Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2003
Meander's road of life takes its toll
Tears bless this blood-spattered northern byway
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Meander River, Alberta's northernmost community is a mere dot on the map, a small community of some 400 Slavey Indians. Our Oblate mission team had been invited to conduct a parish mission there a few years ago. In order to better serve the community, we inquired about its needs. High on their priority list was to have us bless their roads.
Over the years I've been called upon to bless many things, from water to homes, from wheat fields to sick people. Also religious articles such as crosses, rosaries, medals and chains people wear, water and oil. But blessing their roads? Yes, sure, probably, but why?
There's no pavement in Meander River, only dusty gravel roads turning into dusty gravel streets. We decided we would bless the roads on the Friday evening of the weeklong mission.
As it turned out, we were not to use holy water. The roads and streets were blessed that evening with the prayers and the tears of a long-suffering people.
A local carpenter built a beautiful 5 metre cross. His wife shared that her son was killed in a car crash and that her brother had been murdered. The couple was very involved in the mission and in the ceremony of the Way of the Cross. The weather had been lousy that day, but by evening the rain stopped and the weather was fine, just a bit cold. Leaving the church, people carried the cross a short distance and then we stopped on the street to pray at the first station.
At the next station, a young man had been shot dead by a local youth. A group of women young and old were huddled together holding hands praying and shedding many tears. I found out later they were the mother and sisters of the victim and well as the mother and sisters of the one who perpetrated the crime, still in jail at the time.
They represented two dominant clans who had not spoken to one another since the tragedy. After the praying was over, a man from each of the two families spontaneously shared the carrying of the cross to the next station.
At another point, we recalled the tragic death of three different young men, among them a murder and a suicide by hanging in the house a few metres from us. I noticed in the dim light a young man who was carrying the cross with a couple of other men. He was visibly shaking with sobs.
Later I was told that he was a type of "Johnny-on-the-spot," being the first on the scene of these tragedies. These were weighing heavily on him, causing him to be depressed and some feared that he might turn out to become a statistic himself. At the end of the evening I asked him how he felt. "Fantastic!" he said with a huge smile. He was radiant. Touched by the grace of the Risen Lord he would be fine, I felt.
The station recalling the crucifixion and death of Jesus took place at the local graveyard. As I invited people to pray for the ones who had been laid to rest there, I suggested a way to do so was simply to call out their names. For a long time the names of people who now have a share in the resurrection of Christ were proclaimed with great emotion.
When we got back to the church, the cross was raised in front of the altar. People were invited one by one to touch the cross, symbol of our salvation and to give thanks to God who through the cross of Jesus opened for all the gates to heaven. It was moving to see people touching the cross and even kissing it with deep reverence.
When it was over, Gertrude shared how the hymn Amazing Grace, usually a sad death and funeral song, was sung for the first time with the gusto of a resurrection song, a song celebrating life, at the closing of the church service that evening.
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