Je Me Souviens

May 2008

Dear Friends,

     This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Quebec Province’s official motto, found on its coat of arms, and on every license plate is “Je me souviens.” There is some debate about the object of this memory. The creator of the slogan, Eugène-Étienne Taché, never made it clear. He was not particularly fond of the English, and so the slogan might have meant “I remember how good things were under French rule.”

     Huguenots would have to disagree. In 1598, after the so-called wars of religion, King Henri IV succeeded in drafting a toleration document, the Edict of Nantes, which was an arrangement whereby Protestants were given significant liberties in France. Known as the Huguenots, probably from the Swiss-German word, Eidgenosse, meaning federated one or companion, these French Protestants were now free to travel and colonize the New World. In 1604 the Sieur Pierre du Gua de Monts, the king’s envoy and a Huguenot, ventured to Acadia with both Protestant and Roman Catholic settlers, including one pastor and one priest. According to the Protestant-born Samuel de Champlain, the geographer on that journey, the two clerics often came to blows over their religious differences! Champlain later went on to explore the new territory and established Quebec City on July 3, 1608.

     Louis XIII provoked a reversal of fortune in 1627, by issuing a charter that prohibited non-Catholics from emigrating to “New France,” as it was then called. Huguenots became a persecuted minority. Although the British took over in 1763, granting much more freedom of religion, various obstacles still stood in their way. For example the law divided schools in the province according to language: English meant children went to Anglican schools, French meant Roman Catholic ones. French- speaking Huguenots were in a bind.

     Today, the problem is not persecution but indifference. Christian faith of any stripe struggles against the wet blanket of religious apathy. One shining exception is the Eglise Réformée du Québec, with its seminary, Institut Farel. If you decide to come up to Quebec for the celebrations, do visit one of these churches and speak a word of encouragement to them. Reassure them that “je me souviens... de vous!”

Very Truly Yours,

William Edgar, President