Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, O.M.I. of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas, drives a snowmobile to visit missions in northern Manitoba.
“Father is here—we’re going to have Church.” These words of wisdom came from the mouths of children who spoke them in their homes. For them, their home was where Church was happening, not just in the building called the “church.” How healthy that is!
These words aptly describe my early experience of “Church” in northern
I was raised in the heart of Plains Cree country around North Battleford,
My first taste of First Nations and Métis ministry happened during my first year as a theology student at St. Charles Scholasticate, the Oblate house of formation just south of
We had weekly gatherings and occasionally meetings with the youth, during which it became obvious that most of the initiative was coming from the staff. We were “doing for them” more than “doing with.”
Two events that happened during that year influenced me as a young Oblate considering First Nations ministry.
The first event involved the coffee house. We had encouraged the youth to resist asking for grants that would have political strings attached to them and to instead raise their own funds. This they did quite successfully. At Christmas, we had enough money to put on a Christmas party, which dozens of youth attended.
As this was our last gathering before we all dispersed for Christmas, we, as leaders, had decided to celebrate a Eucharist at midnight as a way to end the party. I remember vividly making the announcement at midnight that the party was over and inviting them all to stay for the pre-Christmas Mass that we were going to celebrate.
Silence. No one moved. Thinking that they were all going to stay, we started setting up for the Mass. Suddenly, as if on cue and without a word being spoken, all the young people except one young man silently headed out the door and into the night. The one who stayed did not receive Communion. That strange occurrence remains a mystery to me and to the team.
The second event involved a silent meeting. In the spring of 1972, the Oblates decided to relocate the scholasticate to
We explained the situation to the members and gave them a choice: we could shut the club down now, or they would have to truly take on full responsibility and run the club themselves.
Unlike before the Christmas Mass, no one left. But no one spoke, either. I remember one member of the team passing me a note on which she had written, “Scratch the club.” I folded it up and waited, sensing that something was happening in the silence. Then, suddenly, Sandra Belanger spoke up and simply said, “OK, I’ll do it. What do I have to do?”
Suddenly, the room came to life. I realized with some excitement that what had happened in the silence was a psychological transfer of power from us to the members of the club. For the first time in the history of the club, they knew we were serious in telling them that they really would have to be in charge, and they accepted that responsibility.
We helped them choose an executive, wished them well, and left them to continue to make their plans for a new future without us.
The two events described above were instrumental in planting within me a fledgling call to ministry among the First Nations and Métis people.
(Abridged from Introduction, Drumming from Within: Tales of Hope and Faith from
—Reprinted from Catholic Missions In