Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 17, 2003
A doubting priest heals himself
Native healing service opens lives to forgiveness
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
My Oblate confrere, Father Gerry LeStrat and I arrived in Grouard in northern Alberta in August 1986 to look after five First Nations communities in the High Prairie area and to establish a ministry training centre for native people.
We were both new to the area, hardly knowing a soul. After two or three months of ministering and getting to know people, we decided to organize a three-day workshop and invited representatives of the various communities, totaling 50 people.
I invited my cousin Yvette from Slave Lake who's been blessed with great tonsils and a good sense of harmony. With her came Tony Shann, an exceptionally musical man at ease with a variety of instruments and able to harmonize for any song. Both were active in the charismatic renewal in Slave Lake.
Things started out slowly as most workshops do. I forget what we did on Friday evening and Saturday morning: probably trying to get to know each other a bit. We had a penitential service on Saturday afternoon that went quite well. There was a good prayerful atmosphere where the vast majority participated in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Tony and Yvette approached me during the coffee break that followed and suggested that we have a healing service in the evening. My five years of study at Rome's Gregorian University hadn't prepared me for leading "healing services." So I willingly deferred to my buddy Father Gerry, who had dabbled in the charismatic renewal in Manitoba, to lead the service with the active support of Yvette and Tony.
Around 7 p.m. we gathered for prayer, singing, Bible reading and teaching. Then came the time to pray for healing. I told the healing team of three not to mind me if I joined in to see what was to happen (if anything at all, I thought to myself).
As I promised I would, I sneaked in with the three praying. "What do you want us to pray for?" Tony asked the man. "I was in a fight a few years ago", he said, "and somebody punched me hard on the side of the head and since then there's a ringing in my ear, day and night: I want you to stop the ringing." Then he also had a bad and painful back caused by a vehicle accident. The doctors also told him he had a bad heart. "So could you guys heal me of all that?"
"This is going to be a very long evening," I thought. And it was. But after the prayer for the ringing in the ear, the man was asked how he felt. "The ringing is gone!" he said. What? Can that be? doubtful Jacques asked himself.
Then with more prayer, his backache was gone and he experienced heat in his chest and felt his heart had been healed. All the while people prayed the rosary and sang hymns for several hours while prayers were said for many people.
Sunday morning we celebrated Mass and had lunch. The session that followed was spent in debriefing what happened the evening before. Of the various people who spoke up, one stood out for me. Evelyn was around 50, mother of 10 children living at the Indian reserve of Atikameg also known as White Fish, north of Lesser Slave Lake.
"As a mother of 10 and administrator of the band, I've had lots of burdens to carry," she said. Among them was the problem of substance abuse by her husband and sons.
She had to go out to meetings in Peace River and Edmonton because of her job, but returning home was always a heavy challenge to face: "The closer I was getting to Atikameg, the more I had to fight a powerful impulse to turn around and drive in the opposite direction as fast as I could. Last night, after the healing service, for the first time I could not get home fast enough to tell my people that there is hope!
She continued through her tears: "Two years ago, my sister would come and cry on my shoulder about her drunken husband and her many children who were high on drugs most of the time. One time, I felt I could not take it anymore and I told her: 'I have enough of my own problems to carry. I don't want you to come and cry on my shoulder anymore!
"So my sister went home, got the rifle and blew her brains out."
Evelyn continued: "All this time I've carried the burden of my sister's death that left eight children orphaned. But last night, when they prayed for me, I felt a heavy burden being lifted off my shoulders. I felt the overwhelming forgiveness and love of God for me, and a peace came to my heart that I never thought possible."
And Evelyn became a messenger of hope and love for her family, and for her people. People never tired of hearing Evelyn's life-giving messages. She was invited to speak at all possible occasions: at weddings, school graduations, wakes and funerals in her community and far beyond.
She became a powerful voice for renewal, prompting people to start dreaming about what they could become and through her encouragement, finding within themselves a new resolve, strength and imagination to face their problems and to solve them, thus creating for themselves a future full of new possibilities.
Through the ongoing support of their angel of hope who continues from above to inspire them, the people continue to find solutions to their problems and to create a much brighter future for their children.
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