Wearing stylish jeans and a white button-down shirt, Fr. Robert Gagne, insisted that the young people walking across Canada to promote the pro-life message could not enter the famous Basilica to pray because of the ‘pro-life’ message emblazoned on their T-shirts.
The historic Notre Dame Basilica, run by the Sulpician priests (PSS) since 1657, is a Gothic masterpiece that charges a $10 entrance fee most days, unless pilgrims are there to pray or attend Mass.
On August 8, the dozen or so youth walking across Canada to spread the pro-life message arrived in Montreal. As is their custom, the Crossroads team went to church to pray, this time at the Basilica of Notre Dame.
But at the entrance where a guard normally asks if visitors have come to pray or to sightsee, the group was not asked about their intentions but simply told they could not come in with their pro-life T-shirts.
The T-shirts were in French stating ‘pro-vie’ in large letters across the font. The French–language tees came courtesy of Campaign Life Coalition’s Quebec branch – Campagne Quebec Vie (CQV). CQV President Georges Buscemi was at the Basilica Monday to pray with the Crossroads team.
Buscemi said he was taken aback at the rejection – especially in light of the scanty clothing and 50-cent T-shirts passing muster at the same entrance – and told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) it was like Notre Dame had been caught being a “den of thieves” rather than a house of worship.
Walk leader Mike Hayden said he and another of the team asked to speak with someone in charge and spent much time trying to convince Fr. Robert Gagne to allow the team into the church to pray.
Hayden told LSN that the priest, like the guards before him, insisted that the pro-life T-shirts were political and thus forbidden.
“We tried to argue that it was a moral issue, not a political one,” said Hayden. “We’re not here to pass out info, just to pray to Jesus for the love of God. You’re a priest. We are Catholic young pilgrims here to pray to Jesus,” Hayden recalls saying to repeated refusals from Fr. Gagne.
“We’ve never been refused anywhere before,” Hayden told LSN, “never refused entrance or service at a restaurant or a museum.”
Exasperated, Hayden said he informed the priest that he would be going to the media with the story of his refusal. At that point, says Hayden, the priest left to make a phone call and then grudgingly granted the group entrance to the adoration chapel through a side entrance not visible to the public.
After a time of prayer in the chapel the young pro-life pilgrims sang a hymn together before departing.
One of the walkers, Mary Barrett, told the group of an inspiration she had during prayer which gave the walkers great consolation: that Christ too preached in his own temples and was driven out and rejected. “We were called to share in his suffering,” she said.
LSN attempted to reach Fr. Gagne to respond to the story but he did not return the call by press time.