From Lesotho to Canada’s North

The distance between these parishes is so enormous that to get to the next parish, one has to travel by plane most seasons of the year.

By Father PaliPascalis Pitso

As an Oblate missionary from Lesotho, Africa, working in the Diocese of Moosonee in the James Bay area in Northern Ontario, I have encountered many challenges in ministry that I would like to share after being incardinated in this beautiful diocese.

Before I was appointed pastor of Holy Angels in Fort Albany, I was an itinerant priest helping several parishes in Moosonee diocese, particularly Christ the King in Moosonee, Holy Angels in Fort Albany, St. Francis Xavier in Attawapiskat and Blessed Kateri in Peawanuck. The distance between these parishes is so enormous that to get to the next parish, one has to travel by plane most seasons of the year, except in winter when some of these missions are accessible by winter road.

For the first time in my life, too, I had to face such an exciting experience as working with the Aboriginal people of James Bay and learning their language and culture, most especially the traditions of the Fort Albanians.

As pastor of Holy Angels parish, I also serve as chaplain in our community hospital. Apart from helping my parishioners in their journey of fostering their relationship with Christ and celebrating Mass, I also visit patients at the hospital everyday, giving them Holy Communion, accompanying them in their journey of faith and hope, and helping them feel Christ’s presence in their lives amid the sufferings they go through.

And because the diocese is also faced with insufficient personnel, I also used to visit Peawanuck during Christmas and Easter time.

Thus, as a priest working in the First Nations reserve of Fort Albany, I would travel frequently to and from my parish. On these trips to Holy Angels parish, I would often encounter ice break-ups. Ice break-ups usually cause ice jams which could lead to the flooding of the community. And this being the case, coming back from another mission, I usually have to take a helicopter to get to my parish. Even when I have to visit patients at hospital, I could only travel by helicopter, or by going around the big ice blocks in a canoe or small boat to get to the other side where community stores are also located.

If ice jams last long, the residents suffer because it costs money to travel by helicopter and canoe. This is also costly for our parish since our parish has not yet reached the stage of self-reliance or self-sufficiency. This becomes more burdensome because the daily survival of the community members is already costly. Imagine the situation happening in other missions, to people living in isolated communities such as ours.

I therefore invite all people to support us with prayers so that the mission of Jesus may not cease due to the high costs of keeping churches open and the lack of priests not only in our diocese but in other areas as well.

Oblate Father Pali Pascalis Pitso is pastor of Holy Angels parish in the Diocese of Moosonee in Northern Ontario.