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 soaring conical tower, has stood an impressive presence here in the state capital.

It was a rallying point for the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, an organization dedicated to protecting the interests of Quebec’s French-speaking population. It appeared in travel Guide. In 1991, the church, with a facade modeled on the Sainte-Trinité church in Paris, was classified as an historic building for its architectural and artistic value.

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

Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s plight parallels the church’s diminishing role in Canada’s most Catholic province, where it dominated for centuries public and private life – and where spiers and spiers still tower over small villages and urban centers – but which is now shedding faith at a steep pace.

Pope Francis arrived in Quebec on Wednesday for the second leg of his “penitential pilgrimage,” where he drew criticism – again – for what critics say was his inadequate apology for the Church’s role in Canada’s boarding school system for indigenous children.

During most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families to be placed in boarding schools, often hundreds of miles from their communities, where they were forbidden to speak their native language and theirs cultural traditions, in many cases they have been physically and sexually abused. Most schools were run by Catholic institutions.

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

The 85-year-old pope celebrated mass Thursday at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a popular pilgrimage site outside of Quebec City. Before it began, two people approached the pulpit and unfurled a banner urging Francis to read the 15th-century papal bulls.

Pope apologizes for ‘evil committed by so many Christians’ in Canada’s boarding schools

The Quebec that Francis encountered has changed dramatically since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984. John Paul was serenaded by 16-year-old Céline Dion in a crowded Montreal Olympic Stadium and he celebrated Mass with around 350,000 people in what was then Canada’s largest religious gathering.

The proportion of Catholics ages 15 and older in Quebec has fallen from 87 percent in 1985 to 62 percent from 2017-2019, according to Statistics Canada. In 1985, more than half of those who identified themselves as Catholics participated in some religious activity at least once a month. From 2017 to 2019 it was 14 percent.

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

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

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

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

“We have entered a strong phase of decline of a certain Catholicism in Quebec in the last 10 years,” said sociologist E.-Martin Meunier of the University of Ottawa, one of the report’s co-authors. “If there is a collapse of Catholicism, it will primarily affect institutional Catholicism.”

Residential schools banned mother tongues. The Cree want theirs back.

Quebec has a long, complex relationship with the belief.

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

The postponement Abandonment from Catholicism has accelerated in recent decades.

As a result, more than 600 Quebec churches have been closed, many bulldozed or desecrated to make way for historic buildings.

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

(The O in OMG has devil horns. Some of the hamburgers do too.)

In Montreal, where Mark Twain once remarked, “You couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a stained glass window,” houses of worship have also been converted into condominiums and community centers.

In 2014, the former Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours was reborn as Théâtre Paradoxe, where this month Justin Turnbull, who goes by the moniker “The Suicide Jesus,” defeated Brian Pillman to become the first-ever Apex Championship Wrestling World Champion.

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

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

The priest, who delivered the last sermon in 2015, praised it as “a stone church built with genius, grandeur and pride, allowing everyone – without distinction – to rub against beauty, stillness, exaltation and contemplation”.

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

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

Dubuc-April, 31, said she has her children baptized and attended Mass regularly. However, she firmly believes that the Church needs to modernize by rethinking its teachings on sexuality and the male-only priesthood.

She likes Francis personally and sees him as a reformer, but he faces opposition from a conservative Vatican bureaucracy.

“In Quebec, Catholics don’t agree with these ancient teachings,” she said. “If they don’t move forward, there will be no one left.”

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

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