Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester

Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester

Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester is the Madrinha and President of Céu do Montréal, a Santo Daime Church she founded in 1997 in Montréal, Canada. She is an ordained Inter-Faith Minister with a Doctorate in Divinity. A Transpersonal counsellor, she trained in the work of Dr. Roberto Assagioli and trained with Dr. Stanislav Grof. 
Rev. Dr. Jessica Rochester

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The Journey

In June 2017, after 17 years of working with the Canadian government, the Santo Daime Church, Céu do Montréal, Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light of Montreal, Canada, was granted the right to import and serve the Santo Daime sacrament in our spiritual rituals. As the founder and president of this church, I am very happy and relieved, and I will share here some of the stories and challenges faced in our journey.

My initiations into the Santo Daime began in 1996, in Mapiá, Amazonas, in Brazil. The Santo Daime is a syncretic spiritual practice founded in the Brazil in the 1930s by Raimundo Irineu Serra, known as Mestre Irineu. The tradition incorporates elements of Christianity, South American shamanism, Afro-Brazilian religiosity, European Kardec Spiritism and, in more urban settings, also Eastern transcendental wisdom. Central to the tradition is the drinking of the sacrament known also as Santo Daime (ayahuasca). Upon my return to Canada, I founded Céu do Montréal. In the following years, a number of other Santo Daime groups grew out of our center, in Quebec and Ontario.

The quest for religious freedom and for the legal right to practice our religion became an epic journey. All types of challenges appeared to thwart our efforts: a Canadian court case involving a shaman, the death of a Canadian Native elder and an ayahuasca admixture—unrelated to us or our practices—cost us nearly two years. Health Canada waited for the verdict to know if the two plants contained in our sacrament, Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, which were also in the confiscated ayahuasca brew, were involved in the death, which proved not to be the case. Then, a Federal election brought in a Conservative government from 2006–2015 with policies antagonistic to our request. There were some ethical and administrative issues with our then Brazilian affiliate (the former Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light Raimundo Irineu Serra, or CEFLURIS, now known as ICEFLU). In addition, there were disagreements with some of the other Santo Daime Canadian groups that had grown out of Céu do Montréal.

The Legalization Process

In September of 2000, we paid a visit to the headquarters of the RCMP (the Federal Police) in Montreal. The latest shipment of the sacrament had been seized. We hired a lawyer and prepared an application to Health Canada to be recognized as a legitimate religion and have the right to import and serve our sacrament in our religious rituals.

Catch 22: Export and Import Permits

In 2006, our Section 56 Exemption was granted, but would only be issued upon receipt of export permission from Brazil. For the next few years, my efforts and the efforts of Health Canada to obtain this permission were fruitless. A number of factors were involved in this stalemate. Brazil was willing to grant export if there was an import permit, such had been granted to the UDV by the USA Supreme Court in February 2006, while Canada was waiting for export permission to grant import permission.

Closing the Connection

Another factor that delayed our efforts was that meetings organized with various departments of the Brazilian government, who were stakeholders in the issue of the export of the sacrament, were regularly being postponed or canceled. I was led to believe that this was simply on the Brazilian government’s side. In the end, a number of factors played a role in the continued delays. It was time to turn the page and go into a new chapter. For more background on that story, please read Céu do Montréal: From Orthodoxy to Universalism.

A New Chapter

We established Céu do Montréal as an independent Santo Daime Church in 2010. In Brazil, there are many different centers in the line of the Santo Daime; some are affiliated with specific branches or leaders, and some are independent.

Through a good friend, I was connected to the Dini family, who had founded Céu Sagrado in Sorocaba, Brazil. I was seeking a new affiliate that would share our values and practices: single sacrament, ethical practices and accountability, gender equality within the church administration and function, and actively charitable. Céu Sagrado met these criteria, and had an excellent reputation within the community for their Inter-faith activities and charity.

The Refusal from the Conservative Government

In 2012, after making demands, we finally received a letter from the Health Minister saying that our request was denied, despite the exemption in 2006 and the complete support of the Office of Controlled Substances. A very conservative government had taken a political position on some issues, and refusing our request fit their policies.

Céu do Montréal and UDV USA Joint Effort

Knowing that the UDV was intending to expand into Canada, I asked Jeffrey Bronfman of the UDV USA, a friend of many years, to see if we could combine our efforts in the legalization process. The combination of his success in 2006 with the United States Supreme Court and my efforts with and support from the Office of Controlled Substances since 2001 seemed like the right formula to achieve our shared goal.

The main strategy was not to go to court, but to educate the government within the various stake-holding departments. In the Federal election of autumn 2015, a Liberal majority swept out the Conservative party. We now had the best hopes for the new government to support the original Health Canada decision, one based on science and evidence of the legitimacy of our religion and the safety of its practices.

We submitted a new application to the Office of Controlled Substances; the staff was always respectful, professional, and a pleasure to work with. When our request, along with the UDV request, was granted and the Section 56 Exemption issued, there were two people in the department that had worked on our application since 2001, and I had worked with seven different Directors. The permit was granted for two years and is renewable.

The Main Concerns of Health Canada, Office of Controlled Substances, are:

  • the health and safety of the members and visitors,
  • non-diversion of the Santo Daime sacrament; that is, only ritual, authorized use.

Health Canada, Office of Controlled Substances, Required Confirmation and Proof That:

  • the Santo Daime is a legitimate religion, and the Santo Daime sacrament is safe when served within the ritual norms, and with the appropriate screening for participants;
  • Céu do Montréal is a non-profit Part 11 Corporation, a legal entity in good standing;
  • Céu do Montréal is a single-sacrament church (meaning, its members do not consume Cannabis sativa, known in the context of some Santo Daime branches as “Santa Maria”);
  • the church leader is qualified;
  • only designated members of Céu do Montréal, who are registered with the Office of Controlled Substances, are able to import, transport, possess, and serve the Santo Daime sacrament;
  • the supply of the sacrament comes from a legitimate, registered Brazilian Santo Daime Church; in this case, Céu Sagrado of Sorocaba, with whom Céu do Montréal has a legally drafted contract for the exportation of the Santo Daime sacrament;
  • international transportation and shipping of the sacrament adheres to guidelines established by the Office of Controlled Substances;
  • the sacrament is stored, transported, and served under the guidelines established by the Office of Controlled Substances;
  • members and visitors are screened for any health or medication contraindications, and that members and visitors follow the necessary dietary guidelines before and after participating in the Santo Daime rituals.

Through our efforts, we have made it possible, in principle, to obtain an exemption; however, this exemption does not mean that the use of ayahuasca, or the Santo Daime sacrament, is legal as such in Canada. Each legitimate organization must apply to Health Canada for its own exemption, and for all information regarding the exemption process. Any importation or activities conducted with ayahuasca or Santo Daime without a Section 56 exemption from Health Canada will be considered illegal in Canada.

I share here some information about Céu do Montréal’s evolution.

Evolutionary Eclecticism

Many factors contribute to the developmental aspect of a religious movement: cultural, social, and legal influences; personal interpretations; scientific advances, and visionary revelations. With the passage of time, aspects of a tradition that were culturally and politically relevant for the era and location of its initial development may not be pertinent in different cultures or in the emerging consciousness of today’s world. The new chapter, begun in 2010, provided Céu do Montréal with the opportunity to deeply examine all aspects of our practice of the tradition and, after considerable prayer, reflection, and discussion, we made some changes in a number of areas:

Mission Statement

We clarified our mission statement to reflect the values that we believe are inherent within the Santo Daime tradition and are in harmony with Canadian culture.

We encourage:

  • the study of the Santo Daime principles through the hymns, the music, prayer, meditation, inquiry, and self-reflection;
  • personal self-reflection and spiritual inquiry with the intention of self-actualization;
  • full equality of women and men in all aspects of church leadership and religious life;
  • personal responsibility for all aspects of one’s health and well-being, as well as religious choices made based on knowledge and commitment;
  • dedication to the care and sustainability of Mother Earth and all creation through personal transformation and acts of service and social justice.

Céu do Montréal Uniforms

Mestre Irineu came from the region of Maranhão, and research has suggested that these influences played a role in the early development of the Santo Daime. In particular, the customs and rituals of Saint Gonçalo contain strong similarities in dance, uniform, and music, as well as in the structure of the ritual buildings.

At Céu do Montréal, for both women and men, the blue uniform remains the same. The men’s white uniform remains the same, but without the green stripes on the side of the trousers. Many elements that had initially been on the men’s white uniform were removed during the time of Mestre Irineu, such as extra stars indicating church status, braid, trailing colored ribbons (known as alegrias), and green sashes.

The women’s white uniform has undergone the most change. It was decided—with the unanimous consent of the members—that the woman’s white uniform be a more simple and practical one that would respect the lineage and be in alignment with the simplicity of the men’s white uniform, and also be more in harmony with Canadian culture. The women’s white uniform of Céu do Montréal is composed of a white long-sleeved blouse and a pleated white skirt; it has a green sash at the waist and a green bow-tie.

Calendar

The Calendar of Works was revised after 2010: it includes the two Concentrations each month; the Holy Mass four times per year, or as required; four White Works at Festival times, in which Mestre Irineu’s hymns are sung; and Curas(healing works) as required. Céu do Montréal has a close connection with the work of Umbandaime, and we include this form of mediumship in some of our rituals. When possible—weather permitting in a cold northern climate—we also conduct rituals outdoors in nature.

Prayers

Some changes were made in some of the traditional prayers. Some examples, in the “Our Father,” instead of praying “deliver us from evil,” we now pray “deliver us from illusion.”In the “Hail Mary,” instead of praying, “Mother of God,” we pray, “Mother of Christ,” instead of “blessed is the fruit of your womb,” we pray, “blessed is the fruit of your essence,” and instead of “in the hour of our death,” we pray, “in the hour of our passage.

I trust that we will continue to evolve, guided by consciousness and the light of the Santo Daime. We thank everyone who has supported our mission. We look forward to peacefully practicing our religion and continuing a respectful relationship with our government. We remain open to all who seek to know more about the Santo Daime and Céu do Montréal.

Madrinha Jessica Rochester and her husband Sidney Menkes in the CdM White Uniform

Madrinha Jessica Rochester with Padrinho Luciano Dini at Ceu Sagrado

Madrinha Jessica Rochester with some members of Céu do Montréal

Star Ceremony

Star Ceremony

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