By Anne Walsh
From June 12 to June 19, 2014, with my “Boss”, Archbishop Martin Currie and Fr. Jeff Kolonel, a priest of our Archdiocese, I journeyed with a group of 42 pilgrims to honour the 350th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Quebec. It was amazing. Absolutely amazing.
At home, we engaged in some catechesis in preparation for the pilgrimage. We prayed together, shared practical, logistical information, and prayed and interacted with the holy people and holy places we would meet as we travelled.
Once in Quebec, we travelled first to St. Joseph’s Oratory, then Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Grosse Ile, Quebec City and, finally, Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre. I had prepared a prayer and reflection journal for each pilgrim. We had catechetical sessions as well as prayer experiences all along the way, on the bus, on a boat, sitting on rocks and on the steps of churches, in fields and in pews.
I think that the most touching place for me, personally, was Grosse Ile. To stand at the edge of a mass grave that holds the mortal remains of 5,400 of my Irish cousins was
profoundly shaking. And the Famine Memorial is stark and simple, with the names of those who died listed by year of death and alphabetically. I watched our group find names that were either their own or those of loved ones, and the realization would dawn of what happened at Grosse Ile. For Newfoundlanders, the Famine never happened – our Irish immigration was over by 1815. This experience at “Canada’s Ellis Island” brought the realization home. And Parks Canada allowed us to celebrate Mass in the little chapel built for the quarantine station in 1832. That was really moving, too.
Next to that, to stand in the chapel at the old Basilica in Quebec City where James Louis O Donel (pictured at left) was ordained bishop (vicar apostolic for Newfoundland) in 1796 was also very moving. I could almost feel his presence. And the diocesan archivist showed us the original records of that event. That was like touching the past. Even more so because O Donel actually lost his own copies of those papers in a storm at sea on the way home, and this was the first time anyone had seen them since 1796. Wow! And it was so very thoughtful of the Cardinal and his staff to do that! We had Mass with Cardinal LaCroix and Archbishop Currie in that little St. Louis Chapel. The first chapel in St. John’s was called the St. Louis Chapel – now we know why!
And my Redemptorist confreres at Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre pulled out all the stops! They even gave us a concert! This was, for me, the most vulnerable personal aspect of the pilgrimage. Because I work for the Archdiocese of St. John’s, I tend to keep my “Redemptorist Connection” a little quiet sometimes (they would not say the same thing!). So, having the close connection with Charles Duval, Maurice Dion and Mario Boies on display was a little like having something somewhat private exposed for public view. I’m not used to that! I guess even extroverts can be private!
Charles Duval and the team couldn’t have done more to make us welcome and offer a meaningful experience. A Holy Hour in the sanctuary of the upper Basilica, an experience of praying with the founders of Canadian religious communities in the lower chapel, three very different experiences of candlelight procession…it was wonderful. Our pilgrims have gone home with memories and food for reflection that should last for years!
Mario Boies invited me and the Archbishop to supper one night, and then he and I had a great lunch together the next day – and there were no awkward silences (as David Louch would say). We had a delightful and positive chat. I certainly enjoyed it, and I think Mario left it feeling encouraged. I do not envy him right now. But he has an amazing spirit and outlook. Mario joined us each evening for Mass and the procession as well, and our pilgrims really got to know him and enjoyed his humour and intelligence.
Each morning I sat at the feet of St. Alphonsus in his little nook and prayed, and then e-mailed his successor. I think Mike Brehl was delighted to receive the e-mails and touch into the experience of our pilgrims as he himself was on a pilgrimage in Vienna. It was certainly a delight to get his responses each day! I sometimes shared them with my pilgrims. By the end, I think they were getting the spirit of this “Redemptorist family”!
So all the pilgrims have returned safely and with plenty upon which to reflect. I am left, like Mary, to ponder all these things in my heart. And I am very grateful.