By Fr. Augustine Ezediniru, SMMM
I have been working in the First Nations communities in Northern Manitoba as a religious missionary for over eight years. It has been an enriching experience. In the midst of these experiences there are difficult challenges, such as witnessing families deal with the effects of residential schools. Living in an Indigenous community where jobs are scarce and most of the social amenities and activities are mainly funded by the government, there are no industrial companies or natural resources to create economic opportunities.
Brenda Morrisseau (a parishioner) once shared with me some of the challenges they are facing as Indigenous people. These include a shortage of housing, a large population with chronic diseases and mental health challenges including alcohol, prescription, opioid addictions—which affect many lives, as well as other chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cancer and lupus. These issues have significant impact in the well-being of the people and community growth.
However, in May of last year during one of my evening prayer and Marian devotions, as I was meditating, I began having mixed feelings reflecting on the suffering and ordeals I see families struggling with every day. These can range from losing young family members to suicide and drug related deaths and people battling with terminal and chronic illness. Having people knock at my door at midnight for help—either wanting someone to listen to them, or wanting to let out their heavy hearts before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. These situations saddened me, a voice echoed in my heart: Do you feel rejected? Are you hurt? Forgiveness heals hurt. I could not understand the reason for these questions, and for whom they were meant for. After some personal introspection, I finally offered it to God, asking him for more insight and for his help in dealing with it. In time, I received a divine revelation and interpretation of this message.
The Lord gave these words to me as I was preparing for a Sunday homily, and I believe he wants me to share it with the people I am serving. He said: “So many are imprisoned because they won’t accept themselves. So many are gifted and talented, but they won’t express themselves because they fear rejection. They fear others. They fear what people will think. I want to love my people, but they hold me at arms’ length and won’t let me really love them because they have been hurt by others. They fear I will reject them because of the weaknesses they have, but I will never reject them. Tell them I love them. Ask them to stop trying so hard to be acceptable to me and to realize I accept them where and how they are. Tell them I don’t want a perfect performance from them. I want them to love me and to let me love them.”
This Divine encouragement led me into seeking for a means of letting this message be heard thus; I designed a T-Shirt with this saying on the front: “Love Lifts Up & Forgiveness Heals Hurts.” It is geared towards creating an awareness of the Power of Love and Forgiveness. Included in the design are two symbols: open hands (which has a double meaning: a sign of an open heart, and of letting go), and a bird (the eagle, which in Indigenous culture, signifies love; since it flies higher than any other bird, it is closer to God).
My dream is to erect a Marian grotto called the “Garden of Hope.” This will serve as a parish community outdoor meditative space, designed especially for people seeking a quiet time with their Creator or searching for meaning in life. In addition, I have other pastoral programs which I have organized in the spirit of building bridges between the church and community. In our parish each Sunday we focus on a particular theme: the first Sunday we celebrate Baptisms (Sacraments), the second Sunday is on Cultural Identity (Who we are as an Indigenous parish), the third Sunday is on Family Unity (with a meal shared), the fourth Sunday we have a Healing Mass (Christ our Healer) and on any fifth Sundays we focus on Mercy. We have First Friday evening Adoration and prayer group, weekly Sunday mass at the Senior home and Pastoral Care to the sick and elderly.
Our parish has a very good relationship with other religious denominations in the community. We annually organize interdenominational Gospel outreach or Jamborees. It has been a source of spiritual renewal for our community and inter-denominational relationships. We are now working on aiding our youths who are struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Through social media like Facebook, our parish of St. Alexander is bringing the Gospel to the world around us who are not visible in the church. Also, we have the assistance of the Sisters of Charity for catechism classes for children and adults. This program connects parents and their children to their faith.
I will say that my missionary experience among the Indigenous people has truly given me lots of joy and personal discovery. Despite all the challenges of working in a foreign land, I feel at home with the people because of their gentle spirits, support and acceptance. Together, we are working to make our community and parish a better place, where love and forgiveness embrace each other with mercy and hope.
However, to you Catholic Missions In Canada, and all of your donors, on behalf of our parish I say Meegwetch (thank you) for your continued financial support of our rural mission parish and the many pressing needs of our church building. We try in different ways to deal with minor projects, but with 75% of our parish population living on little income, we are grateful for your assistance. In all things, the power of love lifts us and forgiveness heals hurts of human weakness.
God is Good … All the Time!