Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The life of a Brother in Toronto

It's been a long time since I've written on this blog. My apologies for the delay! I guess, you can say I've been a little busy, but also, shockingly, I think I've lost a bit of my desire to write in the past little while. I don't quite understand where this is coming from other than the fact that I have a lot to do, but I can't forget that during my pilgrimage, I was given a bit of a revelation: There are many things I could end up doing as a Jesuit, but there's only one thing that Christ really seems to be calling me to do with all my heart, and that is writing. The reason for this is that there is still a dream that I cling to that I can impact the world, and help create social change as a Jesuit, and I don’t see myself achieving this in better ways than through my writing. It may be just a dream, but at the same time, I find myself in a position -even in here in Toronto- where people turn to me for help, where they depend on me, and are even helped by my actions. SO it's not a pipe dream, it's the reality of my vocation. I make myself available to people, which means that I can and do help more than I can ever immagine. Furthermore, I know that my writing has impacted people in the past emotionally, or otherwise. So why wouldn't I come back to it? No reason. I guess that's why I'm here this morning!!
It's now time for the Toronto Vs Montreal segment. Some dramatic pictures to illustrate this segment:

                                                                               T Dot



Toronto is a lovely city, and even though I miss Montreal...actually, there’s no even thoughs here..I miss Montreal. Toronto is still and will always be a lovely and inviting city with lots of diversity and culture. That doesn't change the fact that Montreal just has more charism, more energy, more colour. I guess that's my own bias. This is why I put this survey on my Blog. I was talking to someone about Bagels recently, and it dawned on me that I had heard of a debate in Montreal as to which place had the best bagels, but could not remember the results of that debate, so I leave it up to the people to resolve this one!!

 But back to my Toronto Vs. Montreal  point, there’s no question that I miss lounging around on St Catherines on a Friday night, or that I’m annoyed I couldn’t be in town for the Arcade Fire concert, or that I long to be closer to my family, or even that there’s a part of me that has died when I left McGill Choral…I can’t deny any of that. However, Toronto is a city with great charm, and thanks to the Jesuits, to my Toronto family,  to the Newman center, to a little Movie called Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and to Ted’s perpetual flair for adventure, I have found my niche here as well: Like Montreal, Toronto is a great walking city; It tries to rival Montreal in terms of fine dining (Does very well in some departments, and not so much in others –that’s my way of saying that nothing can come close to rivalling Schartz, at least, not in Toronto!-);It has a great cultural scene ( The one thing Montreal does poorly in, Toronto is great at: Musicals!!!!) and does have interesting history. I mentioned a movie though…Scott Pilgrim was not only filmed in Toronto, it’s based in Toronto and largely filmed with Canadian actors with a large American contingency as well! It’s the first movie I saw at the house this year…I just stumbled upon it..I had no idea what it was going to be.  It turned out to be a lovely tribute to this city, a very funny movie, but also a very artistic approach to storytelling. If you’ve not seen it yet, and are looking for a cute story and a creative film, I highly recommend it.


  There are other things I really love about Tdot…the CN Tower that changes colours at night, the same passion for their hockey team that Montreal has for the Habs (doesn’t make me want to cheer for them, but I still respect the passion!! I was elated that the Flyers took them down a notch or two on Monday!!). But what’s helped me above everything to see the human face of this city, is my apostolate. It’s interesting: we all have very different apostolates. Adam and Santi work with the youth program of one parish, Ted works with immigrants, the other guys work with Catechism or RCIA or liturgy in various parishes around the city.  I was the only one given a genuine street ministry, and I’m quite honoured by that. I work at a soup kitchen every Monday. The place I work at is the Brothers of the Good shepherd. It’s a place started by a religious community, that still has a good presence of priests and brothers, although I think it’s mostly run by  non-religious these days. They get something like 1000 people every day. They are by far the best organized community soup kitchen I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many in my life. They compost food and recycle things; they have 100s of volunteers every week; they also have apartments for guys trying to reinsert themselves in the world. It’s  a wonderful operation. Most importantly for me…it’s a connection I have to the real world. These are not men and women that spend their days talking about philosophy and theology (as the people in my environment do. It’s important to do this too, but it’s not the real world for me)…they’re trying to survive…they do their best. But what amazes me every week is that despite their hardship, they have more faith in God than most people I encounter. I’ve argued this in a previous blog (or maybe it was in a homily. I say homilies rather frequently here! ) but it blows my mind that while there are people out there, “occupying cities” around the world or sipping tea in a trendy place in town, who claim they could never believe in God in a world filled with injustice, the people who most beautifully believe in God in this world, are those who suffer injustices and marginalisation . So while young people reject God because of their strongly voiced objections vs the injustice and while they speak of the bleakness of the world 24/7, the people I meet at the center, who may not be sure from day to day where their food will come from, seem to have an insurmountable amount of hope. My theory as to why this occurs? The ones who complain about capitalism or the state of the world don’t have to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive every day. Or if they do, they’re not aware of it (that would not surprise me. Atheist are affected by God just as everyone else is...they just don’t know it!!) When one has to start depending more on others to survive, perhaps one develops a bit more a sense of gratitude for life, and one learns to see God in that hope, in that gratitude. That’s my Catholic/Jesuit interpretation of the situation.

 The impact this experience has had on me, is that, as I’ve said, it’s kept me grounded. It’s reminded me that, outside my little Catholic world, there is a whole society of people in pain, suffering, alone, yet still full of peace, hope and love for others. It also forces me to be more than just a student. My studies are important, I’m getting good grades and am learning a lot about my faith and the experience of religion and about being a Disciple of Jesus Christ, but it’s when I come to this place that I learn what true discipleship is. Giving my time to serve others, but also receiving from them all that they have to offer. It’s a humbling and beautiful experience.

 The final piece to my Toronto Jesuit experience lies at Newman Center. Originally, when my superior asked me what I wanted to do for Apostolate, I mentioned that I’d love to work at Newman. I have a feeling that my future vocation will be largely built around helping university students make sense of their faith in a complicated modern secular time. My principal desire is to guide them through their spiritual struggles, but also to give them a sense that there’s more to life than studies…. that a true Catholic faith should be expressed in Social Justice, not just going to Church every Sunday. Anyways, I digress. My superior told me that it may be a good idea to experience something

Different, so that’s how I ended up at Good Shepherd’s, and I’m glad I did. However, I didn’t let that prevent me from interacting with the Newman crowd. I’m just surprised how quickly it happened. I have one little lady to thank for that.

  Sonal is an MDiv student who has 3 classes with me. We get along very well and have gotten along since day 1, but it’s not in class that I met her, but at Newman. She’s one of the Campus ministers who also lives at the Newman center with all the other student campus ministers. Eventually, she began to invite me to lunch and supper and study sessions at Newman. I’ve gotten to know almost everyone there pretty well. There’s many opportunities for ministry, but I’m mostly there for friendship, and if ministry comes out of it, then, praise be to God. I’m mostly happy to have met such a good friend as Sonal so quickly. School has barely started and we were already talking like old friends!!

Anyways, that is my life in Toronto. Lots of good friends…a wonderful community at home, and a very inviting and friendly one at Newman as well.challenging work academically and apostolically… but a tremendous

Sense of joy and peace that accompanies the whole thing. I’m blessed really.

 I’m thinking really hard about all of you out there. God bless you all!


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Facing the past, present and future!!

 It's been roughly a month since we came back from Denver, and I can honestly say it's been a heavy month, but deeply enjoyable at the same time: In one single month, I was inspired by some great Jesuits which gave me great hope for the future, gained a little more peace of mind (in the present) around the next phase of my life as a Jesuit, and had to let go of one more person in my life and deal with all the memories that I had of her in the past.

 I'll start with facing the past: My Nana, Lena Bourque Leckman passed away  on August 8th or 9th.So that makes it 3 major deaths in my family in the last 5 years. I learned about my grandmother's passing while I was at Anderson Lake with the Scholastics. I had been looking forward to our vacation time with the guys for a long time. So when my dad managed to get a hold of  me to tell me the news, I assumed I wouldn't make it to the funeral and would enjoy my vacation time. I was looking forward to going back to Wiky, perhaps seeing some of the kids,to watching many movies and hanving fun with the guys. Of course,part of my initial gut reaction/decision to stay at Villa and miss out on this funeral came from an assumption that I was making: I assumed that I was not too grieved by my nana's passing, since she had been sick for a while, and although she seemed to be improving and her death was rather sudden, we had all been prepared for this for quite some time. Furtheremore, I had not been that close to her in the last 5 years. Consequently I assumed I was fine about this.

Thankfully, in my Jesuit life, I am often pushed to challenge those gut reactions of mine.  I learned the news of her passing 5 minutes before we began a session of 'faith sharing' with the Scholastics. At first, during the sharing, I seemed at peace, but the closer it got for my time to share, the more I realized that my spirit was not at peace. So I asked to pass, in both rounds of sharing (most sharing in Jesuit communities have at least 2 rounds!!).I guess I realized that it was going to be hard for me to share about what's going on in our Jesuit province with the news of my nana's death still fresh on my mind. Finally, when the one coordinating our sharing asked me to share at the end of the 2nd round of sharing,  I explained that I wasn't much in the mood for this, because of this news I had received. Once I faced her passing more publicly, once I made it known to the group that my beloved grandmother was gone...that's when I realized I wasn't ok.

 I left the group, and went outside to pray for a good half hour or more. I let myself weep very openly for my Nana. I came to grip with the fact that, just because we had faced a lot of death as a family in recent years, this did not mean that we were able to deal with it better. All these memories of her flooded my mind and my soul, and the weeping got even more did the praying. That's when I realized, I would have to leave Anderson Lake to go attend this funeral. Of course, this was easier said than done. From Anderson Lake to Montreal was not going to be an easy skip and a hop. But there were possibilities. I spoke to people at the center, spoke to my family and to the novitiate, and a plan was formulated much more quickly than I could have anticipated. A beautiful Mass was said at Anderson Lake for her and my family, and a few hours later, the incomparable Ted Penton and Michael Knox drove me to the Bus Station in Sudbury  where I'd be on an overnight bus to Toronto (leaving at 1 am and arriving around 6 am), where I would meet up with my uncle and aunt who would be leaving that same day  for the funeral in Montreal.

 It all happened so fast that it all seems like a weird vague memory at this point, but what amazed me about the whole process was the clarity of the prayer: Yes, I didn't feel like travelling, like doing all the planning that the travelling would require, like being apart from my group of brothers  etc...but I needed to be in Montreal. I needed to be with my family. This is what my vocation is about: It's not about doing what I feel like, but it's about being present to others in their time of need. It's about discerning where God's love is calling me to be in life and to follow that path to the best of my limited ability. And in the end, my presence in Montreal was greatly appreciated by all..the greater good was served in a way (-;

 And it's not like I didn't get some energy from my days at Villa. Besides all the wonderful movie watching and  canoeing, good food and wonderful preprands (drinks and snacks that precede meals!), it was just nice to connect with the guys through great conversations. One such conversation was very instrumental in my need to find peace with my first studies. Because I am on the Brother's path, I've never been very comfortable with the idea of doing a lot of studies. If I start doing too many studies, it will be like I'm a wanna be Scholastic which we all know could not be further from the truth. During the past year, I have made my peace with the need for more studies, though I  also have been stressing out about registration. During Villa, I had a wonderful chat with someone who put me at ease on this question, and I think, after that conversation, the final barrier towards my first studies was overcome. I can now in all truth say that I am not only ready for this next phase of my life, but am completely at peace with it as well.

 In case you weren't following...grieving about my nana was me facing the past...making my peace with first studies was in part, dealing with the present, but also the future.

One final note that can be said about my last month and how it's impacted my vocation, was the visit of Father Adolfo Nicholas, the Father General of the Society of Jesus (also nicknamed the 'Black Pope' because he's always wearing black, and he's at the helm of this huge international community of men dedicated to Christ). He's someone we read, hear about all the time in Jesuit circles, but hardly ever get to see. celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Jesuits in Canada, he came to Quebec and Ontario to visit all the Jesuit communities there and talk with as many people as he could. During this 10 day period ,this man went from Montreal, to Quebec City, Toronto To Guelph, and Pickering to Midland. He was a travelling machine. What touched, amazed and inspired me the most about this man was his desire to be so present with us. He met with EVERYBODY. The novices, the old priests in the infirmary, the Scholastics, the Lay collaborators of the Jesuits, the Brothers etc...I got to sit next to him and talk with him more than once...he is an inspiring figure, but so incredibly humble at the same time. When I look at men like him, I know I've made the right decision in chosing the Jesuits as a community. I could never be exactly as he is, but there is already so much of his wisdom that I have experienced in my own rather than putting him on a pedestal, I see in him the possibility of a future me. I see in him, the Zenith of all things that make a good Jesuit, a great human being!

 He was in many ways, my hope for the future.And so we've come full circle. I wrote the following line last week..but I kinda like I include it in this blog:

Tomorrow  (August 20th)I take vows as a Jesuit Brother. My bags are not all packed yet...but almost. The leaf is being turned, and my heart is ready.
Show me the way Lord, and I will walk that path with every ounce of courage that I can muster!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Final reflections on Denver

 Denver has come and gone.I'm wasn't too sad about it ending because it was never really 'home' for me, but at the same time, I will miss the gorgeous views of mountains,breath taking storms, stimulating conversations, and the spiritual inspiration I have received from many here (from both presenters/teachers as well as novices). It sometimes feel like all we ever did here was go to class, play sports -for those who were inclined towards that, which I hardly ever was!!- and write papers...but in the end, I feel that our days were pretty full. Prayers, readings, meetings and extra curricular projects -preparing for vows, hostice (read: hosting parties with food and drinks. I made my famous cookies stuffed with cookies witch vanished in a flash. There were legends told of those cookies by those who had tried them!! Ok, I'm done patting myself on the back now!! My fellow novice, Adam Lalonde, also had his own culinary triumph that night as well!!),faith sharing, getting organized for our contribution to the talent show, and practicing our sketch for said talent show (which we performed a few nights before we left Denver. Our act was one of the only ones that got a standing ovation that night!It was pretty good, hopefully I'll be able to post a video of it at some point) among and other stuff I'm sure I'm leaving out- meant that our days went by pretty quickly..and there was rarely ever a dull moment. Of course, my 'claim to fame'... I got to climb one 14er (14000 foot mountain) and made it close to the top of another. I considered attempting my luck with a 3rd one this past weekend, but opted to stay on campus and focus on vow cards, post cards and all kinds of other little errands that awaited me instead. It felt good to be productive again!!
   Denver has also been a good learning experience. I've grown into my role of 'beadle' (essentially: the Beadle of the community is the middle man between the Novices, and the outside world, but also the Novices and the Novice master. It's actually not that difficult, but not without challenges either!) but I've also grown in my spirituality and my intimacy with God. Most importantly, through 4 papers that I've written and many reflections that I've had here, I've grown in my understanding of  my Jesuit vocation. Not so much, what will it entail, or what do I want to do (I kinda leave all questions about the future in God's hands!!), but more, how will I approach life's challenges? How will I respond to obstacles? How will I receive new opportunities and possibilities? It sounds strange that I would face all this simply by being here in Denver, but in a way, this is Our Way of proceeding -note: Whenever I use Our, I mean the Jesuit- . Jesuits don't spend a month with other Jesuits without growth or change. They ask questions, they actively seek answers, and they get closer to God in the process. Whether through a better understanding of Our History, or through my interactions with others, my heart and mind were opened up a little more day by day. I guess..that's the best way I can describe this growth.

 One of the most moving experiences was during the classes. There were many exciting topics and deep conversations, but one presenter in particular had a message that was unsettling for many of us. He was talking about Our presence online..what's good about it..what's not so good..what needs to change, what has improved since the beginning of the millennium etc...but what was unsettling for all of us I think, is all the anti Jesuit stuff that already exists online. In fact,  it is probably easier for one to go on Youtube videos made by angry people  that live in their parent's basement ranting incoherently and hatefully about the Jesuits than it is to find an actual video that informs one about who the Jesuits really are. Most unsettling of all for us was a picture that the instructor showed us that he had seen on a blog, that basically linked the Jesuits to the Nazis.
That image kind of really stunned me, but not because it's the first time I've been exposed to this kind of hatred. I had done my share of research online about the Jesuits before entering. Furthermore, this whole culture of hate that Jesuits have to face is nothing new to us as a Society.

   Like a good Jesuit novice, I am beginning to understand that many people (even other Catholics) are threatened by, and even hate the Jesuits because of  the successes (both historical and contemporary) of the Society of Jesus. We've faced that kind of 'hatred' ever since the Society was formed in the 16th century. Back then, it came from other Catholics who weren't ready for the reforms Ignatius was proposing, and paranoid Inquisition people looking for an excuse to condemn any heretics, or anyone who practiced the faith differently. In the 17th and 18th century, it was the Jansenists (Pseudo Protestant, Catholic community that were more probably more Lutheran than they were Catholic)and the Enlightenment folks who were convinced that The jesuits were the source of all evil seems that every generation has produced 'enemies' for the Jesuits, and the modern era is no different.

  So why did this picture we saw in class trouble me so much? Well, maybe it didn't. There is no question that the picture in question (A Crucifix on top of a Swastika) is shocking at first sight, but in the end, the only things it conveys is the author's deep seated hatred of us, but also,  his incredible ignorance of what we really stand for. I guess it's not really that different than the people calling Obama 'Stalin', or drawing a  Hitler mustache on his face. I feel that the lessons here is that, the moment I commit mysef to the Radical Christ and to the building of God's Kingdom by serving others, the moment I embrace  Social Justice and work at bringing spirituality into the lives of others...I'm  bound to anger some people along the way. This is just something I'll have to learn to live with.
    In the end, it matters little what the angry people of the world (whether they be Christian Fundamentalists, or  Atheistic agnostic  feminists, Raging liberals or Staunch conservatives etc..) think about the Jesuits or even the Catholic Church. I am called to believe that we walk closely with Christ, and I am called to continue that walk no matter what the cost... even if that cost is that I'll have to tolerate people's hatred and insults ( "blessed are you when they insult you because of me!"). Most importantly, I am called to be patient with those who are angry, and to hope that through me, God can bring a little bit of peace in their lives. Sounds like a lot of work..but I can't back down at this point. I believe too much in the beauty of the Kingdom of God that we are all called to help build here on earth.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Novice Road Trip!!

There was definitely a need for discernment with this blog: I could continue writing it, because I enjoy doing so, and it connects me to many people that I love...but the tone in it is about to change dramatically. This is no longer about Wiki and the drama and joys that this communitiny brings/brought me ( until recently, I was still deeply affected by, and had regular dreams about this little town. It's quieter now, for better or worse, though the most recent one had me finding two sisters dead after they had taken a suicide pack...rather disturbing). But the key thing is that my Jesuit journey continues, with or without Wiki. Personally, I'd rather be there, but in the end, I go where I'm needed..I go where I'm missioned.

 And it seems that  where I'll be m missioned to in the Fall, is Regis College in Toronto for studies. I'm still a little fuzzy about what I'll be studying in great detail. I'd like to be able to study some English lit and writing courses, but the focus will of course be on Theology (with a bit of philosophy on the side). You may be able to discern from the tone of this blog that I'm not deeply excited about going back to studies. I dunno..I guess I kind of am. I think indifference better describes how I'm feeling about this.  I know I need to better understand my faith and the wonderful ideas that shape it before I go out and try to teach it again, and I look forward to deepening my understanding of this wonderful faith of ours even more in Toronto. Yes, I'd rather be out there in the world, bringing God's love to people with my own loving presence to them, but I think that living presence needs to be a bit more deeply rooted in intellectual stuff than it currently is. 

 In the meantime, a whole summer of activities has been upon us at the novitiate community. Right now, we're in the Denver phase of our journey. 5 of us plus our Socius drove down to Denver from Montreal. We saw a lot of America the Beautiful, but with very few stops. Kuddos to our 4 drivers for being such machines!! We made it to Indiana by the end of the first day, and we decided to stop by Michael Jackson's house in Gary. Some of the guys were a little nervous about going to this ghost town where we'd probably be the only white folks around...but in the end, not only was the house amazing to see, but some of the people who lived there came down to chat with us, and were super friendly. There's apparently a Jesuit community in Gary, but we didn't know about it, so we spent the night at a hotel.
  The next day of driving too us all the way to Nebraska, more specifically, Omaha,where we stayed at the Campus of Creighton University.I liked Omaha. Unlike Denver where we currently are...there's nice beautiful clouds once in a while! Dazzling lightning across the Nebraska sky...very nice. The downtown is very quiet..but it's quaint. And we went to watch some ceremonies for the World series of College baseball which were starting the following day at a big new stadium. Lots of people, gorgeous was nice to share this moment with the local people. And there was something kinda spiritual about the whole thing that I still can't describe. Maybe I felt like we were getting a glimpse of local life and culture, that we were connecting with these beautiful people, if only for one brief moment. dunno...but I enjoyed it and would love to return there for a visit later on in my Jesuit career!!

 The next and last day, we drove from Nebraska to Colorado (which may get it's name from the Spanish for Red Colour, which is what many settlers would have seen in arriving here, with all the Red stones). With us, about 55 other novices form across the US. It's been a daunting task to remember all their names, and I assure you that I still don't. We've had some nice dialog with many of them, but of course the focus of our presence here is the History course...actually, I wonder about that. The Jesuit history course is an important reason for our presence, but I also feel that I've share many special moments with these guys that have in some ways strenghened my vocation, my connection to the Society. So I wonder sometime if the course really is my main priority here..if creating a communion with these other men may not be an even bigger priority!!
  Finally, I can proudly say that I have climbed the Rockies!! Unfortunately, as I gloat about having climbed the rockies,I need to be honest and say that I didn't quite get to the top. We did an expedition on Saturday -waking up at 5:30 am to get to our starting point at a reasonable hour-. There were about 16 of us -including Erik and Marc from Montreal, the two only priests/formators on the hike-  that were going to try to climb a 14000 feet peek. Well..I made it to about 13000 feet. I could see the peak, and have lovely pictures of it and of the whole mountain range, but my body was telling me loud and clear that I was out of juice for this (and to get to the peak, I would have had to deal with a very long climb that was exhausting the heck out of me already!). So one of my novice brothers and I quit near the end, and headed back down. There was one more American novice who couldn't make it to the top...everyone else did, some paying a rather steep price for it with major migraines and sickness waiting for them on the way down and even after the hike. I really am looking forward to putting up some of my pics from the mountains...they look a little like the ones I took in Vancouver the summer before I entered, except, this time, I actually got there on my own, without some kind of transportation as I did in Vancouver (Whistler).
  I believe that's all I got for now. I will confess that I've lost some of my passion for writing these days..could be because I'm so focused on the work that lies ahead. I'll try to reconnect with that in the days ahead!! I owe it to myself, and to those who do enjoy these!!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Roamin Catholic

Deep breaths...
My friends, this is by far the most ACTIVE Summer I've had probably in my life. I got back from Wiki...what...2 weeks ago? Well, since then, I've been to Toronto for Ordinations, to St Sauveur for an 8 day retreat, and tomorrow I am leaving for Denver Colorado for an 30 day class...after which I'll be in Midland for the Jesuit Congress. Then I'm back in the Manitoulin Area for a 6 day Villa days with my fellow Jesuits scholastic -I'm not going to be a Scholastic in the Society of Jesus as I plan to become a Brother this August, but the other scholastics are my brothers, my peers and my friends!!-. Anyways, we don't stop for breath much this summer it seems...which is both good and bad. It's good because I get to see lots of pretty parts of our continent and to meet the American Novices in Denver as we plunge into Jesuit History!! Not so fun that there's not more stability in my summer...I miss my students, my best friend (Claire!! Love you!!) and my family very much and would love to spend more time emailing or calling them. We have a lot of big changes ahead of us in the Fall, and it would have been nice to take in the beauty of Montreal a little before leaving it.
 Surprisingly, I'm not feeling the pain of leaving this beautiful city, nor the sadness of not being close to my kids in Wiki. I'm feeling at peace. We just came back from an 8 day retreat that really centered me on the importance of Jesus as a friend that I needed to get to know better..and not only did I walk with him, but I allowed him to walk with me in a way that was very touching. He's got a lot to teach us I guess!!
 I hope to be able to write more of these blogs this summer!!


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Final weeks and days: reflecting on Wiki

Although I am now back in Montreal, the memory of Wiki still remains quite strongly with me. Especially in my dream life. Not only do my kids feature in many of my dreams, but I'm also getting less pleasant dreams that involves the suicide of teenagers that keep me up at night sometimes. Perhaps this is an expression of the grip that Wiki will always have on me. Even if there are people who suffer more on this big planet than the people in Wiki, there are few places that I feel more called to live than in Wiki these days!! But now, I have to go back and continue the story that I left off with from the previous blog:
Going back to the depression I felt after the Services on First Communion's funny how my stay here both started and ended with this feeling of depression. They were very two very different levels of it of course.
The one I felt after a few days here was quite powerful, and borderline frightening:One morning in particular was especially frightful... I woke up in the morning, and was unable to get out of bed.There was this rather loud voice in my head proclaiming how I was being useless here and was wasting my time not just in Wiki, but in religious life in general. I mean, obviously, much of that had to do with the fact that I was 'settling in', not working on any projects, but also being overwhelmed of having to walk in the shoes/shadows of other great novices before me (more on that later)
It was through prayer, and a lot of it too, that I would get over this phase, and with time, would learn to be confident, and comfortable of the things I could contribute here in Wiki on my own term, without feeling pressured to imitate  what any of the other guys had done when they were here. That would take a while, but it was one of the most liberating feelings in the world once it did come!!
  But the depression I felt on 1st Communion Sunday was a different kind. Not as aggressive maybe. It was almost like quiet sadness over the fact that I would be leaving I had mentioned, there was also this feeling of being excluded from the other celebrations of the day, but that was not a big deal in retrospect and I already explained why in the previous blog, though for a few days, I just assumed I was sad at being excluded yet again here in Wiki.
   After a day of binging with movies and junk food -which I did during the rest of  that Sunday- I slowly emerged with a different perspective on the issue: I wasn't depressed for any other reason that I felt that I was leaving these kids behind. When I tried to express this to the community at our meeting on Monday, I wept pretty intensely for the first time since I had been in Wiki. The one thing that sticks out for me in Wiki is that these kids aren't all well surrounded by loving families, and for some of them, I feel like I  was the closest thing they had to someone who cared about them with all his heart (I'm sure that isn't totally true..but it's what it felt like, and  at the same time, with all the broken families here, I wouldn't be surprised if the lack of a warm loving environment is one of the things that leads some of these kids on such a bad path after a while).
 I guess, you may say this is me having a Messiah complex...wanting to save these kids from their hardships. But as one wise man reminded me, that's not my vocation as a Jesuit. I'm called to love unconditionally, but not to be attached, because one never knows where the spirit will lead me. Well, that's going to be hard for me. I get attached easily, especially to kids. that's what I keep telling people about my experience: If I had gotten attached to the kids, but had not felt that the attachment was mutual, then I would have moved on somehow. but everywhere I went, if some of the kids saw me, they'd wave frantically or call after me. One even gasped with excitement  when she bumped into me at the market one day! I guess it's safe to say that all this attention got to my head..completely. Maybe that's part of the danger with this vocation to Wiki I feel I have. I like it here because I feel more loved than the novitiate, or any other Jesuit community for that matter.

   Despite this, I can't forget one basic thing that draws me back to Wiki: No one  (no Jesuit) wants to be sent here (with a few exceptions!) and rightfully so. This is a difficult environment. Lonely, isolated and at times, very cold -both in terms of weather, and in terms of the reception we get from the community- . For we Jesuits who are trained to live in community and to dedicate ourselves for the well being of all who are in it,this kind of life is almost contrary to our vocation that is focused on helping all souls, and serving a large number of people. .But our vocation also has another aspect: We basically go where no one else will. Historically, this has  been true with Jesuits going to many far off places to spread the love of God. And it was true in Manitoulin as well...the first men sent here were indeed sacrificing their lives for the well being of this small community. I personally feel that it would not be much of a sacrifice. I'd be far from my friends and family, true, but I would be with others that I love as much as my friends and family back home. Others who perhaps need to be reminded what it's like to be loved unconditionally.
  I was reminded of this on one of my last days in Wiki. Not long after Kristen Jackson committed suicide, another woman, Julie Trudeau also ended her life. She was a bit older (25), but her death was no less tragic. those of you who have been reading this blog will remember that I spoke of a Jordan trudeau who had been murdered while in prison, leaving his wife and 2 kids behind. Julia was his wife. Those kids were now without mother or father. And yet, as sad as all this was, what grieved me was this little boy that I met during the wake. Everyone I spoke to -kids and adults- told me he was like a little devil child that would probably end up in prison some day (how one can say that about an 8 year old in grade 2 is beyond me). And I could see he was a feisty one..but somehow, I also inspired some gentleness in him. He (along with two other girls) joined me for evening mass and was so well behaved. Later that evening, during the wake, I saw him walking around and looking sad...I was in the Church during the wake, and I beckoned him to come sit with me. He came, cuddled against me, and started sharing that he was sad because the other -bigger- kids were always picking on him. At that moment, this boy was not a trouble maker or a future criminal for me..he was a little boy with a lot of pain around growing up. He was a little boy that needed some attention and love. there seems to be a lot of kids like that in Wiki.
  Maybe that is why I was so quick to point out to our provincial that even though not many Jesuits want to be sent here, I felt that this was about to change, both with me, and with others. We understand the need here...and it's not a need that is greater than starving children in Africa or homeless ones in Haiti...but it's our country's need rather than some other one. I don't feel at all called to doing missionary work abroad when there is so much work
to be done in our own country..but I guess, as usual, it's hard for me to pronounce myself confidently on the matter. Things could change.
However, if things do change, I do hope that I remember that little boy in Wiki who touched me so much; That I remember the members of the community - even if they were few in numbers- who welcomed me as if I were a son (one of the DOS said she saw me as a son on my last day in Wiki, and I pretty much lost it!!) and who have so much to teach me.  That I lovingly remember all these kids that I was so dedicated to during these 4 months, and that I would love to see grow old. I'm not allowed to limit my vocation to just one place, and I will not do so. However, nor can I allow myself to forget that place, and whatever the Good Lord has in store for me in the future, I hope I will always have time for this community and all it has to offer!

 God bless Wiki

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

First Communion Sunday Part 2

My really  belated account of First Communion celebration, part doos:
What a day! What a wonderful experience of ministry this was! I actually have some pics from the whole celebration, which can be seen on Fb, though I was limited in my picture taking as I was working during the Mass. It started in Kaboni at 9am. I originally had only 2 or 3 kids on my list who would be receiving First communion there, but in the end, there was 8-9 of them that came, including the lovely Juliana and Deborah Lynn who, are already quite naturally beautiful, were even more so as they were all dressed up like mini brides. When I look back upon it, I'm greatful at how much smaller this service was. It was much more easy to manage 9 kids than it would be to manage 40 of them at Holy Cross. Mind you, some of the kids weren't getting the concept of First communion, as they put the Host in their pockets after receiving it!! I don't think any of my students did this..I told them so many times what they needed to do during 1st communion and how to do it!! This was a student from out of town whose parents wanted him to receive the Sacrament  in Wiki!
( In case you still doubted that there was some prestige around Wiki, this will prove to you that it's there. Some actually came from Sudbury, which is a million times bigger -and has more Churches- than Wiki, but it doesn't have the same special connection to the reserve I guess!!-.)
  The one gratifying factor about Kaboni was that I was able to witness first hand the appreciation of the students for the work I put in to making the certificate. One in particular, Juliana came up to me and just  quietly stood next to me, pointing at her certificate and smiled...I don't know why, but THAT made my day.

 We of course knew that Holy Cross was going to be a little, to say the least. Holy Cross is the Church next to rectory, and it's the 'prestigious' Church in town. It's the one everyone wants to get married in, the one most people get their kids baptized in, and the most sought after for funerals -even though some of the other Churches are more convenient for those!-. In fact, it would have made more sense for some of the families to bring their kids to 1st communion at either Kaboni or Buzwah -the two other major Church. There's a 3rd one that only gets used once in a while in South Bay-.However, most families opted for HC, which was fine by Doug... less work for him!!
  Anyways, the drive from Kaboni to HC is usualy close to 25 minutes...I feel Doug did it in less time that Sunday. And it was a good thing too!! By the time we got back home, it was just barely past 10am, and some of the students and their families were already arriving!! Shalayna and Novaleigh -two of students I know a little better...see kids...that's what you get when you answer my questions in class..I end up remembering your names!!- of course all primped up. I had originally just waved at them and kept on walking to the rectory, assuming they would want to be with their families...but Shalayna came running after me. I tell you, if I ever doubt again how much of an impact I had on some of these children, I'll have to remember this little detail and many others that have taken place over the past week to remind me how attached some of these kids are to me!! But I digress!
  Organizing the kids to enter the Church was interesting, and not half as chaotic as it had been with Confirmation.I gathered them all in the hall across the Church -Jananseau hall..I think that's how you spell it- and once there,  I put on a more playful role, calling up the kids one after the other to line up in a sportscaster's voice, which amused both kids and parents!! Of course, all that was in vain. I had them line up alphabetically so that I could have no trouble handing out certificates to them in the end (my certificates were organized alphabetically), but they actually were going to be walking in two by two, boy and my alphabetical thing was all for naught, which meant that handing out the certificates to them would be crazy and was probably the most chaotic experience I had in Wiki. -after mass, they each individually received a blessing from Doug, and came to get a cross, and a certificate from me and one of the teachers- ..but now I'm breaking the perfect chronology of this blog and am talking about an event that happened at the end...

 Coming out of the Jananseau hall with the kids was cute. All the girls were dressed in beautiful dresses with short sleeves, and they all complained in unison about the frigidly cold Spring Wiki day the moment they stepped out!! But the rest was smooth. They lined up perfectly. Once in the Church, I had to organize them a little as to where to sit..but it went smoothly. I had asked both teachers to read. One refused to, and the other forgot his glasses, so that didn't work Friend Cindy read. hmm...I guess the rest was kind of boring and not worth blogging. I mean, it was exciting to be in the see all my kids lined up perfectly in their beautiful see how quickly they responded to me when I asked them to come up and bring the gifts with me -I think half the kids wanted to come up with me for this!!- etc...

 At the end of the hour or so that it took to have these boys and girls take their first communion, there was a lovely sense of accomplishment..but also sadness. I originally thought the sadness was mostly due to the fact that I had not been invited to any of the post 1st communion parties as I had half hoped -this is Wiki after all...I was not a member of the community, and I should not even have half hoped for this-  but I would soon realize there was a deeper reason for this depression. That will be the subject of my last blog concerning the subject of this beautiful reserve and the crazily beautiful experience I had there.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

First Communion Sunday Part 1

 Today, Sunday May the 15th, is the last major event in my ministry here in Wiki... and even though there's a bit of sadness in my heart as I'm getting closer to saying my final goodbyes to these kids and this community, it will probably be the easiest event to coordinate since these kids are so perfectly behaved. They came to the Church -both grade 3 classes- on Friday for First Confession with Fr Doug, and I couldn't believe how perfect they were...they all sat quietly in the Church as one by one, each kid  went up to the altar to reveal to Father Doug one small thing that they were sorry for.They behaved brilliantly. Of course, there were teachers there  to ensure everyone was on their best behaviour, but overall, I think the students  were all happy and excited to be there and to be on their best behaviour.Some were actually quite adorable as they rushed or skipped to the alter with a big smile on their face!! Both Mr Howard -one of the teachers, and also a good friend of mine in Wiki- and I were laughing at the fact that some of the students went up to see Fr Doug, and as he spoke to them (asking them if they had done a bad thing recently) they vigorously shook their head. One girl in particular, I had to refrain from saying  in a loud voice"Oh Come on, it can't be THAT hard for you to find ONE thing you did wrong!!" (she's a bit of a rascal (for lack of better word) in class sometimes!!). Doug later confirmed that a few of them insisted they had nothing to confess, and so he just sent them back to their seats!! Part of their charm I suppose!!

 And it is that charm that of theirs that warms me even more on this brilliant Sunday morning, and is going to make it so hard for me to say goodbye to them. I was concerned that the weather wouldn't cooperate with the celebration..but it looks like we may have an absolutely perfect Spring day in Wiki!!It matches the mood of the kids around this celebration perfectly! One of my students -Maya- has been excitedly telling me weeks how much she was looking forward to this, that she got her ears pierced and was going to get a new dress for this etc... and although she's been one of the most vocal ones about the event, I have a feeling she speaks for most of students!!

 In truth, First communion has not been an as big of a deal as Confirmation for me: I don't have as big of a group to organize -no sponsors!-, I know the kids better so I'm not as worried about organizing them, there's no Bishop involved (-;, and Doug has been and will continue to be brilliantly supportive -or maybe I'm the one that's being brilliantly supportive to the community..I dunno!!-. But because of the excitement the kids have been feeling, I think I was a little more excited -and consequently, I was sleepless last night!!- about this one.
These, after all, truly were my kids for the past 4 months. No one has made me feel more welcome in Wiki than they have (Besides Fr Doug, obviously!). Not many have made me feel as appreciated and loved as they have (one of them continues to insist that I'm the best teacher she's ever had...though I think she's buttering me up because she wants a piggy back ride!!). I was especially taken aback by the 2nd group I teach...not only where they a little sharper in their knowledge of spiritual things than the first group, but they also surprised me on the last day. When I announced to the first group that it was going to be our last class together, some said "yay", others expressed their disappointment, but they were overall indifferent it seemed. In the 2nd class, when I made the announcement they all looked at me in complete silence, some with their jaws opened..almost as if they weren't expecting this news. I was as surprised by that reaction as I was in my first class with the other group when I told them I had homework for them, and they all in perfect unison said "yaaaaaaay" (it wasn't a heartfelt yay, but I figured they were too young for sarcasm, so I took that yay as an unexpected enthusiasm towards homework...of course by the next class, most of them had not done this homework!!).

  In the end, these kids, are one the main reason I want to come back to Wiki. I mean, sure, I'm drawn to this place because nobody else is,I feel that I've got much to learn from Native Spirituality and from the People of Wiki, and let's face it...this is DAMN beautiful country...but these kids have nourished my vocation here. Not only in their enthusiasm for religion, but in their affection for me.It's through that affection that I've also given them, that I finally understood once and for all what one of my purposes was in this life as a religious: To love each one of the children that I teach equally. To be a father/brother figure to all of them. Could I do this as a married man?? Maybe. But at the end of the day, I would return to my own home, where I'd have my own kids that were the most important people in the world to me. In this scenario, THESE KIDS in my classroom are the most important people in the world to me. No, I don't always remember their names, and some of them, I've never even spoken to, but they're no different in my mind and heart than the kids who cling to me as if I were the only person they loved in the world. What makes it even more poignant for me is that  I know that many of them, have parents who are divorced, are on drugs or alcohol, or are in prison, and they are in need of being loved in this world. It broke my heart when one of the first grade kids actually called me 'daddy', or when my grade 3s come up to me with outstretched arms and say "uppy" (when I know damned well that this school frowns upon 'the white teacher' picking up kids and I have to say 'no uppy' every time).

 But I've learned to love them without holding them, without picking them up. I've learn to take them seriously, to listen to their ideas and thoughts. I've learn to see them as my children, but also my brothers and sisters...and a huge part of me does not want to allow kids like this grow up without being loved. That is the MAIN reason I need to come back. But it's not my call, and as my wise brother Eric Hanna has reminded vocation will allow me to create this kind of bond everywhere I go. I'm starting to believe that...and yet, I can never forget these kids that have such a strong need for Jesus in their lives. If they had Him, if they understood how much he loved them, perhaps, there'd be less depressed teens, less suicides -another one yesterday, though she was 25 this time...doesn't make it better..she leaves two children behind..and those two kids are now orphaned as their Dad was Jordan Trudeau, the fellow I mentioned in an earlier blog who died in prison). There is so much hardship in this kid should ever be exposed to that on their own. They need spirituality to survive the crazy world they live in. Maybe that's my role in this bring hope to the hopeless, and to bring God's light to those who sit in darkness.
That would make for a wonderful vocation...but for now,it's First communion time!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Catching up to God...

The Easter season has been rather quiet as things wind down here. I recently went with my grade 8s to climb a small mountain called Dreamer's rock. We had spiritual guides with us, and the whole experience was very's something I wish I had had when I was in junior high and high school, as it invited these young people to look at their whole being, their whole experience, and allow themselves to be more internalized in a way. I'm not sure how many of these kids did grow internally as part of this experience, but it was still a wonderful experience.
Equally wonderful, though a little more challenging was the Confirmation of all these students that same week.
I had a group of about 45 kids that were getting confirmed and had to organize them and their sponsors as we entered the Church. Not one of my brightest moments here in Wiki, but thankfully, I was very well surrounded by parishioners who are used to organizing this and helped me with the process. The work leading up to this big day was much more labor intensive than the actual work involved in the service -at least for me-. The visiting Bishop who was confirming all these wonderful kids -most of whom I do not know my fist name...event though I've been teaching them for almost 3 months..I could never set up much of a rapport with them as I have with the grade 3s (and even the grade 3s, I guarantee you I don't know the names of half my students...but it is what it is)- was a big hit in Wiki, but more importantly, he was dazzled by our tiny little community...the full Church, the good music, the impressive mix of native and Catholic traditions during Mass etc..
  After the service, there was lunch at our rectory. 3 Parishioners that I see often, but don't know at all, were serving the lunch -Eva, and her nieces that she adopted and has raised throughout most of her life, Megan and Kristen Jackson-. Indeed, I see Megan and Kristen every Sunday...they had impressed me by the fact that  they came to Church every Sunday, although, like most teens here, were probably bored to tears by the service, and yet, were able to behave quite beautifully during the Mass.  On Tuesday, the two girls actually came to one of our weekday masses, which was a bit of a surprise to us, firstly because Eva was not there -so they weren't being forced to attend- and secondly because we had never seen them at a weekday mass before. As it turns out, that particular Tuesday evening, would be one of the last time I ever see the eldest of the 2...Kristin.

 Thursday afternoon -of this past week-, I was cooking supper for Doug and myself. All day long, there had been rumours in Wiki that a very important man had died...a fellow named Ron Wagegijig, who had once been a Chief in Wiki, and was also a medicine man who worked with mainstream doctors to combat Diabetes amongst natives. The rumour was later confirmed by a rather emotional message on our phone saying "Ronny is gone".So the loss of this man, although expected, because he had been very sick, was a blow to the community...Doug was already a little shaken since he had known and worked with him for so long. Then, around 4:45, we get a call.

  Kristin, had hanged herself. It turns out, Eva and the girls live just a few houses up the road from us, and I had really met them for the first time when we went to the funeral of another teenager, Curtis, back in January. So he went straight over to their place..but he came back pretty quickly, being told that he could not pray over the body or give her the last rites, because the Coroner had not arrived he just came back.

 In all honesty, Doug was much more shaken by Curtis' death than by this double dose of it because he knew Curtis very personally. Nonetheless...both of us were quite stunned by this news... I mean I had just seen Kristin and her sister walking to or from school a few hours before. So now, like the rest of this community, I'm stuck with questions. Even though I did not know Kristin, she was a presence in this parish that did not go unnoticed. She seemed happy and joyful all the time. It's hard to conceive how this could happen...or even to begin imagining what was going on in her head, or in the head of her poor sister who was the first to find her

 I was so numb after this news that I could not even listen to music while cooking anymore.. it didn't feel right to be 'enjoying myself' when there was so much grief in this community that night. Oddly enough, that same night, watching two separate tv shows -Bones, and Gray's Anatomy- I picked up a little bit of wisdom that summarized a lot of how I felt. From Gray's, was this simple idea that we are constantly trying to catch up to God. I'm totally taking it out of context and am not going to bother with the context unless someone asks me to, but essentially, what I took from this was that, there is much that takes us away from God in this world. Grief, our own limitations..and even our abilities. Because we are thinking beings, too often, many people assume that our ability to use science is an indication that there should be no mysteries for humans in this world. But all the science in the world can not help us cope when we're in darkness...when we are struck by grief and pain...and it's then that I think we slowly catch up to God, when we start abandoning ourselves to Them -I'm trying to stop using Him as a pronoun for God, and Her doesn't rectify the problem either, so...genderless them seems perfect, and it could refer to the trinity!!- and give in to the mystery that is God. It doesn't last long..soon enough, we're back to some semblance of a routine that makes us forget our mystical connection to the Almighty, but hopefully, we always come back..and continue our efforts to catch up to God, which we obviously never accomplish completely, but can never stop trying!
  From Bones (my favourite show these days! I love that they have a practising Catholic as one of the show's main characters!!) , something way more simple (again, I'm adapting): It's difficult to continue the walk in Christ when such events happen..but then the next morning comes..God's little miracles happen all around us, strengthening us with new life and allowing us to continue that walk that we were meant to do with all of our hearts.
  It's amazing how those two lines came when I needed them the most. I don't think I was angry at God for what was happening, but I was at a loss for what to say to those around me...or if I needed to say anything.  In the end.. I learned that I don't have to say a word. All I can do is to be Christ's loving  presence to all that I meet.There will be more suicides, more confused teenagers, more communities stuck in darkness in my life.
I hope that I will one day learn how to be Christ's Hope to all who suffer..but for now, all I can do is be His love!! And I do this lovingly!!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Come to the fire

When looking back upon my Easter experience in Wiki (very late Easter Blog..sorry!), I think a big part of me is afraid that I may too cliched in trying to find the right words to summarize the Holy week experience. But cliche or not, I need to give it  language, because it was by far one of the most powerful Easter experiences I've ever had. I could try to contrast it with my Newman center  experience of Easter..I think that would be like comparing apples and oranges in some ways...Newman was always extremely fun, energetic and quietly spiritual . My Wiki experience has been deeply spiritual (like a million times more than anything I've known before in my life), even if lacking in the fun department!! I guess at the end of the day, the greatest Easter experience of my life will balance the two...but I think Easter is always a very intense season, so it's hard to compare the various experiences of it that I've had in the past. They're all wonderful in the end, that's all I need to remember I suppose! Christ is can that not be wonderful!!!

 I could say that my Wiki Holy week experience really began last Monday with my Grade 3 class.  I decided I was going to reenact the last supper with the kids and that I would afterwards, show them various pictures of the Stations. Our reenactment of the last supper was quite wonderful. I chose one kid to be Jesus, and the others to be disciples.I basically narrated the story, as the kids acted it out for the whole class! I brought bread crumbs and fruit juice, and we passed both around- we were all seated in a circle-. According to Erik who was visiting, and filming a little of the class, the teacher Mr Howard -who also happens to be the husband of  my good friend here in Wiki-  was fascinated by the whole experience (either that, or he was weirded out by it..I couldn't tell!!). It wasn't both classes where this worked perfectly well (all it takes is one hyper active kid to ruin the whole thing...), but I overall was quite happy with the experience. It gave the kids a more tangible experience of the Eucharist that they will be receiving in a few weeks time, but it was an enriching experience for me as well!!

The focus of this blog is really what happened Easter Sunday morning, but I could give a brief outline of the rest of the week as well I suppose: Thursday, two major events:  I taught my Grade 8s about the Stations of the Cross...but what was cool, is that, my best friend Claire gave me a version of the Stations that reflected  the crisis in Japan. I thought this would have a huge impact on my class...but in the end, they were more interested -or at least..more attentive- when I was talking about the more traditional stations...though there were some gasps in the class at some of the pictures for Japan, and they seemed impressed with how it all tied in very neatly - for example, Jesus' first fall was the earthquake, the 2nd fall the Tsunami, the3rd the  explosion at the plant-. It was a very poignant presentation, but maybe it was too much for  me to expect these kids to have their concentration focused on this subject for longer than 10 minutes!

Of course, Thursday was also Holy Thursday, and I guess I've earned Doug's trust enough that I was given my share of work to do on this day, and for the whole of Holy week. This was interesting for me: I mean, I need to be honest and say that one of the reasons why I am comfortable with my Brother's vocation, is that I'm not THAT interested in participating directly in the liturgy. Maybe it's all my traditionalists friends who have turned me off of Catholic liturgy with their criticism of any Parrish  that thinks outside the box and does things differently to accommodate young people or different cultures or even to allow itself to grow in a different direction as a community . For example,I'm sure most traditionalists would have a fit at how things are done in Wiki...but if they did, I'd only say " find creative ways of bringing native people into the Church! Because you're old Latin Church sure as hell won't cut it here! At least by mixing native and Catholic traditions, we honor both cultures and allow people to maintain a connection to their traditions while being in a Catholic Church."-. My general feeling towards our liturgy and being involved in it is that I know it's beautiful and can be inspiring, and I am honored to take part in any liturgy at all...but I don't want to be my life's work. 
All of that to say: I prefer being in the congregation than behind the scenes helping make Services happen. I was called by God to do Social Justice, not to make sure that the Good Friday service runs properly.

That being said: My Holy week experience would not have been the same if I had not been involved in it's execution. From doing readings and putting the water in bowls for the washing of hands -Anishinabe people don't do washing of feet!!- on Holy Thursday, to getting some of my grade 8's involved with the Service on Good Friday, to singing some of the entrance antiphons during the week, my role was fulfilling, and it gave me a whole new taste of what Easter truly is.. this idea of coming out of Darkness to enter Jesus' light of love and to let that light radiate in everything we do...that was a huge theme for me during this period. They also had a native theater troupe put on the Passion play, which brought tears to my eyes, even to hearing the boy who volunteered from my class say "I think I'm going to start coming to Church more often" after being so moved by the whole service...all of this was incredibly rewarding.However, in the end, 2 events stood out, and I do hope Santiago will be able to add his comments about both, as I'm sure my recollection of both events will be a little incomplete already!

Wake for Jesus: As the Good Friday service ended, a new experience of Easter began for me. This, is the first place I've ever been to where they have a Wake for Jesus. This community, in case I need to remind you, is very accustomed to wakes. They have them often, and they last a long time...and there's very little socializing during's all music and praying. So, what we did for this particular 'wake' is that we set up the crucifix at the altar, put props around it -crown of thorn, nails with blood on them- put about 60 candles of different colour around all of this, some prayerful readings next to the crucifix,. and left some coffee in the back for anyone who would come pray with Jesus during the next 24 hours. There may have been a game on that night -which I think the flyers lost..but they got past that first round in the end. Not so confident about this second round!- so I didn't come till much later, but I stayed a good 3 hours, and it was one of the richest, most invigorating prayers I've ever had. I spent time with the Bible, then when there was no one else in the Church, I'd go kneel at the altar, and just talk with Jesus, and when someone came in, I'd yield my place and go back to the Bible. Very ritualistic, but so enriching at the same time. I look forward to doing another such wake for Jesus in future years!!

On Sunday Morning, we had the Easter sunrise Vigil: I've had such vigils in the past..and they're very special..but in no way was I expecting the powerful experience that I would witness that Sunday morning. We must have stood outside in the chilly April morning for a good hour and a half...but I never once thought about the time, how cold I was,  or even the very important game 6 the flyers were playing that night. Rosalla -one of the DOS- lead the service, and I was entranced. I've witnessed in Guelph many people try to connect our Catholic journey to Creation by looking at nature more spiritually...but honestly, the people in Guelph have so much to learn from the Anishinabe in that department. I don't remember any of the words of the text...but I just remember that through it..I was given a very immediate, direct and personal role to play with all of creation. The wind, the fire, the water, the air...the relevance that all the elements have in my faith, the relationship that I have to them on a daily basis, was now being given a voice through this service. I was transfixed by the whole experience...almost as if I was discovering creation for the first time. Perhaps, that also is what Easter is about in the end: Renewal.  A new found desire to go...not to water, as the hymn says, but to may seem dangerous to go the fire, but that fire becomes a source of light, warmth and perhaps hope that I can not abandon. All of this to say..what a beautiful Easter season!! Thank you Wiki. Thank you great Manitou!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Deafening Anguish vs mournful quiet

I'm taking a break from blogging about Easter -lots to say about it apparently!- to write a short blog about an even shorter experience I had tonight. Another wake - bringing the total to 15 since I've been here.Don't worry..I don't go to all of them!!- but this time, a very different experience. I've never been at a wake when they first 'received the body' into the Church, where it stays for 3 days -2 wake days and one funeral day-. I usualy only go to one of the wakes, which take place after the body arrives at the Church. Tonight, was different.
I wouldn't have thought anything special would happen for this, so I stayed home while Doug went to the Church..but after almost half an hour, he still hadn't returned, so I assumed he was busy with setting up. That's when  I went down to check in on him. I took two steps towards the Church, heard loud drumming inside, and dashed back to the house for my the end, I didn't end up taking a picture of the drummers, because I felt that would be too touristy...but boy was I tempted. So instead of a picture, you get my description of the scene (-;

  I actually had a personal connection to the deceased: A 29 year old father of 5 named Robert Cooper. I answered the phone at  the rectory when his mother called us to ask that we  add him to the prayers of the faithful, in the 'prayers for the sick and hospitalized' section. The next Monday, I found out he was the nephew of Ms Theresa, the Principal of the Junior school where I teach. I've been checking in with her almost every day about Robert's condition. There seemed to be much hope around his recovery, so his death was a little surprising to everyone -he was hospitalized after a fall which left him unconscious and near death  for a short period of  time. He regained consciousness recently, but was completely paralyzed...I'm not sure what's happened to aggravate the situation.-

  In the end, I did not stay long at the Church, for it was not a real wake with prayers and was a very private family moment...but like I said...tremendously spiritual drumming and chanting filled the Church and drew me in. It was intense. I've described this kind of singing recently in an an email as a very moving experience.I had the privilige to be at a funeral in February where they sang the Honor Song. I still have goose bumps thinking about that...but tonight's experience  was even more intense. There was something incredibly emotional about the drumming. It was rhythmic and engaging, but at the same time, accompanied by the exquisite wailing of the 6 men who all banged on this one single drum at the same time -so with 6 different drum hammers...sticks..whatever you would call it.- It was entrancing, but also deeply anguished. This double quality in their song was best captured at one point as one of the young girls present in the Church was skipping to the beat of the drums with all her youthful effervescence..and when they stopped drumming, all you could hear the was the quiet, mournful sobs of the family, whose mourning was only punctuated even more poignantly by the drumming which picked up again a few seconds later. It almost seemed as if the drummers were saying  "dont' you worry Coopers...we'll mourn with you in our deafening anguish, but we won't interrupt your sacred silence too long...just long enough for you to remember that a whole community mourns with you".

 I swear if I am ever missioned here again, the moment one of my friends in the community passes away and that song is played, I'll freeking loose it. Their sacred songs carry so much with them, it's no wonder they've had such a huge impact on me!! My emotional response to these events is a comfort of sorts, because I am frustrated that I can't go up to people to hug them in their grief. I'm amazed as I witness  how this community supports each other, but am heart broken that I can't take part in it...but I guess, if I weep with them, then I am partaking in the communal grief. That's something that unites me to them, even though they may not see it that way!!

I ask you all to pray for the Cooper family, and for the people of Wiki!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A journey of discovery

 There are many factors that get in the way of my seeing much of the rest of Manitoulin Island outside of our weekly visits to Anderson Lake - not having a license being the main one, but we're also pretty busy here most of the time, so that cuts down on potential traveling time!!-.  So, you can understand that I was rather looking forward to spending a day or 2 with Fr Jim Kelly, who has parishes in 4 other locations on the Island (M'Chiging, Gore Bay, Mindamoya and Sheshawaning. ) a few weekends ago. Besides the fact that I knew I'd get along with Jim amazingly well, I was eager to see some other parts of this beautiful Island, but also to visit other parishes. As attached as I am to Wiki, I needed to experience how other parishes live their faith on Manitoulin Island.
  And I got to do just that on this particular Saturday afternoon and Sunday, though there was much more in store for me that I had imagined.  First off, Jim was a brilliant guide!! He and I were driving from Anderson lake where we had spent the day helping out at a ministries weekend, and he kept taking detours and stopping in places so that I could see the hidden treasures of this Island. The most wonderful site for me was in the La Cloche Mountains.  This mountain range gets this particular name -The Bells- because
according to Wikipedia "the hills were warning bells, used by local first Nations  for signaling. These "Bell Rocks" could be heard for a considerable distance when struck, and accordingly when  the French voyageurs  explored the area they named it 'la Cloche'."  Well...on this particular day, Fr Jim took me to a site where we could find one of these bell rocks. We went into a quarry, and after a few minutes of driving, got to a spot where we could see and hear an example of this very special rock..if you banged it, it was as if you were banging a sheet of metal (or...I guess...a big bell!!). It was rather fascinating. And the mystery to me is that there were no other rocks around it that have that same property, though there are said to be quite a few of them in this mountain range that do. I had heard many legends about these bell rocks since I've been here, so it was nice to actually hear one!!

 Of course, driving around this area means is quite beautiful. The mountains cut across much of the Island and make for a very scenic drive. According to some people I spoke to, these are probably some of the oldest mountains in the world. Millions of years ago, they were probably as big as the Appalachians or the Rockies. Anyways, we drive up this very same route every week to go up to Anderson Lake -which is off the Island, in Espanola- and I never get bored of this route. The mountain range itself is part of 'Rainbow County' and as I recently learned, the reason for this name  is that the rock from the Mountain range is various colors of reddish brown, greyish light blue, and some could even argue yellow.It makes for a stunning site to see every time!

 The second reason that the experience was very moving for me was that Jim had asked me to speak at one of the parishes about my vocation. Now, I assumed  I'd only speak at this one parish only, but in the end, he asked me to do it at all 3 parishes. And true to character, I was very passionate and even emotional about this vocation of mine, to the point where I made a few people cry in all 3 congregations that I visited. Jim was very happy about the impact I had had on his parishioners, but mostly, I was just inspired to meet with people afterwards who came up to me and thanked me for sharing my experience with them. One father brought his teenaged daughter to come chat with me about my experience in Russia and with missionary work, as she was about to set out on a school trip to Latin America; One woman thanked me, saying that she had been praying that her teenaged son would be able to hear something inspirational coming from the Church as he was about to graduate from High school and probably needed a little inspiration -didn't think what I had to say was that inspiring, but she claims it was!-; In the last parish we visited, I met a school teacher from Scotland who was visiting her uncle who works for Development and Peace in Canada and who attends Church in this region. She was also very moved by my account and insisted that the Scottish Catholic Church needed Jesuits like Jim and myself to come infuse it with life.

 In a way, all of this was very humbling. I know I've got a gift with words and a passion when I get fired up by stuff...but I don't feel like I usually have much of an impact on people's lives, nor do I have public speaking skills. I speak from the heart...that doesn't mean I speak eloquently! But apparently, that alone is enough to achieve something in this world. Apparently, my vocation and the stories that shape it can inspire people today. Perhaps that's where the humility comes in!! See,the way I envisioned my vocation, my Jesuit life will be busy, but at the same time quiet...far from the limelight. I knew I'd be doing 'great things' for and with God, things like teaching kids, working for social justice, being a spiritual guide to people in need, becoming a writer who takes a critical look at the modern (nonspiritual)  world etc... but all of this, I expected would be done very quietly and discretely, in a little community, far from public attention. But then there are moments like these ones I experienced 2 weekends ago that force me to ask the question "if I do have that kind of impact on people, shouldn't I trust that God wants me to go out there and inspire people with my passion rather than become a self effacing Jesuit who works assiduously for a better world but stays away from being the center of attention??".

 Well, I don't know the full answer to that question yet. All I know is that this place has challenged my concept of what my 'Brother's Vocation' is going to be in so many ways, which only reminds me that, perhaps it would be good for me to stop assuming I know exactly what it is that I will do as a Jesuit, and start assuming that there is so much that I need to discover, about God, about the world, but most importantly, about myself. In the end, I am starting to understand one basic principle: I've always beaten myself up over the fact that there is so much 'basic knowledge' that I don't have -especially in the Sciences-, but what I should be doing instead is to accept that
a) there is a wonderful humility within that lack of knowledge that is edifying for many people, one that says "I have a great life experience that has given me much wisdom that I am so happy to share with others, but I also have so much still to learn". I can never let go of that.
b) In fact, the 'lacunes' in my education are not something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to expose myself to new experiences, which I know I will cherish and embrace for the rest of my Jesuit vocation. I think that's  what's key here: I really don't know what lies ahead for me...but I do know that, no matter what I do, every day can be educational, if I allow God to work in me as he has been doing here!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Finding God in the Quiet moments.

Another death in the community last week, but this time a little more talked about, and the tragedy of it a little more pronounced than in most of the other cases. The story behind this death actually made it to the regional news on the CBC -probably one of the only times Wikwemikong was ever mentioned at the CBC level-.  Here are the facts as I know them : 2 years ago or so, a beloved member of the Wiki community (Clarence Lewis) was murdered by some young men who wanted his drugs (in this case, medicine, but there are people killed for the other kind of drugs here too!). One guy  pulled the trigger, but two others were considered as 'accessories' to the murder. The young men were eventually caught. The two 'accessories' men got 8 years, and the murderer got life in prison.
   This story alone was one that really shook the community...and not only because of the murder itself, but because of the young people who executed it. There is often a sense of despair that quietly reigns over the youth of Wiki, many of them uncertain if they have a future at all. Events like these only drive that point home even more painfully for this tight knit community. In Montreal and most cities, if we meet youth who are angsty because they feel they are without hope, we tell them to get over it. Here, everyone seems to understand that their hopelessness is not unfounded and they are incredibly sympathetic towards their youth and some go as far as to feel the same despair!
   Well this week, one of those fellows who was given 8 years in prison was actually killed in prison during a fight in the Kingston penitentiary. Many say he was framed, but that seems irrelevant now. Jordan Trudeau is the fellow's name.  I was kind of wondering how his funeral would be, considering what kind of activities he had been involved with, but many people I speak too seem to be as shaken up by his death as they were by Clarence's. The word 'tragedy' has been thrown around quite a lot. Mostly, I feel that people know that this is one tragic event too many witnessed in this community. I was actually asked to write a short homily for the prayer service. Although I did not attend the prayer service itself, I was at least able to contribute in my own special way!!

  So why am I not more depressed by the lives lived here? The injustices? The hopelessness of so many?
Because amidst all of that, there are the tender, quiet moments of God's light that radiate through even the darkest hours. Those moments often get drowned out by the loud despair that surrounds it, but they're there. Take for example Jordan's funeral. I wasn't there because of my teaching duties,but Doug says that the Church was jam packed with people ...and it was a beautiful ceremony. Some of the most beautiful singing he had ever heard. All of that was made even more poignant by a note that his young daughter left him "I am going to miss you so much. Please try to behave well in heaven. Don't do any bad things like you did here." As I've described in an earlier blog, that is how most funerals are here. Very beautiful...filled with gorgeous moments of peace, love and beauty.

 But there are days when I feel like those little quiet moments are all around me in Wiki. Maybe it's because I'm so open to finding them -not really searching for them, but yeah...conscious of their presence, and eager to receive them-. From the golden smile that my young friend Bernadette gives me every time she sees me, to the looks I get from my first graders when I tell them Bible stories (it's quite special experience to have all those big eyes filled with dreams and imagination fixed upon you!), to seeing my friend Marie Lou -a woman in her 70's or 80's- praying with a young father in the Church who came to ask her for prayers, to the millions of stories that I hear and don't hear that shape the lives of so many people here....the little moments. The moments that anyone from the outside would probably walk by and ignore. I can't ignore them. God is alive and present in all these moments ...and he feeds me through each one of them!