May 17, 2017 7:02 pm
Updated: May 18, 2017 9:35 am

375th anniversary mass aimed for cultural inclusion, Catholic leaders say

WATCH: Celebrations for Montreal’s 375th anniversary started with a mass at the Notre-Dame Bascilica in Old Montreal. Following a push to make Quebec a secular society, Global's Sarah Volstad finds out what Montrealers think about starting celebrations with a religious ceremony.

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In a city centered on diversity, it may have seemed contradictory to open Montreal’s birthday celebration with a religious ceremony, but Catholic leaders say the celebratory mass aimed to welcome all.

“It’s a Catholic celebration — it’s part of our origin,” said Christian Lepine, the Archbishop of Montreal. “But at the same time, it’s an open identity welcoming to everyone. We are all brothers and sisters in humanity.”

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The city tried to ensure an inclusive event, with invitees including spiritual leaders of various religions and two Mohawk elders.

Yet some couldn’t help notice the ironic juxtaposition of a Catholic ceremony on what the city recognizes to be unceded native territory.

WATCH: 375 Montreal: Protests to interrupt Jacques-Cartier bridge lighting

“I know there is a lot of sensitive issues pertaining to Catholicism and residential schools,” said Nadine St. Louis, who works in Montreal’s indigenous arts and culture community. “However, we can’t mix the two. I think that French-Canadian people have strong Catholic beliefs and are following the protocols.”

“Many of us, obviously, were really converted and have now the faith in Catholic church or Christian religions,” said indigenous cultural director Andre Dudemaine. “So I suppose that those can connect with that kind of activity.”

The ceremony was held at Montreal’s iconic Notre-Dame basilica on Wednesday morning.

READ MORE: Montreal celebrating its 375th birthday today

Among those in attendance were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who had an important message for attendees.

“Before us, it was the indigenous people, and it’s important to send the message that [this is] is Mohawk territory,” Coderre said. “But at the same time, we are focusing on a metropolis of reconciliation.”

Wednesday afternoon, prominent politicians, religious figures and members of First Nations communities came together at city hall to pay tribute to the longstanding presence of indigenous people on the land.

“That’s kind of a paradox, inviting indigenous people — survivors of residential schools and so much historical trauma that a lot of us are still carrying — and the clergy is going around saluting everybody,” St. Louis said. “I felt a bit uneasy, I wasn’t in a comfortable place.”

She believes, however, that the focus now should be on moving forward together.

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