New Era of Freedom in Quebec
WHAT would you see if you were to visit Quebec today?
You would observe a society much like the rest of North America. Gone are the fear and oppression that hung like a pall over the people during the period of total Catholic domination. They can make their own decisions as to education, work, family planning, religion—no longer concerned about the approval of the priest.
Government has taken over and improved education since 1964. The thrust of education now is to business and technical training instead of theology and philosophy. Opportunities are more and more opening up for the French-Canadian youth to enter the business and industrial world.
Press and other media are free to research the questions of the day and to publish their findings. The Quebecker of today is more knowledgeable and better informed than ever before. Educated public opinion demands better government.
Minorities such as Jehovah’s witnesses and others are just as free nowadays in Quebec as anywhere else. There is a whole new atmosphere of intellectual freedom never known prior to the “Quiet Revolution.”
Quebec has come out of the night of backwardness into the modern world with a great leap forward. While many conditions have improved by reason of these changes respecting the secular affairs of life, yet there is one other important human need that must be considered!
The Religious Vacuum: Who Can Fill It?
Any sudden removal of the core of a society leaves an empty space. So what has happened in Quebec following the sudden decline of the power of the Catholic Church?
Montreal Star writer Ralph Surette comments: “The Catholic Church has been at the core of French Canadian society for 300 years . . . What happens when that kind of power vanishes? . . . anguish and indifference on the part of both laity and clergy have sprung in the place where the Church once stood firm.”
So who or what can fill this religious vacuum? Who is ready to supply the need of the people for spiritual comfort and Bible instruction? Most religions in Canada have in times past been afraid to expand in Quebec for fear of the dominant Catholic hierarchy. As a result they are not equipped to fill the religious need that now exists.
However, there is one notable exception! For the past fifty years Jehovah’s witnesses have continued unfailingly in good times and bad to show their loving concern for the French-Canadian people. They have offered Bible instruction and spiritual comfort to all who desired it. Jehovah’s witnesses are solidly established in Quebec, having now 130 congregations and over 7,000 persons actively participating in giving Bible instruction. They are ready and able to fill the religious vacuum. But can they command the confidence of the people?
Respect and Confidence Have Been Earned
It has now become abundantly evident that the opposition to Jehovah’s witnesses formerly manifest among the Quebec populace was caused by misinformation sponsored by the clerical and political leaders of the time. In the meantime the people have become acquainted with Jehovah’s witnesses firsthand and now take a much different view.
A French-Canadian columnist, André Rufiange, writing in Le Journal de Montreal of July 30, 1973, said: “Duplessis must have turned over in his grave, he who treated Jehovah’s witnesses as scarecrows and who convinced us, in school at the time, that they were a sect of evildoers . . . I am not a Witness. But I am a witness to the fact that the Witnesses witness to efficiency and proper behaviour. . . . Really very nice people. If they were the only people in the world, we would not at night have to bolt our doors shut and put on the burglar alarm.”
Jehovah’s witnesses and their peaceful practice of Bible instruction in the homes of the people are now a well-recognized and accepted part of the Quebec scene. Often householders ask them: ‘The Church has disappeared. What happens next? Where do we go from here?’ Having lost confidence in the long-dominant Church, many Quebeckers are now turning to Jehovah’s witnesses as the only people seriously interested in their personal problems and religious needs.
Their organization is growing numerically as well as in quality and maturity. Over the last decade Jehovah’s witnesses have sponsored a French-language school in Montreal that has already given basic French-language training to more than 1,200 individuals, who have moved from other parts of Canada to serve where the need is greater in that part of the field.
Additionally, in the summer of 1974, Jehovah’s witnesses released a translation of the Bible in modern French, available at a figure within the reach of everyone. Everything possible is being done for the spiritual encouragement of the Quebec people. Jehovah’s witnesses often remark how much they enjoy working among these interesting and stimulating people.
Confirming the gaining of respect, Georges Bherer, writer for Le Soleil of Quebec City, published his observations after attending the “Divine Purpose” assembly there in August 1974: “Jehovah’s witnesses have experienced a staggering increase in the province of Quebec over the last few years. . . .
“For the witness of Jehovah, religion is a way of life and not a collection of ceremonies. Placing emphasis on honesty and moral purity, they preach that Christ is really the Son of God and that all hope of future life depends on the faith one exercises in him. They believe that in the very near future, in our own generation, God’s kingdom will destroy the present evil system.”
The success and effectiveness of the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses in Quebec has itself contributed to the respect and confidence of the people of Quebec. The Montreal newspaper Le Petit Journal, July 28, 1974, has publicly pointed to the religious decline on one side and progress on the other, stating: “While traditional religions are on the wane, with churches getting emptier all the time, Jehovah’s witnesses are experiencing increased membership and are even purchasing former church buildings and other facilities in which to gather their new members.
“Whereas they only had 356 members [in Quebec] in 1945, they numbered about 7,000 across the province in 1974, divided into 120 congregations who reach 125 towns.
“In 1973 the witnesses of Jehovah saw their numbers increase by 22 percent. Because of this big increase of witnesses in Quebec several halls and churches were purchased to provide meeting places. The most important building purchase in the Montreal district is the Dorémi dance hall at Saint Luc which can seat 1,800 people.” The property at Saint Luc, Quebec, has become an Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s witnesses.
The town of Joliette, Quebec, used to be a special center for Roman Catholicism. An immense seminary was one of the most dominant structures in the town. Missionaries of Jehovah’s witnesses were driven out by Catholic riots in 1949.—See Awake!, April 8, 1950.
Now there is an active congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses in Joliette with a fine Kingdom Hall on one of the main thoroughfares. Meanwhile the seminary has been purchased by the government and turned into a community college. This former seminary has twice been used by Jehovah’s witnesses for their semiannual circuit assemblies.
Roland Gagnon was a Joliette businessman who, in 1949, formed part of the mob that drove Jehovah’s witnesses out of town. At present he is a member of the Joliette congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Now that they know Jehovah’s witnesses better, many of the naturally friendly and vivacious French Canadians have changed and are showing their confidence and respect by responding to the encouraging Bible information offered to them.
But how is this teaching affecting the lives of the people who accept it?
People Being Helped
Many are the pressures of this unstable world. Problems are universal, but especially does youth need help. This is being provided by Jehovah’s witnesses. The following news heading from Montreal’s La Patrie of July 28, 1974, focuses on some of the good work being done: “YOUNG HIPPIE DOPE ADDICTS RESCUED BY JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES.”
The article explains how four young former drug addicts, three men and one woman, became Jehovah’s witnesses, cleaned up their persons as well as their moral practices. Pictures were published showing how each looked before and after becoming Jehovah’s witnesses. The “before” pictures showed long-haired, unkempt youths; the “after” showed four clean-cut young persons.
The article by reporter Andrée Le Bel comments: “Their life style has greatly changed because they say they have at last found a purpose in life to which they can devote all their energies . . . All of Jehovah’s witnesses are agreed that practicing Bible principles in daily life improves moral conduct and the quality of life.”
Another young man, a Catholic from Montreal, had allowed his life to be swallowed up in gambling. “One night while I was at the races, my brother-in-law and his wife visited my home and left two copies of the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life with my wife,” he writes. “When I got home she explained what she had learned about the end of this system being very close and that those who do not take sides with Jehovah will be destroyed. She suggested I read the little blue book, which was opened to page 94. She got through to me, because I was really upset about the way I was carrying on and I knew I had to change. My conscience bothered me so much that I couldn’t sleep at night.
“I read the little book the next day, and that evening asked my brother-in-law to study with me. Now I am happy to be among Jehovah’s witnesses with my wife.”
These are just some of the experiences of those who have been helped by the preaching and teaching work of Jehovah’s witnesses. Such happy examples could be multiplied many times.
What appeal of Jehovah’s witnesses reaches the hearts of so many? It is the simple and uncomplicated Bible message that the government of Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus is about to take over the rule of the earth from the present stumbling systems. This government will make changes that result in happiness and life to all those who qualify to live in such new order.
Happy changes have already been made in Quebec, but the greatest are yet to come through God’s kingdom. Jehovah’s witnesses extend the invitation to all to join with them and learn more about Jehovah, the God of love, and his grand purposes for mankind. As the Bible says: “Happy is the man that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked ones . . . But his delight is in the law of Jehovah . . . and everything he does will succeed.”—Ps. 1:1-3.