'Spiritual animators' in at Quebec schools

Second-grade students take part in a classroom meditation session at Gerald McShane Elementary in...

Second-grade students take part in a classroom meditation session at Gerald McShane Elementary in the Montreal North district on Monday, October 6, 2013. MAXIME DELAND/QMI AGENCY

Brian Daly, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

MONTREAL - Catholic and Protestant instruction was removed from Quebec schools more than 15 years ago but nuns and priests are now replaced by "spiritual community animators," some of whom lead students in meditation and rhythmic breathing sessions.

The spirituality program, entrenched in the province's education act, has raised red flags in the Catholic church, which has publicly opposed the Parti Quebecois's plans to ban religious symbols among school workers and other bureaucrats.

The PQ abolished religious school boards in 1997, the last time it was in power, as part of a plan to implement what it calls "state neutrality" on the question of religion.

All boards were ordered to hire spiritual animators in 2000 to run anti-bullying campaigns, organize humanitarian efforts and to "focus on young people's search for meaning," according to an education ministry directive.

In a 2006 report entitled Developing the Inner Life and Changing the World, the ministry said its activities are complementary to religion and "do not present any particular belief as being superior."

Among the spirituality program's "areas of operation" are "interiority, silence and meditation."

Elizabeth Pellicone leads students in meditation sessions at the English Montreal School Board and says most of her colleagues do the same.

QMI Agency observed one session last week at a north-end elementary school. Pellicone rang a bell while a group of second-grade students sat quietly, hands on their desks.

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