Pope Francis visits a Quebec that is rapidly shedding Catholicism

Pope Francis visits a Quebec that is rapidly shedding Catholicism
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QUEBEC CITY — For more than 140 years, the Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, with its conical tower reaching toward the sky, has been an imposing presence here in the provincial capital.

It was a rallying point for the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, an organization dedicated to protecting the interests of Quebec’s francophone population. has appeared in travel guides. In 1991, the church, with a façade designed to mirror that of the Sainte-Trinité church in Paris, was classified as a heritage building for its architectural and artistic value.

But today, amid increasing secularization, low Mass attendance, declining income and the rising costs of maintaining centuries-old places of worship, their doors are closed. The church celebrated its last mass in 2015. Its future is uncertain; officials are considering how the building could be reused.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s plight parallels the church’s declining role in Canada’s most Catholic province, where it dominated for centuries. public and private life, and where steeples and towers still tower over small towns and urban centres, but which is now losing faith at a dizzying pace.

Pope Francis arrived in Quebec on Wednesday for the second leg of his “penitential pilgrimage,” where he was criticized, again, for what critics say has been an insufficient apology. for the church’s role in Canada’s residential school system for indigenous children.

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and placed in boarding schools, often hundreds of miles from their communities, where they were prohibited from speaking their native languages ​​and practicing their traditions. cultural. in many cases they were physically and sexually abused. Most schools were run by Catholic entities.

Francis apologized Monday for the “evil done by so many Christians” in the system, but not for the complicity of the Church as an institution.

The 85-year-old pontiff celebrated Mass Thursday at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a popular pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Quebec City. Before it began, two people approached the pulpit and unfurled a banner calling on Francis to repeal the 15th-century papal bulls enshrining the Doctrine of Discovery, which was used as justification to colonize and convert indigenous peoples in the new world. .

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The Quebec that Francis knew has changed drastically since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984. John Paul was serenaded by 16-year-old Céline Dion in a packed Montreal Olympic stadium and celebrated Mass with some 350,000 people at what was then Canada’s largest religious gathering.

The proportion of Catholics over the age of 15 in Quebec fell from 87% in 1985 to 62% between 2017 and 2019, according to Statistics Canada. In 1985, more than half of people who identified as Catholic participated in a religious activity at least once a month. From 2017 to 2019, that figure was 14 percent.

The proportion of people with a religious affiliation other than Catholic doubled, from 9 percent in 1985 to 18 percent between 2017 and 2019.

“We have gone from a situation where there was a kind of moral authority of Catholicism decades ago,” said Jean-François Roussel, a theology professor at the University of Montreal. “For many Quebecers … Catholicism is not part of their lives, not even their family lives.”

Between 2000 and 2020, the The number of parishes in the province fell from 1,780 to 983according to the government agency that manages the Quebec library and archives.

Catholic baptisms and weddings have also plummeted, researchers reported last year in the journal Secular Studies.

“We have been entering, for the last 10 years, a strong phase of decline of certain Catholicism in Quebec,” said University of Ottawa sociologist E.-Martin Meunier, a co-author of the report. “If there is a collapse of Catholicism, it is first and foremost about institutional Catholicism.”

Residential schools banned native languages. The Cree want theirs back.

Quebec has had a long and complex relationship with Faith.

For centuries, the Church had a stranglehold on public institutions in Quebec, including health care, education, and social services, before the province began disassociating itself in favor of a more secular approach: the so-called Quiet Revolution of the Church. 1960s.

The change The move away from Catholicism has accelerated in recent decades.

The result is that more than 600 churches in Quebec have closed, many demolished or deconsecrated so that other uses can be found for historic buildings.

In Sherbrooke, 100 miles east of Montreal, the former Sainte-Thérèse church is now the OMG restaurant, a “party spot” where cocktails are topped with cotton candy and “Even the wisest will be tempted to listen to the devil that sleeps within them.”

(The O in OMG has devil horns. So do some of the burgers.)

In Montreal, where Mark Twain once said “you can’t throw a brick without breaking a church window,” places of worship have also been transformed into condominiums and community centers.

In 2014, the former Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours was reborn as the Théâtre Paradoxe, where this month Justin Turnbull, known as “The Suicide Jesus,” defeated Brian Pillman to become the first Apex Championship Wrestling world champion. . .

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Saint-Jean-Baptiste, meanwhile, is in limbo.

The first church on that site opened in 1849. It was dedicated to John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, who would become the patron saint of French Canadians. When it was destroyed by fire in 1881, it was immediately rebuilt.

The priest who gave the final homily in 2015 praised it as “a church of stone, built with genius, with greatness, with pride, which allows everyone – without distinction – to rub shoulders with beauty, silence, elevation, contemplation” .

The church is owned by the archdiocese, said David O’Brien, a spokesman for the local government. He said the city is looking at how it could be reused.

Eva Dubuc-April waited at the Basilica of St. Anne-de-Beaupré on Thursday for Francis to celebrate Mass.

Dubuc-April, 31, said she had her children Baptized and attends Mass periodically. But she firmly believes the church needs to modernize by reconsidering her teachings on sexuality and the male-only priesthood.

She personally likes Francis and sees him as a reformer, but he has faced resistance from a conservative Vatican bureaucracy.

“In Quebec, people who practice Catholicism don’t agree with these old teachings,” he said. “If they don’t progress, there won’t be anyone left.”

Chico Harlan in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec, contributed to this report.

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