We had no agenda on Monday morning so we visited St. Joseph’s Oratory. The Oratory is the focal point of the Montreal skyline. It is a massive structure that houses the Crypt Church and Basilica. From floor to ceiling the Basilica alone is 235 ft. The site was founded in 1904 by Saint Brother Andre who came to be revered in Montreal because of his compassion for the afflicted. Offering prayers for them to Saint Joseph and anointing them with oil, hundreds of people in Montreal claim to have been healed through the prayers of Brother Andre. Today, in the votive chapel hang hundreds of canes and crutches bearing testimony to the miracle healings associated with Saint Brother Andre. Many worshipers come to the Oratory by climbing to its doorstep, up 99 wooden stairs on their knees. When he died in 1937 Brother Andre’s body was interred in a tomb within the Oratory, but his heart was removed and is now displayed as a relic in an upper chamber.
Montreal is a post-Christian, post-modern culture. In the 1960’s the people of Quebec found reason to distrust the church and to cast off religion. One generation removed from the revolution, Montreal is a thoroughly secular city with very few churches and with its once vibrant Catholic cathedrals now merely memorials to the way things used to be. Spiritually, Quebec is darkness. Very few people get married here. There is very little remnant of family. The suicide rate is high. Drugs and alcohol are rampant amongst the province’s youth. There is an inherit distrust of religion here, to the point that many of the sacred tenants of the Catholic Church are now considered profanity. Of the more than 7 million people in Quebec, less than 70,000 claim any level of affiliation with the gospel. Quebec is home to the largest unreached people group in North America.
On Monday night we attended a historic meeting. It was the first time that all of the missionaries, pastors and church planters in Quebec were gathered into one room. Along with them were 19 Americans who represented potential partnerships for these planters. Jacques Avakian, the coordinator for this area expected 50 people at the meeting, there were 114. The room became Tim Hortons, a microcosm of the city, yet instead of darkness there was light. There were Hatians, French speaking Quebecois, English speaking Quebecers, Africans, Arabs, Romanians, Mexicans, Koreans, and Americans. Quebec has become a melting pot of culture. God has brought the nations to Quebec (Acts 17:26) and He has stirred the hearts of His people and sent them here to reach the nations with the Gospel.
Before the representative from the Canadian Baptist Convention spoke, we sang. The songs moved seamlessly from verse to verse from French to English. All of the songs had the concern that the nations rise up and praise the name of Jesus. The room was no longer a microcosm of Montreal at Tim Hortons, it was a first fruit of the eternal Kingdom of God in a rented hotel banquet hall.
The message of the evening was that those who are here, the planters, pastors, partners, and missionaries are relatively few, but they are pioneers. In only a few days I have seen their challenge and felt their struggle. To bring only a few people to Christ in Quebec will take years. It will not be easy. Saint Andre’s heart on display is a Catholic relic that serves as a strange reminder of what has become of Quebec, and also a summons of what it could be. In the ’60’s, Quebec lost its soul. Now it is in desperate need of men and women with the mind of Christ and a Kingdom heart who will enter the darkness and bring the gospel to Quebec.