Urban monks set up first mission in North America

A thousand voices echoed through the large Montreal cathedral for sung vespers Sept. 25 during the welcoming ceremony for a new religious community that is also new to the city and the continent.

Seven monks and 10 nuns of the Monastic Jerusalem Communities arrived in the archdiocese Sept. 17 to run the Sanctuary of the Blessed Sacrament (Saint-Sacrement). Following an invitation from Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, who presided at the vespers at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, the Paris-based religious community decided to open its first North American monastery here.

Thirty-five-year-old Sr. Cecile has been a member of the community for the last 12 years. She said she had prayed for her community to come to Montreal for the last 10.

It became possible when the Blessed Sacrament Fathers decided that they could no longer run their sanctuary, located in the heart of Montreal in a trendy, artsy section called the Plateau Mont-Royal, because they did not have enough new vocations.

A lack of vocations has not been a problem for the Monastic Jerusalem Communities, which has only kept growing since its founding in Paris in 1975.

Contrary to most monastic communities, the fraternity chooses to live in the heart of a city instead of in a secluded, peaceful area. The fraternity consists of monks (brothers and priests) and nuns, who dedicate their life to prayer, contemplation and action. Most members work outside the monastery. Some have professional careers, such as computer programming and teaching; others work at whatever jobs they find.

The fraternity differs from many religious communities in North America in that it has relatively young members; the average age is below 35. And unlike most local religious communities, the monks and sisters wear a habit – blue robes and veils. In their first week in Montreal, it was not uncommon to see passers-by approach the monks and nuns to exchange a few words.

Founding a new community

The fraternity was established by Br. Pierre-Marie Delfieux. The diocesan priest had worked as a university chaplain at the Sorbonne in the late 1960s before he left to live in the desert with the Little Brothers of Jesus, a monastic community inspired by Charles de Foucauld.

Realizing that the desert wasn’t in the sand but at the core of the city itself, returned to Paris and founded the Monastic Jerusalem Communities.

Currently, the community has urban monasteries in France, Belgium, Italy and now Canada. Its members represent 30 nationalities.

“If young people are joining this movement, it’s because they realize the city can be inhumane in its spiritual, human and even material poverty,” said Sr. Cecile. “Those who discover Christ want to share their faith and show the happiness it can bring to people while living in the city.”

The monks and nuns welcome the public to join them in lauds, matins, vespers and Holy Eucharist nearly every day. The Sanctuary of the Blessed Sacrament is located at 500 Mont-Royal Ave. East.

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