Sharing Witness shoulder to shoulder
While the streets of Montreal were full of protesters and shattered glass this spring, Kyle Ferguson joined a procession that cut through the heart of the city, boldly proclaiming love, joy and faithful witness.
Over the past 18 months, the world has witnessed no shortage of protest movements, from the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement and now the unrest in Quebec. The modus operandi has generally been this: take the message to the streets, go in groups, challenge the status quo, and be relentless in getting your message across.
We might not agree with all the positions being touted in these movements, and without question, we denounce their violent expressions. However, there is a certain bravery being demonstrated here that can be admired; specifically, the protesters are ready to lay it on the line for their cause, to absorb the consequences of their witness, and to go forth from their private meeting places to engage people in the public square.
Some might condemn these modes of conduct as over-the-top and brash, but these characteristics of boldness, solidarity and willingness to sacrifice are by no means foreign to the Christian tradition of proclamation and witness. In fact, they were foundational dispositions for members of the early Church. The question for us today is: are we still embodying these inspirational characteristics of boldness, solidarity and sacrifice in presenting the Gospel of Christ to our modern audience? Are we able, as the recent protest movements have aptly demonstrated, to stand together as a faith community and bear witness to our message in the public square?
Now, to clarify, I am not suggesting that after Sunday Mass we take to the streets with our casseroles (meaning, banging pots and pans together for those of you not following the Quebec protests); nor am I suggesting that our method of proclamation become that of a yelling match with little time for listening. However, there is something to be said for taking our message to the streets; let me provide an example.
This past May long weekend, I attended the MontÉe Jeunesse/Youth Summit in Montreal. On Saturday evening, about 400 young people, accompanied by Archbishop LÉpine of Montreal, Auxiliary Bishop Dowd of Montreal, Archbishop Lacroix of Quebec City, and Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa, all took part in a Eucharistic procession that started at St. Joseph's Oratory and cut right through the heart of downtown, arriving at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral.
For five kilometres, the four bishops walked shoulder to shoulder sharing the task of carrying a monstrance every step of the way. As one became fatigued, another bishop stepped up and took on the weight for his brother bishop. It was an incredible witness of Episcopal friendship, collaboration and solidarity with the faithful— bishops and religious sisters, the lay and ordained, all walking together as one body.
As we turned onto St. Catherine Street, the Archbishop of Montreal held the monstrance high and quite bravely led us down the glamour, glitter and sensualities of St. Catherine. In this act, the Archbishop seemed to embrace the entire city and its people in the name of Jesus. The passersby were visibly touched by this public witness to Christ. Some watched curiously with their arms wrapped tightly across their chest, others clapped us on and took pictures, while some even joined the procession.
It was fascinating to see the onlookers being drawn into the event, peering out of their apartment and shop windows, being drawn out of themselves, out of the mundane, and into the mystery and joy of the Christian faith. This was not a protest of aggression unfolding but a procession of love and joy outpouring.
I really think the bishops, and the youth, should be commended for this act of bravery. I am certain that the bishops of Montreal received no shortage of advice to cancel the procession given (a) the circumstances of the city and student protests and (b) the controversial nature, in general, of public displays of religion in Quebec society. Yet, despite these real concerns, they took the risk.
The Quebec Church provided a great witness and reminded us of three things. First, we need to be bold in our proclamation of the Gospel. Yes, fundamentally, we must listen and be attentive, and have charity rooted in everything we do, but we also cannot hide our light, joy and message underneath the bushel basket. People who have not gone to church in years are not going to pour back into the pews by themselves; they need to have an encounter with a community of faith, a community that is joyful and respectful in pronouncing the Good News.
Second, being bold will invariably involve some risk, and if we try to mitigate all vulnerability from our efforts, we will end up burying our talents in the sand. From the precarious circumstances of the Christmas story to the Passion of our Lord, God has shown us time and time again that the weak and vulnerable become the fruitful messengers of the Gospel. Indeed, each of us, by taking part in this procession, took on a vulnerable position; but gathered together, the waves of uncertainty became less intimidating.
And third, the unity and community of our Church are essential for effective proclamation and witness. Our divisions and internal bickering are like cancer to our cause. Each one of us needs to work to heal the wounds of divisions in our communities. We need to stand together. No person is an island.
And so, reflecting on this event, we might not all agree with the positions and tactics that some of the protest movements have taken; certainly, we must denounce without question their violent manifestations. However, their boldness, solidarity, sacrificial spirit and willingness to engage the public with their message are all elements that, when infused with Christian charity, become fertile dispositions for Christian witness