There has been much talk over the past months about the celebration of the 375th anniversary of the founding of the City of Montreal. Much of it has been positive and celebratory, but certainly not all. What is your favourite image of Montreal-375? The strategic placing of granite stumps on the mountain? The ubiquitous orange cones indicating construction zones, closed roads and traffic congestion? Or those five-storey giant marionettes imported from France – impressive or terrifying, depending on your point of view?
Who are the real giants? What is it that we, who claim Montreal as our home city and the Catholic faith as our spiritual heritage, have to celebrate at this time? Last April 26, I was invited by Christian Directions, an ecumenical outreach and evangelization ministry, to share my reflections on the presence of the Catholic Church in Montreal since 1642. It was a daunting challenge for a one-hour presentation, since the real and substantive contribution of the Church is immense.
The talk reflected on the original inspiration of the layman, Jérôme Le Royer, who established the Société Notre-Dame to support the creation of a missionary settlement on the island of Mont-Réal, bringing together French settlers and First Nation peoples in an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony. It followed the historical movement through the ages: the valiant efforts of de Maisonneuve, Venerable Jeanne Mance and St. Marguerite Bourgeoys in establishing the « mystical foundation » of Ville Marie; the evolving relationship with the indigenous peoples; the difficult transition occasioned by the movement from a French-Catholic to an English-Protestant regime; the foundation of numerous religious communities to respond to the burgeoning needs in health care, education, poverty relief and outreach to the marginalized.
It also focused on the welcoming and integration of successive waves of immigrants and refugees – from the U.S. and Ireland initially, and eventually from all over the world; the emergence of Catholic Action and other movements, which sought to respond to the transformations brought about by wartime, economic hardship and social development.
Finally, the talk considered the relationship between the Quiet Revolution and some challenges to which the Church in Quebec responded since Vatican II: secularization, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.
An anniversary is a time to look back, to remember, to celebrate, but also a time to look forward. What are the new challenges our city will face over the next 10, 25, 50 years? How will we – as individual Christians, as parish communities, as the Body of Christ – respond to these challenges together?
At the end of each « day », of every moment in our history – past, present and for the foreseeable future – our Church is here now, and will continue to be here for the people of Montreal, in the faithful witness of its members: the laity, using their many gifts for the building up of the Reign of God in our city; consecrated women and men, bearing renewed witness to the charism of their founders; bishops, priests and deacons, called to minister as servant-leaders.
Let us continue to be inspired and driven by our passion for Jesus Christ, for his Gospel of Joy, and for his mission of love and mercy.
Happy Birthday, Montreal!
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V.