Pastor’s Letter for April

Dear Confreres, Associates, Family and Friends

With the arrival of Fr. Mick Fleming in Inuvik, there has been time and opportunity for a little getaway to rest and reconnect with family and confreres in the south. I began with a few days on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. The days were filled with satisfying physical labor as my brother-in-law Gerry and I rebuilt a set of stairs from their beautiful home down to the ocean front below. Exhausted by the end of the day we were treated to delicious food, prepared by my sister Ellen, which tasted even better as a result of our well-earned hunger.

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Strait of Georgia near Gibsons, BC

The open ocean view and the new growth already showing forth, at this time of year on the BC coast, is a genuine refresher after nearly six months of winter ice and cold. The spring conditions were not to last however as I headed in to Vancouver to preach and preside at the weekend Masses at our parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It snowed everyday while I was there and it was not the nice powdery snow I have been used to but heavy, wet slush which quickly soaks through footwear of any kind. Despite the weather, it was a great visit with the Redemptorist community and a nice chance to connect with the parish which has been so wonderful in supporting our northern Missions.

After Mass on Sunday morning, I met a young woman named Elaine who was a teacher in the Kindergarten at the Parish school next door. She told me that, by coincidence, her class was studying polar animals and invited me to come and speak with them about my experiences working in the Arctic. It was really a great opportunity to share with the children and I realized what a culturally diverse country we really have when I began to talk about the use of animals for food and clothing. A little girl politely raised her hand and asked me with sincere puzzlement, “Isn’t hunting rude?”.  I did my best to explain how animals were “harvested” with great respect and care and how nothing that could be used was wasted but I don’t think my explanation was completely satisfying to her understanding and how she had been taught. This cultural gap results in a misunderstanding of their way of life that indigenous cultures often face particularly when it comes to the use of fur bearing animals which have been, for thousands of years, and continue to be an important resource for food, clothing and trade in the north.

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Kindergarten Class, Our Lady of Perpetual Help School

From Vancouver, I flew to Edmonton to meet up with my Brother Colin and his family. We drove together to Jasper, AB to attend the wedding of my nephew Scott to his lovely bride Kerrin. The setting for the wedding and reception was the idyllic Pyramid Lake resort situated a few kilometers above the Jasper town site in the shadow of the mammoth Pyramid Mountain. The weather cooperated and the nuptials took place outdoors on an island in the frozen, snow-covered lake with a little snow falling on the bride and groom as they exchanged their vows . The beautiful occasion offered a wonderful chance to see the whole family, including my dad, siblings and all my nieces and nephews.

The final leg of my journey took me to Yellowknife, NWT for the annual diocesan spring retreat, business meeting and Chrism Mass. Fr. Ken Forster, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of the Lacombe province, led our retreat days speaking about what it takes to live a holy life in our modern world. Taking examples from the life of OMI founder Eugene de Mazinod as well as countless other sources, Fr. Ken encouraged us to give our whole lives to our mission and know that God will be with us all the way.

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Red Fox, Trapper’s Lake, NWT

Speaking about fur bearing animals, this gorgeous creature pictured above was a constant companion during our diocesan retreat days. She and her mate were residing underneath my cabin (or, more accurately, I took up residence above their den) and could be seen sunning themselves during the day. True to form my Inuvialuit friend Dorothy suggested she would make a fine coat for someone. I was just happy to be able to enjoy the sense of closeness to nature that their presence provided.

Our days in Yellowknife ended with a massive blizzard and the Mass of Chrism at St. Patrick’s parish in downtown Yellowknife. The oils were presented to and blessed by the Bishop before they were divided up and distributed to the representatives from the many communities so they could be taken back and used for the parish sacraments in the coming year.

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Flying Home

On the trip home, from Yellowknife to Inuvik, I received the rare treat of a window seat and a cloudless flight. For two hours, we soared in the calm air with a bird’s eye view from 36,000 feet. As we flew; vast forests and snowfields, countless lakes and endless rivers unfolded below us. Occasionally a small settlement would drift into view unconnected to the rest of the world by road or highway, its people, motivated by isolation and necessity, living in relative harmony with nature and its seasons.   I was reminded how lucky we are as Canadians to live in a country that offers such an abundance of unspoiled wilderness and hope that it will be protected for future generations and not taken for granted.

The next few weeks will be busy as preparations for Easter take place. I am pleased that, with the help of the Redemptorists, all our missions in the western Arctic will have Easter celebrations this year with; Fr. Mick serving Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic, Fr. Leo returning to Tuktoyaktuk and I will be in Paulatuk from Palm Sunday through to Easter. I am looking forward to celebrating that feast and hope that you also find joy in those great Easter mysteries.

Until next time, Peace

Fr. Jon