WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Archbishop Richard Smith urged parishioners to carry on their founders' legacy.
ST. ALBERT — As the world stopped to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, members of St. Albert Parish gathered at the grotto on a cold, windy morning to mark the 150th anniversary of their historic parish.
More than 600 people attended the outdoor jubilee Mass and, as rain began to fall near the end of the Mass, they ran for cover under the enormous white tent set up beside the church. The celebration had to be cut short.
Under the tent, participants sang Happy Birthday to their parish, heard greetings from Church leaders, religious orders and dignitaries, and ate a lunch of chicken, beef, cabbage rolls, perogies and salad.
This, their gala event, was one of many celebrations held throughout the year to mark the 150th anniversary. The parish has been holding one celebration a month since the beginning of the year.
Oblate Father Albert Lacombe founded St. Albert Parish in 1861 with the help of the Grey Nuns who came from Lac Ste. Anne.
The only purpose for which the Oblates and the Grey Nuns came to the area a century and a half ago was “to bring to the people of this land the truth and beauty of the Gospel,” Archbishop Richard Smith said in his homily.
Smith called on parishioners to carry on the founders’ legacy. “The challenges they faced were enormous; just think of the poor conditions in which they lived, the means of transport and so on.”
“Bishop (Vital) Grandin travelled countless kilometres by snowshoe in order to evangelize, in order to make Jesus Christ known.
“Now that mission is ours in what we are calling today the new evangelization. The Church is called today to find ever-new ways, methods and modes of expression to hand on to the people of our day what we have received from our ancestors.”
The challenges of today are different but they are no less daunting. “When we announce the Gospel we are offering a diet that many today, unaccustomed to the beauty of the Gospel’s teachings, would find very difficult to digest,” the archbishop said.
He said that to a society increasingly accustomed to consuming vast amounts of falsehood and illusion the truth proposed by Christ seems hard to swallow.
“Particularly difficult for many to swallow is the teaching given in the Gospel passage of today’s Mass, where the Lord speaks in no uncertain terms of the need to place mercy and forgiveness at the centre of one’s life,” Smith said.
“It’s striking that this teaching of our Lord comes to us as the world marks the 10th anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks in the U.S.
“The loss of life from those deranged and evil acts gave birth, understandably, to anger so deep that any talk of forgiveness became, for many, impossible even to hear let alone heed.”
Smith also asked people to reflect on the situation in the Middle East, where for decades terrible atrocities have left many people of that region hating one another.
“Many in that context find the idea of forgiveness unthinkable. And yet at the same time we also know that violence simply breeds more violence and a never-ending spiral of animosity and despair. The only antidote to that poison is mercy. Forgiveness holds violence in its tracks.”
This need to be forgiving of others is related to the new evangelization, to our call to hand on the faith that we received, continued Smith.
He said to be effective in doing so we must be people of integrity whose lives correspond to our words. “We must be people of mercy. Indeed we must be people who are seen to have consumed all that the Gospel proposes.
“That’s the legacy of Father Lacombe and the Grey Nuns. They were successful because they were effective witnesses before others. They were seen to be people who consumed with delight the banquet of truth and joy given in the teaching of Jesus Christ.”
Among those attending the gala event was Joan Thom, a parishioner since 1973 and head usher for the past 23 years.
“This celebration is going very good,” she said. “A lot of planning went into it. We are the oldest parish in the diocese.”
Thom said St. Albert Parish is unique “because everybody works together. It’s taken a lot of people working together to put this whole year on,” she said. “This is a very good parish, we have a wonderful parish priest.”
Kevin Paish and his family have been members of the parish for five years.
“I love this parish,” he said. “This is holy ground. When you come up here it feels holy. This whole area on the hill is blessed.”