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Franciscan may be Canada’s next saint

Canada owes him the return of the Franciscans, the founding of the country’s largest Marian sanctuary and the development of strong and lasting ties between the French Canadians and the Holy Land. Yet, 100 years after his death and though he might become Canada’s next saint, Blessed Frederic Janssoone still remains largely unknown to many people in Quebec.

Franciscan Father Roland Bonenfant, vice postulator of his sainthood cause, said Pere Frederic’s “first and foremost heritage is the way he developed strong bonds between the Catholics of Canada and the spiritual roots of their religion – namely the Middle East places where Jesus, the apostles and the first witnesses of Christ have lived.”

Born in 1838 in northern France, Frederic Janssoone joined the Franciscans in 1864 and was ordained in 1870. From 1876 to 1888, he was the custodial vicar of the Holy Land, assisting the custos with care of holy places. These 12 years left a strong imprint on him; he developed a deep attachment to the Holy Land as he got more and more involved in its development and renewal. He re-established the Way of the Cross processions on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa – a first in almost 250 years.  He also built ecumenical ties with representatives of other Christian churches.

In 1888, his superiors sent him to Canada to resurrect the Franciscans and establish the Commissariat of the Holy Land.

“When he arrived here, he was surrounded by the aura of the Holy Land and the aura of the Recollects, who were deeply loved, back then,” said Father Bonenfant. As time went by, Pere Frederic became more and more involved in the spiritual life of the Canadian Church. He contributed to the foundation and the development of a Marian shrine in Trois-Rivieres.

One key aspect of his work often overlooked today are his door-to-door visits to the local people. “He was considerate and had a special connection with the French Canadian families, as well as with poor people,” said the vice postulator.

Local historian Rene Beaudoin also stressed the impact of Pere Frederic’s visits in the Trois-Rivieres region.

“It gave him the chance to build ties with families and to become a popular figure in the region. This has had a tremendous impact,” said Beaudoin, who teaches history at Trois-Rivieres’ Lafleche College.

Over the years, however, the Church has been faced with a challenge: How is the faith of Pere Frederic still relevant, today? The Franciscan and his austere piety were grounded in the Church of his time, but might seem outdated in today’s reality.

“We now live in a thoroughly secular world and in a society that has a tormented relationship with its own history and religious heritage. We’re not trying to adulterate the spiritual journey of an individual such as Pere Frederic. Yet, we try to put forward the aspects (of his spirituality) that are the most universal,” said Oblate Father Pierre-Olivier Tremblay, rector of Our Lady of the Cape Shrine.

Father Bonenfant said he hopes his fellow Franciscan will be canonized sometime in 2017.

“I’m only sure of one thing: His canonization will happen in due time. “He’s somehow special and has an extraordinary stature, as his own personal story is interwoven with the land of Jesus of Nazareth,” he said. “And he’s injected that in the bloodstream of the Canadian people.” (CNS)
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