Shrine of the Martyrs
One of the highlights of my ministry was a visit to Midland, Ontario, Canada, and the Shrine of the Martyrs. This Roman Catholic Church was built to honor the lives and deaths of Fathers Jean de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Antony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Isaac Jogues, Oblates Rene Goupil, and John de Lalande. These men were part of the Jesuits who came to the new world to bring the Gospel to Canada’s aboriginal or indigenous people. This particular group was sent from Quebec to minister to the Huron Tribe in Ontario, Canada.
They built a compound on the banks of the Wye River, which flows into the beautiful Georgian Bay. Ultimately it included not only a residence, but a Chapel, a school, a medical facility, and farmland and storage for food. Their story is an incredible story of sacrificial love for the Huron people. Eventually, they were martyred at the hands of the Iroquois tribe, who blamed the Jesuits for the outbreak of smallpox.
Beside the beautiful Church of the Martyrs in Midland, (Shrine of the Martyrs) is the national historic site Sante-Marie Among the Hurons Mission. It is located under the site of the reconstructed 17th-century Jesuit mission. The current site presents reconstructed European-style mission buildings, including barracks and workshops, Iroquoian-type longhouses, and a chapel situated within a wooden palisade fortification.
If my memory is correct, we had three clergy retreats at the National Historic Site. The Jesuit Priest, who was responsible for the site and served at the Church of the Martyrs (Shrine of the Martyrs), permitted us, on each occasion, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist at the Chapel. Each time, those present could sense an incredible anointing as we united ourselves with Christ, but also with the lives of the martyrs. I hope to return someday.
I learned a great deal about the mission work of the 17th century in Canada. As part of our visit, we were given a “special” tour of the facility. It was led by a trained guide who was also a devote catholic and historian. He spoke eloquently about the cultural and language differences between the Huron and the Jesuits (who were from France). Everything emphasized their differences from clothing, food, religious practices, framing methods, and especially language. The Jesuits attempted to live among the Huron, trying to learn their language and culture, while at the same time, after winning their trust, to bring the message of salvation found in Christ Jesus.
Imagine the faith of these men who left the comforts of Europe to come to the wilderness of Canada with the sole purpose of bringing souls to Christ. They went with the French military and entrepreneurs who wanted to colonize Canada and gain wealth and resources for themselves and their homeland. They went along to establish the Church in the French Settlements along the St. Laurence River, particularly Quebec City, and minister to the French population. But this group of eight left not only the comfort of Paris, France, but even the comfort of Quebec to go among the very rural and rustic areas of the Huron people. They were compelled to bring the love of God.
I could write a great deal more about these men, particularly Jean de Brebeuf.
Over the last few months, there have been many ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Most of these ordinations are young men who will shepherd the CEC into the next generation. Their success with be in their love for God and His people and their faithfulness to the mission God has given to them under their Bishop.
Some will be called to go where there are very limited resources. Some will be called to places where there is famine and civil war. Others will be called to minister to the Asian immigrant community in Europe. Others will go to areas of poverty and lack of education to bring the message of the Gospel as well as the hope of education for the children. Others will find themselves either in or on the borders of poverty where the majority of the children are fatherless, and the mothers are prisoners to the tyranny of the welfare state.
Whatever the circumstances, there is great work to be accomplished by the people of the CEC. God will bless us. Our success will be in “going” outside of the Church building and being, like those martyrs, light.
We are not allowed the luxury of discouragement, particularly if we are going to find our identity beyond the walls of the local church and beyond the space and time limitations. We are part of the universal church throughout the ages who know that the glory of God is found in Christ crucified and risen. And our marketing and branding are living our Crucifixion and Resurrection in our day-to-day lives.
Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Put your hope in the Lord. As we await the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost, let us pray for the renewal of the Church. Let us pray for that renewal by asking the Lord Holy Spirit to renew in us the faith of the Martyrs of North America.
Under His mercy,