Dh and I recently returned from a brief trip to New Brunswick to drop our eldest daughter off for her first year at university.
We did the 'to' part of the trip as quickly as we could, given that we also had our 2 year old with us.
The 'from' trip took a little longer. We stopped just to look at some of the lovely things we saw.
The bulk of our travel time was spent going through the province of Quebec. We were mainly on secondary highways, so there were many small communities along the way. It was easy to find a place to stop when we needed to.
Something that is very notable as one passes through Quebec is that it has been strongly influenced by Catholicism. Even tiny villages contain lovely old church buildings. These are often well preserved and look now much as they did when they were built, sometimes 200 or more years ago.
Along with these church buildings are names...St. Eustache, St. Simon, St. Louis de Ha! Ha! (no, I'm not kidding). Many of these saints are obscure, at least to a 21st century Anglophone. But in among those are St. Jean Chrysostom, St. Thomas d'Aquin, Notre Dame de/du (and here you may fill in the blank...du Lac? de Grace? All titles are referring to The Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Christ, Jesus, God. There are personal names like Rosaire (rosary).
As I listed the saints' names, I saw as well references to sacraments and other religious themes.
I would venture that in North America only California boasts as many religious references in its geography as Quebec. Think carefully: Sacramento, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Junipero Serra...
Sadly, the Church has lost much, perhaps almost all, of its influence on the people of this province. Attendence at Mass is very poor. Some historic churches have started charging admission in order to keep them up. As far as I know no one is so crass as to charge to attend Mass, but sightseers can be charged. There are not enough parishioners to support the churches. I understand that sometimes there really is no parish at all...just a building relegated to a historic spot.
Even among the other Canadian provinces, Quebec ranks about the lowest for birth rate, which means it is well below replacement level. What happened to the Church here? You know...the Church that demands its followers not use birth control?
It is not in good shape...that is for sure.
How did this happen? Well I think it is self evident that European and North American cultures seem to be actively trying to shed any semblence of a Christian society. But Quebec was built around Catholic influence more than almost anywhere else.
It is a case, and I put this succinctly as I claim no deep knowledge of the province's past, of government and Church getting more than a little cozy with each other. I have spoken to people who would have been only children at the time of the end of the Duplessis era. The resentment of what had gone on was deep and strong.
What is left of the Church in Quebec is struggling. A friend who is a seminarian in Montreal tells me that seminarians who wish to follow what Rome teaches, as opposed to the disobedient version they are expected to learn, are forced to hide their orthodox tendencies and play along with their misleading shepherds. As they are ordained, they can be obedient to Rome...if they are strong enough and stealthy enough to survive their seminary time.
God be praised that there are such seminarians. There is hope.
Another church worker I know who is also from Quebec, told me that in Quebec everyone is baptized. The pity is that the Church is still a cultural entity...families have always had their children baptized...but in recent times they seem to have forgotten why. There is no follow up. No catechesis (religious education), no attendence at Holy Mass...at least not until it's time for First Communion. Perhaps it is because of the bad taste left in the mouthes of les Quebecois at the end of the Duplessis era. They are ignoring the Church at a higher rate than even other Canadians. And the Church for the rest of us isn't so healthy either.
We who are somewhat (or perhaps much) better off as far as our parish situations go must not be complacent. The Church that Christ left us which is to last for all time will not necessarily last everywhere for all time. Ephesus, the place where tradition tell us the Blessed Virgin ended her earthly existence, does not have a Christian community to speak of at present time. Check out the present condition of the Church in many of the places mentioned in the New Testament. Not pretty.
My family was recently in Bosnia and Herzogovina, a place where Christianity was first introduced by St. Timothy, the same one mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. One priest we met there said it was the last generation for the Catholic Church in this area. This would be the same Church St. Timothy taught.
We must all realize that the Church is bigger than the weak, sinful humans who work and worship in it. Duplessis may not have had his head on quite right with regards to how his government worked with the Church, and whichever clerics cooperated in what went on were obviously not representing the Church to the people the way they should have. They will have a lot to answer for, I'm sure.
You know that a Church has really fallen when you see ciboria (cups, usually golden, which hold the hosts, the Body of Christ, in the Catholic Mass) in antique stores and flea markets. There is so much of this consecrated material in such places that to purchase it and return it to parishes which are still vital would by impractical, if not impossible.