REGISTRATION
$30 Continental Breakfast and Lunch will be served on Saturday for $20. Discounts available for clergy, religious and students.

TIME & PLACE
Chancery of the Archdiocese of Ottawa, 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa
Friday, October 13th 2017 - 6:45 PM to 10:00 PM
Saturday, October 14th, 2017 - 8:00 AM to 4:15 PM

MASS
Celebrated by The Most Reverend Terrence Prendergast, Archbishop of Ottawa
October 14, 8:00 AM

Link to POSTER

SPEAKERS
Fr. Dr. John McNerney
Dr. Reinhard Vehring Sr.
Dr. Gill Goulding
Scott Nicholson
Dr. Paul Flaman
Richard Bastien
Patricia McNiven

For more information, please contact Patrick Redmond (905-294-9389) or Christine Schintgen (613-756-5292)


By Fr. Tim McCauley |


Wonder Woman may be finishing her spectacular run at the box-office, but the one whom National Geographic called "The World's Most Powerful Woman," is far from finished her work. Is it unseemly to suggest parallels between the Mother of God and the quintessential female super-hero? Carrie Gress, in her book "The Marian Option," goes so far to say that "Mary wears combat boots," quoting a Marian priest while also citing the liturgy of the Church, which applies the following words to Our Lady: "Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?"

In the mythical-poetic imagination of the writers of Wonder Woman, the heroine Diana intervenes decisively in World War I by defeating Ares, the god of war. In actual fact, Mary the Mother of God did intervene in World War I, appearing at Fatima and beseeching people to pray the Rosary for peace. (What an intriguing coincidence that Wonder Woman was released in 2017, the 100th anniversary of Fatima).

In her engaging and inspiring study, Carrie Gress reminds us of many of the miraculous interventions of the Mother of God in the history of Christian civilization, most notably in safeguarding Christians from invasion by the Muslim Turks at Lepanto in 1571 and Vienna in 1683. One of the heroes of 1683, the Polish King Jan Sobieski, later testified, "I came, I saw, but God and Mary conquered." More important than any military victory, however, is her role in the conquest of sin and Satan, and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. She confidently promised at Fatima, "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph." In response to this proclamation, we do not sit on the side-lines as passive observers of her triumph; rather, the Mother of God enlists us to be co-heirs, asking for our prayers and penance so that we may participate in her victory.

One way of understanding the triumph of her Immaculate Heart is by considerating the interplay between justice and mercy, so admirably and effectively depicted in Wonder Woman. In one of the opening scenes, American spy Steve Travers crash lands on the island Paradise of the Amazonians, awakening them to the rude reality of millions of people killed in the "war to end all wars." Even though her own mother attempts to dissuade her, saying, "They (men) do not deserve you," a noble and profound sense of justice impels Diana to leave the security of her home and confront the horrors of WWI. As she herself testifies, she cannot stand by while innocent lives are being lost. She reminds her Amazonian sisters, "It's our sacred duty to defend the world."

Interestingly, in the midst of the carnage of the war, Pope Benedict XV issued a letter on May 5th, 1917 urging people to appeal to the Mother of God to help save innocent lives. "To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth. Let (petitions) bear to her the anguished cries of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones . . . ". The Mother of God responded a mere eight days later by appearing at Fatima.

In one of the most electrifying scenes in the movie, in the trenches in WWI, Diana is moved to take action when she meets a weeping mother and child from a terrorized village nearby. Her male comrades warn her she would face certain death before German machine-guns in "no man's land" -- where no man can go. They attempt to reason with her, saying, "We can't save everyone. That's not what we came to do." "No, but it's what I'm going to do." Key the music and watch her, in full Amazonian regalia, in slow motion climb out of the trench and join the battle!

She succeeds in saving the village with the help of a few brave men, but her simplistic solution to protect all innocent lives fails. After defeating the person she presumed was Ares, the instigator of all wars, nothing happens, and she is baffled. Then the real Ares reveals himself to her as a clearly Satanic figure who glides in and out of rooms like a shadow, whispering into people's ears, fomenting hatred in hearts, stoking the fires of violence and warfare.

The ensuing duel between Diana and Ares echoes the conflict between the woman and the dragon in the book of Revelation. With Satanic malice and envy, Ares tells Diana something to the effect of, "All I wanted was to show the gods how evil my father's creation was" -- human beings who are ugly, selfish and cruel -- who certainly do not deserve her help. The evil of humanity is vividly portrayed by the scar-faced female foil to Diana, the infamous Dr. Poison, the chemist who collaborated with the Germans to develop deadly poison gases. In a climactic moment of decision frozen in time, Diana is holding a tank over her head, while Dr. Poison cowers in fear. Ares is urging her to kill the hapless creature, symbol of all the ugliness of humanity. Diana's initial zeal for justice cannot withstand the mounting evidence of human evil, demanding of her a higher virtue, what Christians call mercy. The writers of Wonder Woman suggest this very thing, although with different language. In a flashback, Diana remembers her last encounter with Steve, who tells her, "I love you." (Earlier in the movie, while the audience heard of the history of the Amazonians, we learned that Zeus created the Amazons in part to "influence men's hearts with love").

When Ares parrots the earlier warning of Diana's own mother, that men do not deserve her help, she issues her final and definitive rebuke to his insidious rhetoric, "It's not about deserving. It's about what you believe . . . I believe in love." She mercifully releases Dr. Poison then turns to face Ares, who has resolved to destroy her, as he cannot persuade her to be his ally. He harnesses a mass of lightning energy from the sky to hurl at her, but his hate is impotent before the power of love rising in Diana's heart. With calm grandeur and serene confidence, she re-directs the energy blast that annihilates the god of war. Later, after the dust settles, in the quiet and reflective denouement of the movie, we hear Diana's voice-over concluding, "Only love will save the world."

The triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is first of all the triumph of love -- love for human beings, most certainly, but first and foremost, love of God. The ultimate justice is to give God what is His due and fulfill the Great Commandment, as enunciated by Jesus -- to love God with all our heart and soul and strength. In the human heart of Mary, we behold a creature, a member of our race, perfectly fulfilling this command and helping us do the same.

It is easy to complain about the evils of the world, and to focus on other people's sins, weaknesses and failures, to talk ourselves into passivity, cynicism, and hopelessness. Diana had to endure the despairing voices of defeatism, but nothing deterred her from her mission: "It's our sacred duty to defend the world." Mary of Nazareth must have perceived among her contemporaries the ravages of the sin of the world. The words of St. Peter on Lot could analogously be applied to Mary: "Day after day, that just one, good as she was, felt herself tormented by seeing and hearing about the lawless deeds of those among whom she lived." Rather than give in to bitterness or resentment, however, the Virgin Mary discerned in her heart a deeper capacity and call, as if to say, "It's our sacred duty to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and that's what I'm going to do." The prayer taught by the Angel at Fatima to the children would echo in the heart of Mary, "O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope in you, and I love you."

But when the commitment to justice and love comes face-to-face with the ugliness of sin, the malice of men and the ingratitude of the human heart, for love to triumph it must be transformed into mercy. What temptations must have assailed Mary at the foot of the Cross! Perhaps she was even tormented by an inner battle with the voice of Satan the Accuser. But she also heard the voice of her Son, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." As the perfect disciple of her Son, she did forgive.

The triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced with a sword, is the victory of Crucified Love in the Heart of Mary, the inseparable companion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns. Thus it is necessary to include the second part of the prayer taught by the Angel: "O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope in you and I love you. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope in you, nor love you."

 photo 513OLfatima2.jpgThe Immaculate Heart of Mary is not an abstract model of virtue we are called to imitate by our own effort and through our own innate ability. Our blessed Mother desires a relationship with each one of us, in which we accept the gift of her love and intercession for us; she strengthens us to practice justice and mercy, to love and forgive as she does. Another prayer taught by the Angel at Fatima concludes with these words, "through the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of all sinners." Including ourselves. It is also a prayer for ourselves to be loved and saved by Jesus and Mary. Properly speaking, Jesus saves us as God, and Mary through her intercession as Mother of God, she who is "omnipotent by grace." But we can and should bring before Mary our desire to be loved and saved by a beautiful woman who is also truly our Mother.

Most human beings, as children, have an experience of being loved by a beautiful woman (our mother) and even being "saved" by her whenever we were helpless. Deep in our unconscious, even as adults, we still have a desire to be saved by a beautiful woman, a beautiful mother. Many of us -- proud, independent and self-sufficient adults -- have difficulty admitting this, but as Jesus repeated in the Gospel, "Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." It is interesting to note, in times of war, how young men dying on the battlefield often instinctively cry out for their mothers. We do not have to wait until we are perishing to practice the heroism of humility that is within our grasp at this very moment.

Gress quotes from St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Marian "giant" on the essence of Marian devotion: "It is not a matter here of kneeling down a long time and praying, but of this relationship of a child to its mother . . . Different prayers and formulas are good and beautiful, but the essential thing is the simple relationship of a child to its mother, this sense of our need for this mother, the conviction that without her we can do nothing."

Justice, love and heroism are all on display in the epic of Wonder Woman. Humility and gratitude, trust and dependence, mercy and forgiveness, shine brilliantly in the life of the Mother of God, virtues that are also offered to us as powerful weapons of the Spirit to achieve victory in the battle of life, and our share in the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: the hallowed justice of loving God with all our heart, and in the face of all the sins and failings of our fellow human beings, the mercy of forgiving.

By Patrick Meagher |



There are more outrageous things in this world than Donald Trump.

Some come easily to mind: The news media that covers him, university campuses where it is politically correct to discuss killing him and social media, where if it were up to many users, he’d already be dead.

I don’t like Trump tweeting or his crass comments but I don’t have time to whine about them. His policies are where we need debate. But to many Canadians, President Trump’s presence in the White House -- he’s been at the job for six months -- is enough to make their heads explode.

There has never been a president so maligned or policies so twisted. His first two weeks in office, there were 1,000 tweets a day calling for his assassination. The other side didn’t hyperventilate or need safe spaces when Obama was elected and there are few arguments that he has made America a better place. But today’s university campuses, news and social media in the United States and Canada are so driven by ideology and hate for one man that for some of these people, if you don’t hate Trump, you’re the hater for not hating.

They will forgive Obama, who was actually caught – after the fact – spying on American citizens. They will forgive Obama’s lying about healthcare (you get to keep your doctor and insurance premiums will not rise) and Benghazi (four Americans were killed in Libya because of a video) among a long list of debacles. But Trump has to go because he’s an idiot. That’s not an argument but his enemies are desperately stoking the flames of hate in hopes of impeaching him. For what? There’s no Russia link. Doesn’t matter. Leak false stories and cast the net even wider in the hope that someday something will stick.

When people stoop as low as witch hunts, inventing stories, and incessant name calling, all of which has spilled over into Canada, we have a serious crisis. The increasing lack of respect for people and democratic principles is appalling. Trump won. But many people can’t get over it.

I was driving around Ottawa’s flood zone in the spring taking photographs, talking to farmers and listening to CFRA, an Ottawa radio station in Canada's capital that is now owned by Bell Media. A listener called in and berated Trump is an idiot, a moron and just crazy. Since host Rob Snow didn’t bother to ask her what could possibly justify such insults, it fired her up to offer five more. If she had been referring to any other living being, it would be considered abuse and defamation of character.

On another day, same radio station, morning announcer Bill Carroll noted that according to an unconfirmed source, Trump’s Catholic press secretary Sean Spicer had really wanted to meet the Pope during a recent meeting in the Vatican. But the spiteful Trump punished Spicer by not allowing him to go.

“If it’s true, Trump is a jerk,” Carroll said.

“Ya,” said his on-air sidekick. “What a jerk.”

Then they spoke as if the unsubstantiated story had really happened and again both called Trump a jerk.

It was a story they couldn’t confirm because they didn’t know where it came from or who said it or whether it even happened. It’s called fake news but it was good enough for CFRA.

The day before Trump’s first presidential press conference, a report surfaced with no witnesses and no evidence, saying that Trump went to Moscow and hired hookers to use a bed as a toilet in a hotel room that was used by former President Obama. An outrageous story that CFRA was only too eager to tell.

This is just one radio station. It points to the dumbing down and politicizing of our culture and the frightful rise of intolerance.

The university campus is another safe space for anti-Trump vitriol. It’s where you find sympathy for a terrorist but no love for Jews and Christians. Socialism is embraced even though it’s about to crash Venezuela. Isn’t university about higher learning, freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas? Yet, it’s controlled by the politically-correct who define hate speech as “words that provoke violence.” If what you say causes me to punch you in the face, it’s your fault. That is how three-year-olds and troubled teenagers behave. They stomp and flex their appendages when they hear something as awful as “Time for bed.” When two or more are gathered against Trump they turn into a demonic mob that will not tolerate other views. That’s one reason why most people don’t say anything.

There is something you can do. Stay away from loud groups. Read, especially thoughtful analysis, and listen only to upbeat, thoughtful people. Cynics will just ruin your health. Stop listening to people on radio and elsewhere when their choice argument is an insult. For that matter, avoid the superficial political views on Twitter and Facebook. Whenever you are about to hear a university professor discuss politics, tune out.

It’s amazing how much better I feel.

By Paul Malvern |



For most of my life I have had a serious love affair going with Quebec, the predominately French-speaking region of Canada. But, as with most affairs of the heart, this particular romance has had its ups and downs - frequently in response to the breathtaking twists and turns of Quebec politics. Even so, it is a romance that has stood the test of time - and decades later it remains as heart-felt as ever.

But just because I’m fascinated by Quebec doesn’t mean that I fully understand everything that goes on in the place. Far from it in fact! And one of the biggest mysteries for me has always been how decades back Quebec could have gone from being one of the most Catholic nations on earth to becoming one of the most anti-Catholic areas of the planet - a change that seemed to occur more or less overnight.

One day Quebec was an adoring elder daughter of Rome. The next day it was an anti-Catholic nightmare crawling with militant secularists determined to erase every last vestige of the Province’s religious past.

Searching History for the Truth

As is so often the case with important historical events, the circumstances surrounding the Catholic Church’s fall from grace have too often been obscured by mythology - in this case involving a narrative in which the Church, starring in the role of the arch-villain, Snidley Whiplash, gets blamed for pretty much everything that ever went wrong in Quebec.

Of course, not all of this narrative is false. For the Church did make mistakes - some of them quite grievous. Not that great a surprise really, given that it was led - and continues to be led - by fallible human beings, not all-knowing deities! And human beings inevitably fall short of the mark. But to ascribe nothing but harm to the Church - as all too often is the case among Quebec secularists - is to distort reality beyond anything reasonable. For it is equally clear that in spite of its faults, the Catholic Church also did a world of good. And rather than having been the all-powerful institution imagined by many, the role played by the Church was often much more nuanced. For, as we shall see, the Church’s hold on power and influence has varied enormously from one period to another and its hold on the Province has at times been anything but a sure thing. And even when it did play a dominant role, this was sometimes forced upon it by events rather than the result of some overweening lust for power and control.

But rather than simply take my word for it, let’s take a quick look at the history of the Church in Quebec with an eye to examining what it sought to achieve during each period, the challenges it faced, how it impacted the people under its care, and how some of its mistakes - teamed with larger societal trends - ultimately led to its demise.

The Early Years

To begin with, it’s important to recognize that the Catholic Church has been a part of the story of French Canada from the very first moment Europeans set foot on the shores of the New World. It all began on July 7, 1534 when a French priest accompanying explorer Jacques Cartier celebrated Mass for the first time on what was to become Canadian soil. And with the founding of Quebec City in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain the colonization that was to lay the basis for the colony of New France began in earnest.i

During this early period - which was to stretch from 1608-1663 - the Church played a key role in the development of the colony, performing many of the functions that should have been handled by the State. This was in large measure due to the lack during this period of any of the administrative functions normally performed by a civil government. Forced to step into the breach, the Church provided many services in the areas of education, medical care and social services, to name but a few. In addition to attending to the “here and now” needs of settlers and native inhabitants alike, it also responded to the call to spread the Gospel in this new continent and minister to people’s spiritual needs. For this was a Church which possessed a deep spirituality and great missionary zeal - qualities not always obvious in later periods.

But, as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. And nowhere is this truer than in the area of politics and government. Which in this case led to what historians call, “the Gallican period” stretching from 1663 to 1760.2 During this period, a civil government was at last in place in New France - which changed the relationship between Church and State profoundly, stripping the Church of many administrative duties and making it subordinate to the State. While it remained responsible for most matters relating to education, health and social services, it now performed them under the watchful eye of government officials. Still, not all of this was negative. For under this new arrangement, the Church was financially supported by the State and held a position of great respect in the colony.

Of course, all of this changed yet again in 1760 with the fall of Quebec to the British - an event which threatened both the future of the Church and the survival of French language and culture in North America. For with the fall of New France, the Church suffered a series of important losses - not the least of which were the loss of State protection and financial support and the breaking off of contact with France - which effectively separated Quebec from France and prevented it from bringing in more French-speaking immigrants and clerics from that country. Teamed with this was the banning of a number of religious orders - most notably the Jesuits. And the loss of favoured status and financial support from the State forced the Church to seek acceptance by the British Government. This new situation was particularly galling since it forced the Church to act in ways that would have been unimaginable previously - such as: urging respect for established authority (i.e. their new British masters), supporting the British during the American invasion of 1775, and cooperating with its new colonial masters to gain acceptance as a trusted partner in government.

While this collaboration did work in the short run, it was to have long-term negative repercussions since it blackened the Church’s name with the more nationalistic or liberal elements among the population. This became particularly serious when the radical ideas generated by the French Revolution began to infect the growing middle class made up of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. These new ideas presented a significant challenge to the Church and its claim to being the truly authoritative voice in French-speaking society. Eventually this conflict came to a head with the uprisings of 1837-38 - whose failure proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Church. For the Church could now claim that its approach was the correct one - an argument which proved highly effective in restoring its position as the dominant force in society.

Even so, it was not all clear sailing for the Church which was faced with another even more daunting problem - namely, that of keeping up with the rapid increase in the population, which during this period was doubling every 25 years. Simply put, the Church did not have enough priests and religious to serve each and every community and segment of population - a failing which reduced its influence and control in many areas of the Province.

Happily for the Church, this shortage of priests proved to be only a speed bump on the road to becoming the dominant force in Quebec society - a situation which had become increasingly evident following 1840 as each year saw the Church exercise greater and greater political influence and control over Quebeckers’ lives.

The Glory Years

Having bested its liberal opponents in the battle for the hearts and minds of Quebeckers, the Catholic Church now had a clear field ahead of it and was determined to consolidate its position and firm up its hold over the cultural, social and political life of the Province. And press ahead it did - as can be seen by the rapid increase in the number and size of religious orders and the setting up of classical colleges from which some 50% of graduates eventually entered the priesthood. Even more significant was the increase in the percentage of Catholics who did their ‘Easter duty’ (going to confession and communion at least once during the Easter season). It rose from 50-60% in 1840 to 98-99% in 1896.3

Not surprisingly, this newfound power and influence brought with it many privileges. For example, the only schools permitted in Quebec were confessional schools. Civil registries were kept by the Church. Divorces could only be obtained via an act of Parliament. Church corporations were not taxed. And the Church by and large controlled education, health services and charitable institutions. All and all a very impressive show of strength!

In spite of this, the Church’s hold was still far from unassailable. For there remained some liberal holdovers from the past who continued to be a thorn in its side, finding frequent expression in the media and political system. However, by the turn of the century, even this opposition seemed to evaporate. Which resulted in the more or less total victory by the Church whose influence would now be seen in almost every facet of life in Quebec - and whose excesses would eventually lead to its undoing.

The Triumphalist Period

During this period - which stretched from the beginning of the 20th century to the emergence of the Quiet Revolution in 1960 - the Church dedicated itself to Christianizing (as it understood the term) every aspect of Quebec society. And no detail, it seems, was too small to escape the attention of Holy Mother Church.

To the modern mind, some of these details seem petty and even comical in a dreadful sort of way. One of my favorite examples was contained in a university lecture I heard recently where the Professor in question asked students if they knew why stairs between floors in older apartment buildings in Montreal are on the outside of the building rather than inside as is the case elsewhere. The answer to that riddle, he said, was that many decades back the Catholic Church lobbied the City of Montreal to require staircases on the outside - in hopes of discouraging extramarital sexual relationships between tenants of such buildings. While I have no idea if this is actually true or simply an urban myth, it clearly is a great story. And the fact that it is still being told and taken seriously is a good indication of just how crazy the Church’s interference in people’s private lives became during the period - and the extent to which memories of the Church’s interference in peoples’ personal lives have become burnt into the public consciousness.

Of special interest to those living in our current sex-obsessed culture are the Church’s past efforts to encourage couples to be fruitful and multiply. In short to have children - and lots of them! Judging from the number of times I have heard Quebeckers complain about this, it clearly was a very galling issue for those alive at the time. For time and again people have regaled me with stories about how some bossy priest had pressured their grandparents and great grandparents to bring lots of children into the world.

Looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight, it is hard to know how true these stories are and how embroidered they might have become with the passage of time. But what clearly is real is the passion people inject into this story’s telling and its prominent place in Quebec’s national mythology. Indeed, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me the story about how some parish priest visited their grandparents and strong-armed them into having 16 children or some similarly high body count.

But is it true? Or is it just one more secularist fairy tale to scare small children?

In some cases, I suppose these things probably did happen. For every religion has its share of foolish and intrusive clerics - Catholicism being no exception. So it’s reasonable to assume that Quebec did have a number of religiously-motivated busybodies. But in fairness to these much-maligned priests from the past, they did have a point since the Christian faith has always considered children to be a great blessing. And it is true that, were French-speaking Quebec to survive as a cultural and linguistic entity, it was going to need lots of Francophones around to hold back the evil Anglophone tide. So little wonder that some priests - quite possibly with the blessing of some local bishops - would try and communicate the love of large families to their parishioners. Then too we also need to consider what Quebec was like at the time - namely, a largely rural society. Given the nature of farming - where many hands to the plough is a good thing - it’s likely that having large numbers of children was an easy idea to sell to many rural parishioners. All of which suggests to me that many of these interfering priests may not have had to twist rural couples’ arms very hard when it came to reproduction.

But whatever the truth of this particular ‘blast from the past’, it remains an undeniable fact that the Quebec Catholic Church did inject itself into many areas of people’s personal lives - with a somewhat mixed record of success.

Still, this tendency for the Church to stick its nose into other people’s business was only a small part of a much bigger picture. For the Church hierarchy had much bigger fish to fry than losing sleep over small-time sinning at the parish level. And it was these larger issues that would create the biggest problems for the Princes of the Church.

One major issue facing them involved the survival of Quebec as a French-speaking entity - not an easy task given the political, economic and cultural dominance of the huge mass of English-speakers that surrounded it. This required the Wisdom of Solomon as they responded to challenge after challenge - a good example being the First and Second World Wars, where conscription was a huge - and vastly unpopular - issue among francophone Quebeckers.

Equally trying was the question of how it should respond to the transformation of Quebec from a rural and deeply conservative society into a modern industrial state with a growing working class facing many social and economic difficulties. (This last one was to cause some of its most enduring headaches and would play a major role in the Church’s demise.)

And how were they to relate to a federal government whose agenda was far from Christian?

None of this was easy - but the Church did its best with the resources it had at its disposal. Sometimes it managed this well. Sometimes it failed. And sometimes it succumbed to the temptation to make what seemed like deals with the devil - as in the case of its alliance with the government of Maurice Duplessis.

The End Game

To many in the Quebec Church hierarchy, Maurice Duplessis (the Premier during the years 1936-39 and 1944-59) must have seemed like a dream come true. He was a strong leader. He viewed Quebec as a Catholic society. And he was prepared to do whatever it took to keep it that way. But as with all deals with the devil, there was a catch. And the catch here was the man’s character and his governing style, which combined authoritarianism, political patronage and unsavory political practices into an unholy trifecta. Was the Catholic hierarchy aware of the regime’s dark side? Almost certainly, given the education and sophistication of those who guided the Church at the time! Did they approve of all that Duplessis did? Probably not but they may have seen their silence and collaboration as the price they had to pay to retain the goodwill and active assistance of the Province’s political masters. And in fairness to them, their strategy did work well for a time - until it no longer did. But when that terrible day finally did arrive, the Church would pay a high price for having compromised its principles.

Sadly for the Church, Duplessis was only one of their problems - and maybe not even their biggest headache. For a far greater long-term challenge was the socio-economic transformation that took place in Quebec during the first half of the 20th century, which changed the Province from a very traditional rural society with the Church at its heart into a very urban, highly industrialized society where the old rules no longer applied. Part of this involved the growth of the urban working class - which led to the rapid growth of trade unions and calls for greater social justice from all segments of Quebec society.

For a time the Church responded well and with great creativity to this new challenge - by championing working class causes, promoting community development and social justice at the grass roots level, and encouraging the growth of the trade unions, many of which were avowedly Catholic. For example, the rapid growth in the number and size of trade unions following the end of the First World War led to the formation of the Canadian Catholic Confederation of Labour (CCCL) in 1921, many of these unions having a priest assigned to them to act as an advisor. Quebec Jesuits were especially active in promoting social justice in the Province - as seen by the establishment in 1912 of the École sociale populaire in Montreal and the founding some eight years later of annual conferences on social justice called the Semaines sociales du Canada.4 While such social change and community development initiatives proved highly successful in improving peoples’ lives and raising the consciousness of Catholics as to the social and economic problems facing the Province, their very success placed the Church in an awkward position. For while many in the Church strongly supported the fight for social justice and good working conditions, the Church hierarchy nevertheless wanted to keep things from getting out of hand. This was clearly going to prove tricky. For, as the Church was to discover, encouraging social change can have many unforeseen consequences - one of the most obvious being that the movements you have a hand in starting may not always continue to follow your lead or stay faithful to their original principles. Nor are there are any guarantees that these movements, once powerful, will not come back to bite you. Which is exactly what eventually did happen when activists were exposed to more radical and at times very anti-Catholic ideas. The words of the great 16th century scholar, Rabbi Loew of Prague, who noted that, “He who touches may also be touched”, ring particularly true here. For by encouraging social justice movements and trade union activism, the Church was to inject itself with an ideological virus that would cause great internal dissension and weaken its ability to respond forcefully when faced with the challenges of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. And the first sign of trouble was to occur in 1949 with the Asbestos Strike - an event of such importance that nothing was ever the same again.

The Asbestos Strike of 1949

While revolutions often are the result of long years of injustice or oppression, most can point to one particular event that really started the ball rolling. In Quebec that event would almost certainly be the Asbestos Strike of 1949. Initially, it was just your run of the mill industrial dispute where workers claimed to be underpaid and the employer saw things differently. In normal times it would have been resolved - eventually - and life would have returned to normal. However, in this case, events spun out of control quickly catching the attention and sympathy of much of Quebec society. True to form, Duplessis sided with the company and then the real fun began with other important groups - including the Catholic Church - taking the side of the workers. This was significant because the Church, while sympathetic to workers, nevertheless had traditionally opposed most strikes, instead urging both sides in labour disputes to settle their differences as amicably as possible. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here and things rapidly moved past the point of no return - eventually forcing the Church to take a clear stand. And it did - in favour of the workers. Its unequivocal material support for the workers won the day for the union. But it also severely damaged the careers of a number of Church figures - most notably that of Montreal Archbishop Charbonneau who had been especially vocal in his support for the workers. And it ended the informal alliance between “cross and crown” that had existed for hundreds of years. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Catholic unions in the Province learned important lessons from this strike which were to make them much more militant and which would eventually result in their freeing themselves from the restraints of the Church.5

In short, the fat was now in the fire and the process of radical change had begun. When it came to fruition, the old order would be swept away - and with it the key role of the Catholic Church.

The Quiet Revolution

The year, 1960, marks a key transition point in the history of Quebec and the Catholic Church in that Province. For it was in this year that the newly elected Liberal Government of Premier Jean Lesage embarked upon an ambitious plan aimed at modernizing the Quebec economy and society. Brandishing the slogan, “Maîtres chez nous!” (Masters in our own house), the Lesage government launched wide-ranging reforms which included nationalizing key sectors of the economy and dramatically increasing the ability of the State to impact the lives of Quebeckers through a significant increase in the size and scope of the Provincial Government. Special areas of interest included education and health care, which up to this point had been largely the responsibility of the Catholic Church. In short order these responsibilities were taken away from the Church - which dramatically reduced its profile in Quebec. Teamed with this was a push to secularize Quebec society which was to see the Church removed from its central position to become simply one group among many - if that.

Vatican II

The 1960s were not kind to the Church’s position in society in another important way. And that involved the work of Vatican II which called on churches around the world to respect the autonomy of the political sphere and not rely on the past strategy of using the power of the state to make Catholicism the primary religion. The effect on the Quebec Catholic Church was profound. For as one political scientist commented, “ just as the Quebec state was declaring its autonomy from the Church, the Church was itself affirming the autonomy of political society, the freedom of individual consciences in political matters, and the need for citizens to involve themselves in the important debates and projects of their societies.”6

To make a long story short, Vatican II made any counter-attack against the secularist tsunami virtually impossible. Surrender to the spirit of the times thus seemed like the only available option to many in the hierarchy - which is exactly what happened.

The legs had been cut out from underneath the Church and all that remained was to make the best of a bad situation.

The Fallout

Revolutions - ‘Quiet’ or otherwise - are hard on people and societies. As noted by the ultimate revolutionary, Mao Tse-tung, who declared that, “A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”7 That certainly was the case with the Quiet Revolution. There was little or no physical violence, of course. But there was most definitely emotional and cultural violence. And there was an overthrow of one class (encompassing the main elements of traditional Quebec society, most notably the Church) by another one (led by an alliance of bureaucratic, professional, academic, media and trade union elites). This was not a small matter. Rather it was a struggle for the very soul of the Quebec nation. And the cost for the losers was enormous.

The Damage to the Catholic Church

Certainly, the damage done to the Catholic Church has been huge. For if some in the Church believed that the Quiet Revolution and Vatican II might somehow magically revitalize the Church, they were sorely mistaken. Sadly, quite the opposite has happened. For rather than bringing about a new reawakening, these two events instead created a series of shocks that caused the implosion of the Church.

Take, for example, attendance at mass - an excellent indicator of the state of engagement by the faithful. Prior to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, Quebec had one of the highest attendance rates in North America - if not the world. Now it has one of the lowest.8 And all of this happened very quickly - as noted by former Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, who stated that, “Before Duplessis died, we’d all go to church and make our sign [of the cross], and a year later we didn’t go to Mass anymore.”9 Just how rapid and precipitous this decline was is clear from the statistics. In the early 1960s, the percentage of Quebec Catholics who attended mass once a month or more was over 80%. By 2007 weekly attendance had dropped to 15%.10 And the damage continues unabated, as seen by the observation by veteran Vatican watcher, Sandro Magister, who notes that, “Today less than 5 percent of Catholics go to Mass on Sundays. There are few religious marriages, most funerals are civil, and baptisms are increasingly rare.”11

But it’s not just the drop in the attendance that is a problem. Rather it’s also the damage done to the Church itself, its personnel and its infrastructure - with churches closing and the ranks of its priests being thinned by death (many are now elderly), the desire to build a new life in the secular world, and a reluctance by young men to enter the priesthood. A good example is the Archdiocese of Quebec (the area around Quebec City) which saw the number of priests drop from 1565 (453 Catholics per priest) in 1966 to 634 (1676 Catholics per priest) in 2014 with the number of parishes falling from 275 in 1966 to 207 in 2014.12 Similar declines have been seen in every part of the Province.

These declines in the number of churchgoers and priests have created huge problems for the Church - not the least of which what to do with those buildings and properties that are no longer needed and how to pay for the maintenance required for those that are retained. Responding to this challenge, the Church has tried various approaches - including closing churches and parishes, finding alternate uses for church buildings and seeking the assistance of the State by having churches declared historic sites. Sadly, this trend continues today - as seen by the fact that between 2003 and 2014, some 400 churches, mostly Catholic, closed in Quebec. And many are being considered for new uses such as health clubs or cultural centers.13

The Fallout for Society

Of course, not all of the fallout from secularization and modernization has been restricted to the Catholic Church. For it goes without saying that rapid social, economic and cultural change inevitably brings with it significant stresses and strains for which individuals and society as a whole inevitably must pick up the tab. And this fallout has been particularly evident when it comes to that key social institution, the family.

Back in 2011, Andrea Mrozek, Catherine Benesch and I wrote an in depth report for the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada on the state of the family in Quebec entitled, A Quebec Family Portrait. In it we outlined a number of disturbing trends observed in that Province which included: out of control government spending, a low fertility rate which threatened the very future of French-speaking Quebec, a growing preference for co-habitation over marriage, and high rates of sole parenting, out of wedlock births, divorce and abortion. None of which augured well for the happiness of individuals, strong families or social stability.

Of particular concern for us was the state of marriage in the Province - which has not done well since the 1960s. We found an institution that has fallen out of favor with many Quebeckers. For example, at the time of our study, married couples made up 54.5% of families in Québec, as compared with the Canadian national average of 68.6%, Quebec’s marriage rate (the number of marriages per 1000 people) was 2.9 compared to 4.4 nationally, and Québec had the highest divorce rate (e.g. the risk of divorce in Quebec by the 30th wedding anniversary was 48.4% in 2004 compared to 37.9% nationally in the same period). By contrast, co-habitation was much more common in Québec (34.6% of couples) than the rest of Canada (13.4%). And not surprisingly Quebec led the country in out of wedlock births (in 2000, 60% of births in Quebec were to unmarried mothers versus 1 in 3 in Canada as a whole).14

All of which is troubling since study after study has shown that marriages tend to be more stable overall all than common-law relationships. And it suggests that perhaps not all of the Church’s moralizing in the past was totally without merit.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. For the rapid decline of the Catholic Church also removed the most important intermediary institution between the State and individual citizens - which meant that the State could now do pretty much anything it wanted, without any counterbalancing force to restrain it. And the result has not always been a happy one.

Interestingly enough, this very issue was very much on the minds of some Catholic intellectuals back in the 1960s and early 1970s who warned about the growth of an all-powerful Quebec State, now liberated from the restraint of a powerful intermediary body such as the Catholic Church. For such critics this new, enormous and largely unfettered Quebec State would have enormous resources and power which could potentially be used to oppress people rather than liberate them. Fears of just such a possibility were expressed by critics such as François-Albert Angers, who warned that, “When the state is master in every domain, the people are masters in none. The phrase, ‘We are the state!’, which we have not ceased repeating here, is the greatest load of rubbish ever proposed to put the people to sleep and to give the dictatorial green light to all [government] ministers who are, by definition, budding little dictators.15

While these words would prove prophetic decades later, such warnings eventually died out as people accustomed themselves to this new reality and grew to appreciate the benefits that accrue from having a modern welfare state and a strong government capable of preserving the linguistic and cultural integrity of the Quebec nation.

But nothing is ever cost free, is it? And certainly that has been true in the case of Quebec. For, while much can be said in favor of the security provided by the welfare state, there is inevitably a price to be paid in terms of personal freedom. Part of this flows from the very size of many of these programs - which makes it virtually impossible to allow for those individual differences that make each one of us who we are. If such programs are to function in an efficient and cost-effective manner, governments inevitably must resort to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach - an approach that all too often reduces people to little more than ciphers on a page that can be manipulated as program needs require it.

Of course, such a danger is not restricted to Quebec. Rather it is a reality facing virtually every country in the industrialized West - one that each and every one of us must learn to live with.

Finally, there is the moral, ethical and spiritual fallout that has occurred as a result of the Church’s sidelining in the Sixties - which, while seldom commented on by journalists and academics, nevertheless is a serious problem in present day Quebec. This was noted by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former Archbishop of Quebec, who noted that: “Québec’s real problem is the spiritual vacuum created by a religious and cultural rupture, by the substantial loss of memory, which leads to a crisis in the family and in education, leaving citizens disoriented, dispirited, vulnerable to instability, and attracted to fleeting and superficial values.16 Writing as someone who used to live in the Province, I would have to say that the Cardinal is onto something here, since there does seem to be a profound spiritual vacuum in Quebec. For while Catholicism may have been largely removed from the public square, other forms of worship are prominent - such as materialism, hedonism and a variety of secular religions disguised as political movements.

Even so, this picture is far from totally bleak. For there are a number of hopeful signs. To begin with there do seem to be the early signs of a revival of Catholicism in Quebec - as new religious congregations are set up and immigrants and some young people begin to fill the pews left empty by the flight of older native born Quebeckers. One additional bit of good news, spiritually speaking, is that Catholicism is no longer the only game in town - as seen by the Evangelical revival that occurred in Quebec during the 1980s and the fact that Evangelical churches continue to thrive in that Province even now. I can personally attest to the strength of this movement since I experienced it first hand when I got saved (or ‘racheté as they say in French - that is, ‘redeemed’) in a French language Pentecostal church in Quebec City in the mid-1980s. While some strict Catholics may not see this Evangelical resurgence as a good thing, the reality is that it has been of great benefit to both Catholics and Protestants in a number of ways. For example, it ensures that the Christian message continues to be heard, no matter who does the preaching - which must surely be a good thing. And it allows people to rethink their negative attitudes toward Christianity since Evangelical churches were not associated in the past with the Duplessis regime, as was the case with the Catholic Church. Finally, there is often a spillover effect from Evangelicalism which benefits the Catholic Church. For I recall my pastor at the time saying that one of the benefits he saw flowing from his church was that young people would get saved and then start encouraging their parents to get serious again about their faith. This would give their parents and other relatives a bad conscience. However, being ‘good Catholics’, they could not consider going to a Protestant church. Instead they would return to the Catholic Church and become regular mass attendees. In short it was a win-win situation for all concerned.

Summing Up

The story of the rise and fall of the Quebec Catholic Church is a remarkable one - which contains the elements of a great epic novel. There is a passionate but tragic love affair - in this case between a nation and a great religious institution. There is betrayal - with blame to be laid on both sides. There is the sweep of great historical movements - in this case involving the death of the old very rural, very conservative, and very Catholic Quebec and the rise of a modern, urban, high-tech social democratic State. There is the rise of a seemingly nihilistic and materialistic secular order - and the tantalizing early outlines of a possible spiritual revival.

In short it is a tale worthy of a remarkable people - which Quebeckers most definitely are.

I wish them well in the future - and look forward to seeing what lies ahead for them.

photo credit: The Library of Congress Church of Ste. Anne de Beaupré (LOC) via photopin (license)



1. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. History of the Church in Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.cccb.ca/site/eng/church-in-canada-and-world/catholic-church-in-canada/history-of-the-church-in-canada

2. Claude Bélanger. The Roman Catholic Church and Quebec. Retrieved from: http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/church.htm

3. Ibid.

4. Terence J. Fay. A History of Canadian Catholics. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, [c2002] p. 304.

5. Ibid. pp. 252-253.

6. David Seljak. “Why the Quiet Revolution was ‘Quiet’: The Catholic Church’s Reaction to the Secularization of Nationalism in Quebec after 1960". CCHA Historical Studies, 62 (1996). p. 111.

7. Mao Tse-tung. "Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan" (March 1927), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28. Retrieved from: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch02.htm

8. Reginald Bibby. Religion À La Carte in Quebec: A Problem of Demand, Supply, or Both? p.14. Retrieved from: http://www.reginaldbibby.com/images/Quebec_Paper_July07.pdf

9. Preston Jones. “Quebec after Catholicism”. First Things. June 1999. Retrieved from: https://www.firstthings.com/article/1999/06/quebec-after-catholicism

10. Reginald Bibby. Op. Cit. p.1

11. Sandro Magister. While Rome Talks, Québec Has Already Been Lost. Retrieved from: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/207117bdc4.html?eng=y

12. The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Archdiocese of Quebec. Retrieved from: http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/diocese/dqueb.html

13. Graeme Hamilton. “What's happening to Montreal's churches? Quebec finding new ways to preserve its heritage in a secular age.” National Post. July 25, 2014. Retrieved from: http://nationalpost.com/holy-post/whats-happening-to-montreals-churches-quebec-finding-new-ways-to-preserve-its-heritage-in-a-secular-age/wcm/419f8d6a-c470-4c7b-b222-891298dc3457

14. Paul Malvern, Andrea Mrozek and Catherine Benesch. A Quebec Family Portrait. Ottawa: Institute for Marriage and Family Canada, 2011. pp. 20-22. Retrieved from: https://www.imfcanada.org/archive/247/qu%C3%A9bec-family-portrait

15. “Hauteur et mauvaise foi envers nous de ‘l’État c’est nous!’” L’Action nationale, 55, no. 3, (November, 1965). p. 331. Quoted in David Seljak. Op. Cit. pp. 116-117.

16. Marc Ouellet. “Where is Québec going? On faith and secularism”. Published in Vita e Pensiero, the magazine of the Catholic University of Milan. Retrieved from: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/207117bdc4.html?eng=y

Fr. Tim McCauley |


At first glance, it may seem that our culture presents only two options of the repressed Christian or the dissolute pagan, ignoring that in Christ there is a third option of the redeemed and transfigured human being. Katy Perry, her life writ large on the world stage of pop culture, offers a fascinating optic through which to view this issue, in part because she is the daughter of Christian missionaries, she has "Jesus" tattooed on her wrist, and has purchased as a residence a former convent in Los Angeles. Yet she remains manifestly ambivalent, to say the least, concerning Christian moral teaching. I would suggest that Christians can still learn something from her success, without in the least compromising our principles. And if the disappointment of her latest album (released June 9th) is any indication, she may yet have something to learn from the religion of her childhood, this faith which is the source of so many graces we tend to take for granted.

In some respects, it seems that she has been maturing as a person and evolving as an artist. She told Vogue magazine in an interview in April that her single "California Gurls" and other "fluffy stuff" is behind her: "(it) would be completely inauthentic to who I am now and what I've learned . . . if you have a voice you have a responsibility to use it now, more than ever." She continued, "I don't cure cancer or anything, but I know I can bring light and joy and happiness in tiny installments of three minutes and 30 seconds. That does something. That lifts spirits."

Her recent single "Chained to the Rhythm" was her first to capture my attention.
"Are we crazy? Living our lives through a lens
Trapped in our white-picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we live in a bubble, a bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, the trouble . . . . so put our rose-colored glasses on
And party on." 
I was impressed. Here's a pop song with an infectious beat issuing a cultural critique, while making an excellent philosophical point -- that the unexamined life is not worth living. All wrapped up in a package more attractive and perhaps more effective than many sermons.

Her 2016 song "Rise" has obvious Christian roots.
"When the fire's at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They're whispering, "You're out of time,"
But still I rise
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in
Think again
Don't be surprised
I will still rise."
Poetic imagery set to music evokes emotion and a personal response. How do we preachers communicate the truth of the Gospel? With abstract concepts and dry academic discourses on the "Paschal Mystery" that put people to sleep? Yes, we could learn a thing or two from popular singers like Katy Perry.

Perry began her music career as a Christian artist. For various reasons, she was not successful. Her re-invention as a secular singer seemed to give space for her spirit to breathe, allowing a fuller expression of her personality and her talents. We Christians need to be honest and admit that it is possible for the human personality to be oppressed by a cultural manifestation of Christendom that lacks the spirit of Christ, and amounts to a misinterpretation or even perversion of the Gospel.

Something went wrong in the evolution of Western Christendom. In our obsession with materialism and technology, we allowed the Spirit to die within. We completely forgot how the desires of our spirit can be purified, transfigured, redeemed and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit. Over time, when confronted with the surge of chaotic and conflicting desires within, our only recourse was repression. "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" Such a non-Christian attitude is reprimanded by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, probably as a form of early Gnosticism. As St. Paul writes elsewhere, "That is not the way you learned Christ!" I wonder if we ever did learn this one essential aspect of the Gospel -- that Christ and Christianity do not teach repression, but redemption!

Young Christians of recent generations seem tempted to re-enact the sexual revolution, to revolt against Christian morality which seems to constrict their liberty and hamper the flowering of their personality. Yet in this rebellion they often trade repression for dissolution. Our culture promotes a naive and simplistic anthropology, that every desire that arises in the human heart is an unqualified good by virtue of the fact that the acting subject feels the desire, as if to say, "If I'm feeling it, it must be good." Applying such an impulsive and unreflective approach to life in general would lead us all to economic ruin in short order. Would we trust that every salesman that appears at our door is motivated by our highest good, so that we should immediately purchase a suitcase full of whatever he is selling? Then why would we give immediate consent to every desire that arises in our heart?

In life, our desires are like trails of breadcrumbs through a dark wood, leading to different destinations. Every time we act on a desire, we advance a step on that path, and form our identity. Unfortunately, original sin has in a sense split our personalities, so that we are divided within ourselves by divergent desires, in a civil war between what common sense and psychology would call the true and false self, and St. Paul in Colossians refers to as the old man (palaios anthropos) and the new man (neos anthropos).

In baptism, our salvation is achieved in seminal form. The old anthropos has died with Christ and the new human being is risen with Him. However, in saving us, Christ does not instantly assume us into heaven; rather, by His Spirit He gives us discernment to distinguish between desires leading to life or death, and He liberates our will, giving us grace to choose the good, the true, the beautiful. Our desires are neither repressed nor indulged, but redeemed. Our identity is neither oppressed nor dissolved, but transfigured.

Perry herself seems to be searching for an identity. The brash and bold girl is showing some signs of insecurity and uncertainty, trying too hard to be successful on her latest album, judged by most critics to be overproduced and uninspiring. Furthermore, while she professes interest in "purposeful pop" with a sense of social responsibility and cultural engagement, she continues to lend her talents to a media machine promoting the exploitation of the body and the commercialization of sex. Perhaps she needs to dig deeper for inspiration and return to her roots. Jesus is still tattooed on her wrist and imprinted on her soul in baptism -- an open invitation to seek the redemption that lies between repression and dissolution.

Perry tells stories from her youth of picketing concerts by Madonna and Marilyn Manson, and in one case handing out pamphlets entitled How to Find God. Are they binary opposites, Christians versus concert-goers? Are there but two options of repressed Christians who never commit a public sin, or dissolute pagans who never attend Church? There is a third way.

St. Philip Neri, (the "second apostle" of Rome) in the midst of the decadence of Renaissance Rome, realized he could not simply lecture young men on the necessity of avoiding the sinful excesses of the yearly Carnival, telling them "Do not handle! Do not touch!" He knew, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught so clearly, that if human beings are deprived of spiritual joys, we will seek carnal pleasures, for we cannot live without joy. Accordingly, he began a tradition on Sundays of outdoor Oratories, with excellent preaching to stir the spirit and professional musicians to refresh the soul. In 1553 he also instituted the pilgrimage to the Seven Churches, a time of pious reflection and recollection, but also of physical exercise and pure enjoyment of the beauty of nature around the city of Rome.

We need similarly innovative, joyful and life-affirming apostles today, to show the world that Christ is the fulfillment of the human person. In Him, we Christians are more human, not less. If we fail in this witness, frustration and futility will mark many of our efforts in the New Evangelization, and those raised in the green pastures of Christian homes will continue to be sorely tempted by what appears to be greener grass on the other side of the fence. If we succeed, we will save not only ourselves, but also our hearers, who will be drawn by a subtle but irresistible attraction, to adopt and imitate our way of life.
By Teresa Wong |


The following is a true story (not the author's story) originally written in Chinese and translated to English by The Cardinal Kung Foundation. It was originally published in a Christmas 1999 Newsletter.

I personally did not know this monk. I had never seen him before. I did not know where he came from. I did not even know his name. All I knew was that he was a Catholic priest; he was a person who tamed the prison; he was a glorious martyr; he was a hero who offered himself entirely for others, all because of love! He was also a trail blazer who showed us the way. I had given up my faith earlier on. But he led me back into the bosom of God.

Chiang was released from prison. This was during the end of the Cultural Revolution, but the unceasing red terror still haunted our daily lives. One day, Ming, a classmate of mine, invited me to his home in such jubilation tempered with a shroud of secrecy: his elder brother Chiang had returned from his imprisonment! I had long known the name of Chiang for he was the infamous hoodlum chief in our area. He was arrested during the Cultural Revolution and was imprisoned in the Heavenly Lake Farm in An-Hui Province. Heavenly Lake Farm was a terrifying labor camp. The mere mention of this labor camp would send chills down one’s spine.

Ming’s house was packed with people. Most of them were old followers of Chiang while he was the chief. The house was buzzing with greetings and small talk. When the people settled down, Chiang started talking, “I am going to tell you all the story of a monk, a Catholic monk.”

“A Catholic monk?” This caught my attention and I pricked up my ears even though I had given up my faith long since.

Everybody called him “Monk,” Chiang said. “Our prison cell had a total of forty-eight persons. A few were political prisoners. The rest were either thieves, robbers, rapists or heroes like me. The most respected person, however, in our cell was the monk. I was absolutely puzzled about this when I first moved in. A skinny old man, who knew neither kung-fu nor the art of boxing, was the most respected person? Was it because of imprisonment seniority? I heard that he had been in the camp since 1955.”

“1955?” I relived momentarily the night of September 8, 1955. It was a night of horror and the beginning of worse to come. 
(Editor’s note: September 8, 1955 was the day when Bishop Kung, the Bishop of Shanghai, was arrested together with over 300 priests and lay persons in one simultaneous sweep.)

Chiang continued, “The monk was a quiet person. His countenance was peaceful and calm. His eyes were bright and his gaze was sharp and piercing. Whenever we were in deep pain, or so enraged that we wanted to kill or to tear someone apart, our suffering and rage would subside and the atmosphere of hatred would gradually disappear so long as the monk was around, holding our hands and placing his right hand on our heads. There was a saying in the camp, ‘do not fear heaven, do not fear earth, fear only the danger of a wife asking for divorce.’ Whoever received such a letter of divorce from his wife, and one of these things would always happen, he would either cry his heart out or he would want to die and bang his head against the wall like the beating of a drum! All of us would watch this with a sense of indifference or ridicule. The monk was the only exception. He would embrace the person and hold his hands. Then he would place his right hand on the man’s head. I did not see the monk talking or chanting. Strangely enough, the man who was howling only a few moments ago would then calm down. Then the monk would talk softly to him for a short while.”

“Laying the right hand on his head? Oh..this must be an act of benediction!” I immediately realized.

Chiang continued, “During times of boredom, we were a lustful bunch and would gather around and crack dirty jokes. We would pass around our home-made pornographic drawings. The monk was the only one who would not listen, who would not read and who would not laugh with us during this entertainment. He would sit at the corner of the cell with his head bowed and eyes closed. In fact, he would sit in that fashion whenever he had nothing to do. He would sit for a long time, too. At the end of each working day, all of us had worked so hard that we would drop dead on our beds and be unable to move at all. The monk was the exception, and he would insist on sitting. One night, I woke up and saw him still sitting up. I asked him, “Aren’t you tired? Better go to sleep early.” He answered softly: “There is no better rest than this. He would give me strength.” “Who?” I asked. He raised his head and looked up momentarily. He did not answer my question. I looked up in the direction he looked. I saw a roof, nothing but the roof.”

“The quietest moment in our cell was when mail parcels came and were opened,” Chiang recalled. “Stitch by stitch all of us watched the opening of the parcel. Absolute silence would permeate every corner of the cell. With the exception of the monk, there was anxiety, hunger, admiration, and jealousy in the forty-seven pairs of eyes that were glued to the opening of the parcels. He went his own way as if nothing was happening, or he would sit by a wall in the room with his eyes closed. It befits only a person with such calm and peace to be called a hero!”

“That was not just sitting by a wall. That was meditation and praying!” These words almost escaped me in an attempt to correct Chiang’s ignorance, but they did not. I did not have the courage to admit that I was a Catholic. Moreover, I had turned away from God for so many years that I was not sure whether I was still considered a Catholic.

“There was no mail parcel for the monk,” Chiang noted. “Nobody came to visit him. It seemed as if he had no family. Oh, no, I remember now. Once he did receive a parcel containing a winter jacket. He immediately gave that to Tzong who had no family. He kept the wrapping as a memento. According to the monk, he did not know who the sender was.”

“The monk did not understand medicine,” Chiang observed. “But every time one of us fell ill, the person that looked after the sick was always the monk. He would especially care for the dying. He would stay close to the dying at all times and would hold on tight to the hands of the sick person, accompanying him until he drew his last breath. At which time, he would close the eyelids of the dead person and make a sign of the cross on his forehead. You are truly exceptional, brother monk!” exclaimed Chiang. And he continued, “In the camp, the worst suffering was not hard labor, not being beaten while hanged. It was hunger! Imagine this: there was not a day that we had enough to eat, year after year! It was beyond description to express the feelings of hunger. At every meal, the monk would save two-thirds of his ration for others. He said, ‘I have a small appetite. You are all young and need more to fill your stomach.’ So we thought he was serious and took turns at sharing this. One day, Fung found the monk chewing and eating weeds in the bushes. When he saw Fung, he dropped the weeds hastily like a child being caught at some mischief. But Fung, with tears all over his face, dashed to the monk and grabbed his hands...”

“During his last year with us, the monk washed the heads of quite a few of us,” Chiang remembered. “Regardless of whether he was a counter-revolutionary element, a hoodlum lord, or a gangster, he would cry his heart out during the head washing. Cry they did, but their hearts were filled with joy!”

“That washing of heads! That was the rite of baptism!” My heart was pounding, but there were no words from my mouth!

“A strange thing happened to those whose heads were washed. They fought no more and cursed no more. They liked to help and care for others, just as the monk did,” Chiang said. “Last year, the monk died. He died of starvation. Liang, who was a doctor, could witness to that fact. In fact, we all knew quite well that he died of starvation. While he was seriously ill, we saw with our very own eyes that the stool he passed out were weeds!”

“After his death, the monk received the highest honor from us. Each one of us took out the best we had, the newest, the most precious or the most treasured. We dressed him with Whei's army cap, Ping's shirt, Ren's pants, Loong's socks, my shoes; and scarfed him with Fung's white towel. Although we dressed the monk haphazardly, he certainly had a new, clean and tidy look as opposed to the shabby look while he was still alive. He was ready for a formal dinner party. We also hung his only possession around his neck: it was a rope full of knots, a peculiar rope that for every ten knots there was a special single knot.”

“That was a rosary!” Waves of emotion were choking me, choking my chest.

Chiang’s narration continued, “In the camp, the most disgusting most punitive job was to bury the dead. Usually the dead were buried in a shallow dugout covered with a thin layer of soil. That would be the final destiny of the dead in the camp. Within a day or two, the grave would be unearthed by scavenging wild dogs. The dogs would wander around with severed limbs from the dead in their mouths. But for the monk, not only did we hasten to prepare the burial site, we also wanted to dig the deepest grave for him. Now, he is lying in a grave as deep as the height of two men, facing the rising sun. Every day, he would be the first to welcome the early rays of dawn and the first to watch the sun rising...”

I could not keep silent anymore. Abruptly, I stood up and said loudly, “He was no monk. He was a Catholic priest. I am a Catholic too...” I broke down and started to cry. My crying muffled all that I wanted to continue to say. Everybody in the house was stunned and stared at me with mouths wide open. The atmosphere froze. The air in the room seemed taut with tension.

Chiang was first to recover and to react. He said in a low, solemn, but commanding tone, “Whatever was said here shall stay within the four walls of this room.” Then he walked up to me and hugged me. He laid slowly his right hand on my head. Through tears in my eyes, I looked up at his face: a face full of peace and calm. I seemed to have seen the monk. “You! Was your head washed too?” I asked soberly. The hoodlum chief, Chiang, nodded in silence and held my hands ever more tightly... - End

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