When I came back after having spent one year from October 1981 to October 1982, in India, I asked to move from the countryside of Lachute and to live in the city. The change of residence was allowed by my brother-superiors and I was sent to live in a fraternity situated in a place in the city called “Le Plateau”.
“The Plateau-Mont-Royal takes its name from its location on relatively flat terrain north of Sherbrooke Street and downtown, and east of Mont-Royal. The borough is bordered to the north and north-east by the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks; to the west by Hutchison (north of Mount Royal Avenue), Park Avenue (between Mount Royal and Pine Avenue) and University Street (south of Pine Avenue); and to the south by Sherbrooke Street. It is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Canada, with 101,054 people living in an 8.1 square kilometre area.
Starting in 1745, the urbanized area of Montreal began to extend beyond its fortifications. The Plateau Mont-Royal was born and when the Faubourg Saint-Laurent to the south, became the main line of development. In 1792, Montreal expanded to establish its official limits about two kilometers around the original fortifications. Therefore,Mount Royal and Duluth Streetformed its boundaries.” ( Wilkepedia)
Our fraternity was situated just a few minutes walk to Duluth or Mont Royal and the street where we lived was “called Hotel de Ville”. The rooms were small and there was really no green grass and tall trees and woods around the house as in my previous dwelling in Lachute but this was city living and a far cry away from the life I lived in India. Yet I loved it for several reasons, but mainly because it was in a district where working people lived and it was not far from the city close to almost everything. I felt that after living for ten years in a ‘contemplative’ life style and away from the city and after being in India living mainly in places of prayer and pilgrimage and after having lived in forests and ashrams and places where the whole focus was on prayer and meditation, that it was time I came back and lived in the reality of the world. If I could not be a man of interiority and live among the rest of society, then I may as well give up my practices of meditation and spirituality.
I was not alone. I was here in this city fraternity living among Franciscan brothers and we had a life of daily prayer and meditation from the start of day before some left for studies or work, and again in the evening when they all returned and we had evening prayers, or the eucharist and dinner. It was vibrant and it was open to visitors as we never knew at times who would ring the doorbell. There were moments of joy and laughter as there were moments of concern, of discernement as we tried our best to live a meaningful life of service and some of the younger friars were in the process of preparing to make their comittments for life. We took turns in house-work chores and my main contribution was cooking.
It was in this house, in this fraternity, I began to look at my life differently mainly because of the rapid changes in our society, the changes in our world and without a doubt, the changes which were taking place in the Church. I always look at the religious communities as a local reflection of the Church . Whether it is renewal or reform, it mainly comes from the top and spirals down to the life of the communities. Something was lacking somewhere I thought and so I pondered and I searched and after my life in India as a sort of a pilgrim, I now found myself in the big city of Montreal again as a pilgrim, still reaching out, searching for a path for some answers, for stablity…..for finding oneself.
One day I was invited to attend a conference in a Yoga center. There was a visiting swami and I went to listen to his teachings. The place was within walking distance from the fraternity and there, several evenings per week there were programs of chants and talks and meditation. I had a certain nostalgia for things Indian, and here,the chants, the smell of the incense, the talks, the moments of meditation seemed to fulfill my thirst. I felt more comfortable here than going to a movie or other city distractions and soon I made friends and it became like a community outside the one in which I lived. My brothers were aware and although it may have seen strange to them, they never objected.
At the same time I was aware of the changing face of Montreal. The influx of ‘boat people’ arriving from Asia, the refugees fleeing problems in Sri Lanka and elsewhere brought many people who were Hindus and Buddhists and other religions and slowly temples were being built and places of worship were arising much faster than one can imagine. I felt somehow that I wanted to know more about these people and after living in Fr. Bede Griffith’s ashram in India and taking part in Inter-Religious Dialogue meetings, it was now time to get involved in our own city.