Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Of Pilgrims and Tourists

Dear Theophilus,

This past summer my family and I spent a part of our holidays in Montréal. Ever since I can remember, a trip to Montréal has always included a trip to St. Joseph’s Oratory to pray at the tomb of St. Brother André. My first visit was at the age of 10, then again as a teenager and my last visit to the Oratory was as a newlywed. I was very excited this last visit to introduce my 7 year-old son to the prayerful ambiance of the Oratory crypt and the tiny chapel on the city mountainside.

Everything about the Oratory is as I remember it, and I delighted in watching my son move from one section to the next; eyes wide in spiritual amazement. I knew what I was watching was the same spiritual awakening that I had experienced on my first fist many years ago. Asking questions with youthful enthusiasm, he couldn’t learn enough about the diminutive doorman that became St. Brother André.

The magic was shattered when we entered the Oratory crypt to pray at the saint’s tomb. I understand that the Oratory is also a tourist attraction in Montréal, and that guided tours and souvenirs provide a large part of the Oratory’s income. I’m also grateful that you can approach the tomb to pray while physically communing with St. Brother André. What I wasn’t prepared for were the two worlds of pilgrimage and tourism to come crashing together.

As I entered the crypt to pray at the tomb I was shocked to see 2 gentlemen not only leaning against the saint’s tomb as they listened to their tour guide, but one of them had perched his take-out coffee cup on top of the tomb so as to cross his arms. Not knowing what to do, I lead my family through the crypt walkway, planning to light a prayer candle and to return later. Five minutes later, the tour group was still in crypt and the coffee cup hadn’t moved from the top of the tomb.

I was really at a conundrum as to what to do. I didn’t want to create a scene in front of neither St. Brother André nor my son, who had had such an amazing pilgrimage to that point. Following my conscience, I reached into my pocket for my rosary, knelt at the saint’s tomb and began to pray. My wife and son followed suit. It was difficult to concentrate at first, but as the rhythm of my prayers took over, I was able to thank St. Brother André for the spark of faith he had ignited in my son’s heart.

When we stood, the tour group had gone, but it broke my heart to wonder how many other wonderfully spiritual sites around the world are suffering from the line being blurred between pilgrims and tourists.

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