October 10, 2019
From August 31st – September 2nd, 2019, priests and parishioners from St. Clement Parish, our apostolate in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, participated in the 16th annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Our Lady of the Cape, located in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Québec. Marie Reine du Canada, a lay group based at St. Clement Parish, has organized the pilgrimage every year since 2003, when seven parishioners from St. Clement embarked on a pioneering pilgrimage to pave the way for the next group that would participate in larger numbers the next year, when it officially began.
The chaplains this year were St. Clement assistant pastor Fr. Jacques Breton, FSSP and Fr. Peter Do, Diocese of Pembroke (neighbouring diocese to the west of Ottawa). The parish has one English chapter, one French, one for the scouts from St. Clement Parish, and the St. Joseph Workers Chapter, with about 115 pilgrims total (including volunteer worker pilgrims) participating this year. Pilgrims come from all over North America – mostly Ottawa, Toronto and Montréal. This year one pilgrim flew in from British Columbia, and some came from Michigan, New Brunswick (home province of the recently ordained Fr. Luc Poirier) and Québec City. In years past, pilgrims have traveled from Manitoba, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan and Washington.
The pilgrimage is 100 kilometers or 62 miles in length (roughly the same as the Chartres pilgrimage). It begins in Lanoraie, Québec, which is approximately where St. Isaac Jogues was first captured by the Iroquois (in fact, pilgrims stop and pray near a monument marking this event). They walk “in the footsteps” of the North American Martyrs along the St. Lawrence River, attending Mass in beautiful old Quebecois churches and saying Compline together each night. Pilgrims walk only with small packs, while their luggage is transported by a large truck from campsite to campsite. Meals are simple: bread and peanut butter, nutella, jam, and coffee or hot chocolate for breakfast; bread for lunch; bread, soup and a little red wine for dinner.
The closing Mass was a Solemn High Mass, celebrated by Fr. Do, assisted by Fr. Breton and Fr. Alex Marchand, FSSP, recently assigned to Québec City.
Our Lady of the Cape Shrine is Canada’s national shrine to Our Blessed Mother, and the old fieldstone church, the oldest church in Canada in which Mass is offered daily, was party to not one but two miracles in the later 19th century. When that church, dating from 1720, was becoming too small, the parishioners planned to construct a larger one with materials from across the St. Lawrence River, which usually froze over and offered a means to transport the materials. But that winter, the winter of 1879, was a mild one and the river did not freeze. The parishioners prayed the Rosary for the freezing of the river, and the pastor, Fr. Désilets, promised Our Lady that he would dedicate the fieldstone church to her instead of demolishing it if she interceded for them. In the middle of March, the ice came and as promised, the old church was dedicated to Our Lady on June 22nd, 1888 and a statue of her, formerly in an alcove, installed above the high altar.
But an even more astonishing miracle occurred right then. On the evening of the day of the dedication, Fr. Désilets and a Franciscan priest, Fr. Frédéric, were helping a lame man into the church so he could pray. While they were there, the three men witnessed the statue of Our Lady above the altar open her eyes. The statue normally has downcast eyes, but they saw her look up, her dark eyes wide open, for five to ten minutes. The statue who “opened her eyes” remains enthroned in the old stone church, Pope St. John Paul II visiting the miraculous statue in 1984.
The pilgrimage is sure to continue next year, so join the parishioners of St. Clement if you are in the area round about the first weekend in September. There certainly does not seem to be a better way to spend the final days of summer than hiking along the beautiful St. Lawrence River, taking in the picturesque landscape of Québec and retracing the path of the North American Martyrs to pay a visit to the Reine du Canada, the Queen of Canada, at her chosen northern home. +
Our thanks to Ian Gallagher for his contributions to this article, and to Mr. Gallagher and Hannah Janek for their photos of the event.
In the Ask Father column of October’s Meménto, Fr. Dominic Savoie explains the nature and meaning of a pilgrimage. Read his article here!