Montreal Catholics mobilize prayer vigil for religious freedom amid COVID restrictions


Evelyn Campbell was shocked when the Quebec government suddenly demanded that all places of worship impose a vaccination passport system starting December 20.

“The bishops were also taken aback by the news,” said Campbell, the catechetical leader of Corpus Christi Parish, one of the 192 parishes in the Archdiocese of Montreal. “They had no idea this was going to happen at all.”

Now, worshipers between the ages of 14 and 75 must present proof of vaccination to enter, worship and receive the sacraments. This decree will remain in effect throughout the province until further notice. It’s part of a widespread effort to combat an upsurge in COVID-19 cases. The province is reverting to the strict restrictions that were in place when COVID first emerged.

It comes at a time when parishes had only been widely reopened in recent months – but still with some health restrictions – after being completely closed, in Quebec and nationally, to help stem the spread. of COVID-19.

Campbell and members of his parish community, including Anna Farrow, Executive Director of the Anglophone Catholic Council of Greater Montreal, felt the need to show their dissatisfaction with the new rules.

Farrow and Campbell coordinated a 40-hour prayer and fasting vigil that began on Zoom at 6 p.m. on December 20 and ended with a religious freedom prayer service on the steps of Mary, Queen of the Cathedral. World while the 12:10 mass was celebrated on December 22. Campbell says about 25 people were outside the basilica on Cathedral Street. She coordinated in advance with the cathedral so that a minister could come out to distribute the Eucharist.

The two-night, short-notice virtual rally drew participants from Australia and the United States. The participants in the vigil asked for “the intercession of Our Lady, of the English martyrs, of the martyrs of the Vendée and of the Mexican Revolution”.

“We just felt that regardless of vaccination status, everyone should be allowed to pray and worship in liturgies,” Campbell said. “Many of us parish volunteers were really upset with the government’s introduction of this mandate, so our response is that we need to pray about it.”

Some participants in the vigil are fully vaccinated but have chosen not to attend Mass in person for a matter of principle while this mandate is in progress. Campbell is keen to clarify that these actions were not a protest against the Archdiocese or Archbishop Christian Lépine. And she encourages people to seek to understand this situation beyond vaccination status.

“It’s not about immunization status. Unfortunately, it has become ubiquitous in the minds of many people: “Well, you are not vaccinated, you should just choose to be vaccinated and you will be allowed in. We need to remind people that needing a government issued document and ID to enter church should be viewed as repugnant by everyone. I just don’t think it’s fair, ”she said.

A weekly Zoom prayer call going forward is a possibility, Campbell said. She also wants the defenders of religious freedom to write to the archdiocese and to the government.
Archdiocese of Montreal communications director Erika Jacinto said the archdiocese is trying to strike a balance while responding to the latest surge in COVID numbers caused by the Omicron variant.

“From the very beginning of the pandemic, our churches have scrupulously followed the various health measures that the government has applied and in doing so have helped prevent any spread of the virus in our religious gatherings,” Jacinto wrote in an email. at The Catholic Register. “As is the case in Canada and elsewhere, imposing restrictions is never popular and balancing the needs of various groups and interests with the concerns of the public above all is fraught with difficulties.”

Jacinto said Lépine is also showing solidarity and defending unity among the faithful by adding 10 outdoor Masses on December 24 and 25 so that vaccinated and unvaccinated parishioners can celebrate Christmas together.

As for the prayer vigil outside the cathedral, Jacinto wrote that this action is consistent with the character of a Lepine online post posted on the Archdiocese’s website titled “The door to the manger is still open. “. Lépine said in the letter: “To overcome this pandemic is to have and maintain a loving look towards others, whether they are vaccinated or not. Our fight is against the pandemic. It is a fight for health. It’s not a fight against anyone. “

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Quebec is adopting a different tact in the face of the new restrictions and the Omicron variant that is sweeping the province. Cardinal Gerald Lacroix suspended all collective celebrations from December 23 to January 10.

“By refraining from calling for risky gatherings, we are choosing to make a strong gesture of solidarity with vulnerable people as well as with the staff of the entire health network and all those who contribute to the fight against the pandemic” , wrote Lacroix in a letter to priests and faithful.

“Despite all the efforts already made in our churches to limit the spread of the virus, it is becoming increasingly risky to organize gatherings without compromising the health of all. With the possibility of further restrictions imposed by government authorities and a few days before the holidays, we had to make a decision without delay, given the preparations underway. “

It is Lacroix’s wish that “this Christmas celebration, even more stripped down, unites us more to the Child of the crèche, recognized by the poor shepherds who spent the night in the fields”.


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