Believers prepare for Quebec hero's sainthood
Published Thursday, October 14, 2010 8:26PM EDT
Hundreds of Catholics from across the country are gathering in Montreal and at the Vatican to mark a unique journey which began humbly more than a century ago.
Blessed Brother Andre Bessette, a frail orphan who grew to become a folk hero in Quebec, will officially be recognized as a saint at the Vatican during a canonization ceremony on Sunday, more than seven decades after his death.
Renowned among believers for his healing abilities and his role in the creation of Montreal's majestic Saint Joseph's Oratory, Brother Andre lived to the age of 91 and became known in his time as a miracle worker.
Born Alfred Bessette, he was unschooled, illiterate and frail as a younger man, but he joined Montreal's Congregation of Holy Cross and worked as a gatekeeper in a boys' college.
Bessette soon began receiving the needy and the sick and told them to ask Saint Joseph for help. Later, many would say that their prayers had been answered, and for the next 25 years, Bessette would spend his days welcoming people at his small office.
Using money he earned cutting hair at the boys college, he would also construct a tiny chapel in the woods of Mount Royal. That humble chapel would become the site of Saint Joseph's Oratory, which is now the largest church in Canada and is the world's largest shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph.
By the time of his death in the 1937, Bessette had become a hero in Quebec. His funeral attracted a million mourners, according to his biography at Saint Joseph's Oratory.
Throughout his life, however, he remained a humble figure.
"I am nothing," he once stated. "Only a tool in the hands of Providence, a lowly instrument at the service of Saint Joseph."
He also dismissed claims of his healing abilities.
"People are silly to think that I can accomplish miracles! It is God and Saint Joseph who can heal you, not I. I will pray Saint Joseph for you.''
About 900 of the faithful are flying to the Vatican to watch the ceremony, with tour packages selling out well ahead of time.
For those who can't make it to Rome, coming to Montreal to mark the occasion is every bit as special.
"I think this is so huge for Montreal and Quebec," said Suzanne Murphy, who travelled from St. John's, N.L. "I think it's such a wonderful event."
The event will begin in Montreal starting at 4 a.m. local time Sunday, and will be broadcast on a giant screen in the church's crypt.
"Everyone here is feeling jubilant," said Father Charles Corso, adding that last minute preparations are still taking place.
With a report from CTV Montreal's Annie Demelt