By David Gibson
Catholic News Service
"Guide to Spiritual and Religious Journeys in Quebec" by Siham Jamaa. A Ulysses Travel Guide (Montreal, 2016). 256 pp., $19.95.
Just as France has its castles, Canada’s Quebec province "has its churches," writer Siham Jamaa observes in her newly published "Guide to Spiritual and Religious Journeys in Quebec."
I doubt that many travelers return home from this inviting, French-speaking region without visiting at least one or two of its historic religious sites.
This is not a typical travel guide. No lists are found here of choice hotels and restaurants, for example.
Instead, Jamaa introduces the religious history of the province reflected in its greatest shrines and its museums, churches or even cemeteries. She tells the stories, too, of numerous key figures from the past who shaped that religious history.
Many traveling to Quebec are aware before leaving home of just a few of the province’s best-known religious sites. A guide like this helps to ensure that they won’t miss out on wonderful but less well-known sites right around the corner from those that they planned in advance to visit.
The Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral in Quebec City stands out for all to see in the heart of Old Quebec. But virtually "around the corner" from it one finds the historic Ursuline Convent complex, situated on a little street that really will make you feel like you’re in Paris!
The convent’s museum recalls the influential role the sisters played in the education of young girls during the city’s early days.
Visitors to Montreal are unlikely to miss the grand Notre Dame Basilica, located alongside a large public square in the city’s old French quarter. "A treasure trove of sacred art," the basilica fulfills an important role in "preserving the city’s Catholic religious heritage," Jamaa says.
Moreover, many visitors are surprised, but pleased, to stumble upon Montreal’s Mary Queen of the World Cathedral while simply walking about near the city’s center.
It takes just a tad more effort to board a bus or hail a taxi for the ride to what for me is Montreal’s most rewarding Catholic site, the Oratory of St. Joseph. St. Andre Bessette, canonized in 2010, inspired the oratory’s construction, and his tomb is found here.
The story of Holy Cross Brother Andre, who died in 1937, is well worth hearing. People in his times called him the miracle worker of Montreal because of the many healings believed to flow from his profound devotion to St. Joseph. In telling his story, Jamaa also highlights the time he devoted to the sick, serving their needs, and I welcomed that.
Even travelers who are not much drawn to visit churches ought to visit the oratory, I feel. Located on the small mountain for which the city apparently is named, the oratory affords magnificent views of the surrounding landscape as one ascends by escalator to its principal worship space.
There one is greeted by magnificent wood sculptures of the apostles and by a simple — and simply beautiful — main altar.
The spiritual journeys suggested to travelers in Jamaa’s guide lead for the most part to Catholic sites. But the author also guides travelers to numerous Anglican, Presbyterian, Jewish, Hindu and other places of worship and prayer.
Places that offer the opportunity for nature to inspire reflective people are singled out too. One is Montreal’s huge, remarkable Botanical Garden, where "a new and contemplative view of the natural world" is encountered, says Jamaa.
The gardens at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape in the city of Trois Riveres also are recommended because, Jamaa says, they "will help you disconnect from the hectic world outside and enjoy a few moments of communion with nature."
Montreal, Quebec City and their surroundings are priority destinations for many who visit Quebec province. In Quebec City many board a tour bus or drive to the much-loved, nearby shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre. The shrine "looms large in Quebec’s spiritual and religious life," Jamaa writes.
There are good reasons why these particular cities attract travelers so powerfully. But this unique guide will tempt travelers to expand their horizons.
Perhaps some travelers will take an interest now in what Jamaa refers to as "a new route for religious tourism known as the ‘St. Lawrence River shrines.’" Or perhaps they will want to journey into areas encompassed by the Laurentian Mountains or visit more distant, northeastern parts of the province less frequented by travelers.
A single spiritual journey to Quebec surely will not exhaust its religious riches. For sure, reading this guide alerted me to how much remains to be seen when I return there one day.
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Gibson was the founding editor of Origins, Catholic News Service’s documentary service. He retired in 2007 after holding that post for 36 years.