Whistler Church “what God wants us to do”
VANCOUVER — Fr. Andrew L’Heureux dreams of a future when a flock of pilgrims, backpacks loaded and spirits high, gather outside Holy Rosary Cathedral in downtown Vancouver. Pilgrims take a last respectful look at the evocative façade of the cathedral homeless jesus statue – Catholics among them making the sign of the cross – then they turn to begin a 123 km multi-day hike to Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler’s awe-inspiring scenery is sure to attract such hikers, said L’Heureux, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Whistler. But a more powerful attraction can come from a beautiful new church that the parish is planning.
“People who come looking for an earthly paradise might also discover a heavenly one,” he said.
The prospect of a pilgrimage trail from Vancouver to Whistler is one of the many opportunities that L’Heureux sees as arising from the “new church project.”
A genuine new church, replacing the parish hall currently in use, “has the potential to put Whistler on the world map as a spiritual destination for pilgrimages, retreats, Catholic weddings and conferences,” he said in a bulletin describing the project. . “Word has spread, and we already have interest from a few retreat masters.”
Although closely associated with Vancouver, Our Lady of the Mountains is actually part of the Diocese of Kamloops. He has already raised $3.3 million for the church project and is counting on significant donations, likely from well-heeled Vancouverites who have second homes in Whistler, to help him reach his $5 million goal.
Philanthropist Andy Szocs leads the parish’s fundraising team.
“We’re not trying to siphon off the Archdiocese of Vancouver,” he said, “but we’re looking for people who could give to both.”
When the Whistler resort opened in the mid-1960s, Catholic services were held in the 60-seat, non-denominational Skiers’ Chapel, a small A-shaped building constructed in 1968. Our Lady of the Mountains Parish was officially established in 1993, and construction of the multi-purpose parish hall began a year later.
Although the parish has fewer than 100 families, it must also meet the needs of the 2.5 million skiers, hikers, cyclists and other vacationers who, in pre-pandemic times, traveled to the all-weather resort community each year.
L’Heureux, pastor of the parish of Whistler for less than two years, admits to being amazed at the speed with which the project for the new church is coming to life.
“It’s all ridiculous to me,” he said. “But I believe that’s what God wants us to do.”
The new church will seat 200 people, but will adjoin the existing hall, which will be refurbished so that it can open to the new church to provide an additional 300 seats during busy seasons such as Easter and Christmas.
“We are in the third design phase and once that is complete we can begin the licensing process, which is expected to take about nine months,” L’Heureux said. If all goes well, groundbreaking will take place in the spring of 2023.
The primary purpose of the new church is to provide parishioners with a truly sacred space.
“For us Catholics, there is such a need for the sacraments and it is an opportunity to spend intimate time with God,” L’Heureux said. “And right now, because our church is a multi-purpose center, it doesn’t really have that. It is never entirely reserved for the worship of God, to show the importance of why we worship as Christians and how essential it is to have space reserved solely for the worship of God.
While incorporating natural wood structures and finishes associated with Whistler, the new church will also be of traditional design.
An important part of L’Heureux’s vision for the future of the parish is to expand its mission to make Whistler “a place of Catholic destination,” where Catholic organizations can host satellite events.
“Whistler is a beautiful place,” said L’Heureux. “It’s a natural destination. So we also want to make it a supernatural destination.
The final part of the vision is the pilgrimage route. There is no continuous trail at present, but L’Heureux thinks it is inevitable that a full trail will eventually be completed.
He notes that on famous pilgrimage trails like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, perhaps only 5% of hikers actually have religious intentions in mind when they start, but “100% of people have a spiritual experience in being on the trail. ”