Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our Lady of Sorrows; My Recollections of Pope John Paul II in Midland

The faithful of the Halifax Archdiocese will gather today at the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, the famous "Church Built in a Day" in Holy Cross Cemetery. The above image is a detail from a scene of the Blessed Mother and the Holy Women making lamentation over the death of Jesus.

It is part of a collection of sacred works of art donated to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to be come part of the patrimony of the people of Nova Scotia, a gift from the Roman Catholic community.

Judy Dietz, who curated a 20-piece exhibit entitled "An Expression of Faith" at AGNS in 1999 and which has be reprised on several occasions including in 2007, offers the following notes:

An Expression of Faith: Sacred Art of Centuries Past features twenty works comprising a select group of fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century North European sculptures including scenes from the Passion of Christ – Christ Bearing the Cross, The Crucifixion and The Lamentation of Christ, donated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax.

Three featured polychrome sculptures in the exhibition, dating from approximately 1470 to 1510 were restored by twenty-one conservators and scientists over a period fifteen years with 9,000 hours of restoration work.

The longest conservation project ever undertaken by CCI, the treatment included the removal of numerous layers of over-paint (in some cases up to at least a dozen identifiable layers), reinforcing the substrate due to severe insect damage, filling in the losses, re-attaching a broken head, inpainting the fills and applying a protective coating.

Originally installed by Bishop William Walsh in the Chapel Built in a Day, Holy Cross Cemetery, the sculptures were brought to Nova Scotia by Walsh as a result of his travels to Europe in the 1840’s; in 1852 Walsh became the first Archbishop of Halifax.


The twenty-fifth anniversary of the first papal visit on Canadian soil recalls a trek that took the Holy Father from coast to coast from September 9-20, 1984.

It was a time of political transition in Canada. Prime Minister John Turner welcomed Pope John Paul on his arrival and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney saw him off less that a fortnight later.

The eight-province, twelve-day Papal visit (only Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan did not get a chance to welcome the pope) was also a media experience that held Canadians enthralled, glued to their television sets for 120 hours of almost continuous broadcasting. Planning by Radio-Canada took a year, the crew numbered two thousand, 300 cameras were used and 54 mobile units.

The effect of the coverage brought people together around their television sets, each day producing images that showed the humanity, vigour and zeal of this successor to Peter.

At the time of the visit, I was stationed as Rector and Professor of New Testament at Regis College in Toronto and had been working with a team, under Auxiliary Bishop M. Pearse Lacey for two years in preparation of the visit.

Our intent was to assure that this dramatic moment in Canadian Catholic Church life would be an occasion for sustained catechesis and ongoing spiritual renewal.

With brother Jesuits, I chose to attend the pope’s visit centered on the Native People at the Shrine of the Canadian Martyrs in Midland, Ontario.

The Holy Father’s message that day is one that continues to move me. For the pope began his address with a word in the Indian language:

“Chay! With this traditional Huron word of welcome I greet you all. And I greet you, too, in the name of Jesus Christ who loves you and who has called you out "of every race, language, people and nation" (Apoc. 5, 9) to be one in his Body the Church…. in a special way I greet the native peoples of Canada, the descendants of the first inhabitants of this land, the North American Indians”.

The pope then noted how “the worthy traditions of the Indian tribes were strengthened and enriched by the Gospel message. These new Christians knew by instinct that the Gospel, far from destroying their authentic values and customs, had the power to purify and uplift the cultural heritage which they had received. During her long history, the Church herself has been constantly enriched by the new traditions which are added to her life and legacy”.

The pope then made a dramatic association of Christ with the aboriginal peoples: “Thus the one faith is expressed in different ways. There can be no question of adulterating the word of God or of emptying the Cross of its power, but rather of Christ animating the very centre of all culture. Thus, not only is Christianity relevant to the Indian people, but Christ, in the members of his Body, is himself Indian.”

He expressed his hope that “And the revival of Indian culture will be a revival of those true values which they have inherited and which are purified and ennobled by the Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

In light of the apology by the Government of Canada for the abuse suffered by many who attended the residential schools, the words of the pope are prescient.

Personal impressions and images that stay with me still a quarter of a century afterwards are the beautiful sunset over Quebec as the tour began in the cradle of the Christian faith in Canada, the tender caress the pope gave to youngsters in the children’s hospital, his deep respect for the Native Peoples of Canada, the joy and pride of the clergy in a brother who was calling them to sanctity and urged them to put aside their fears and apprehensions.

As Canadian Catholics we continue to give thanks to God for Pope John Paul, his leadership of the church and his pastoral visits to our country. My prayer is that his desire that we realize that a personal encounter with Christ is the key to the renewal of our church and of our efforts to proclaim the gospel to the citizens of Canada as he boldly did.

Quick Visit to Halifax (Monday, September 14)

Yesterday, I made a quick visit to Halifax to preside at the committal of ashes of a dear friend Carolyn Petropolis, wife of Dr. Peter Petropolis and mother of Nicholas, Christian and Harrison, whose home ofter welcomed me during my years in Halifax.

In the early afternoon, we gathered at Fairview Cemetery (where many victims of the Titanic are buried) and prayed for her eternal repose and the consolation of the family. A few other family members, close friends (Virginia Turner and Jeff Peyton from Pangnirtung, Nunavut) and some of Carolyn's colleagues in the teaching profession took part.

A flying visit is always problematic as one cannot see everyone on such an occasion. However, I was able to join the Franciscans of Halifax for Mass at St. Catherine's Glebe chapel, visited with Archbishop Mancini and some of his staff at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, popped in to see some of the liturgical refurbishing in St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica (excellent in every way!), dropped in to see the new quarters of Veritas Books and Gifts on the corner of Barrington and Blowers Streets, drove past the new Sacred Heart School extension on Spring Garden (the Boys High School, which the archbishop blessed last week), said hello to some of the staff and diners at Hope Cottage and had dinner with my Jesuit brothers Jean-Marc Laporte, Earl Smith and Dan Kelly at their new (to me) residence in the former St. Patrick's Convent on Brunswick Street (now the Jesuit Spiritual Centre).


Photos when I am home and have a chance to download them from my camera.


  1. Nice words. What about acts (James 2:26)? Winnipeg statement as an open rebellion contra Humanae Vitae, the legislation of same sex "marriage" law(foolly of Canada in Benedict xvi words)- visible acts of the implementation of John Paul II preaching!
    Will you convert snaky Canadians?