Canadian Jesuits battle Wal-Mart

In a classic David and Goliath struggle, the Canadian Jesuits are up against one of the world’s largest corporations in a fight to keep a sprawling mega-store from being built next to the priests’ retreat centre.

Fr. James Profit, SJ, the director of the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ont., is leading his community in the battle against Wal-Mart.

The corporation has wanted to enter the Guelph market of 100,000 people for quite some time, and it has decided that the best span of land for its department store is just south of the 600-acre retreat centre. The Jesuits have been able to keep the company at bay for the last nine years but it’s becoming more difficult as Wal-Mart won’t back down.

Fr. Profit says the department store would bring with it a lot of traffic, noise and pollution, which would alter the life of the Jesuits and the experience of the people, who come to the 90-year-old complex for silent retreats. According to Fr. Profit, the green expanse of land, which Wal-Mart is eyeing, is “an expression of God” and should be protected as such, reported the National Post.

The 47-year-old priest also told the National Post that the proposed 135,000-square-foot store would be located in “the sacred belt” of three cemeteries. He also fears that other stores will go up once Wal-Mart sets up shop.

“Wal-Mart always attracts other stores,” he was quoted as saying. “We’re going to have several stores eventually, and it’s going to be very active. It’s so contrary to that sense of solitude one needs, even for graveyards.”

However, the priest recognizes the company’s good will in negotiating with the Jesuits. For example, Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Groh told the National Post that the company has significantly reduced the size of the proposed store, from 300,000 to 135,000 square feet. The company has also agreed to a larger buffer zone between the store and the retreat centre.

While more than 50 citizens spoke our against Wal-Mart in their community at public meetings two weeks ago, according to the Post, most citizen are in favor of having the discount department store in their community.

There is no indication about when a decision will be made.

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