ASK THE RELIGION EXPERT

Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.



Which three people would you say have been the most important spiritual leaders in Canada? (Can include deceased).

I believe that Blessed Francois de Montmorency Laval is a monumental spiritual figure. He was a French priest who eventually became the first bishop of Quebec, having left La Rochelle, France in 1659 for New France where he was received by the small community with great joy. He immediately set about organizing the Canadian Church which, until his arrival, had been without a real leader. He founded numerous institutions, some of which are still functioning to this date, such as the Quebec Seminary. It was designed to form priests and also to provide assistance for those worn out by their ministry. Laval undertook pastoral visits in his huge diocese and under his guidance the Canadian Church and its many institutions grew rapidly and became firmly united. He supported existing religious communities and oversaw the establishment and foundation of many others in his territory. To this day, he is recognized for his personal sanctity, piety and for favours granted through his intercession.

Similar foundational work was done by Isaac Jogues and his Jesuit companions (known as the Canadian Martyrs) who worked tirelessly, establishing numerous missions among the natives. Bishop Laval left this aspect of the work to them. Ultimately they gave the supreme witness of their lives to their work and have inspired so many of us to this date.

Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger is also known for his contributions to the Canadian Church, and to the Universal Church. He was a member of the preparatory commission for the Second Vatican Council. At the council, he made important contributions, reminding everyone of the primacy of love over law. He spoke eloquently about the important role the laity had to play in the life of the Church. He stunned everyone when he resigned his position as Archbishop of Montreal and went to work with lepers in Cameroon.