Image: Sled Races at the Paulatuk Easter Jamboree
Dear Confreres, Associates, Family and Friends
Happy Easter to all of you. As we continue our celebration of the Resurrection I am eager to share with you some of the experiences of the past month in the Missions of the Western Arctic.
Our Lenten season ended with a true experience of the Pascal Mystery as we laid to rest Gebie Pedroso, 48-year-old wife and mother of Leo and Lynelle Pedroso.
Gebie was one of the first pioneers of the Filipino community to arrive in Inuvik in 2007. She made the very difficult decision to leave her husband and young son in the Philippines to venture to Canada to help support the family. In 2012 the Pedroso family was reunited in Inuvik and, in the meantime, many more Filipinos had also arrived at Gebie’s invitation and with her great support. Gebie worked hard and had owned her own cleaning business and, along with husband Leo, had recently acquired and were running the Star Café, a favorite coffee and sandwich shop in town. The Church was filled for a memorial Mass and the celebration of Gebie’s life continued afterward around an amazing feast featuring the best of Filipino cuisine along with the contributions of many others. Gebie’s passing will leave a large hole in the heart of this community and her family but we trust that she is at peace in the hands of God.
Turning to more joyful news, I was able to spend 10 days in Paulatuk for the celebration of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. My normal routine is to spend a Friday to Tuesday in the community but with lots of help for Easter this year I could come and take the extra time which the people really appreciated. Paulatuk is quiet little hamlet of about 350 Inuvialuit people located on the Arctic coast about 300 km east of Tuktoyaktuk. Now that April is here the sun is shining brightly for about 17 hours/day. There is still plenty of snow on the ground so the glaring reflection makes sunglasses a necessity and not just a fashion accessory.
Although the sun has significant warmth it does not mean that winter has given up its grip. The first day I arrived it was -25C inside the church and with no fuel for the heating system we postponed Mass until the fuel man got back from his hunting trip. Luckily, we were able to get the furnace going in time to celebrate Palm Sunday. I brought some palm fronds with me on the airplane and it had been a while since a priest has been in the community for Palm Sunday, so everyone was happy to receive them and to bring them back to the elders and others who were not able to make to Mass.
Extra time in the community meant lots of time for house blessings and visiting with elders who do find it hard to get out to the church for services. One of the people I like to stop in on is Charlie Thrasher.
Charlie is one of the first people I got to know when I came for a visit to Paulatuk when I was, “just looking”, about 5 years ago. Charlie is so gracious and loves to tell stories. One of my favorites is about when Charlie was a much younger man living in Inuvik and he had it in his mind that he wanted to go to Aklavik, about 75 km away, for the New Years Eve party. Problem was he had no way to get there so he decided to walk. Charlie walked for 11 hours without stopping and finally made it to his relative’s house. He walked in the door and everyone was surprised to see him. They told him to take off his parka while the young people went out to take care of Charlie’s dog team. They came back in puzzled and asked, “Where’s your dogs”. Charlie told them there were no dogs, that he had walked, but they couldn’t believe it. Now every time I go out for a walk and start to feel tired I think of Charlie and don’t feel too sorry for myself.
The celebration of the Triduum itself was very heartfelt with many people coming to each of the services. By far the best attended was the Stations of the Cross which we prayed on Good Friday afternoon. This is a devotion that means a great deal to the community and can be prayed whether there happens to be a priest available or not. The Church is small so everyone stayed in the pews and kneeled while Marlene Wolki narrated each station stopping one by one before each of the printed metal icons of the Lord’s passion.
At the Easter Vigil, we blessed a brand-new Pascal candle although, because of the blowing snow, we had to forgo the Easter fire and simply blessed the flame of a lit candle. It was simple but beautiful as we reflected on the liturgy of the Word and how God has been with us through all these generations.
Easter Sunday was marked by another gorgeous sunny day and the celebration of two Sunday Masses, the morning was a bit quieter but in the afternoon, we pulled out the stops and celebrated two baptisms and 12 first communions. Throughout the week, we had been doing final preparations with the children and they were so excited. Even some of the younger ones, who were still too young to receive, still wanted to be part of the group and hear the stories of Jesus.
I returned to Inuvik just in time to bid farewell to Fr. Leo English at the airport as he prepared to catch his flight south after having spent the Easter weekend in Tuktoyaktuk. With him was Fr. Mick Fleming who had taken care of the people of Our Lady of Victory in Inuvik as well as the faith community in Tsiigehtchic. A little to our south in Deline, in the region of the Sahtu I had word that Arch-Bishop Gerry Pettipas had also spent the weekend celebrating Easter. I reflected on how just a few short years ago I dreamed of having a Redemptorist priest working in the missions of the Arctic and now, with God’s help, there were four of us.
Until next time, Peace