On Sunday, May 22, 2016, Archbishop Christian Lépine celebrated Mass at Notre-Dame Basilica, commemorating the founding of Montreal, one year before the city's 375th anniversary.
Just before the end, he made a clear request to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who was sitting among other dignitaries in the front row: "Would it be possible, Mr. Mayor, as we celebrate Montreal's 375th anniversary next year, to make this day a civic holiday for all Montrealers?"
The assembly broke into laughter and cheer, as Most Reverend Lépine added: "In the end... I don't know if this kind of thing can be done... Well, after this request, our relationship may remain friendly, or it may begin to wither..."
Every year since 1917, a commemorative Mass for the founding of Montreal is celebrated at Notre-Dame Basilica - on the Sunday closest to May 17, the date when the founders arrived - followed by a civic and military ceremony performed by the Régiment de Maisonneuve on Place d'Armes.
This tradition started during the city's 275th anniversary at the instigation of Victor Morin, then president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal and the Société historique de Montréal (SHM).
On this occasion, the SHM always highlights a historic event: this year, it was the 150th anniversary of the death of historian François-Xavier Garneau (1809-1866) and the 150 years of history of the Church of the Gesù.
At the very beginning of the Eucharistic Celebration, Mr. Jean-Charles Déziel, president of the Société historique de Montréal, and Michel Lapierre, who writes for Le Devoir and is a member of the SHM's board of directors, gave a short, meaningful reading on the importance of the first French Canadian historian, F.-X. Garneau, who defined the Quebec French Canadian collective identity. "It is an anniversary that recalls our mystical origins in a world that now has only one dimension," said Mr. Lapierre. The tone was set.
In his homily, Most Reverend Lépine spoke of the high points, but also of the deep wounds that shaped the History of Montreal: "We must help everyone rediscover the spiritual dimension of Montreal's founding. In celebrating, we are first showing gratitude for all the people who founded and built this country, for all the great works, and for the institutions."
"The past is just as real as the present; that is to say, what we cannot see is just as important as that which is visible. It is like a tree: we see its branches, its leaves, but we cannot see its roots. Yet, the roots are just as important as the rest, and I would say that they take up more place than the rest."
"In preparation for the 375th, to be held next year, let us think of three things: it is 374 years ago this year that Jeanne Mance and Maisonneuve left France in pursuit of founding Montreal: it was with a spiritual aim, with the dream of the French and Aboriginals living together, with the purpose of helping the poor and the sick. Let us meditate on these three goals, for they are still what constitutes Montreal today. This vocation is a tremendous gift for Montreal."
Next year's rendezvous: May 17, 2017, 2 pm, the day of Montreal's 375th!