The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy says the recent elevation of Montrealer Brother André Bessette into Roman Catholic sainthood reveals a depth of irony: while 83 percent in Quebec claim Catholicism, the number of those claiming active engagement in that faith is drastically lower, at 15 percent.
“Quebeckers are faithful to a religion they no longer believe in,” says David Seljak, chair of religious studies at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont., who did his doctoral dissertation on the church in Quebec “And as conservative evangelists have discovered, they’re absolutely conversion-proof.”
Since church attendance collapsed in the province in the 1960s, at least two secular generations have marched through life hardly tasting a Eucharist wafer or hearing an angelus bell, while the Council for Quebec's Religious Heritage estimates that 20 churches a year are sold or torn down.
All of this was drawn into an odd focus recently with the celebration of Brother André, who, Valpy writes, is like a mascot to something like a memory of piety and healing.
More people have been touched by Brother André and his elevation to sainthood than was expected, says [Solange Lefebvre, chair of University of Montreal’s department of religion, culture and society], but that could well be because he’s such a sympathetic figure in Quebec – “simple, warm, generous, possessed of the kind of Catholicism Quebeckers like” – and because so many Quebeckers, in what’s known in French as a jeu de memoire, a game of memory, can claim a personal connection.
They have an aunt or a grandparent or a friend of their parents who met him, or saw him or claimed to have been cured by him.