province of its ancestry and in particular to awaken pride for the role the Church played in the early days. For though social commentators assert that modern Quebec is one of the most secular places on earth, one does not have to bore deep to expose a rich seam of Catholic heritage. Just last week, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec, defended the role of religion in the province, telling a commission set up to soothe tensions over multiculturalism that modern social problems in Quebec were due to the decline of Catholicism.
De Bertodano offers a two-column summary of the long and tangled history of relations between Europeans and indigenous people in Quebec, and also notes how the Church rose in power over time and then quite suddenly lost its social influence and prestige amid the changes of the Quiet Revolution and in light of a larger trend toward secularization in Western society. Even so, de Bertodano writes, the Church retains a highly visible role that Catholic leaders hope to make the most of over the coming year:

. . . the residue left by 350 years of church activity can be seen on every street in every town in the province. Street names betray it, as does the proliferation of churches. The clustering of parishes and closing of churches is a regular occurrence in Quebec, but Fr Luc Lantagne, of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Montreal, says that the people of the province, even those who have forsaken Catholicism, have formed a great attachment to the church buildings. "People don't like seeing their churches becoming restaurants. They were often built by the poor before the war - families gave what they could contribute towards building them and their descendants are upset when those buildings are not dealt with respectfully."

. . .

Mgr Jean Picher is in charge of organising the [Eucharistic] congress. He says that it was natural that the Church should play a significant role in the [Quebec City] centenary celebrations. "The religious history of Quebec is really the social history as well," he explains. "Society has changed a lot here but we feel people should be reminded of their past. We should be proud of our heritage, and faith is an essential component of this. I'm not saying that we're expecting everyone to be converted to the Church next year, but it's important that religion plays its role in our celebrations."

Cardinal Marc Ouellet is more confident still, saying that he believes that religion is simply going through a period of hibernation in the province. "We are close to a renaissance in Quebec," he insists. "We had a sacramental culture and it's been removed but there's nothing to replace it. There will be a moment of return and this moment has come. The Eucharistic Congress will give an impulse for the development of recapturing our identity with a pride in our heritage."

For the rest - so long as you don't mind registering with The Tablet - click here. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home