A video of Muslim community members praying outdoors at Parc Safari — a popular Quebec zoo and amusement park — quickly made the rounds yesterday and prompted outrage by many concerned onlookers who suspected that, despite claims it was just an innocuous display of faith, it was really meant to be a deliberate and malicious provocation to everyone around.
“I’m fed up with these people always flaunting their religion and throwing it in our faces,” said one onlooker, while he gently fondled the crucifix around his neck and thoughtfully contemplated what to say next. “Can’t they keep this stuff private?”
“Look… I’m really not racist, but shouldn’t we ensure the separation of religion and public spaces?” asked Alice, a soft-spoken mother of two who lives in the McGill Ghetto and is blinded nightly by a 131-metre high illuminated cross staring down at her from Mont Royal.
“I go to Parc Safari with my family to see nature and animals, not some creepy ritual people are trying to normalize,” said James, as he leaned closer to the Cheetah Centre to watch wild animals that can reach a top speed of 110 km/hr confined in a space roughly the size of a condo kitchen.
“Watching them chant something I couldn’t understand was traumatizing to me and my kids,” he added, while banging loudly on the window pane to get the visibly distressed animal’s attention. “I mean, what about my freedom to enjoy the outdoors and nature as I see fit?”
“They can easily do this in private, just like my parents and my parents’ parents did, but they want to be a spectacle for the world to see,” said a man identified only as Costa. Costa surprisingly forgot that he comes from a long line of people who can’t even publicly debate what movie they’re about to see without sounding like they’re engaged in a 300-year-old bloody feud involving farmland and multiple vendettas.
He also conveniently forgot that every year he takes part in the Greek Orthodox religious procession of Epitafio, which involves a large flower-decorated tomb of Christ mounted on tall poles solemnly carried around quiet streets while the faithful follow behind loudly chanting along in ancient Greek, carrying incense and candles like a peaceful, well-dressed cult. A few days later that very same community sets off firecrackers at midnight in residential neighbourhoods to celebrate Greek Easter.
“Some things, like your faith, should simply be private,” he continued, pausing for a moment while the bells from the Catholic Church around the corner from the park started chiming as parishioners spilled out from mass.
“Maybe if they hadn’t been so loud about it…” Gino offered helpfully in a conciliatory tone, as he packed his car, decorated with an Italian flag, several icons of the Virgin Mary, and a huge sticker decal in the back window that said “Italia: Campioni del Mondo“
“Freedom of religion guarantees everyone the right to practice their faith free from persecution or harassment,” muttered Alice under her breath, but no one heard her as another loud group chimed in worried about how badly this bodes for the future.
“Where will this end? Wait and see, this is just the beginning,” said the woman who took the video. “You should be able to be out in public living your life and not worry about your security or the security of your family,” she said as she uploaded the video on YouTube.
“Why are they so obsessed with religion? This is a secular province and Montreal, where most of the Parc Safari visitors are from, is a secular city,” said Gilles. “Quebecers worked too hard to escape from under the control of religion and now everyone is finally free to do as they like. Let’s all move forward”
There has been no official statement from the province or the City of Montreal, possibly because officials are busy celebrating its 375th anniversary. The event was ostentatiously marked last month with the symbolic sounding of St. Joseph’s Oratory’s first bell, the subsequent chiming of church bells right across Montreal for 10 minutes, then followed by a public mass, where priests, deacons, members of religious communities and special guests were all in attendance.