By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, AUG. 31, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Blessed André Bessette, who will be canonized in October, teaches by his example openness to others as an expression of love for God, affirmed the vice-postulator for his canonization cause.
ZENIT spoke with Holy Cross Father Mario Lachapelle about the significant moments and virtues that marked the religious brother’s life.
In this interview, the priest also described the importance of this canonization for the Church in Canada, and for the faithful worldwide.
ZENIT: How did Brother André realize that he had a vocation to consecrate his life to the Lord?
Father Lachapelle: One can discern three important stages in the development of the life of faith of Brother André.
There is that of his youth (1845-1870), where he met with great trials (poor health and the lack of education, the loss of his two parents at a young age, exile in a foreign country to find work); this period enabled Brother André to consolidate intensely his relationship with God. Instead of turning him away from God, the unhappy events of life made him approach him.
Then there was the period that extends from 1870 (his entrance into the Congregation of the Holy Cross as a religious brother) to 1904 (the construction of the first chapel dedicated to St. Joseph on Mont Royal).
Many duties were then entrusted to the young religious despite his poor state of health. He was appointed, among other things, doorman of the Notre Dame College of the Cotes des Neiges in Montreal, Canada.
He received visitors and parents. Hence the other” became an important reality for Brother André; he opened himself to his neighbor as he knew previously how to open himself to God. He thus escaped being enclosed in an exclusive relationship with God where the trials of life could have led him.
He learned that one cannot really love God without loving one’s neighbor or love others without recognizing God’s presence in them.
Acceptance, compassion, openness to the other became the characteristic traits of his person. His reputation as a miracle-worker also began to spread beyond the walls of the college.
Finally, from 1904 to his death on January 6, 1937, his public ministry began. At 60, at an age where often one thinks only of retirement, he made himself the builder of the largest shrine ever dedicated to St. Joseph.
Brother André was not only the builder of a stone building but of a living Christian community. He became a remarkable unifier.
More than a million people came to pay him homage at his funeral despite the difficult winter weather and today also, more than two and a half million pilgrims and visitors come each year to the St. Joseph Oratory of Mont Royal.
ZENIT: How was his relationship with God before becoming a brother? In his childhood and youth?
Father Lachapelle: It was at his mother’s knees that he learned his first prayers and that he learned to love God.
The loss of his father at the age of 9 and that of his mother at the age of 12 shook him profoundly. Mary and Joseph then became his adoptive parents. They served him as guides to go to God.
Prayer and frequentation of the sacraments occupied a great part of his life. He learned to trust God despite harsh trials.
Prayer, he confided later to one of his friends, is my best weapon.
ZENIT: Could you say something about his service as a doorman at Notre Dame College?
Father Lachapelle: Undoubtedly, little by little Brother André discovered his vocation to serve and to make the Lord loved.
His function as doorman at Notre Dame College of the Cote des Neiges in Montreal must have helped him in this sense because he had to receive many parents and visitors.
He would find out discreetly about the state of health of the members of the families and about their affairs. He often took advantage to give good advice and to encourage each and all to trust in the Lord.
ZENIT: What was the miracle for his canonization?
Father Lachapelle: A youngster of 9 was the victim of a road accident that inflicted serious cranial trauma and plunged him into an irreversible coma leading to death. The prayers of people very close to him, and the intercession of Brother André brought him back to a conscious state and to health, and that was judged scientifically inexplicable by several experts in medicine. This case happened in 1999.
ZENIT: What were his principal virtues?
Father Lachapelle: Without a doubt, compassion, the acceptance of the most destitute, and confidence in God.
He loved to say that God with the smallest brushes made the most beautiful paintings. That means that each one has worth in God’s eyes and no one should be excluded from his love or consider himself unworthy of him.
At a time when too often his contemporaries had a distant image of God as dispenser of justice, he was pleased to say that God is altogether close to each one of us and that one must not forget to speak of his mercy.
He was able very early on to surround himself with the laity and to trust them. His unconditional acceptance of the other led him to an avant-garde ecumenism.
One of the greatest qualities of Brother André was surely his great ability to speak very simply, and with everyday words, of the greatness and the love of God.
He was able to speak to people’s heart. When people came to visit him in his reception office, not all were healed, it was said, but all left transformed.
ZENIT: What does his canonization mean for Canada?
Father Lachapelle: At a difficult time for the Canadian Church, believers of Canada all together rejoice to see that God is truly among them and that he manifests unequivocal signs of his presence.
The official recognition made at present by the universal Church of the sanctity of a humble Canadian brother gives to each and all a reason to persevere more than ever in their faith.
In the course of recent years, more than 10 million pilgrims who have come to the St. Joseph Oratory of Mont Royal have expressed in writing their desire that the Church recognize soonest the sanctity of the humble friend of the poor and the afflicted.
It is a new breath of hope for the Canadian Church.
ZENIT: Did he write something? Do you have his writings?
Father Lachapelle: Brother André never wrote about his life. We have only some of his handwritten signatures.
Knowledge of his devotions, of his spirituality and of his person comes to us above all from persons that he mixed with and who left a written testimony of their meetings.