Next year's Eucharistic Congress will take place in Quebec where local Catholic leaders are hoping that it will have the sort of impact that World Youth Day is expected to have in Sydney. It will be Quebec's 400th anniversary and organizers are hoping for a Mass of 100,000 on the plains of Abraham presided over by Pope Benedict.
This piece in Canada's Global National puts it this way:
"It's a sort of religious rock concert that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the archbishop of Quebec, describes as a "religious and spiritual festival." And he believes this could revive the Roman Catholic faith that Quebecers have turned away from since the 1960s.
The International Eucharistic congress is slated for June 2008 and an outdoor mass that could be presided over by Pope Benedict will be the climax of the event. Some 15,000 delegates and 50 Cardinals from 60 countries will meet in Quebec to foster devotion to the eucharist, or mass.
"This will certainly be the culmination of our efforts to re-evangelize Quebec," said Ouellet.
"We have been preparing for this for years. There is a need in Quebec to reconnect with our Christian roots and to revive the Catholic identity," said Ouellet, the primate of the Church in Canada.
Quebec City is regarded as the cradle of French civilization in North America, but its role in the evangelization of the whole continent should also be celebrated, says Ouellet.
The provincial capital, the oldest diocese in Canada, was the gateway for the missionaries who went on to evangelize the continent. Fourteen of them have been beatified or canonized in the last 40 years, including Marie de l'Incarnation, a 17th-century nun who founded the Ursuline order in New France and converted natives, he added.
"There is a lot of criticism in the society now against the Catholic Church, and we need to be reminded of those positive values," Ouellet said.
Cardinal Ouellet has invited Pope Benedict to the congress, but he doesn't know yet whether the pontiff will attend.
I visited the plains of Abraham back in my Protestant days where I witnessed a re-creation of the British victory in 1759 which made Quebec a part of the British empire. Quebec City is a beautiful and fascinating place where Catholicism once permeated all of life.
After 1627, only Catholics were allowed to live in Quebec province. Montreal, the biggest city of the province, was founded by lay missionaries (influenced by the 17th century French revival) to evangelize the Huron and Alonkian. The first period of Canadian life up to 1663 is sometimes regarded at the "mystic" or "theocrat" period since the Church was involved in most areas of community that we now expect governments to deal with.
Read this fascinating essay on Quebec's history. The harsh winter climate, disease, and the refusal of the French government to allow French Protestants to settle, meant that the colony remained much smaller than the British colonies south of it and so vulnerable to attack.
In 1774, partly in reaction to the looming rebellion in her colonies to the south, the British passed the Quebec Act, recognizing French law, language and the Catholic faith in the colony. American colonists, fearful of the establishment of Catholicism in Quebec, regarded the Quebec Act as one of the "Intolerable Acts" that gave rise to the First Continental Congress and the Revolution. English Canada was built by tens of thousands of Loyalist British subjects who moved to Quebec and settled among its 90,000 French inhabitants.
It was actually in the late 19th century that the practice of Catholicism reached unprecedented heights in Quebec. In 1840, only 50 -60% of French Catholics did their "Easter duty" (received communion at Easter), by 1896 the percentage was a staggering 98 - 99%! 18 new religious congregations were formed during this 60 year period and nearly 50% of those graduating from the many classical colleges became priests. Only Catholic schools were permitted in Quebec, the only form of marriage was Catholic.
The Church controlled health care, education, and charitable services. By the late 19th century, the Church had become the State in many ways.
The early 20th century was a time of intense Christianization of all aspects of French Catholic society. Dozens of Catholic colleges and associations, a vast number of social action groups - including a Catholic temperence movement led by the Church (oh my!) Catholic unions and cooperatives were actively supported by the Church. There were a number of strong Catholic newspapers and even a vast network of movie theatres in Church basements.
In the end, new media brought in outside influences and the Church, in any case, could not financially support and provide the personnel to staff all these institutions.
The essay ends with this poignant, sobering paragraph summing up Catholic fortunes since 1960.
The election of the Liberals of Jean Lesage in 1960 unleashed the floodgates of change. This change was so sudden and widespread that it received the name of Quiet Revolution. In this period of modernization of Quebec no institution was to suffer more than the Roman Catholic Church. Values, ideas and institutions from the past were all questioned; these had all been anchored by the Church. Language replaced Faith as the pillar of survival and distinctiveness of Quebec. The State took over schools and hospitals (all were to eventually be deconfessionalised) and churches nearly emptied completely. Within ten years Quebec went from being the province with the highest birthrate in Canada to having the lowest! The society became profoundly secularized and Church influence fell to nearly nothing.
From an article "Whatever happened to Christian Canada? by Mark Noll, the well-known evangelical scholar.
Listen to this description of Georges Vanier' installation as Governor General. (Georges was the father of Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche movement and is, with his wife, Pauline, a candidate for canonization)
On September 15, 1959, Georges Vanier was installed as Canada's nineteenth Governor-General, the Queen's formal representative in her Canadian dominion. Vanier, a much decorated general, diplomat, and active Roman Catholic, began his acceptance speech like this: "Mr. Prime Minister, my first words are a prayer. May Almighty God in his infinite wisdom and mercy bless the sacred mission which has been entrusted to me by Her Majesty the Queen and help me to fulfill it in all humility. In exchange for his strength, I offer him my weakness. May he give peace to this beloved land of ours and, to those who live in it, the grace of mutual understanding, respect and love."
Noll sums it up:
Put generally, in 1950 Canadian church attendance as a proportion of the total population exceeded church attendance in the United States by one-third to one-half, and church attendance in Quebec may have been the highest in the world. Today church attendance in the United States is probably one-half to two-thirds greater than in Canada, and attendance in Quebec is the lowest of any state or province in North America.
This inversion, and the history of the last sixty years that created it, could not have been imagined in the years immediately after the Second World War. At that time, the vigor of Canadian religious practice seemed entirely in keeping with the general trajectory of Canadian history. Not only was Canada more observant in religious practice and more orthodox in religious opinion than the United States, but these comparative results represented only the latest chapter in a remarkable history of christianization stretching back to the eighteenth century. That history began with the creation in Quebec of a full-orbed, organic Catholic society--grounded in the colonial period on the self-sacrificing labors of several religious orders (both male and female), subsequently renewed by devotional and institutional revivals in the mid-nineteenth century, and then sustained deep into the twentieth century by a hegemonic but still remarkably resilient blend of popular piety and clerical supervision.
Canada at the mid-twentieth century had a much stronger claim as a "Christian nation" than its large neighbor to the south.