Postcard from Québec City

Anglicans have long had a home in Québec City — the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, built between 1800 and 1804, was the first Anglican cathedral built outside the British Isles — but both the city and the larger province of Québec are more widely known for their Roman Catholic heritage.

Québécois society has become more and more secular across the years — but Catholics remain a cultural and religious presence in the region, as evidenced by the faithful who braved subzero, snowy weather to come to the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral on Jan. 3 to pray before a first-class relic.

After a high Mass in French, hundreds of Québécois — from businesspeople in smart suits, black-clad clergy, tots wrapped in parkas, and nuns draped in byzantine blue habits — stood in line to kneel before the arm of St. Francis Xavier (1506-54) and offer prayers of intention.

The arm of the saint, who cofounded the Jesuits and evangelized throughout Asia, will tour Canada through the month of January. Catholic Christian Outreach, a ministry to university students, organized the pilgrimage as part of its 30th anniversary.

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“Spending time with a relic such as this one can lead to immeasurable good,” said Angèle Regnier, cofounder of Catholic Christian Outreach, on CCO’s website. “It’s often a catalyst for a deeper encounter with God or deeper understanding of one’s vocation or purpose in life.

“It’s like having the Stanley Cup come to your tournament,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “He’s so cool, so identifiable.”

With the opportunity to venerate the uncorrupted relic comes the chance to have prayers of intention incorporated into the pilgrimage. Jackie O’Donnell, director of missions and events for CCO, milled through the line in Notre-Dame, quietly offering literature about Francis in English and French. She also handed out prayer cards and pens for people to write down the prayers from their hearts. O’Donnell told TLC the cards would be lifted up as part of the pilgrimage’s closing.

Anglicans and Episcopalians wishing to venerate the relic or to offer prayers will have a few opportunities throughout January, as the arm passes through Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and back again in Québec.

A full schedule of the pilgrimage is available at cco.ca/relic. The arm of the saint, who is celebrated within the Anglican Communion, will leave Canada after a final viewing at Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa, on Feb. 2.

Matthew Townsend

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