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!