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Montreal's new auxiliary bishop revealed

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Marist Brothers played key role in shaping faith of Father Alain Faubert
By Deborah Gyapong

When Montreal's new Auxiliary Bishop-elect Alain Faubert looks back at his faith journey, he credits Marist Brothers for their charisms that helped him meet Jesus Christ and share Him with others.

Born in Montreal in 1965 and raised in Laval, Quebec, Bishop-elect Faubert said his devout French-Canadian extended family nurtured his curiosity about science, about other cultures, and about life and gave him a firm foundation. "Everything was amazing to me as a child," he said.

At the age of 9 or 10, he prayed, he attended Mass, and he believed God existed. But he did not know whether God knew or cared if he existed. Maybe his prayer was "one of a billion prayers that goes into a basket in St. Peter's office upstairs," he said.

His faith blossomed, however, at the age of 14 while attending CollŠge Laval, a private boys school run by the Marist Brothers, an order founded by French priest St. Marcellin de Champagnat in 1817.

At this school for boys aged 12-17, Faubert had a spiritual experience in Sept. 1979 that transformed his life. He said he heard Jesus tell him, "Alain, I know you. I love you."

"This is such an event, so bright, so full of life, I hardly remember what was going on before," he said.

He recalled he was "not a troublesome child," and he was "not asking about my purpose in life." Everything was normal, even boring, as he played basketball, hockey and football and led "a basic teen life."

Then he began taking a religious studies class with a Marist Brother who was "quite a challenging guy" and "in your face."

"I'm starting a prayer group, guys," the Brother said. "I expect you to be there." He then gave the date and time. Of 200 students, only three showed up. The other two had had experiences with the Lord through the charismatic movement, and were telling each other how the Lord had done something so beautiful in their lives.

One of them, who is still one of his best friends, turned and asked him, "Well, Alain, what has the good Lord done in your life?"

That when "it hit me like a truck. Jesus was there," he said. "This is central in my spiritual experience, to come to know that I exist in God's heart and mind . . . that He acts for us; He is present."

The prayer group of three students "grew and grew," he said. But a vocation to the priesthood was not on his mind, only being a good, committed Catholic.

The next experience shaped by Marist Brothers concerned time he spent as a summer camp counsellor at Camp Mariste in Rawdon, Quebec where the Marists ran as an outreach to young people from poor neighborhoods in Montreal and nearby rural areas.

"I was a counsellor there for ten years, being with these kids, experiencing the fact they needed to be loved," he said. "That is so much part of the Marist spirituality, to be with them, to listen to them, to care for them."

The Marist Brothers provided "opportunities to go deeper, to meet Jesus, the Holy Spirit, to experience the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and through serving at the camp to "experience the love of God through giving myself."

At the time, Faubert had trouble connecting the dots between parish life and the ministry of the Marist Brothers. He saw parish priests as "saints" to be admired, but impossible to imitate. He did not know any personally.

Meanwhile, he was pursuing studies in physics, computer science and mathematics, and got accepted at L'cole Polytechnique de Montr‚al, an engineering school.

"I was really interested in quantum physics and what happened with the universe," he said. "It was a real interest: where do we come from? Where are we going?" But then he started to meet young priests.

At age 19, back at the summer camp, he was playing guitar with a group of young people, and a deacon who was preparing to become a priest was coming to visit. He expected the deacon to be dressed in black and boring. "We would speak about the Montreal Canadiens and he wouldn't know what we were talking about."

"He arrives in jeans, hiking boots, and a knapsack on his back," he said. They were singing Beatles songs and "he knew all of them."

"Through him, I met a series of priests totally devoted to the Gospel, in connection with the Focolare Movement," he said. Yet they were "also human. They were men, but men of God. This shook me all over."

"I had to witness to the fact it was perfectly possibly to be devoted to God and remain part of this world, not live on a cloud, two miles above normal people," he said.

At age 20, Faubert had what he described as an existential crisis. He was sitting in the cafeteria at the Polytecnique and looking at his Texas Instruments calculator. He realized, "This is not what I'm meant to do." He asked himself, "Isn't there something else?"

He quit the school and went to the young men's centre run by the Marist Brothers. They were opening a mission in Haiti and inviting young people who could join them there as lay cooperators. In Sept. 1986, he flew to Haiti for a ten-month stay to teach French, English, mathematics and do catechesis.

"I owe it to the Haitian people that I found the church that I could connect with, the official, institutional church through the prayer of the Haitian people," he said.

Their little communities, gathering behind their shacks, and their sense of faith, their resilience in the face of tremendous poverty and challenges, moved him tremendously. It was the first time he was exposed to that level of poverty---no electricity or running water. Some of the young people he taught had the swollen bellies and orange hair indicating malnutrition. "These guys were smiling at me. 'I haven't eaten in four days. It's no big deal.'"

"Here you are, you think you are good, you think you are so smart and strong and they were my teachers," he said. "I think I learned the Church from the bottom up."

There he came to understand the Church is a Body. "They taught us so much."

At age 21-22, he still hesitated about committing himself. He could have remained in Haiti and become a Marist Brother, but he felt his family calling him to come back to Canada, so he returned to resume his studies. Atthe end of the summer, one of his priest friends from the Focolare Movement asked him, "What are you waiting for?" and suggested he apply to enter the Grand Seminary in Montreal.

"He was the eldest of the gang, so warm, so humane, so I just said, Okay. Why not?"

"So I wrote this famous letter we all have to do," he said. He was accepted in Sept. 1987 and spent the next five years studying philosophy and theology and discovering, "it was the food I needed for my soul and heart."

Ordained a priest in 1995 after obtaining a Master's Degree, and doing various different duties in the Montreal archdiocese, Faubert later went on to study for a doctorate, combining studies at Laval University in Quebec City and the Institut catholique de Paris.

After working in faith education for the archdiocese, and helping people find the faith or return to it, he recalled one man telling him "We need border managers," specialist for those on the border of faith "helping people at the frontier, to stand in the breach and help people cross over. It's still with me today."

The passion for being with young people who need love and an experience of Christ, for being with those who have left the faith and helping them come back, has only grown since his time with the Marist Brothers. Faubert also said he learned so much from priests who taught him to be attentive to the hidden wounds of others.

"Of course truth has to be served, but it is better served when we are good," he said. "People want to hear the truth of the gospel when they see us be good with them, if we go full frontal with the truth sometimes, it can be discouraging, too much to handle."

Bishop-elect Faubert will be consecrated to the episcopate on June 15 in Montreal's Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.

Last Updated on Friday, 29 April 2016 08:02  

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