St. Ambroise parish is a small, tight-knit faith community in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg in Manitoba. Close to 75 families make up the community near Lake Manitoba, about 50 km northeast of Portage La Prairie. It is mainly made up of Métis people who have a rich heritage and culture.
The parish was begun over 100 years ago and has been ministered to by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and by an order of sisters up until recent years.
I became the pastor of the parish back in 2003. Since then, it has been a rich experience for me as a priest to help build and strengthen this Métis community. They are rich in spirit, but on the whole are not well off economically. They depend mainly on the fishing and hunting industries to make a living, as well as some farming. Times have been tough in recent years, particularly with the fishing.
For the Métis, faith is an important element of their life, and the local church an important symbol of their culture, one they take great pride in.
Of course, they are also known for their gift of music—fiddling, guitar-playing and singing. They have one of the best dance troupes in the country. The children here have won many awards and accolades for their step-dancing.
In recent years, however, the community has lost a number of landmarks and the church is one of the last ones left that helps to keep their sense of community. With each passing year, the church, carved out of an old air force chapel, has always needed extensive repairs.
A few years ago, we reshingled and repaired the leaking roof. The community rallied through fundraisers and by putting on a local radio talent show.
Recently, we found out that it was becoming too expensive to heat the church because the oil furnace had worn down. We decided to convert to an electric furnace to save money and keep the church building from deteriorating.
Still, due to dire economic conditions, the people can only cover the operating expenses.
Any major projects place a great strain on our faith community. The community has rallied again with another successful radio talent show, but it was not enough, so we turned to Catholic Missions In Canada (CMIC) for help.
We are grateful to CMIC for providing us with a grant. We hope over the spring and summer to put in the new furnace. This will ease another burden for the community: it will allow people to focus their energies on building and strengthening their faith community.
In the long run, it will give them hope to carry on in the midst of their economic struggles and to build the community God wants them to have.
We ask our readers to continue to keep us in their prayers as we pray for their needs as well.
(Father Michael Wollbaum is pastor of St. Ambroise parish in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg in Manitoba.)