Friday, 18 May 2007

The pilgrim way in New France

I spent this afternoon with the other delegates for the International Eucharistic Congress on a small pilgrimage to the shrines of some of the foremost figures of the establishment of the Catholic Church in 'New France'. Of course, first among the saints associated with this part of Canada are the martyrs led by St John de Brébeuf and St Isaac Jogues. The blood they shed was indeed the seed of Christians in this area. However, the vitality of the first Church to be established in North America is seen in three other blesseds, and it was the shrines of these that we visited.

First to be visited was Blessed Mary of the Incarnation. As a child, her father, who was a baker, used to let her take some of the bread to give to the poor. Although she had felt the call to religious life from an early age, she was married at the age of 17, and had a son. Her husband was a business man, but unsuccessful, and was made bankrupt, and died shortly afterwards, leaving Mary with a son and no money. She returned to her father's house, and worked to keep herself and her son. But, as he grew up, the call to religious life returned. Eventually she joined the Ursulines, and, having received in her heart a real conviction that she should serve God in Canada, went there to found one of the first convents in Québec. Her son, incidentally, having been rejected by the Jesuits, became a Benedictine monk, and eventually became Prior. Once, during prayer, Bl Mary was praying for the poor and for the souls of those who were lost to God. However, she felt that God was ignoring her prayers. In the end she felt the voice of God speaking to her, that she should bring all these prayers and lay them on the altar of the Heart of Jesus. In response, Bl Mary wrote this prayer, which I find particularly powerful:

Through the Heart of my Jesus, my way, my truth and my life, I approach You, Eternal Father. Through His divine Heart I adore You for all who do not adore You. I love You for all who do not love You. I acknowledge You for all those wilfully blind souls who through contempt refuse to acknowledge You. Through His divine Heart I wish to fulfil the obligation to all creatures towards You. I go round the world in search of all the souls redeemed by the most precious Blood of my divine Spouse. Through his divine Heart I wish to make amends for all of them. I embrace them all to present them to You through Him; and through Him I ask for their conversion. Will You allow them not to know my Jesus, or not to live for Him who died for all? You see, O heavenly Father, that as yet they do not live. Ah! grant that they may live through His divine Heart.

Oh this adorable Heart, I present to You all who labour for the extension of the Gospel, in order that by its merits they may be filled with Your Holy Spirit. On this Sacred Heart, as upon a divine altar, I present to you especially..............

You know, my Beloved, all I wish to tell Your Father through Your divine Heart, by Your holy soul; in telling Him, I tell You because You are in Your Father and Your Father in You. Grant all I ask; unite Your Heart to mine in order to move Your Father's heart. Since You are one with Him, grant that all the souls I present to You may be united with Him and with You, as You have promised. Amen.

The second blessed to be visited was Bl Catherine of St Augustine. She was not a foundress, but came to Canada at the young age of 16 to serve the sick in the hospital run by the Augustinian sisters in Québec. She died at only 36 years, offering her life for the salvation of the Canadian Church. She was beatified in 1989 by Pope John Paul II. Her bones rest in a reliquary made very shortly after her death.

The third blessed whose shrine we visited is Bl Francis of Laval, who was the first bishop (vicar apostolic) in the whole of North America, ordained bishop at the age of 35. Although his area of pastoral responsibility included most of what is now the USA, his area of work was around the towns of New France, current day Québec province. He continually visited the towns of the province, sometimes making journeys for five months at a time, and established Major and Minor seminaries in the city of Québec itself. He oversaw the establishment of Québec as a diocese in 1674. He died in 1708 at the age of 85 and was buried in the crypt of the Cathedral which he had built. His body rests in the current Cathedral (there have been four in total). He was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II.

No comments: