Tony Krotki’s Vocation Emerged As Part Of A Puzzle That Was Fitted Together Over The Years

arctic%20scenery1.web Tony Krotkis Vocation Emerged As Part Of A Puzzle That Was Fitted Together Over The YearsNineteen years in the Eastern Canadian Arctic (the territory of Nunavut) has rooted Tony Krotki in his Oblate identify.  The Arctic not only has Tony as one of its citizens, it flows through his very veins.

His vocation emerged as part of a puzzle that was fitted together over the years. The desire to work with the Inuit peoples first surfaced at the age of fourteen. “This has been my dream since 1978.” During the years at the minor seminary the desire developed quite strongly. “I read all the articles I could find. I read the book, Inuk three times.”

“In 1979 a Polish Oblate who worked in the MacKenzie Delta for forty-five years, Fr. Leon Mokwa, came and spoke to us. He told us how hard it was to live and work among the First Nations peoples. He told us of the difficulties of travelling. I also remember that he told us of people who lived further north of his missions but he did not know them. In my young mind I remember that he told us that life for these people is very hard and there is nothing but snow!”

“Already I had a desire to go to Greenland or Alaska but it was here that the fire exploded in my heart. This was the first time I had heard of the Inuit in Canada.”

krotki people.web Tony Krotkis Vocation Emerged As Part Of A Puzzle That Was Fitted Together Over The Years

“Nine years went by and I was very quiet about my passion to go north. When I told my desires to the Provincial, he informed me that I did not have an Oblate vocation! Nothing more was said until 1987 when Jacque Johnson, OMI visited our Scholasticate. He talked about the First Nations and the need of missionaries for the First Nation Peoples in the Mackenzie. As he was folding up the map of Canada he remembered to say one more thing. ‘I went to Rome where the Superior General asked me to look for two men in the Scholasticate who would be willing to go to live and work with the Inuit in Hudson Bay.’”

“All the scholastics knew about me. I hesitated to stand up when Jacque asked but my confreres pushed me up. I stood up, alone, and Jacque Johnson said, ‘Sorry. The Superior General will never send one man. There has to be two.’ The case was closed. I sat down!”

“I prayed! Then I became a missionary for the Arctic. I found Adolf Filas who would accompany me. Later we received a letter from the Provincial of the Manitoba Province. He wanted us to join the Manitoba Province.”

“My Provincial insisted that I finish my studies in Poland, be ordained in Poland and spend the first two years in parish ministry. I was also informed that it would take two years to obtain a passport … but God had different plans.”

“We applied for a passport. It arrived one week later. We went to the Canadian consulate and within one hour had a visa for Canada. We then went to the Provincial and told him we were ready to move to Canada. We purchased the airline ticket, said good-bye to our families and on October 28, 1990, left for Canada. This all happened three months after ordination.”

“On May 10, 1991, we were sent on an exploratory mission to Arviat, Nunavut and spent one week with Fr. Rivoire; one week at Baker Lake and four days at Chesterfield Inlet.”

Would this be a suitable mission and living conditions for these two young Oblates? They flew back to Winnipeg and purchased the proper clothing and supplies for the North.

“On July 12, 1991, we flew to Igloolik. This was a learning time of two and one half years with Fr. Jusipi Meeùs, OMI and Fr. Robert LeChat, OMI as my mentors. After two years I moved to Gjoa Haven, with the missions of Pelly Bay and Taloyoak. This was a ministry that lasted eight years.” During this time he learned to hunt, to travel over land and to become part of the community. “I could travel alone and would go to Repulse Bay, which is seven hundred kilometers, one way, to visit Fr. Fournier, OMI. This trip would happen two to three times a year.”

Every week of the eight months of winter there was travel with the snowmobile. “I probably travelled the most miles of anyone. I learned all the skills to survive, hunt and at times I would become a guide. The people would ask me to lead when the weather was bad.” With a smile he added, “I became a brother to them.”

How is the North part of your blood?

Without hesitation the answer came forth. “It’s the Founder. We are meant for the most difficult missions. In my understanding these are the most difficult missions. Sacred Scripture sends us to the ends of the earth. These peoples are at the end of the earth. This feeling has stuck in my heart since that age of fourteen.”

“I accepted this mission. I never regretted it. This is God’s place for me. Things in my life have gone His way.”

What have your received from the Inuit people?

Thoughtfully, he replied, “They taught me humility and they taught me to be respectful, to be patient and caring. They taught me to be sensitive to the pain of their past, their sufferings and their life. They also taught me to be courageous and never give up!”
His eyes moved around the northern community. “When you lose your own family, you look for family. They became my family. I am very close to these people. Their pain is my pain. Their joy is my joy.”

Sitting at the renewal program in Texas seems a very far distance from the Canadian north but Tony affirmed that when the semester ends, “I know I must go back. My time is not done. This is the place where I fit best. This is where I feel most comfortable.

“I am open to the new if I am called to do new things. With the experiences of life behind me I am ready to meet new challenges and I am ready to do it with passion.”

Summarizing his missionary life Tony framed it with:

“When you become a person of passion, the passion becomes your life. I pray that I will always recognize the will of God.”

Mission Consciousness in Very Large Parishes

stendzina.web Mission Consciousness in Very Large ParishesAndrew Stendzina OMI shares the growing missionary consciousness in the Oblate parish of St. Albert.

Andrew is very involved with his fellow parishioners in developing a mission consciousness within the very large parish of St. Albert, in St. Albert, Alberta. This has been an Oblate parish since its founding one hundred and fifty one years ago.

With a very large smile this very quiet man summed up this developing mission sense within the parish. “An Oblate parish is not determined by its location. It is not only a parish up in the sticks but you can have an Oblate parish anywhere if you do what the Oblate charism says we should be doing. The people are getting excited about this. The bottom line is to help others. This is what St. Eugene was doing.”

In his scholasticate days Andrew was preparing to join the Polish Oblates in Madagascar by learning the French language. With a chuckle he was reminded that he came out to the cold Northern Canada in 1988 to learn English. His first mission was to the Dene people in Fort Simpsom, NWT, where he was ordained a priest by Bishop Croteau, OMI, in 1990. His parish office in St. Albert carries many signs of his connection with the First Nations peoples. He has a well-used beaded stole and a hand built lamp all done with bead work from the North.

“It was Fr. Gerry LeStrat that first gave us the idea of twinning our parish with the Oblate parishes in Guatemala. We have moved beyond just being twinned to our support of the orphanage in Sumpango, Guatemala. This is an orphanage of sixty children, all of whom are HIV infected. We are involved in a sponsorship program where a family here in Alberta will sponsor one child in Guatemala.

“Our people also do a mission experience and they go to Guatemala for two weeks. We have had roughly thirty parishioners who have made such a mission experience. I myself went there first to prepare things. On this first trip the Oblates in Guatemala showed us all their works. We saw how they lived and worked in Guatemala.

“For these Canadian people and for myself, it is a life-changing experience. This is always beyond imaging what it could be when you see it on the TV screen. Canadians appreciate what they have a lot more when they come back home.

“We also have a scholarship program in St. Cecilia in Mixco (just outside of Guatemala City). There are around eighty children that our scholarships help put these kids through school. The local people are very involved in deciding which families should receive the scholarships. These people give us pictures and a report back on the children we are sponsoring.” Andrew opened his computer to show the photos of the children who were in school and the Oblate Associates who are very involved in this project.

“Here in St. Albert we ran a collection through the St. Albert School system to collect backpacks and school supplies for the children of Chicman (a town in the middle of Guatemala). In Guatemala education is free but the children have to be able to provide their own school supplies. Here in St. Albert we collected two thousand backpacks and additional supplies for these children.”

The mission experience is never a one way affair. “Every second year we (people of St. Albert parish) visit their twin parish in Guatemala and every second year they come here. This is all about building relationships.”

It is never sufficient to focus only beyond the borders of Canada. St. Albert Parish has looked towards the Canadian North. At the present moment efforts are being made to link up with the Toktoyaktuk (affectionately known to Canadians as ‘Tuk’) parish with the Arctic circle. Canada also has its mission stations.

“We are asking them what they need. It is not our idea to tell them what they need but to listen to these people.” The people in this very northerly community are identifying their needs. “They need expertise. They need professional workers and people who can supervise construction.

“Last February our people ventured on an experience of the North. About eight parishioners made a trip to Tuk. This is the first part of our mission experience. Now we have to do the follow up about what can be done in the Tuk community. We are hoping to have an exchange and have these people come down to visit us. As with other communities in the North there are a lot of social issues. We want to help them out but this is first of all about building social relationships.”

Andrew has great affection for the North. He remembers helping out with Christmas ministry sixteen years ago. On the trip last February to Tuk the people pulled out photos of the children he had baptized when he was there for Christmas sixteen years previously.

Within the St. Albert Parish there are between thirty and forty people who are involved in studying the Oblate charism. Andrew has edited and created DVD disks which contain the talks of Fr. Ron Rolheiser on the Oblate charism. These interested parishioners are working through these talks and applying this input to their growing missionary consciousness. The formation is not limited to study but, added Andrew, “part of the formation involves helping to prepare and serve meals to the homeless peoples of the Edmonton core areas.”

Working towards this missionary consciousness did not happen overnight. Andrew added that “it took at least three years before the parish became involved in Guatemala. Everything we do is well publicized. We do not select who can and cannot come but the invitation goes out to everyone in the parish.

“When we asked interested people to come and learn about going on this mission trip there were thirty people who showed up for the first meeting. Everyone learned that they could be involved but some saw that their participation would not be in working in Guatemala but by helping back here at home. This is always a group decision.”

Andrew concluded our discussion about the growing missionary awareness. We went to learn because we “toured first and listened to what the people needed. We had to learn to be open to what is out there. At the bottom line it is always about relationships.  This is always us and them.”

Read the full INFO Lacombe article

“Too often we do not know how to deal with cultural change”

guy%20lavalle.web Too often we do not know how to deal with cultural change

Guy Lavalle, omi

Guy is strong, determined, loud and very affirmative in what he believes and stands for. One hour with this man and you know that he is passionate about his faith, his Oblate commitment, his Meti identity and the power of goodness in people we too often overlook. A strong part of his identity is his connection with his Meti Community and his roots in Manitoba.  Guy is very comfortable with his identity and leaves no doubt about who he actually is.

Guy’s history is very varied and challenging. He was born November 15, 1939, in St. Laurent, Manitoba. He travelled a little South to make his novitiate in St. Norbert (1960); scholasticate in Lebret, 1961-65; a pastoral year in St. Norbert (1966) followed by ordination in July 06, 1968. His years of formation were through the turbulent years immediately following the Second Vatican Council.

His first assignment was to the St. John Bosco Indian Metis Cultural Center in Winnipeg. This was an outreach to the native community within the inner city. In 1971 he took on the position as director of the Indian Pavilion in Montreal. This was a continuation from Expo 67 and carried on for several years with government and church backing. In 1972 he took a term position to help the organization Entraide Missionarie in their transition. The next three years he served as pastor of the parishes of Rivers, Sioux Valley and Rolling River, Manitoba. He was also involved in Oo-za-we-kwan First Nation Training Center. Between the years of 1971-78 Guy worked with the National Brotherhood in Ottawa on a contract basis to help establish the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in Georgetown, Guyana.

From here he served as pastor of Ashern and part time chaplain at Canadian Forces at Gypsumville (a radar station). He also served the communities of Lake Manito Reserve, Volgen, Jack Head, Peguis and McLean Isaland Metis Community. In 1983 he was appointed pastor of the parish in Thompson, Manitoba.

n 1985 he began studies which lead to an Master’s Degree in Antropology. From 1988-1996 he taught native studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and St. Paul’s in Ottawa in the missiology  department. During all these period Guy conducted research and documentation in Native studies, Meti History and the Oblate missions.

In 1996-2002 he returned to Manitoba to the parish in Woodlands and St. Ambrose, Manitoba. The years 2004 saw his appointment as parish priest in St. Pierre-Jolys, Manitoba. In 2009 he received his latest assignment to the Despins Community to look after the medical needs of the elderly Oblates. He chuckles when he describes himself as the “official taxi” around here.

The year 2002-03 was a sabbatical year which provided Guy with significant insights. “It was an excellent experience.”  He left for India to explore inter-religious dialogue. He joined the Nahrom Hindu Movement house of prayer in India. During this sabbatical year he visited about ten different ashrams and spent a week to a month in each place. His presence was an active presence, not a detached observer on the sidelines. He prayed with them, and shared in their ritual ceremonies and chants.

In preparation for this sabbatical Guy had discussed his plans with our Oblate General, G. Steckling. He had informed Fr. Steckling that “my objective is to learn from within the Hindu culture and their spirituality. What are the different expressions of their prayer life?” Steckling also added that Guy was the “only Oblate that approached it from that perspective.”

One experience that left a profound impression was his visit to one of the main gurus in the ashram. “I wanted to learn how to pray and  what symbols and ceremonies they would use?”  The first question he asked me was, “Do you feel comfortable in your Catholic priesthood?” I said, “Yes.” There followed a second question. “Are you happy in your celibacy?”

“If you are not happy with your priesthood and celibacy you do not belong here. You will have to go home and address your problem at home and then you can come here.”  Then he accepted me and I visited ten ashrams over the period of then months.
“This has truly been the highlight of my life.”

“Inter-religious dialogue does not start from integrating two spiritualities but to respect each other’s spiritualities. When one particular Westerner began to wear the orange saffron robe of the Hindu monk the guru asked, ‘Who gave you permission to use that?’ ‘We do not use your chasubule when we pray!’ “

Pensively Guy continued to outline his learning experience. “There is a challenge in trying to integrate the symbols of the different spiritualities. Based on my experience in India, a spiritual symbol that is significant and relevant in a given culture is not necessarily significant and relevant in other cultures. Each culture has it own internal logic of proceeding and operating.

This learning experience challenged Guy to give second thought to some of our missionary strategies. “We assume that we have the right to go into a culture and change it in the name of Christ. Christianity provides the means for people to change themselves with the message that the Gospel offers. In accepting Christianity it means that people must reappropriate their cultural, spiritual traditions and identity. This will always be a challenge for all Oblates all over the world to have a group of missionaries strategize over cultural change. Too often we do not know how to deal with cultural change.” He concluded this sharing of his reflection affirming “the truth is there. We have to find it!”

Whale By the Tail

By Tony Krotki OMI

Editor’s note: We share in two parts the story written by Tony of the visit of our Provincial and Regional Councilor to the high North. Picture Tony sitting right in front of you as you read this story. He is a marvelous storyteller. This was a delightful visit filled with the many challenges that the North presents to every visitor. John and Warren will never forget this visit! Thank you, Tony, for the many photos that you included with this article.

Photo credits: Tony Krotki OMI

Part one: The Whale

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John Malazdrewich, Warren Brown and Tony Kroti at the Inukshuit at the entrance to the town.

“All went well until now, our entire trip was so good, all according to the schedule but the Bishop said ‘make sure you do not plan a meeting for the next day after your return. It may take few days extra.’” Fr. John said with a little sense of disappointment as his baggage did not arrive at Igloolik on the day of their arrival.

I was in the Chapel celebrating a wedding liturgy when my Brother Oblates, Fr. Warren Brown and John Malazdrewich arrived from the airport. The day before I had arranged pick up transportation from the airport. Yet it was late evening and I realized that the next day afternoon the Co-op would have an annual meeting. The man I had asked to pick them up was the president of the Co-op directors and he was not able to go to the airport to pick them up.

Early in the morning of the fiftteenth of October I found another person to get them. I have asked Georgia to welcome them as they arrived at the mission and to come and participate in the wedding.

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Warren Brown

The plane was forty minutes late. The frustration of not having the baggage arrive was an introduction to the North that had a definite effect on my guests.

Fr. Warren walked into the mission knowing that there were vehicles outside. Perhaps they were expecting a welcoming committee? Instead these vehicles belonged to the many people in the chapel. There had been no Tony to welcome them!

At the very moment when Fr. Warren decided to leave the building, Georgia, my faithful disciple, run outside after him asking him to come back inside. She showed the uncertain pair the upstairs and made them feel at home.

Only after the wedding was finished did I ran upstairs to meet them in the living room while enjoying the best Arctic view and best Arctic fresh Tim Horton’s coffee from the front window.  Fr. John and Warren, looking towards South, wondering what God’s plan held for them. What would happen up here in the cold, snowing weather with nothing to see. The only noise to hear was coming up from the church and this was in a language they could not understand.

I am sure they wondered what God’s plan could be.                     

Being very busy still with the needs of the people gathered for the Wedding reception I would be one moment with my brothers but the next moment with the wedding people.

Supper preparation must have appeared confusing.  I was getting supper ready for my brothers and in the hall downstairs the people were getting the wedding supper ready. There was need for all sort of things from mission kitchen! People filled the upstairs quickly, the children were running everywhere and visitors coming to say hello to see who is upstairs.

Our Oblate community of three  ate a fine supper. Then it was the time to get ready for the Sunday celebration. Fr. John and Warren took the opportunity to search their devices and get connected to the internet as it seems so important in today’s communication world; e-mails, documents, information, travels, schedules, planning and agendas. So much to look after while this remarkable life experience was going to pass very soon within a blink of an eye.

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John Malazdrewich and Warren Brown OMI

Fr. John expressed the wonderful desire that Fr. Warren carried in his heart to visit the Diocese of Churchill and his brother Oblates in the Northern missions. Fr. Warren had always wanted to see the Northern lights. His dream would be fulfilled, he hoped.

Knowing the North a bit I had to let him be realistic but hopeful. Considering the time of the year the Northern lights appear very seldom in October. Yet I thought it would be nice for him to see something special.  A little more talk time for the Provincial and Fr. Warren concluded our first day of visit.

On Sunday morning a light snow and delicate breeze brought a limited visibility to our island and the possibility of a flight arriving with Fr. John’s baggage was also in question. By 9:00 AM in the morning Tim Horton’s fresh coffee sent an invitation (aroma) through the corridor and the response was great.

Fr. Warren showed up in living room and I told him to look on the sea because there are people on the brake water checking the net. Perhaps a whale was caught? Using binoculars we could see better and Fr. Warren confirmed that there is something going on. In a moment we could see people driving faster and faster on the streets in the front of the mission trying to reach the dike as fast as they could.

butchering%20whale.web Whale By the TailIn the next moment we saw Chris pick up a gun. He shoot once. Again everyone stopped.  The boat slowly made a little turn around and we could see in thirty seconds that on the side of the boat facing us was a big whale’s tail. The boat was moving slowly toward the shore where crowd of people gathered.

“Fr. Warren you need to see that!” I said. “Get dressed and let us go there to get some muktak for lunch.” At first  a slight hesitation but he took a bite. We took our cameras and then we went to hunt for blubber. As we were coming closer we walked faster; the delicacy was surely fast disappearing!

As soon as we got there, half of the whale blubber was gone. Natalino saw us and he called asking if I had a knife to get myself a muktak? I had brought no knife so he cut us a wonderfully big chunk of blubber. Fr. Warren could not miss the opportunity to get his hand on it as a great hunter would.

Taking some pictures along the way we had to get back because God called us for Mass in one hour. Coming home we felt rather disappointed with the fact that the Prairie Boy did not get the chance to lay his hand on whale. But then what would prairie kid do with the blubber?

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Warren Brown with the gift of whale blubber.

We felt better instantly. As we climbed upstairs Fr. John welcomed us with laughter. “What is that? What did you do? Where are you coming from?”

“Did you see? They got a whale and they were holding it while coming to the shore and we could see only the tail.” Fr. Warren spoke as fast as he could with excitement: “Whale by the tail?”

Fr. John burst into laughter.

Fr. Warren continued. “Yes, Yes, Yes! We saw that. We were there. Lots of people, meat, blood, children on the back of their mothers, men cutting blubber and the fellow who gave us a ride from the airport caught this whale and gave us big chunk. Look! See!”

Fr. John looked at it and disgustedly said, “Oh no! Whale? I don’t eat sea food!!” We all smiled.

Adventurous Mission in British Columbia

What is it like to serve as a missionary in William Lake Ranch? Miles of ranch land and wilderness are punctuated by small Native communities on various reserves: Toosey, Stone,AnahimLake, Redstone,NimpoLake, Nemiah, Kleena Kleene, Bella Coola – the names slip off the tongue like silver. In the face of such vastness, there’s an unconscious desire to draw together around the fireplace. “I know my sheep and they know me.” In a village, that’s both a blessing and a curse.

There’s no anonymity of the city here. A misstep is common knowledge within minutes, but on the other hand it’s only in a small community that Blackey, the Lab who adopted Maynard, would still be alive despite its fondness for chasing horses or cows. Everyone knows it’s “Father’s dog”. Only in a small community would the people know their priest well enough to present him with a cake for his December twenty-fourth birthday and the Christmas present he really wanted – a riding lawn mower, parked in the Church as a surprise. It’s a symbiotic relationship. While making his rounds, it’s necessary, because of distance, to stay overnight at one of the missions. While Maynard gets the wood stove going, someone cooks him a meal, which is later paid back by doing plumbing, carpentry, wiring, and electronics. “I help by installing the occasional satellite dish for the people – so they can get Catholic television – watch mass when they want to.” One hopes the teenagers are also using the satellite dish for devotions and not late night movies!

Christmas ministry this year began at 9:00 a.m. with the first of four masses; there was no sleeping in for the pastor. Eventually he was off to Nemiah Valley near Chilko Lake for 2:00 p.m. liturgy. Unusual for the time of the year was the lack of snow; however, as he climbed on up into the mountains, he ran into plenty of it … and ice which necessitated stopping to put on tire chains. He arrived twenty minutes late for mass but the people were unperturbed. “A man with a cat entertained them while they waited” was Maynard’s cryptic comment. At Redstone, liturgy was celebrated in the new church, featured in the Missions Canada magazine, rebuilt after a devastating fire. The day drew to a close with prayer on the Stoney Reserve followed by sleigh rides, music and everybody invited to various homes for turkey supper.

alex creek british columbia 300x210 Adventurous Mission in British ColumbiaWith three Sisters of Christ the King ministering in the area, one of whom teaches on a reserve school, Maynard doesn’t work entirely alone. “They have a really good influence and are a major help…wouldn’t be able to do things without them. But I have to admit Sunday is a long day; I do over 400 kilometers on these mountain roads. I could really use some help in trying to take care of these ten different missions which include Alkali Lake, Dog Creek, and Canoe Creek.”

There are opportunities for relaxation. “It’s a great place. The people are easy going; they don’t get too excited about much. I enjoy trout fishing when I find a chance, and the Native People dip-net for salmon, here. For the summer I like to use my canoe if the kids are not using it, and there’s horseback riding too. During the winter it’s usually colder than it has been so far; so it’s great for cross-country skiing.”

Long roads can also mean a long time between visits with Oblate confreres. It’s five hours down the highway to visit Al Noonan OMI in Kamloops or four hours to Anahim Lake where Brother Jerry Prazma OMI occupies a cabin. Speaking of him, Maynard said offhand, “Think he’s expecting a long winter…got a lot of firewood there.” A tiny cabin cowering under a monstrous cache of kindling springs to mind! The very absence of a larger Oblate community makes gatherings, such as the one in New Westminster not long ago, more meaningful. It’s an opportunity to spend time with brothers sharing laughter, stories of the missions and the bonds of friendship.

Have a sense of adventure and a yearning for the missions? Follow the Chilcotin Highway! (Submitted by Harley Mapes, OMI)

Queen’s House Retreat & Renewal Centre

queens house retreat and renewal centre Queen’s House Retreat & Renewal CentreNear to fifty years ago on what used to be a landfill site for the city of Saskatoon the Oblates of Mary Immaculate of St. Mary’s Province built Queen’s House Retreat & Renewal Centre.  The centre is now beautifully situated on the knoll of a hill at the south end of seven and a half acres of land flanked by a variety of trees on the far west, with an easy access pathway leading down a hill to the Saskatchewan River and the city’s Meewasin Trail.  Along the edge of the property, a circular sidewalk trail encompasses a grassy slope where on the north end stands a sculpture of Our Lady of the Prairies surrounded by an ecosystem of rocks, native flowers, and a pool of water which inspire meditation, and where along the path the Stations of the Cross are represented in stone sculpture as well.   No one would guess, looking at the Centre and the grounds now, that years ago the land was a dumping ground of waste.  

How fitting a metaphor for what the Oblates saw then and throughout these forty-eight years to the present as part of their mission to evangelize.  To take a plot of land that by all appearances may have seemed impossible to transform and to build a house on that land that would provide sacred space for people everywhere to come and be renewed spiritually parallels the work of retreat and renewal to welcome the poor in all of their guises and to provide space where they can uncover the veils to find their true self with God indwelling.  Whether people come for quiet alone, to take part in the retreats and workshops offered, or to book their own retreat, the staffs over the years have served to create a space of hospitality for inspiration, healing and transformation of the weary and wounded into the image of God.  

As we approach the fiftieth Golden anniversary in two years time, with faith we pray and work for this enduring Oblate legacy to continue in service to others until the day when “…all may love tenderly, act justly and walk in truth with one another and with God. Micah 6”.   (Submitted by Lucie Leduc, Programming Director)

OMI Travels to Nunavut

Bishop Rouleau called together the seven priests of his diocese – all of whom are Oblates – in Rankin Inlet,Nunavuton the north western side ofHudson’s Bay.

Stereotypes cannot help but colour our perception of life and ministry in the North; even those of us who have grown up in Canada often have but hazy ideas based on school lessons from long ago or from reading Midst Ice and Snow. The Arctic has changed. Vast distances, isolation, high cost of living, intense cold (despite global warming!), language and closeness to the land remain … but the North is a living culture, not a static museum.

Alcohol and drugs such as crystal meth, marijuana and even heroin, have become a growing problem; sometimes people in the community who should be part of the solution are in fact part of the problem. Flowing from this is an increase in violence and accidents – often with tragic results. Break-ins and vandalism, almost unheard of in the past, are becoming more commonplace. Problems difficult enough to deal with in a southern community, where resources are more readily available, can be overwhelming in an isolated village, lacking social services, where something as basic as going for a drive is not an option and ‘getting away for awhile’ is prohibitively expensive. Television, via satellite dish, is a constant in every home, indoctrinating the children with foreign values incomprehensible to the community elders and subtly teaching the young that traditional culture cannot possibly compete with the excitement of life ‘down south’.

Added to this pot of social disintegration, and souring the relationship between the Oblates and the people to whom they were sent, are the offences committed by missionaries in the past. While abuse in its various forms was perpetrated by a few, it is all the Oblates who pay the price. When children coming running up and want to hug Father, what do you do? You are faced with the unpalatable choice of turning children away or leaving yourself open to accusations.  Missionaries can no longer assume they are welcome in every home; anger has been openly expressed and threats of violence made.

Recent history has seen evangelical churches moving into communities that were once largely Catholic or Anglican. These churches are often well funded and come with ready-made resources and a well-honed plan of proselytization, which capitalizes on missionary’s past mistakes. As confusion and discord grow in people’s minds, church attendance and participation in the sacraments fall off.

Despite difficulties, hope flourishes. For daily Eucharist a large group gathered and afterwards people stayed to visit. They were evidently happy to have the northern Oblate missionaries gather in their community and they celebrated joyfully, especially true when the Bishop had a mass honouring his anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Inuit liturgies are not staid affairs but filled with lively singing and movement. Present were an Inuit couple whose names have been forwarded to Rome with the request that they be named Honourary Oblates.  Mass was followed by a special meal and people lingered late into the night sharing stories.

When asked what struck him most during his visit, Andy replied,
“I was impressed by the sincerity of the missionaries working in Nunavut – the depth of their faith and courage – their patience to work in what is sometimes a very difficult situation. Despite the difficulties they wouldn’t want to move. It’s home for them. They’ve learned the language, Inuktitut, and always spoke it with the people. Mass was in Inuktitut and all the visiting that happened afterwards was in the local language.

They have a wonderful community there. They rely on one another and the young missionaries listened attentively to the older ones; you could see that they really wanted to learn from their experiences! They have a true missionary spirit. You can see that they are alive and excited about what they are doing. At the liturgies even the older missionaries would be clapping and kind of dancing as they sang the Inuktitut hymns.”

Andy also spoke of how all the Oblates contributed to the building up of community. Proving once again that missionaries make excellent cooks, they prepared their own meals and at various times feasted on caribou, Arctic char and a dish special to Polish culture (Bigos) – a mixture of sauerkraut, mushrooms and various meats including chicken gizzards. For men a long way from the country of their birth, it was a nostalgic taste of home!

To be a northerner is to be a storyteller and Andy brought back a number to share on his return. Fr. Szwarc OMI, based in Kugaaruk, was happy to share pictures of his hunting trip. In his words:

“It happened on Friday, January 27th in the afternoon around 3.00 P.M. I was in my house and the phone rang. It was my neighbour Bernadette. She speaks only Inuktitut so it was hard to understand what she wanted to tell me … but I got at least one word, nanuk, which means polar bear; I still didn’t know what about it. Then I caught another word that means “see” and I looked through the window. A few meters from the church there was a polar bear.

It was dark but right when I was watching two Inuit came on snowmobiles to hunt it, so I could see it clearly in the light from their machines. I dressed up and went out. There was no danger because polar bears are afraid of the snowmobiles. When I came out from my house three young Inuit came to me from the house of Bernadette, Jackie, Henry and Chester. While we were watching, the bear began running towards the bay. They said that they were untying a dog when suddenly Henry saw a bear just few meters behind them. He said only “Nanuk!” The other two looked behind and started the fastest run of their lives. Bernadette’s house was very close and the bear was young and not too big so nothing bad happened. We heard two shouts but it was too far to see anything. Anyway, we were sure that they shot it. Polar bears are too dangerous and should never be allowed to enter the town.

It was Henry Totalik, son of our church’s leader, who shot it. So right after I went to help them to skin it and cut it, and of course take some pictures.

The next day I was going by taxi to the airport and the taxi driver said that thanks to this bear his business is running better; because people are afraid to walk alone, they call taxi more often! It was the second polar bear that came close to the town this year.”

Fr. Krotki OMI, from Igloolik, recounted how he and a traveling partner, on their way to a far off mission, were caught in a blizzard. With conditions steadily worsening, they had to make a decision – do they go on, stay or turn back? When in a near whiteout you have to, at all cost, stay on the trail; wander off and the likelihood of anyone finding you is nil!  To test the conditions, they drove in a large circle; coming back to their starting point they could no longer see the track so knew it wasn’t safe to go on. They quickly set up their tent and not knowing how long the blizzard would last, took stock of their food supplies. That didn’t take long. Two fish! By cutting up the frozen, raw fish into pieces and eating only when necessary, they calculated they would be able to survive several days. Things turned out for the best. When the storm ended and they had not arrived at their destination, people came looking for them. The distant roar of a search party on snowmobiles was welcome indeed. In Fr. Krotki’s words, “Thank God we stayed on the trail or we wouldn’t be here today!”

What does the future hold for our northern missions? Andy, Tom and the Bishop were asked about the possibility of one or two more men being made available – it would help alleviate the pressure on the present personnel as they try to meet the needs of their many, isolated missions. It was questioned why there were no young Canadian missionaries in the North but only themselves from Poland. They explained that it was the allure of the Arctic, the chance to go to a difficult mission that had drawn them. Would OMI Lacombe be open to them traveling to southern parishes and talking to young people about vocations, especially about missionary life in northern Canada?

Oblates have a long, proud history of missionary work in the Arctic. Saints have been produced in its icy crucible. As with most of our ministries, its future is unclear. However, should any area of evangelization in Canada offer both challenge and hope, the Arctic community certainly does. Young missionaries and old, bonded in Oblate community continue to be inspired by the vision of De Mazenod as they work to establish the Kingdom of God.

(Submitted by Harley Mapes, OMI)
Feb 2006