May 21, 2010

2010 Vacation/Travel Supplement

A pastor’s pilgrimage: Shrines honor lives and ministries of North American Martyrs

The Martyrs Church in Midland, Ontario, Canada, features a rich wood interior that is symbolic of the Indian lodges found in that area. The shrine honors the eight Jesuit saints who brought Christianity to Canada, and lived, worked and died there more than 380 years ago. (Submitted photos by Fr. Louis Manna)

The Martyrs Church in Midland, Ontario, Canada, features a rich wood interior that is symbolic of the Indian lodges found in that area. The shrine honors the eight Jesuit saints who brought Christianity to Canada, and lived, worked and died there more than 380 years ago. (Submitted photos by Fr. Louis Manna)

By Fr. Louis Manna (Special to The Criterion)

NEW YORK AND CANADA—Two years ago, I decided to look a little more into the origins of the saints of my parish in Scottsburg—the Church of the American Martyrs.

Most often, they are referred to as the North American Martyrs.

For my vacation in 2008, I decided to visit the American Martyrs Shrine near Albany in eastern New York.

I have relatives who live not too far away so it made the trip to New York all the more attractive. I was traveling “off season” so I avoided the crowds and hot weather.

In the process of preparing for my trip, I learned that there is another shrine to the North American Martyrs in Canada. It is located just outside of Midland, Ontario, which is about 90 minutes north of Toronto.

While planning my trip, I discovered that I could visit other Canadian cities and shrines. So I added a visit to Montreal and Quebec City then worked my way south to visit my relatives and tour the shrine near Albany.

This brought a certain sense of adventure to the trip. I was going to travel to a foreign land, although our neighbor to the north isn’t that foreign. Still, they use a different currency and the metric system in Canada, and the people speak a different language—French—in the province of Quebec.

There is much to see in Montreal and Quebec City. It is good to see these cities to help connect the activity of the shrine with the history and development of the area. These shrines didn’t just drop down from heaven. There is local involvement.

Historical focus

Most shrines have some sort of historical focus or event.

As I visited The Martyrs Shrine near Midland, Ontario, in late September of 2008, I realized that the event was the beginning of Canada’s history as a country.

The early Jesuit missionaries were involved with the settling of Canada.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II visited this shrine and noted that, “Pope Urban VIII designated [it] in 1644 as a place of pilgrimage, the first of its kind in North America. Here the first Christians of Huronia found a ‘house of prayer and a home of peace.’ ”

This is a national shrine with many outdoor statues, crosses and altars, which represent the different nationalities and organizations that are part of Canada and the Church.

Across the highway is another shrine, Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons. The original was a French settlement dating back to 1639, which lasted only 10 years.

This re-creation of the original was built and is operated by the government. It gives you the impression of how life was lived in the early 1600s in that part of Canada.

This shrine is not only about the beginnings of Christianity in Canada. It may be the first European community in Ontario.

The Jesuit priests came to “New France” to begin converting the natives as well as provide for the spiritual needs of the Europeans coming there and also the traders of goods. There is a lot that connects the history of the time, the way of life and the missionary work begun there.


One other element which the shrines share is that of telling the story of the event, but adding more and putting it into context.

I continued on to Montreal and visited St. Joseph Oratory. St. Joseph is the patron saint of Canada and St. Anne is the patroness of Canada.

This is the largest church dedicated to St. Joseph in the world. The oratory also has the largest library on St. Joseph in the world.

In answering questions about St. Joseph, you begin to deal with other questions and the need for explanations about Jesus, Mary, the Church, the sacraments and Church teachings.

Montreal is a very large city, and there are plenty of opportunities for different classes all year long so the oratory draws people from the city.

The goal of educating people continues into the gift shop. Most of the time we think of the pictures, postcards, medals and other religious items sold there. That is true. But it is also the one place where you will find books and pamphlets about the history of the shrine and other related issues that you will not find any place else.

At St. Joseph Oratory, you will find historical books, including a biography of Blessed Brother André Bessette, a Holy Cross brother whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 1982, as well as the architectural plans for this huge basilica. There are also books on the Church, saints, sacraments, liturgy, spirituality, history and other religious topics.

On Sunday, I attended the only Mass in English, which was celebrated in the crypt church. One lesson was on just how international the English language has become in recent decades. There were too many nationalities of Catholics that I saw there to count, but this was the Mass they had chosen to attend even though another eucharistic liturgy was being celebrated in French at the same time upstairs in the basilica.

Pilgrims’ oasis

Places of pilgrimage are often places of rest for the traveler, where they can simply sit down for a while and get something to eat. Some of these are very nice with rooms for rent and a nice place to eat—nothing fancy, but good food. Some places may make you wish there was a fast-food restaurant nearby, but they all have something as a way of meeting the needs of the traveler.

Our Lady of the Cape, between Montreal and Quebec City, was one of the popular pilgrimage sites. There are stands for buses to arrive and disembark the passengers as well as elevators to take people to the floor of the gift shop, restaurant or the level of the shrine.

The shrine also has a park with the original church, a Way of the Cross and other features.

There were very few steps, and everything was pretty much located on level ground or with only small inclines. This is another consideration I saw in most shrines—concern for older or handicapped pilgrims.

I also noticed the handicap-accessible facilities at St. Anne de Beaupre about 30 minutes to the east of Quebec City.

At St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, there are escalators and elevators for easy access from one floor to the next.

Place of prayer

There is always a place for you to pause, reflect and pray.

At the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs near Albany, I completed my journey. I started my trip because of the name of the parish in Scottsburg, and found out that there were two places in Canada and the U.S. with shrines dedicated to the North American Martyrs.

This last shrine I visited was the site of the death of the first of the martyrs, René Goupil, a Jesuit lay brother.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was born there in 1656. Known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” she was the first indigenous North American to be beatified.

Pope John Paul II presided at her beatification ceremony in 1980 in Rome.

The church is built in a circular style and is referred to as “The Coliseum of Our Lady of the Martyrs.”

Inside the church, most—if not all—of the supporting pillars are marked with a red cross and the name “Jesus” underneath as a reminder of the teaching technique of Jesuit Father Isaac Jogues.

There is a chapel dedicated to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, which has more use during the summer pilgrimage time. There is also a Martyrs Memorial Center with an interactive museum and library.

When I was there, it was closed so there are disadvantages to traveling “off season!”

Nonetheless, there is still enough to see there, which provides food for thought that lends itself to reflection and prayer.

In many areas, there are other things for families to see and do. Montreal and Quebec City are large cities, and have many interesting places to visit and enjoyable things to do.

As I drove into each province, there was a tourist information building with useful maps and booklets on what to see and where to go there. Combining the religious experience with the local culture broadens the vacation experience.

(Father Louis Manna is the pastor of American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg and St. Patrick Parish in Salem.)

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