Vanier Vignette #1: La Grotte des Lourdes

It’s Sunday morning in Vanier, and a few dozen worshippers are dispersed among the rows of pews, lost in meditation. Devotional candles flicker, and votive tablets line a wall like a timeline- favours obtained, 1943; miraculous healing, 1969; Chantal, 1996. The layout, like a French Catholic church, is a stained-glass window laid flat, and the eye pops immediately to the focal point- a flower-bedecked stone altar inside a sort of cave. An almost-life-size statue of Mary gazes down from a chink in the rocks.
Suddenly, the sound of a motorcycle engine breaks the silence. A breeze scatters orange fall leaves around the pews. A black squirrel scurries under a pew with a nut.
No one is much bothered– because this is no ordinary church. This is La Grotte Notre-Dame des Lourdes á Vanier, an outdoorCatholic shrine that has been a gathering place for local Catholics and pilgrims for a century,
Frédéric, a gregarious, smiling African who gave only his first name, is one such pilgrim. “Far, far away in Kanata,” he says in French when asked where he lives. “But I come here all the time to pray. Benoit comes here all the time to pray too, don’t you?” He grins at his son, who’s about seven or eight. The boy hands me an English-language tract he couldn’t possibly have read. I’m touched by his belief that the words will comfort me. It’s this kind of faith that has sustained Vanier’s Catholic community since 1910, when Grotte founder Père Henri Richard built the first altar from blocks of snow.
For Vanier resident Mike Tardif and his neighbour Danielle, the journey is much shorter. They come here together “sometime between once a week and once a month,” they agree.
“i get my inner peace here,” says Danielle. “This place has been here for a hundred years.”

At noon, the traffic noise is drowned out by the peal of church bells.

NOTE TO JEFF AND ELYSE: I took some amazing pictures here, but due to technology issues I don’t think I will be able to put them up until tomorrow during or after class. They’ll be there though.


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