Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Splendour of the Ottawa Marian Congress

Maureen put together the following synopsis from newspaper articles of the Marian Congress that was held in Ottawa in 1947.

Dear Mary, please pray for Canada, we so need it.

By Maureen Ward

Wednesday, June 18th, 1947 - Sunday, June 22, 1947

The Marian Congress was Ottawa’s greatest pilgrimage of faith and drew over a quarter million people to the city. No other occasion in the history of Ottawa induced as many people to come as far, and stay as long, as did the Marian Congress. All who attended said the experience was unforgettable. There were pageants and parades with beautiful floats. The music was heavenly. There were spectacularly robed Cardinals, numerous dignitaries and throngs of people who came from far and wide. Oh, what a week!

It was to celebrate the centenary of the Archdiocese of Ottawa and to pray for lasting peace in the world. The message of the Marian Congress: Intercession with the Mother of God to obtain from her Divine Son a lasting world peace, and  this message was the keynote of all the addresses delivered by world known prelates.

Although now largely forgotten, in its day it was the largest religious conference in North America and Ottawa had never seen anything like it. Visitors arrived by car, bus, plane, and special excursion trains. Ottawa street cars had its greatest traffic in history. Joy and reverent faith was everywhere. 

A huge outdoor repository was built at Lansdowne for the religious festivities.  It was 515 feet long and along its back wall were four large statues of angels raising golden trumpets toward a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that topped a 115 foot tower at the centre of the dias. Beneath the tower was a stage and altar. In front were benches enough to seat 75,000 people. There were also 110 wonderful exhibits on the site.

A statue of our Lady from Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Que. was installed in the Peace Chapel at Landsdowne Park and a series of masses – day and night – without interruption began. There were 48 masses each 24 hours, one every half hour. 250 different priests said the masses, and most of them were members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who also direct the Marian Shrine at Cap-de-la- Madeleine.

In many of the Churches in the city there were numerous extra masses to welcome visitors. Some churches had masses at Saturday at midnight and at 1 and 2 am Sunday morning.

A message to the Congress from Pope Pius XII was broadcast during a Mass on June 19 and carried by major radio networks across the country. 

The Congress was attended by 9 cardinals - including Cardinal McGuigan of Toronto (who was the official Papal Legate), Cardinal Tisserant, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church, Cardinal Mindszenty, Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of the Church in Hungary, Cardinal Gerlier, Archbishop of Lyons, Archbishop Mar Ivanios of Trivandrum, India, and Cardinal Artegay Bentancourt of Havana, Cuba - 19 archbishops (including Archbishop John D’Alton, Primate of All Ireland) and 120 bishops from seven countries.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King did not attend but hosted a dinner for the cardinals at his Laurier House Residence. However, Louis St Laurent, then Secretary of State for External Affairs, Premier Maurice Duplessis of Quebec, Thibaudeau Rinfret, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Angus MacDonald, Premier of Nova Scotia, and Paul Martin, Federal Minister of Health  and Welfare, were some of the government representatives in attendance.

During the five-day Congress there was a procession of floats along the canal driveway, public veneration of a replica of the statue of Our Lady of the Cape, and the consecration of Canada to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This act of consecration was recited before a great crowd at the 155-foot- high Landsdowne Park outdoor altar during Sunday’s closing Pontifical mass. Louis St. Laurent, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs read the Act in French and Dr. J.J. McCann, Dominion Minister of National Revenue, read it in English. In his closing remarks the Pontiff said. “Take courage and know that the Immaculate Mother of God had appealed to her Divine Son so that the repentance of the world will bring redemption."

The entire week was magnificent but Sunday was the day of days with so many in attendance that there were many extra trains. There were trains where you never saw trains before and some of them arrived less than a minute apart. Ottawa’s normal population of something like 200,000 swelled to something close to 500,000.

There was unforgettable splendor as at the great dinner Saturday night at the Chateau Laurier.  At no place did Church and State, religious and civil authorities meet under such truly colourful auspices as at the dinner tendered in the Chateau Laurier Saturday Night to His Eminence James Charles Cardinal McGuigan, Legate of His Holiness Pope Pius XII and His excellency the RT Honourable Viscount Alexander of Tunis. Rev. Vachon, Archbishop of Ottawa and Official Host of the Congress gave the dinner.  Among those attending were Premier Drew of Ontario, Prime Minister MacKenzie King, Right Honourable J.L Isley, Minister of Justice, Cardinal Spellman of the Americas, Cardinal Frings of Germany, Honorable Humphrey Mitchell Labour Minister, Hon. J.J. McCann, Minister of National Revenue. Cardinal Mindzenty of Hungary was there as was Hon. Alphonse Fournier Minister of Public Works and Rt. Honourable Louis St. Laurent minister of External Affairs. Representing the Eastern Branch of the Catholic Church was cardinal Tiserant. Cardinal Gerlier of France attended as well as Major General HP Letson the Governor General’s Military Secretary. Stanley Lewis, Mayor of Ottawa and Honorable Wishert Robertson, Government leader in the Senate both attended the Gala

And there was the  beautiful simplicity of so many families having picnics in their cars while stuck in traffic or picnicking and resting amid the June foliage of the parkway and on boulevards. Many slept under the stars at Landsdowne: some because they had no accommodation, others because they wanted to be close to the morning celebrations. There were scores of volunteers and all across the city there are numerous stories of people helping one another.

Although it rained early on in the week, the weather was magnificent later on and for the spectacular closing ceremonies. On Wednesday in a special statement to the Ottawa Citizen The strong faith of the archbishop was evident when he said  “I am confident Almighty God will bless us with fine weather” One might have been skeptical of this statement because it had been raining every day for a month before the Congress began.

Sunday’s procession of the Blessed Sacrament  preceded by 26 beautiful religious floats and 1,000 maids of honour were viewed by spectators exceeding 200,000 in number along a route extending from MacKenzie Avenue via the Driveway to Landsdowne Park. Anxious crowds had lined both sides of the driveway two hours previously. One RCMP officer estimated that more than 20,000 people had surged unto the plaza square.

Sunday was sunny and cloudless and during the night the crescent moon rode the skies til dawn  amid the splendour of unforgettable fireworks. The fireworks, depicting scenes in the life of the Blessed Virgin, maintained to the last the spirit of reverence and faith in prayer which the whole congress engendered.

After the closing ceremonies there was a mass exodus of people and the Union Station was packed to the rafters with thousands of Marian Congress participants returning to their homes in all parts of Canada. They waited patiently with their suitcases outside the station as packed street cars arrived at the station. Police, Railway Officials and members of the Saint John Ambulance Brigade were there to assist those in need. The crowds were regulated by some 30 city Constables, RCMP constables and CPR police kept order and regulated the number of people who could enter the station at one time.

The smooth operation of trains leaving in quick succession was due mainly to the efficient management of the station staff under the direction of CPR and CNR traffic experts sent from Toronto and Montreal to supervise the movement of this great mass of people. Throughout the peak rail traffic period of the weekend there had been neither accidents nor confusion. After midnight trains were leaving the Station minutes apart.

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