O Come, All Ye (un)Faithful

The CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation 2019 writer in residence, Emira Tufo, notes that the Quiet Revolution may have emptied Quebec's pews — but strange are the ways of the Lord whose preachers descend upon Bonaventure Metro station and other not-so-secular haunts.

The votive candles burn on in secular Quebec

The Montreal Catholic Diocese got some help from a local company to raise funds for its 2014 charity drive by allowing people to buy $1 e-votive candles in support of the Habs. (Montreal Catholic Diocese)

This is the second in a series of essays by the 2019 CBC Montreal/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence, Emira Tufo.

"The end is near!" proclaimed the young man who stepped onto the Metro at Bonaventure station on a recent Sunday night.

Science, he declared, was now confirming what the Bible has been warning us about for 4,000 years: global warming, earthquakes, floods.

"Turn to Jesus, for only he can save your life. We are the last generation!"

The man sitting across from me raised an eyebrow and smirked, while the rest of the last generation continued to swipe and scroll.

"Amen!" I shouted, by way of encouragement. (It is not easy to speak to an indifferent audience.)

I hoped that the others might follow suit, but I only managed to attract a few startled glares.

"Thank you, sister," the young man exclaimed, as he darted into the adjacent wagon and recommenced his sermon there, leaving me alone with a disapproving public.

This station is christened after Saint Bonaventure, a medieval Italian theologian and philosopher who is sometimes credited with writing the original Latin text of the hymn Adeste Fideles — O Come, All Ye Faithful. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

The Quiet Revolution may have emptied Quebec's pews, but strange are the ways of the Lord whose preachers have descended upon Métro Bonaventure.

Perhaps it is the high traffic at this particular station that attracts them: all the besuited ladies and gentlemen heading to work in their office towers, all the tired travellers lugging their luggage to Central Station, all the homeless with their paper cups extended, and all the students heading to the École de technologie supérieure in Griffintown.

The station is a Christian proselytizing zone, named as it is after the medieval theologian, Saint Bonaventure.

It is here that believers board the trains to speak of the apocalypse, and here that Jehovah's Witnesses patiently stand behind racks of The Watchtower magazine, ready to hand it out to anyone who asks.

But no one ever does, for fear, perhaps, of being drawn into a conversation.

So many paths to choose from

Catherine Morin and Alain Lamothe describe their religion as a free faith and their proselytizing as a gift of time and love. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

It was here, too, that I chanced upon two angels clad in white, their shirts emblazoned with handwritten words from the New Testament:

Jésus-Christ dit: Je suis le pain de vie. (Jesus Christ said, "I am the bread of life.")

I could not help but approach them, for they stood not in the shadows but at the crossroads of the station's many exits, in front of the glowing halos of two pop-up kiosks.

The common faith of Catherine Morin and Alain Lamothe sealed their union years ago, and they have since moved frequently, speaking the word of God along the way.

No, they belong to no church or organization.

Theirs is not a religion, but a free faith, a matter purely of the heart. Their being here and speaking to people is their personal gift of time and love. Many stop to speak to them, they said, and they write down each and every name, creating a record of the way the word of God travels.

We talked about the multiplicity of spiritual paths, and they nodded emphatically when I suggested that all prayers drifted to the same address.

Then, Catherine took out a black book where she wrote down my name, and they bade me farewell with the words, "Assalamu alaikum," and "Shalom." Peace be upon you.

The way of the Buddha

Kelsang Loundhroub practises Buddhism at the Kadampa Meditation centre on the Plateau Mont-Royal. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

In the city, there is no dearth of invitations to believe, and on the Plateau Mont-Royal, some are of the more exotic variety.

On the corner of Laurier Avenue and St-André Street sits the Kadampa Meditation Centre. Here, a young Buddhist monk with a sunshine face delivers teachings on things of both practical and metaphysical significance: love and attachment, nostalgia and sadness, the origins of life.

His name is Kelsang Loundhroub, but he was once Xavier Perraton.

The son of a Mexican and a Québécoise, his family moved to Saint-Jérôme when he was five years old. Even then, he was drawn to solitude and contemplation, and in Saint-Jérôme, young Xavier wasted no time. He dug out caves in the snow and sat in them contentedly for hours, thinking.

The wonder of creation struck him first through the experience of music and later through the study of physics, which revealed to him the infinite complexity of the created world. And yet he found something lacking in science: it was permanently grasping for external truths.

He chose the journey within.

On this particular Wednesday, Kelsang Loundhroub urges those assembled to tend not only to this one but also to their future lives, and then he chuckles at his own proposition: isn't this life already a handful?

Then there's Big Fat Seb

The Lutte ICW Wrestling federation held its last match in the basement of Très-Rédempteur Church at the corner of Joliette and Adam streets on March 6, after nearly 30 years of bouts there every Saturday night. (Kester's photography/Lutte ICW Wrestling/Facebook)

Where Jesus and Buddha have perhaps failed to leave their mark, there are other options still.

For nearly 30 years, an unusual ritual has played out in the basement of Très-Saint-Rédempteur Church in Hochelaga.

Every Saturday at 8 p.m., Très-Saint-Rédempteur has welcomed amateur wrestling matches, featuring Big Fat Seb, Tony "la Puissance" Stallone, Freak Hugo and Le Rat, all bedecked in acrylic capes and latex, armed with dubious weapons borrowed from the pantry.

Badass babes step into the ring between rounds, sporting T-shirts that read, Check ma crack et ferme ta gueule! (Check out my crack and shut the f--k up!)

This is Quebec's Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW).

There is fake violence and real profanity and mothers with babies stepping up to the ring to give the finger to the antihero — for it is always a battle between good and evil, between David and Goliath, between the angel and the devil.

Visitors have been welcome (sort of), but photographs not allowed.

You can purchase your votive candles in a vending machine at Saint-Anotine-de-Padoue Church in Longueuil, on Montreal's South Shore. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

The ICW is a sacred community ritual that brings together a multigenerational neighbourhood audience of pink-haired grandmothers, parents, teenagers, toddlers and Hochelaga gangsta-types wearing knuckle rings and flowered sweatpants.

The ICW federation held its last wrestling bout in the church basement boxing ring on March 6. It's now on the hunt for a new venue.

Who lights the candles?

We live in a province constantly attempting to assert its secularism, yet turn up in any empty church in Montreal, and you will find many votive candles burning — so many at times, that it is impossible to find one to light.

(That problem is solved at Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue Church in Old Longueuil, which has installed candle vending machines).

One rarely sees these candle lighters.

Yet I have a feeling that among them there are atheists and agnostics, those of other faiths, the merely superstitious, and maybe even wrestlers — all of them hoping that the good will prevail, that the bad will have been for a good reason, and that their prayers will be answered even when whispered to an unknown address.

This mural of the Buddha decorates a wall on the corner of Mentana Street and Mont-Royal Avenue on Montreal's Plateau Mont-Royal. (Emira Tufo/CBC)

About the Author

Emira Tufo

2019 CBC/QWF writer-in-residence

Emira Tufo is the 2019 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence. A lawyer and a writer, Tufo has written for The Globe and Mail, performed at Montreal's Confabulation, and is the co-author of Montreal Murmurs, a blog about the curious, the funny and the furious aspects of life in Canada's most mischievous city. She has been featured on CBC's Homerun and All in a Weekend.


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