Estimated 30,000 faithful flock to Big O for 'our brother, our friend'
By Anne Sutherland, Montreal Gazette
MONTREAL - For Bernard Blanchet, the most moving moment in the celebration of Brother André's canonization came when four members of the late cleric's family carried in a reliquary containing a sliver of the saint's heart.
"That was it for me, and when they brought in the crutches," said the Lachine city councillor, who was riding the métro after the ceremony.
He and his mother, Denise, were part of a crowd of 30,000 who flocked to the Olympic Stadium on Saturday afternoon to remember and celebrate one of our own, elevated to sainthood on Oct. 17 in Rome.
The Montreal celebrations were so that everyday folks who couldn't make the trip to St. Peter's Square could share in the pomp and ceremony.
Tickets were a mere $5 and 42,000 of them were sold as of Friday, but police said only 30,000 people actually showed up.
Approaching the cavernous stadium, it was almost as if St. Brother André was a rock star: vendors hawking $10 T-shirts with his image, porta-potties for the crowd and long lines in the souvenir shop where wooden crucifixes, key chains, statues of St. Joseph and candles were flying out the door, with special St. Joseph's Oratory carryalls to hold all the goods.
There were large groups of the faithful in wheelchairs and the crowd spanned all ages, from toddlers in strollers to seniors using walkers.
Organizers did their best to gussy up the stark decor of the stadium with some potted ferns and small trees, but the forlorn shapes of home plate and the bases bore testament that this used to be a baseball venue.
There were three risers of bleachers with singers of 3 Petits Chanteurs and they sang Benis le Seigneur ô mon âme as the procession moved toward the makeshift altar.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Jean Charest and Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay were in attendance.
Quebec singer Chantal Pary took the microphone for a rendition of Miracle de la Montagne by Lucie Bernier as 180 young adults from different cultural communities joined the procession, which also included 60 bishops and almost as many priests and other clergy.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte presided over the two-hour mass and spoke at length about the man born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845, in St. Grégoire, south of Montreal.
"He often said: 'The world is silly if it thinks that Brother André is doing miracles. It is the good God who does the miracles. St. Joseph obtains them,'" Turcotte said of the newly minted saint.
Besides the reliquary containing a portion of Brother André's heart - the rest stayed at the Oratory - other representations of the man's life were brought forward in the ceremony: the suitcase he carried for his many visits, wooden crutches representing those cured by St. Joseph, St. Joseph oil and blue prints of the Oratory building.
The bell from the first chapel built on Mount Royal was even brought to the stadium to call the faithful to worship.
During the response portion of the service, when 30,000 voices sang out, it was hard not to be impressed, even with the horrible acoustics of the Big O.
"Thank God for this remarkable man. He was our brother and our friend," Turcotte said of the tiny unassuming doorkeeper at Collège Notre-Dame in Côte des Neiges.
"I believe in him," said Suzanne Deschênes, who came to the stadium from St. Hubert. "My parents taught me all about Brother André and he certainly deserved all this," she said after the ceremony ended.