No35 April 1999.3
"I remember" is the motto of Quebec.
We hear talk today about removing religion from schools. Such talk touches the very heart of the people of Quebec and their identity.
A song entitled "This Country" from the community of Myriam Beth'lehem contains these words:
"This country has been a blessed country from all eternity. This country which gave me birth has chosen me To scatter the seed of the Word over all continents, To bring hope in all times and places. This country. In its long history, saints have crossed its frontiers, They have planted the Cross, gathered together the settlers, Founded villages. They educated the children and cared for the sick, Marie and Catherine, Kateri, Mother Bourgeoys, The Canadian Martyrs, Bishop de Laval."
Is it possible to forget, not simply the religion, but the faith on which this country was founded? Like most Western countries, Quebec was deeply marked by the Christian tradition. In particular, it was built around the Catholic religion which nourished the faith of its founders. You see its traces everywhere in Quebec. One has only to look at the place-names on the map to discover the Christian heritage. They constitute a veritable saints' calendar, from St Jovite to St Anne, from St Jerome to St John, from St Julie to St Matthias.
You may also look at the street-names in Montreal or any other town or village in Quebec. The saints are everywhere, and visitors exclaim, "What a religious country this is!" Such was its tradition.
The faith on which Quebec was nourished was brought from Europe, from France especially. French missionaries planted the Cross on this New France and they bequeathed to the people of Quebec the qualities which have always been their characteristics: hospitality, openness, understanding, generosity, peace. Especially peace. The people of Quebec are a people of peace.
83% of Quebec adults identify themselves as Catholics, and the great majority of these want their children to receive religious instruction. They have the right to be heard when they say what kind of school they want for their children.
These parents believe, with good reason, that religious instruction will help their children to grow into adults who have real convictions in their hearts, people with deep moral and spiritual values.
The values of the consumer society often run counter to the values of the Church and its faith. Christian happiness is the product, not of accumulation, but of purification. It is a happiness, not of those weighed down with possessions, but of the one who is content with little. The Christian travels light, and his heart is not heavy. He knows that he is being borne along by the gentle breeze of the things of eternity.
One can understand the "lay" movement which demands that every religion find its place in the school curriculum. But one may wonder whether a religious instruction limited to describing different religions is capable of generating convictions which will turn the children of today into men and women of faith like the ancestors of this country.
We need witnesses who have the courage to speak of their faith with conviction. In recent years we have unfortunately seen the appearance of teachers who have undermined rather than encouraged their pupils' faith in the Christian tradition. They have only turned into teachers of religion because someone was needed to fill a gap in the timetable. Too often they have been false witnesses. Fortunately however these are the minority. There have also been faithful witnesses, especially in primary schools, people who have given of their best to present to the children in their care programmes of catechetics which today are often little jewels of Christian education. Such teachers have instilled into their pupils a desire to grow into the faith of their fathers.
We need witnesses who can boldly exhibit the riches of the Christian faith. The people of this country have in their turn produced thousands of missionaries who have gone to other continents to communicate to others what they have received at home. In the days of the triumphalist Church, they left to make converts. Today the Quebec missionaries go all over the world to propose the values of self-giving and disinterested love, the values of Jesus Christ. They go as witnesses to build and to develop, to teach and to heal, just as their ancestors did. They are not proselytisers but agents of encouragement and sharing.
Quebec is now once again mission territory. And once again it needs missionaries.
"This country was blessed, blessed by a cloud of witnesses. It needs our strong arms today. Are you prepared to bring your stone, to meet the challenge? When we become Word, we open the way to life, this country. Throughout its history, saints have lived here for others. They have been architects of peace. To comfort their brethren, they have laid down their lives. They have announced to the little ones the love of Jesus Christ: Marguerite d'Youville, Sisters Dina and Delia, Brother André, Frederick, Mother Marie-Léonie."
All of these, in their different ways, brought their stone to build up this country.
The first witnesses which children need are their own parents. It is good to demand religious instruction in schools, but this is not enough. Parents must show themselves to their children as people who are serious about their vocation as baptized persons. When the parents are attached to their Christian heritage, the children will not abandon it. The child copies those whom God has given to it as models and with whom it lives most closely in daily life. It speaks and acts as it sees its parents speaking and acting. It is inevitable that children take after their parents, and this lays upon parents the obligation of being examples. Impossible to form another in the ways of virtue without being oneself a fount of edification.
A school is a place of apprenticeship in Christian values. But there is also an apprenticeship in life. Children are not deceived. They know very well how to distinguish honesty and hypocrisy when they meet such things at home.
We must not be accomplices in the despiritualization of society. All Christian responsibility may not be shifted to the school. It is just too easy to transfer to others the tasks for which one does not have the taste oneself. Parents may not leave Christian education to teachers. They have the duty of being themselves credible witnesses to the faith.
"This land is being built by you who wish to love it. It is not a land to be conquered, It is a space in which every man becomes a brother. Today, it is the world which aspires to become Your country, my country, this country."
Michel Fortin, M.Afr.