Tuesday 15 May 2012

A Sacred Place – The Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine

By Artur Suski, S.J.

Just recently I had the opportunity to go to the Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario for a few days of prayer and rest. There’s nothing like getting away from the busy and loud city of Toronto; the calm and silence of the Shrine and its park are medicine for the soul.

The Shrine is a place of great significance for the Church in Canada, as the seeds of the faith were sown by the lives of these six French Jesuit martyrs and their two lay collaborators. Though the French explorers often had exploitation and gain on their minds when interacting with the Native population, it was not so with the Jesuits and their lay collaborators. These men gave their lives to preaching the Gospel to those willing to hear it.

The Martyrs burned with a great desire to share with their Native brothers and sisters the greatest treasure that they themselves possessed: Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the one who came to give us life. This was their goal. How could they keep this treasure to themselves? Christ himself told his disciples to bring his words to all nations of the world. The Society of Jesus, that band of companions dedicated to igniting the hearts of men and women with the love of Christ, generously and joyfully embraced the mission given to the Jesuits by King Henry IV of France to come to Canada and evangelize those who have not yet encountered Jesus.

They gave their lives to serve the natives of Huronia, the region that today surrounds the Georgian Bay. The martyrs' bond with them was so strong that despite attacks by hostile tribes – the Iroquois – they did not flee to safety but remained to the end, to comfort, to strengthen, and to administer the sacraments. They were sent to the Huronians to help them; could they leave now in the time of tribulation? What kind of shepherd leaves his flock when the wolves come? No, they stood alongside their native brothers and sisters to the very end, preaching the Gospel of love and peace.

Their courage exceeded the expectations of the Iroquois to such a degree that the latter ate the martyrs' hearts so that they themselves might possess such courage. Bloody was their end, yet glorious were their lives; lives so united to that of their Lord Jesus Christ that they also walked the road to Cavalry. They were skinned; their nails were pulled out; their tongues were cut; they were ‘baptized’ with boiling water as a mockery of holy Baptism; their fingers were cut off; and finally, their hearts were removed and they were burned. Many today would see these men as mentally imbalanced fools since they chose to remain there despite knowing what awaited them. But these people do not understand that the love of God is a language unto itself; it goes beyond human logic. We cannot truly comprehend it yet when we learn it, we cannot simply forget it. Could they have turned their backs to love itself?

I encourage all to come and visit the Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine. Come and visit the Martyrs; to walk where they have walked, to pray where they have prayed and died.

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