Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Journey of Faith . . . beginning a Year of Faith (part 3)

Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal

Just a bit further down the road in Fonda, NY is the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine.  It honors the place where St. Kateri was baptized and embraced the Catholic faith.  The Conventual Franciscan Friars maintain this shrine.  We had the opportunity to offer the Mass there while visiting.

All in all, I thought that we had visited places where ten saints and martyrs (the eight North American martyrs, St. André Bessette and St. Kateri Tekakwitha) lived and died trying to bring and spread the Catholic faith to this part of North America.

However, when I arrived home I recalled that we had also visited Notre-Dame Basilica (the city’s cathedral) and Notre Dame de Bon Secours Chapel while in Montreal.  We could not take pictures in either church while we were there, and so I went to the internet to see if I could find some pictures of these beautiful churches.

Lo and behold, when I started reading about the Notre Dame de Bon Secours Chapel, I discovered that we were in the presence of another saint’s remains without any of us realizing it!

The remains of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 31, 1982, were present in the sanctuary of this chapel!  We had mistakenly visited this beautiful chapel in our search for the city’s basilica which was a few blocks away.  I relate to you what I read about the work of this other saint of Montreal:
The educative and apostolic efforts of Marguerite Bourgeoys continue through the commitment of the members of the community that she founded.  More than 2,600 Sisters of the Congregation de Notre-Dame work in fields of action according to the needs of time and place - from school to college or university, in the promotion of family, parish and diocesan endeavours.  They are on mission in Canada, in the United States, in Japan, in Latin America, in Cameroon, and most recently they have established a house in France.
On November 12, 1950 Pope Pius XII beatified Marguerite Bourgeoys.  Canonizing her . . . Pope John Paul II gives the Canadian Church its first woman saint.

My retreat and subsequent pilgrimage proved to be grace-filled in so many ways.  Realizing how our continent was blessed with remarkable saints who were zealous and selfless in their love for the Catholic faith, helps me to strive to be more compassionate, loving and zealous for the souls in my care.   None of us are perfect, but we are called to imitate Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words and actions—despite our human weaknesses. 

Our faith is such a precious gift that was given to us to live, to cherish, and to hand on to others.

As we begin this Year of Faith, I pray that we may all realize what a gift—the gift of our one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith—we have been given!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys

Notre Dame de Bon Secours Chapel

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Journey of Faith . . . beginning a Year of Faith (part 2)

The tomb of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Kuhnawake, Quebec

From the Oratory of St. Joseph we journeyed south to Kuhnawake, Quebec, a reserve of the Mohawk nation, to visit St. Francis Xavier Mission.  In the church building the remains of St. Kateri Tekakwitha are entombed and venerated.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, referred to as the Lily of the Mohawks, was born in 1656.  She was left orphaned at four years old when a smallpox epidemic killed her parents, her brother and most of her village.  Her face and skin were badly scarred and she suffered poor eyesight because of the same disease.  The name Tekakwitha literally means “she who bumps into things” because of her poor eyesight.

After moving from Ossernenon (current day Auriesville, NY) to Kuhnawake, Kateri encountered the BlackrobesJesuit missionaries from France intent on bringing Christianity to the New World.  She eventually embraced the Catholic faith, despite much ridicule and hostility from her uncle (who acted as her guardian) as well as being shunned by other members of her tribe.  Having professed a life of consecrated virginity, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24.  Upon her death, the smallpox scars miraculously disappeared.

What made our visit to her tomb so special is that we were there only a few weeks prior to her scheduled canonization on October 21, 2012.  She is the first Native American to receive this honor.  Her feast day is July 14 in the USA.

Crossing back to the USA, we continued our pilgrimage to Auriesville, NY (about 40 miles west of Albany).  It was here that the American counterpart to the Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine stands—the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs.

The current site was once a 17th century Mohawk village (called Ossernenon) where three Jesuit missionaries were martyred during the 1640s.  Father Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, a Jesuit brother, and John Lalande, a lay missioner, are canonized American martyrs.  Together with five Jesuit priests killed in the native missions of Canada, they are known as the North American Martyrs.  Their feast is celebrated on October 19 in the USA.  As mentioned before, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was also born here.

Part of this shrine includes the Ravine, the holy place where a grieved Father Isaac Jogues interred the bones of René Goupil in an unmarked grave.  I briefly relate his story:

St. René Goupil was a lay Jesuit, or donné, who served as a physician at the Jesuit missions in Quebec.  Enroute to Huronia [around Midland, Ontario] with Father Isaac Jogues in 1642, he was ambushed and taken to the Mohawk village of Ossernenon.  He survived weeks of torture and was then enslaved in the village.  He was a compassionate man who tended the wounds of his tormentors.  He was killed on September 29, 1642, while praying the rosary, because he had blessed a little boy with the sign of the cross.  Buried by the loving hands of Father Jogues, René's holy relics rest in an unmarked grave in the Ravine on the Auriesville Shrine property.
I was very moved by his story because making the Sign of the Cross, which we probably do routinely and without much thought, led to his death.

Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs--Auriesville, NY

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Journey of Faith . . . beginning a Year of Faith

Martyrs' Shrine (Midland, Ontario)

Dear Parishioners,

Last week I made my annual retreat. As in many years past, I went to the Abbey of the Genesee (Piffard, NY--in the northwest part of the state) with the Trappist Monks for a week of prayer and solitude. I am truly grateful for this time to be spiritually renewed. It helps to put so many things into proper perspective. Be assured that I prayed for you during this sacred time!

I also began to prepare spiritually during the retreat for the upcoming Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013) declared by Pope Benedict XVI.

After the retreat, my two priest-friends and I decided to take a few days travelling together somewhere mutually agreeable. This year we continued our spiritual journey by visiting some of the holy shrines located in New York state and Canada since we were already up in the area.

Our first stop was the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario. The Shrine honors the eight Jesuit saints who lived, worked and (some of whom) died there almost 400 years ago. Jesuit missionaries, Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, and their companions were responsible for bringing Christianity to Canada over 380 years ago! A magnificent twin-spired church sits on 75 acres of hallowed ground.

Nearby was a reconstructed village—Sainte-Marie among the Hurons—which claims to be Ontario’s first European Community. This village was the headquarters for the French Jesuit Mission to the Huron (Wendat) people. In 1639, the Jesuits, with French lay workers, began construction of a fenced community that included barracks, a church, workshops, residences, and a sheltered area for native visitors. 

Also in this area were monuments commemorating St. Louis and St. Ignace, two settlements where the French Jesuit missionaries Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were captured and subsequently martyred in 1649.

It was a considerable drive through the night to Montreal, Quebec to visit the Oratory of St. Joseph. This oratory, standing atop Mount Royal, was completed in 1967 and is the largest (basilica) shrine in the world dedicated to St. Joseph. It is here that the remains of Saint (Brother) André Bessette are entombed and reverenced.

Brother André (known as the Miracle Man of Montreal) was a humble, illiterate lay brother of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Among other tasks, he served as porter (doorkeeper) for Notre-Dame College in Montreal for approximately 40 years during which time construction of this magnificent shrine began. He was known for his hospitality and compassion for the sick and thousands of miracles and healings are attributed to his intercession. On October 17, 2010 he was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XVI.  His feast day is January 6.

St. André Bessette

St. Joseph Oratory, Montreal