Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 28, 2003
Parish missions go North of 60
Native missionary team spreads joy, fire to hungry souls
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
In 1965 as a young priest fresh out of the seminary, I was named director of students at a small residential school for white kids, Grades 7-12, in Falher, in the middle of the Peace River Country. These were five great years until a younger priest showed up and took over my job, making it possible for me to move on to greener pastures as religious education director for the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese for eight wonderful years.
Then I received a call to go to Grouard on the north shore of Lesser Slave Lake to be pastor of three small native communities and also to start a program for the training of First Nations people to ministry. These were rich, challenging and great years and my connection with the people still persists after having left them 16 years ago to become involved in the administration of the Oblate Province of Grandin for nine years in Edmonton.
My next appointment in 1996 was to do parish missions, a form of "new evangelization for Christian communities." Not knowing how to proceed, I spent a few weeks in Italy where I joined a parish mission team run by my Oblate confreres in the northern party of the country. I liked what I saw and experienced.
Northern Italy is particularly pleasant to the eyes and the local wines quite agreeable to the palate. I was assigned the visit of some 40 homes in a hamlet nearby. Having studied in Rome for five years in the '60s, the language was not a big problem. For the first week I visited people and blessed their homes. It was quite pleasant.
In the evening, I was to facilitate what they called a listening centre or small faith community. It took place in the local church, although normally these would occur in homes. People were shy and perhaps not used to discussing back and forth with the priest in the church. My saving grace was a half dozen high school girls who had no qualms about speaking out. They literally saved my hide.
The purpose of the listening centres is to give people an opportunity to come together around the Scriptures in their homes for three consecutive evenings and to share the Word of God, thus building small faith communities. After the mission they were to gather once a month and continue to share around God's Word.
Besides having daily Mass in the morning and Confessions in the afternoon, the second week also saw people filling up the church to participate in a series of six "great assemblies' in the evening. These included a 30-minute sermon by one of the priests, a presentation by a witness, a skit by young people, and a meaningful ritual that all could take part in. The above were interspersed with powerful and moving hymn singing.
After returning to Canada I put out a shingle as director of parish missions, inviting people to join me in forming a missionary team, striking out in faith.
Our first parish mission took place in Rae-Edzo, N.W.T., among the Dogrib people.
They were most gracious to us and, in spite of our beginners' bungling, they held nothing against us and they even invited us back a few years later. Into our sixth year we continue to be blessed by the love, patience and support of the people who are responding to the mission call with joy and with fire.
Young and old enjoy the singing of Brother Louis Andreas and his special way of inviting all into the dance, so to speak.
Father Al Hubenig, a man who has circled the world a few times, sprinkles his teaching with moving and challenging stories he has gathered in various countries and cultures. Thus he is able to make the Scriptures come alive, enriched by the wisdom and experience he's gathered over the years.
And a bit in the shadows, but not too much, Debbie Doornbos, the mission's coordinator, teaches and trains through a series of workshops that she facilitates for the local missionary team.
Thus, she's able somehow to pull all the right strings to make this adventure unfold as it should.
Last but not least is the contribution of awesome young men and women, who under the name of Behold the Lamb, know and teach us - mostly by their lives and love for the Lord - how to be disciples of the Lamb of God.
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