Mayor Jean Tremblay asked God to give him a chance to prove that he loved him, and now he is headed to the Supreme Court to keep prayer and a crucifix in city council chambers.

CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG

Mayor Jean Tremblay asked God to give him a chance to prove that he loved him, and now he is headed to the Supreme Court to keep prayer and a crucifix in city council chambers.

June 23, 2014
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

The Saguenay, Quebec, mayor who has been fighting in court to protect the right to pray before council meetings has written a book explaining his deep Catholic faith.

Mayor Jean Tremblay decided to write Croire, ça change tout: Pourquoi la foi transforme-t-elle la vie? (Believing changes everything: Why does faith transform life?) out of his frustration at media interviews that were always too short, with no opportunity to go deeper.

The requests for media interviews began after an atheist complained to Quebec's human rights commission that Tremblay's prayer to an "all-powerful God" as well as the presence of the crucifix and a statue of the Sacred Heart infringed on his rights.

The human rights commission agreed, ordered Tremblay to cease the prayers, remove the offending religious objects and pay the complainant $30,000 in damages.

The mayor refused and took the matter to court where the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the human rights commission's decision last June. The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal which could affect dozens of similar cases affecting municipalities across Canada.

His case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year.

"Quebec was once a very Catholic province," Tremblay said in an interview recently while in Ottawa. "It needs to be re-evangelized."

He insisted that being Catholic for him is not a superficial cultural identity, but goes much deeper.

"It's really important for me to speak about God, to tell people all it is," he said. "It is fabulous to live with God. They miss something really important.

"I am sure it's not possible to be happy if you're not with God. Even if you don't love God, God is there and it's difficult for you."

The best thing God has given him is faith, he said. "I live with him. I am with him. It's not just an idea. It's a love story. I speak about him all the time."

"I know that when he said you have to pray all the time, when I was young I did not understand that. I said it's impossible to pray all the time, but today I know because in my mind all the time he's there," he said.

"All the time. When I eat. When I travel. He's always in the back of my mind. Always, always."

Before Tremblay faced the problems concerning prayer and the crucifix, he asked God many times, "Let me have the chance to prove that I love you. Give that chance. But I didn't know he will give so much that chance."

At first, Tremblay thought he would be able to pay his legal battles with city funds, but citizens asked him to stop. He realized it would cost a lot, so he asked people to help him.

"I received $150,000 just like that," he said. Tremblay needs another $125,000 for the Supreme Court battle, and already he has raised $108,000 that has come in small donations of $10, $20 from across Canada.

Though prompted by the legal battle, Tremblay's book explains how he sees life and the Catholic faith.

Life is about a trip to heaven, preparation for heaven, he said. Tremblay rejects beliefs that we will return as a flower growing over a grave or be reincarnated.

"Life for me is like preparing for the nicest trip," he said. "You are happy when you prepare a trip. Even if you don't leave today, you know next week you will leave and you are happy about that."

Though he faces the same problems as other people, he uses problems "as something to help me to be closer with God." The more difficult the problems, the better, he said.

It took him three years to write the book, writing on weekends or vacations. He also did a lot of reading to help him prepare the manuscript. He did not have a plan; he sat down at his computer and started.

"The Spirit will help me," he told himself. "I believe in Jesus, but I believe also in the Spirit. It's a person. It's not just an idea. It's really a person and I ask him often help me: 'Help me to say the good words. The words that will touch the people.'"

GOD MUST WIN

"I don't want to be the winner. I want you to be the winner and sometimes it's better for me to not win," he said.

Tremblay takes the same view of the court battle ahead. "Maybe I won't win. Maybe it will be a failure." Maybe losing will be the best thing because people will say, "Ah, it's terrible! He had to take off the cross. He cannot pray," he said.

As for his book and his efforts at evangelization, "I don't know what's the best way. He knows that. Me, my only job is to do the job. I will do the job until the end. And the result, it's not my business. It's his business."

Tremblay tried several publishers who told him they did not find the subject interesting. So he published on the Internet. But the publisher of Les Éditions Oliviers, an imprint of Wilson & Lafleur Ltee, contacted him after reading it online and has now published the book in paperback.

LIFE-CHANGING

Tremblay left the legal matters out of his book because he knows they will come to an end. "I wanted to make a book which will be always good in the life of the people who will read it, and the happiest thing to happen to me it's when I meet some people who say, 'This book changed my life.'"

So far, Tremblay's book has been well-received, prompting speaking engagements in Ottawa, Montreal and elsewhere. Luc Gagnon, who writes for the conservative French-language journal Égards, described the book as "extraordinary."

"It's for people today who have no idea about religion," said Gagnon. "The mayor writes for people who have no clue about spirituality."

FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEMS

The book touches on the fundamental problems of today: of pain; of suffering; of happiness, he said. "It's spirituality from scratch. Yet it's always rooted in Catholic spirituality and Catholic faith."

Croire ça change tout contains practical suggestions such as reading Thomas à Kempis classic Imitation of Christ and arriving at Mass 15 minutes early to go over the readings of the day ahead of time, Gagnon said.