Jacqueline Marie and Eric Myatt | April 8, 2023
This Easter four adults will be baptized at St. Willibrord Parish in Montreal, Canada. A parish that just a year ago was described as “palliative” – dwindled down to 20 parishioners – is now teeming with new life.
Over the last year, St. Willibrord’s new pastor Fr. Robert Assaly and Fr. Mike Leclerc, (the Pastor of thriving parish St. Ignatius of Loyola), created one of the most innovative, and evangelistic parish initiatives in the Catholic Church – a missionary partnership between their two parishes.
This partnership has borne tremendous fruit. There are now 120-30 people at weekend Mass at St. Willibrord. Dozens have had their faith reignited.
Within the joy of Easter, the reality of Lenten sorrow penetrates this parish.
Tragically, Fr. Robert died of pancreatic and liver cancer on the 5th Sunday of Lent – only a few short weeks after his illness was announced. A former Anglican priest, Fr. Robert leaves behind his wife and six children.
Amidst the shock of this devastating news, Fr. Robert remained unwaveringly clear in his missional directive for his parish. “Fr. Robert expressed his utmost confidence in all the parishioners who have and continue to come forward to transform Verdun through our mission.”
Death and baptisms…renewal and loss. One is not replaced by the other, they coexist like water in wine. As Barbara Johnson stated in her book Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life: “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”
In the now and not-yet reality of God’s Kingdom is this not also where we live in parish renewal? We see death, literally and figuratively… declining numbers in the pews, secularized societies. But we are not people just of the reality of death, but also of the reality of resurrection. This tension is mirrored in the combined sorrow and victory of Holy Saturday. While Jesus’ followers mourned his death, scattered and hopeless, Jesus stormed the gates of hell returning victorious.
So, we join with Father Robert’s family and St. Willibrord in mourning the deep loss of their father and pastor, we join with priests and parish leaders who are grieving their parishes declining and we open our hearts to be broken by the pain in our communities and countries.
We are not overcome.
We know that Sunday is coming and with it, resurrection. Hannah Vaughn-Spruce, Executive Director UK, reiterated this as the DR staff gathered to pray at the start of Holy Week: “New life will come, and resurrection is certain.”
So, this Easter we celebrate the One who has “turned [our] mourning into dancing” (Psalms 30:11) as we say, “Come Lord Jesus, Come.”