Image: Igloo Church, Inuvik
In Inuvik, the parishioners of Our Lady of Victory parish worship each Sunday in a beautiful church built by volunteers in the late 1950’s. Though it is made of wood it takes the domed shape of an Igloo and its interior design mimics the traditional Inuit dwelling made of ice and snow. The concept for the design was conceived by Father Adam, the parish priest at the time and its actual construction details were the brainchild of Brother Larocque. Both were members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
While the church itself is quite lovely, the structural design is incredible. Twelve major arches, representing in number the twelve chosen apostles of Jesus, encompass the 220 foot circumference of the nave. These were all stick-built and raised from the ground by hand and come together at one point more than 30 feet over the floor. If one goes into the cupola at the top of the dome you can see how all the arches seem to lock together into one entity like the clasped fingers of praying hands.
The building stands strong and proud even after sixty years of winter storms and shifting permafrost. This is due to the flexible nature of the wood with which it is built and the ingenious design of its builders. It remains a testament to the vision and hard work that created it and also to the generations that have continued to maintain and build not just the dome but the faith community which it shelters and the foundation upon which it stands.
As we celebrate the feast of Saint Thomas, our first reading from the letter to the Ephesians allows us to reflect on what it means to be part of a tradition that dates back to the time of the first Apostles more than 2000 years ago. “You are citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” Without a proper foundation even the most beautiful structure will not stand the test of time. Our faith is built on our belief in Jesus and the tradition of what he taught. It has been passed down through the generations by his first followers, these twelve apostles, who had the courage share their experience of what it was like to walk with him and to teach what they learned as they followed Jesus in his ministry.
Saint Thomas, who was among the first disciples, has come to be known to us as doubting Thomas because he needed to see with his own eyes the wounds of the risen Christ. While the moniker associated with him might not be all that flattering, we can be grateful for his honest skepticism because it added even greater strength to the foundation upon which our entire faith is built. We believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead but, without evidence, it could be that the faith in which we now hold fast may have evaporated before it began, dismissed as the fantasy of a few deluded fisherman. Thomas represents those of us who would like to touch and see before we stake our bet. We would not trust to buy a used car without taking it for a test drive, should we expect to believe that a man has risen from the dead without seeing some kind of proof.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe”, Jesus says to Thomas or perhaps he is saying that to us. We, who have not seen with our own eyes, rely on firm foundations to bolster our belief. The twelve strong arches, the apostles, that support the edifice of our faith and all those generations of believers that have followed, along with the gift of the Holy Spirit, give reason for our faith so that we know what we believe is true.
Then it falls to us as we are called to, “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News”