Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 29, 2008
Tlicho take Oblates 'On the Land'
First Nations people share their spiritual link with the land with their Catholic brothers
By FR. ALFRED HUBENIG, omi
The Tlicho people have a way of life that does not allow the hands of a clock to determine how their lives are to be run.
Like most aboriginal people, the Tlicho people have a way of life that does not allow the hands of a clock to determine how their lives are to be run. And so on Saturday we had a wedding for which the groom’s party came along three hours late, while the bride arrived four hours behind schedule.
Not to worry: no one was put out by the delay. Guests were served a great luncheon of caribou ribs and burgers, potato salad, even wieners from Yellowknife (two hours away to the southeast).
The wedding was an apt introduction to Father Mark’s theme of husband and wife and the renewal of marriage vows at the Sunday Mass next day. He showed how 1+1= 3 in the sacrament of Matrimony — husband, wife and the Holy Spirit.
That evening at the Great Assembly, Natalia and Ed spoke on married life. As the interpreter translated their words, many heads in the congregation kept nodding in agreement. It makes a difference hearing those words from a committed couple rather than from a celibate priest.
Blessings capped the evening, with families — sometimes extended over three or four generations — coming before Father Jean to say something nice about one another from the heart (that, after all, is what a blessing is all about), in the Tlicho language.
Father then gave a blessing that covered each family group and they went back to their places happy.
Afternoons during the week, Father Ubald Duchesneau gave a short Bible course while Father Mark met with some of the young people at the arbour. Meanwhile, the Schraders and I visited shut-ins back in town — people who could not make it out onto the land.
The week’s talks and homilies dealt with basics in Tlicho culture: water, fire, wind and earth. Each, however, was tied in with the spiritual and sacramental life.
But what stands out above all else is the series of processions that took place — processions in which the people prayed the rosary in deep devotion.
The first such procession was on Monday night when the people processed around the entire campsite behind the priests, as each tent was blessed. Seeing how the people entered into the prayerful spirit of the procession, we revised some of our other rituals so that they started from the campsite and proceeded down to the lake.
The first was tied to the element of water. When we got down to the lake, I blessed the region’s lakes, the fish, the abundant aquatic life, those who lost their lives in the lakes as well as all who go to fish. Then, after a communal renewal of baptismal vows, blessed water from the lake was used to sign each person individually.
Father Mark invited each person to prayerfully face up to the point of hardness in their heart — the hardness that gets in the way of true discipleship.
Later in the week, for the Reconciliation service when we dealt with the fire of the Spirit, after the rosary procession all the way down to the lake, Father Mark invited each person to prayerfully face up to the point of hardness in their heart — the hardness that gets in the way of true discipleship.
He then invited each one to pick up a small stone that would represent that hardness. Each person then came to a priest naming the hardness that the stone represented.
The priest gave absolution, blessing the stone and returning it to the person, who then threw it into the water as far as he or she could. The prayerful atmosphere was almost palpable.
On the second-to-last night we were down to the lake again to deal with earth — the element that signifies our respect for ourselves, for others and for all things of the earth.
This night Ed and Natalia made a fine mud from the local clay and the blessed water of the lake. Each person then came forward to have the Schraders make a sign of the cross on the palms of their hands with the mud as they gave them the blessing.
It was an unforgettable sun and their hands held before them in adoration, palms forward, as the clay dried. It was another moment of grace.
The final evening held a second feeding of the fire, this time to thank God for all the graces of the spiritual gathering. Back again at the mission house in Fort Rae — Becho’Kó — with Father Jean, after the spiritual gathering had ended, we sat around upstairs in the kitchen reliving so many of the past week’s grace-filled moments out “On the Land.”
Finally, however, it was time to retire because our departure would be very early next morning. It was summer in the far North when the sun sets at 11:30 p.m. and rises at 2:30 a.m.
From his room just at sundown, Brother Louis heard the tinkle of a little bell on the road outside his window. It was an ice-cream truck all the way from Yellowknife — near midnight.
Like a magnet, it was attracting a horde of kids to its frozen delights. It was obvious — we were no longer “On the Land.”
(The Becho’Kó Spiritual Gathering was partly funded by Catholic Missions In Canada. Oblate Father Alfred Hubenig is a member of the Oblate Parish Mission Team based in St. Albert. Reprinted from Partners in Mission, October 2007.)
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