Where are the missionaries who will evangelize today?


Catholic Register, 10 August 2018

Thanks to the excellent coverage by Salt + Light Television, I was able to follow the “Catholica 200” celebrations in St. Boniface, Man., marking the bicentennial of the arrival of the first French missionaries in the Canadian West. 

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix, special envoy of Pope Francis, delivered a stirring call to evangelization. It was all the more bold for being delivered at the very site that physically marks the end of the old evangelization in Canada, and even now stands as a sign that the new evangelization may not take hold. 

In Canadian Catholic history Winnipeg 1968 is remembered for that year’s plenary meeting of the Canadian bishops, who collectively sought to put as much distance as they could manage between themselves and Blessed Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. But earlier that summer another catastrophe was suffered in the city, when a great fire consumed the St. Boniface Cathedral on July 22, leaving only the walls standing amidst charred ruins.

The cathedral, built in 1906, was a monument to the first evangelization of the Canadian West, conducted by French missionaries and built largely upon immigrants who brought their faith with them from the old continent. It was an impressive edifice, the grandest building in the city, a short walk from the Forks, the historic and contemporary centre of Winnipeg. When it burned, brave words were spoken about rebuilding it. 

But soon boldness disappeared, and the decision was taken to leave the ruins as is, and rebuild within the old stone walls a new cathedral, much smaller, obscured in the shadows of the first building, a glass and steel fabrication that squatted rather than soared. 

Devoid of beauty, it lacks the confidence of the previous Catholic community. The 1906 cathedral drew the attention of the entire community to the place of God in their midst. Its replacement points instead to an absence. Western Canada is not short of sacred architecture which is literally uninspiring, stifling the spirit. But the juxtaposition at St. Boniface of what is with what used to be makes it perhaps the saddest church to visit in Canada.

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