Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 26, 2004
They earned their mocassins
God's shepherds of old nurtured their flock, learned their language
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Being in Guatemala for the last few months, I've spent many hours most days studying a new language: Spanish. It's not as hard as one might think especially when one knows three cousin languages to Spanish: French, Italian, and Latin.
In one of my former lives I attempted - half-heartedly, I might add - to learn Cree. When every single word is totally foreign, then one is facing a most daunting task.
Most missionaries in the West and North learned the languages of the people however difficult that might have been. If one cared for the people, one had to spend the time, disciplining oneself and with very rudimentary tools most of the time, put in the long mental exercises, overcoming a most challenging task.
Father MarimanI knew a priest, Father Mariman, who as a missionary in northern Alberta had learned three different aboriginal languages: Beaver, Cree and Slavey. Mariman was a saintly man and a true friend of the poor. To dedicate all that time learning the difficult languages of the people one has to care for them immensely.
And Mariman did love his people a great deal. Prayer for them was ever on his lips.
The road conditions were bad and he did not have a car or truck. But for a few years he had an old little tractor that cruised at six miles per hour. In the summer time that is how he travelled from mission to mission. In the winter, he used dogs to pull his sled. In that way he was able to identify with the people he had been sent to.
One winter day, he was travelling by dog team with Father John. They had over-nighted in one of the missions. It was so cold the little heat they managed to muster out of a little wood stove barely cut the mustard. In the early morning as John was getting the dog team ready for the trip Mariman, a very religious man, slipped into the frozen chapel to celebrate Mass.
John was jolted to see Mariman come out of the little church with the frozen chalice stuck to his lips, unable to remove it. John had to build a fire, melt some snow, pour the hot water into the chalice to warm and thaw it. Only then was Mariman able to remove the chalice from his lips.
European priestsLike many early missionaries, Mariman was from Europe. A great many priests and brothers came from various European countries: France, Italy, Germany, England, Ireland, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, and the U.S., not counting the great number of Canadian priests and brothers who dedicated their lives in the numerous mission areas of Canada's West and North.
These men were friends of the people and they espoused their cause by providing them with whatever help was at their disposal. In order to survive, they needed God's help.
They also needed each other. They were all required to live the life of poverty, go through physical challenges in the area of travel, of building houses, churches and schools.
They had to provide lumber to keep the schools and houses heated. They had to provide food through fishing, hunting and gardening. They also ran farms, raising cattle, hogs and chicken to provide food for the many hungry young people they served.
The missionaries lived a difficult and challenging life with few rewards. They experienced dire poverty, as well as physical and emotional challenges.
Such lonelinessSometimes, they were lonely in crowds, feeling inadequate perhaps, yet always bearing a special treasure: a call to a special service, one that exacted love of God and love of people, sometimes to a heroic degree.
Today the missionaries' heroic missions are a thing of the past. They witness a society that has moved on to better things thanks in part to their efforts in helping society to develop and our country to prosper.
They need not be recognized for what they accomplished. All they need to know is that they have been faithful servants of God's people. And indeed they've been that to the end.
They have also been blessed by the people they tried to serve, people who have loved and befriended them, fed them and supported them in countless ways.
In many ways we the missionaries have become the poor, the needy. However trusting in God we continue to serve as Christ's mission continues more and more powerfully supported by God's people who are becoming more aware of their missionary call and who are contributing more and more in building up the reign of God on earth.
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