A Christmas baptism presided over by Catholic Missions In Canada president Father Philip Kennedy in the church of Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon, Québec. The baby, Catherine Grace Lavallée, is being held by her father Bradley Lavallée, while mother Elizabeth and the baby’s three sisters look on. Photo courtesy of Sister Angela Bérubé, R.S.R.
Christmas in our missions has its special interests and joys. Depending on which part of this vast country we are visiting, we will find the missionaries and lay leaders working hard to welcome the local parishioners, the visitors and relatives of the locals, and those many who feel that it is important to get “home” for the sacred days. In many parts of the nation, we know that people have left their homeland to find employment. So getting home at Christmas and New Year’s is a warm and celebratory sojourn.
Last year, I had the privilege of celebrating Christmas Masses at Blanc-Sablon and Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon in Québec. Those villages are at the point where the province meets Labrador, looking out over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I flew into Blanc-Sablon`s little aerodrome, and was met by the missionary, Sister Angela Bérubé, R.S.R., who cares for the two churches as well as a third, Middle Bay. Driving in to the village, she told me that this territory had been referred to by Jacques Cartier as “the land God gave to Cain.”
It may have been Christmas, with some snow on the ground, but with no trees to speak of, few shrubs and vegetation, rocks everywhere, and a view out to the coldest-looking Atlantic waves I had ever seen, I was inclined to agree with Cartier. However, the many neat houses and the large hospital and other buildings, and the many people bundled up against the frigid air rushing here and there, softened the aspect.
Sister Angela, a member of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary based in Rimouski, has charge of the mission activities and the churches of the area. She does the catechesis and preparation for sacraments, gets things ready for a missionary priest who visits occasionally from Labrador, and relates with her Diocese of Baie-Comeau on certain matters, especially concerning the grants of funds that come to her parish through Bishop Jean-Pierre Blais from Catholic Missions In Canada (CMIC).
Never had I seen churches and sacristies and little church halls so clean and orderly, and offices in such well-organized condition. And since it was Christmas, the crèches in each church, the Christmas trees, the festive lights and decorative boughs were uplifting. Sister Angela herself, and a small crew of parishioners, had prepared and designed the scenes to make the holiday returnees feel welcome.
In addition to the Nativity Masses, in which the choirs sang in French and English and even Micmac, I had baptisms to officiate over, since young couples were waiting for the sacred event until they could have the baby home with them, to celebrate with their aunts and uncles and grandparents. It was a wonderful experience for me, the visiting priest, to rejoice with the large numbers that appeared out of the cold to be present for the Masses.
It may be some time before I return; meanwhile, the Lord continues to bless these communities who are guided by Sister Angela Bérubé, and actively assisted by the donors of CMIC.
Reprinted from Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine, Winter 2012.