The Rev’d Robert Camara came to Montreal in the mid 90’s from his hometown of Toronto. He arrived in Montreal on the eve of the 1995 referendum and began his undergraduate degree in political science with a full emersion experience of Canadian politics. He worked for the Diocese of Montreal in the programme department for a number of years. After working on a successful election bid he left Synod Office to work in Mayor David Miller’s administration at City Hall in Toronto. After continued prayerful discernment he returned to study at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College and graduated from the MDiv program in the class of 2011. He served as a curate at Saint James the Apostle, Montreal and is currently serving as the incumbent of Saint George’s, Châteauguay.
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Before I entered seminary at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, I had been working in the political sphere at the municipal level in Toronto. Under Mayor Miller’s administration we had been elected with the image of the broom, sweeping out the old ways of doing things, the corruption and the waste in favour of finding efficiencies and better service and personalizing the relationship of the resident with their government. Many times I sat in my office or visited constituents at home to help them with a problem or clarify an issue. I sat through countless local board meetings as the municipal representative, attended community consultations, oversaw development of condo buildings and worked with local ethnic and community groups to bring attention to their particular concerns and needs. Throughout these times, I worked with my colleagues to seek to find viable options to concerns, balancing the needs of the community with the requirements of the administration and the intentions of the corporations. It was a tough balance many of the times – but it was always satisfying and rewarding as we helped constituents navigate through the red-tape, advocated on their behalf, looked for sustainable, effective and efficient alternatives. One of the most challenging aspects of the work that I was doing was to instill a sense of hope in those who came looking for help, advice and support.
As I am writing this article, we are entering Holy Week and the quote from the Gospel of Matthew above will still be fresh in many people’s minds as many readers of the Montreal Anglican would have heard it read dramatically in services not too long ago. The feeling of abandonment and despair – the feeling of hopelessness. One of the challenges in working in the political sphere is the expectation that religion and faith aren’t introduced into the public sphere. Having gone through the MDiv program at Dio, with all its components, including clinical pastoral education, it helped to equip me with a way to bridge my passion for politics with my faith and the hope that comes from it.
At the beginning of February, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide in cases of enduring, intolerable suffering. Right here at home, Quebec’s end-of-life legislation will come into effect by the end of this year. Canadians will be confronted with a whole new set of options and questions when dealing with terminal illnesses and enduring, intolerable suffering. Responding to a call to ordained ministry and my experiences in seminary have equipped and supported me in being able to accompany people who are faced with questions of deep concern. In my days at City Hall, the response would have been supportive, but technical – navigating the system to get the best outcome. As a priest I have been blessed to accompany many people in various stages of their journey in life and at the end of life.
This past Lent, in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling, my parish and I embarked on a Lenten study on caring for the dying, looking specifically at euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. Many an evening did we have deep and profound discussions as we grappled with the issue and struggled with our response. What became clear, and, what seminary training equips its leaders with, is that the Christian response is always one of hope – a very different type of hope than the one I was offering from my desk at City Hall. The hope and knowledge of God’s love and comfort equips us with the commitment to give all members of society, especially the most vulnerable, the assurance that we will be supported in all circumstances of our lives and that we will not be abandoned in our suffering.
What a gift and what a privilege to be able to be present and share God’s love with all of society – not only as a priest, but as a member of the community of saints in Christ Jesus – for we are not abandoned, least of all in our time of need.