Monday, November 21, 2011
The Word is Spreading - see National Post
Darren Calabrese/National Post
Saint-Marie among the Hurons historical interpreter Larry Ford lights candles in the holy site Church of St. Joseph at the reconstructed Jesuit mission in Midland, Ont. Thursday, November 17, 2011.
Nov 21, 2011 – 7:56 AM ET
MIDLAND, ONT. — The tens of thousands of pilgrims who make their way to English Canada’s most visited Catholic shrine and holy site could soon have their sense of being on sacred ground shattered by the sound of trucks dumping industrial waste material less than 600 feet away.
The proposed recycling facility would be on the west bank of the Wye River directly across from Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, which is a replica of a French Jesuit mission that lasted 10 years in the early 17th century. While not all visitors come for religious reasons, the village of 30 buildings sits on Jesuit land and includes a key holy site where two French Jesuit priests, later made saints, were buried in 1649.
It is at the grave, which is inside the Church of Saint Joseph, that pilgrims come to kneel and pray where the saints were laid to rest after being tortured to death by the Iroquois.
“The back of the church is quiet and open to the Wye River. This is a holy site and blessed church,” said Jan Gray, general manager of Sainte-Marie, who oversees the site for the province. “If this goes ahead, what the pilgrims will be hearing is a constant jarring sound, the bang of trucks and cranes, back-up beepers and the sound of metal scraping on metal. It’s going to be irritating.”
The church is modelled on what the mission church would have looked like 360 years ago – shaped like a native longhouse with a dirt floor to make it more inviting to the Huron people.
The 3.5-acre site on the opposite river bank is owned by Recycling Specialties Inc. and was rezoned by the town of Midland for industrial use this year. Ms. Gray said no one involved with the Jesuit lands was ever notified about the zoning change because they fell outside the 120-metre radius in which the city was required to give notification.
“We were really disappointed the town did not contact us as part of the process,” Ms. Gray said. “We are the largest tourist attractions in the area and the town is known internationally because of our site. And the reason they come here is because they want to come and experience something they can’t experience in their own backyards. They’re very intrigued with the history of the cultural contact between the Jesuits and the First Nations people.”
Mayor Gordon McKay, who himself was educated by Jesuits, said the town was technically correct in the way it went about the rezoning but now regrets it did not consult with its Jesuit neighbours.
But he said the plant is not yet a fait accompli. The company still must get a site plan approval from the town. He said options include making the waste station an indoor facility, building sound barriers or even cancelling the project.
“This is a region that has lost a lot of jobs, so we need to find ways to build employment.”
The new recycling site would employ 10 to 15 local people, he said.
The Jesuit complex employs a 127 full-and part-time employees and generates roughly $44-million in tourist revenue for the local economy. It attracts 180,000 a year.
Ms. Gray said the town also neglected to require the company to get an archeological assessment. The area has eight archeological sites, she said. Indeed, the graves of the martyrs, Saint Jean de Brébeuf and Saint Gabriel Lalemant, were discovered by a Jesuit archeologist in 1952.
The holy area is actually two sites, split by Hwy. 12 that runs west into Midland, all of which is owned by the Jesuits. On the north side, up on a hill, sits the Martyrs Shrine church, which now contains the remains of the two saints, plus one other saint who was killed in the area. The remains, known as relics to Catholics, contain half the skull of Saint Jean de Brébeuf and small pieces of the other martyrs. Pilgrims come to honour the saints by praying in front of the relics. From the entrance of the church, pilgrims can wind their way down a trail that goes under the highway and along the Wye River and ends up at the back of the Church of Saint Joseph in Sainte-Marie.
Inside Martyrs Shrine church, Father Bernard Carroll, also a Jesuit, points out the ceiling of the church resembles a canoe turned upside down, a way of honoring the Hurons who hunted and fished along the nearby Wye River.
He said praying in front of relics is not much different from the way a great painting grows with value over time or the way in contemporary culture a hockey fan would want to own Bobby Orr’s jersey.
Taking part in adoration in front of the relics is a way of honouring these priests for their sacrifice, he said.
One of the stained-glass windows depicts Saint Jean de Brébeuf with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, one of the first natives to convert to Catholicism.
The view from the Martyrs Shrine, built in 1925, is not exactly pristine. About 200 metres away are the hulking remains of a former RCA manufacturing factory that used to employ hundreds of local residents. Also at this vantage point, the highway is quite noisy with regular truck traffic.
Fr. Carroll said over time the site has been further encroached by more industrialization but that this new facility is taking it too far, increasing the level of noise and visual pollution.
“This is not just religious site but it’s also part of the area’s heritage,” he said. “It’s such an integral part of the region. We would have wished that they would have recognized the holiness of the site.”