Saturday, 28 February 2009

Quebec's churches need miracle

Let me post a report i found on THE TORONTO STAR  

Parishes can't afford to keep them, no one wants to buy them – even at fire-sale prices
Feb 28, 2009 04:30 AM 
 Andrew Chung ( QUEBEC BUREAU CHIEF)

MONTREAL – It might be quite beautiful, with its golden cross next to the steeple, its triumphal arches inside, its extraordinary Casavant organ presiding, but that hasn't stopped Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours from steadily becoming abandoned. Barely 100 seats in its pews built for 1,000 are taken on Sundays, and that's on a good day.

"We take in maybe $100 or $125 during the collection," says Father Pierre Charbot, shrugging. Not nearly enough to even pay the heating. 

As a result, the church is for sale. But the west-end edifice has been on the market for more than a year, and so far, no one's buying. 

Officials are still hopeful, but as of now, the majestic grey-stone church is a white elephant. 

The fire sale of Catholic churches in Quebec continues unabated; they are victims of a population that, more than elsewhere in Canada, has turned its back on organized religion.

Fewer than 10 per cent actually attend mass. 

This has meant that virtually no parish has been free from the dilemma of what to do with a church it doesn't want to part with, but can no longer afford.

Some churches have found new lives as community centres, libraries and social housing projects; others as condos, factories and even a rock-climbing gym. 

And though the provincial government has stepped in to help, a new headache is creeping up. Parishes are facing the prospect of finding no buyers for their churches, not even the municipalities of which they're a part, and so they're being increasingly abandoned, barricaded and demolished.

"There are churches that are not finding takers and it will be necessary to barricade them," said Germain Tremblay of the Montreal-based Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec. "Even in selling them for $1, it's happening that no buyer is interested in the churches for sale. This is new."

Well more than 100 churches have been sold in the last decade, a very conservative estimate considering that in the dioceses of Montreal, Quebec City and Sherbrooke alone, 74 have disappeared in roughly that time frame. However, that's only three of 25 dioceses in Quebec. The exact number sold has never been tabulated.

"It's sad, but it's reality," said Gérald Baril, spokesperson for the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada. "People don't care much about spirituality and don't care much about the church."

"We simply have too many churches under our charge," said Rémy Gagnon, who advises parish administrative counsels for the diocese of Quebec City. "And so for those judged in excess, we must mobilize all the organizations, public and private, to propose new uses for the buildings we can save."

A few years ago, Quebec did an inventory of churches with the most historic value. The province also launched a program to help parish administrative councils, or fabriques, pay for 70 per cent of the costs of keeping the churches standing, but only for those built before 1945. 

In 2006, concern that the province's religious history was in "great peril" led a National Assembly committee to call on the Liberal government to halt the sale of churches. The then-culture minister refused, saying it would put local parishes in financial dire straits. The sales continued. 

A church's historic significance does not mean it will be saved. Take the case of the dual-steepled Church of Saint-Eustache, north of Montreal, whose stones still bear traces of cannon fire by the British in 1837. Quebec Patriote leader Jean-Olivier Chenier and 100 of his followers died there in the decisive battle.

The church's maintenance has become so cost prohibitive for the parish, they're giving it away. The fabrique's president, Nycole Pepper, said it must, however, remain a church. But to make it viable, they're considering turning it into a music recording hall, because of its good acoustics.

More churches have been sold in the region of Sherbrooke than anywhere in the province because, officials there say, an activist bishop in the 1950s wanted to make sure a church was accessible in even the smallest place. Twenty-five churches have changed hands, some for $1, in the last few years. 

And it's also in this diocese where the most varied uses for unwanted churches have been realized. One has been turned into a rock-climbing school and gym. Another is a concert hall. Still another is a factory. There are community halls and the finishing touches are underway on a library.

Eight of the 14 churches sold in the Quebec City region in recent times have gone into private hands, and two have been demolished.

"What should we expect for the next 20 years? Well, remember that the majority of people in the parishes nowadays are in their sixties to eighties," said Louis-Philippe Desrosiers, who's in charge of selling churches for Montreal's parishes. 

"People are not interested in the life of their souls anymore. Less and less of them means less and less churches."

2 comments:

Bin said...

This article has really brought tears to my eyes. Its really a great wonder, when where I am (in Dubai), the Parish Church has a seating capacity for 1,700 at a time (www.saintmarysdubai.com) and on a Friday (which is a weekend, with Sunday Liturgy), there are 7 English Holy Masses and about 3-4 Regional Language Holy Masses, all of them with the Church overflowing (infact for English Holy Masses, the Main Hall is also opened, with seating capacity for abt 500 or more people).

Parking is a major problem in that region during the times of the Holy Masses.

Even during weekdays (Monday - Thursday), there are 2 Holy Masses in the morning and one in the evening (not counting regional language Holy Masses), with the the Church quite full.

This is truly a sight to behold. Infact during the Service for Good Friday, for the Malayalam Service, the Church, the Halls (Main and Mini), the basketball court, the whole Church compound is thronging with people (just one community), and people waiting outside the gates.

For Christmas I think we normally have 3 Eve Services (all of them are completely full) in English.

I would like to invite our dear Brother Priests to visit the Dubai Church (especially during one of the Feasts like Christmas or Easter).

Binoy

Bin said...

This article has really brought tears to my eyes. Its really a great wonder, when where I am (in Dubai), the Parish Church has a seating capacity for 1,700 at a time (www.saintmarysdubai.com) and on a Friday (which is a weekend, with Sunday Liturgy), there are 7 English Holy Masses and about 3-4 Regional Language Holy Masses, all of them with the Church overflowing (infact for English Holy Masses, the Main Hall is also opened, with seating capacity for abt 500 or more people).

Parking is a major problem in that region during the times of the Holy Masses.

Even during weekdays (Monday - Thursday), there are 2 Holy Masses in the morning and one in the evening (not counting regional language Holy Masses), with the the Church quite full.

This is truly a sight to behold. Infact during the Service for Good Friday, for the Malayalam Service, the Church, the Halls (Main and Mini), the basketball court, the whole Church compound is thronging with people (just one community), and people waiting outside the gates.

For Christmas I think we normally have 3 Eve Services (all of them are completely full) in English.

I would like to invite our dear Brother Priests to visit the Dubai Church (especially during one of the Feasts like Christmas or Easter).

Binoy