Quebec is celebrating a Jubilee Year on the 350th anniversary of the founding of their cathedral, Notre Dame, the oldest and principal church in all of North Amercia, and I just returned from a pilgrimage there with some students from the college at which I work. Quebec, as such, is the primatial see, the first diocese, and still the principal diocese of Canada. To commemorate the Jubilee, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has decreed a ‘Holy Door’ into the cathedral, the first time such a decree has been granted outside of Europe; entering through the finely sculpted, heavy, iron doors on the side of the cathedral gives one an indulgence and special graces; pilgrims were lined up twenty deep and the cathedral full on the chilly mid-November day that we arrived, well into the ‘off-season’.
We also were graced to visit the tombs of two of Canada’s newest, and two of her earliest, saints (both of them lived in the 17th century, in Canada’s very beginnings): Francois de Laval, the first bishop of Canada and North America, and Marie de L’Incarnation, a remarkable woman who was one of the first to bring the faith to Canada as a member of the Ursuline Order (whose school still stands), and is credited even in the secular world with being one of the foundresses of this country.
On the way, we stopped in at the Oratory of Saint Joseph, praying at the stations of the Patron of the Church, the tomb of Saint Andre Bessette (another of our patrons!), Mass in the Basilica, then a vigorous hike up to the top of Mount Royal for a breathtaking, panoramic, night-time view of the of the illuminated city stretching into the horizon far below (with some impromptu piano playing by students in the nearby chalet, where we went to warm up).
In Quebec later that evening, we stayed at a delightful, inexpensive hostel in the vieux-ville, allowing us easy walking access to all the sites across the cobbled stones which look as though they have not changed since the four centuries of Quebec’s founding. The weather held up, crisp, clear and sunny, perfect for walking.
The students very much enjoyed the trip, which was prayerful, inculturating (speaking French and enjoying crepes and poutine!) and, of course, fun. Not to understate the case, but even though the faith in Quebec is not what it once was, there is holiness there, built on the sacrifice of her countless early saints, both known and unknown, and whose legacy still stands in the beautiful churches and monuments. Je me souviens, ‘I remember’, is the motto of la belle province. May this memory lead those in Quebec, and all of us Canada and throughout North America, to become, what we once were, and what we should be again.
November 19th, 2014