MONTREAL—With the playoffs just two months away and the hapless Habs currently in 14th place in their conference, perhaps there’s only one thing left to do — pray.
If you were so inclined, then you might find a new ad for the Archdiocese of Montreal a tonic, knowing, perhaps, that God was on your side.
The ad, placed in Montreal’s French-language newspapers, lists the current top teams in the league’s Eastern Conference.
Then, at spot number eight — the cut-off for the playoffs — it reads: “Let us pray.”
“It was a lighthearted wink, to ally with people who love sports,” said the Catholic Church of Montreal’s communication’s director Lucie Martineau. “And to pray they (the Canadiens) are in the playoffs.”
It tells average Montrealers that “we are there, we are present,” Martineau continued. “We have the same worries as you.”
Despite the longstanding comparisons of the Montreal Canadiens to a religion, the church has only now sought to ride the NHL club’s jersey-tails.
The Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, was not available for an interview. But Martineau said he’s a Habs fan and quickly approved the idea proposed by the church’s outside ad firm, Bos.
Hugo Léger, the firm’s vice-president of creation, said Bos has searched for a long time to “link the two religions” but had to wait for the right moment.
It saw that moment in the club’s declining fortunes as the regular season clock runs out.
The reaction, Léger said, has been huge and positive. “I don’t know,” he added, “if it will make everyone fall to their knees Saturday night at the Bell Centre.”
That the church would eventually attach itself to the religiosity of the Canadiens — real or imagined — is not surprising, since Montrealers are so fervent about their team, said Olivier Bauer, a theology professor at the Université de Montréal and author of the 2011 book Hockey as a Religion: The Montreal Canadiens.
Bauer senses a change. Even in recent years, he felt the church was hesitant to make the link.
But the treatment the Habs receive from some fans, bordering on the sacred, is unmistakable. Linking the two is “logical,” Bauer said.
The team, and its jersey, are called “La sainte flanelle” (the holy flannel). Patrick Roy was called “Saint Patrick.”
“The religion of the Canadiens in Montreal takes the form of Catholicism,” he explained. He cited the example of one fan he knows who has literally created a Habs “temple” in his house, with the appearance of a Catholic church, complete with altar, the centre of which sits a replica Stanley Cup.
The ad is directed at a population that, more than elsewhere in Canada, has turned its back on organized religion. Fewer than 10 per cent of Catholics in Quebec attend mass.
In this way the ad might be an attempt to reach out to fill the pews again. “Is it a Hail Mary pass?” laughs Bauer. “I’m not sure it’s so desperate. But the idea is definitely to use something that works.”
Church spokesperson Martineau said, “We don’t think it’s something that will bring people to the church, but maybe it can lead them to reflect and think about their faith.”
It’s not the first time the church has comically commented on current events to make its presence known. Last year it placed a billboard ad at the entrance of the Champlain Bridge, whose state of disrepair has become infamous here.
“Say your prayers,” it read.
As for the Canadiens, what do they think of the newest ad?
“It’s nice to count on their support,” Was all spokesperson Donald Beauchamp would say.
Here’s my opinion on that. God is in control of all things, and if it is his will for the Habs to make the playoffs then they will. However, if that is not the case, people shouldn’t get too upset (at God) because of what He has decided. God is in control and He knows what he’s doing.
Prayer is powerful, even in sports. It certainly wouldn’t hurt anything to try. (If people are going to pray for the Habs playoff run, they may as well pray for the Leafs as well).