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     Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

At the end, Trudeau drew on his faith in God

Saturday, September 30, 2000

MONTREAL -- One recent Tuesday afternoon, a grey-haired Montreal priest named Benoît Lacroix was summoned to a mansion on the flank of Mount Royal. Inside, one of Canada's most illustrious figures awaited him.

Pierre Trudeau had asked Father Lacroix, a Dominican theologian and a friend for 50 years, to come to his side.

Prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease were eating away at his frail body and Mr. Trudeau, a devout Catholic, wanted to receive the last rites.

The priest obliged.

"It was very, very beautiful, and very moving," Father Lacroix recalled in an interview yesterday.

The two men joined in prayer, spent time together in silence, and the priest gave Mr. Trudeau communion. Then the former prime minister, his voice greatly diminished by disease, recited the Lord's Prayer with the cleric.

"At that moment, every word counted," the 85-year-old Father Lacroix said. "It was his last prayer. He had no illusions."

The last rites were administered just before Canadians were alerted to the poor health of Mr. Trudeau by his family, who issued a statement on Sept. 7.

There had been only rumours until then; Mr. Trudeau kept details of his health from all but his closest friends.
Those who spent time with him in his waning days and weeks say the former prime minister, a pillar of intellectual rigour, was acutely aware of his predicament. But he drew on a well of inner faith to help him face his final days in peace.

Mr. Trudeau, who prized clear and rational thought, is said to have resisted taking painkillers as long as he could in an effort to remain clear-headed.

"He was very lucid," Father Lacroix said. "He had difficulty talking. His breathing was slower. But at the same time, he was very, very present."

Mr. Trudeau's health plummeted in the last 10 days. His two sons, Justin and Sacha, kept a watch on their father around the clock.

Mr. Trudeau's voice was barely audible, and he could not walk without assistance. Father Lacroix said he was told the former prime minister prayed twice a day.

Members of Mr. Trudeau's immediate family have not spoken publicly since his death, issuing only a short statement after his death on Thursday.

Independent Senator Michael Pitfield, a friend and close associate of Mr. Trudeau's, who himself is battling Parkinson's, said the former leader knew the "tide was running against him" but remained serene by calling upon "inner self-discipline and strength.

"He knew exactly what was happening to him, and what his role in it was," Mr. Pitfield said. "He dealt with each moment as it passed. Pierre had a great faith, and he lived it."

Mr. Trudeau's attachment to spiritual matters developed early in life. After his father died, he often went with his mother to early morning mass. From age 12 to 20, he was moulded by the painstaking Jesuit teaching at Montreal's Collège Jean de Brébeuf.

He kept a spiritual adviser when he was prime minister, and once said, "I believe in eternal life, hence in God." But his closest friends said Mr. Trudeau, a practising Catholic, was discreet about his religious beliefs.

"He was a believer, a strong believer," former Liberal cabinet minister Marc Lalonde said in an interview yesterday. "But he kept it to himself."

Mr. Lalonde said that even as Mr. Trudeau's health suffered, he never complained. When the two friends spoke in late July, Mr. Trudeau said he was feeling weak, but the former leader made the remarks as "a cool observation," Mr. Lalonde recalled.

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