I’m Christine Manuel, a consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador. My involvement in the Innu community of Sheshatshiu, Labrador began during the summer of 2018. Father Joe, the parish priest, invited me to come and help with parish visitation. He’d bless each house and bring the family together for prayer and I’d give them the Divine Mercy image. I’d expected this to be a one-time visit, but I was wrong. Since we couldn’t cover the entire community in this time frame, I had to come back and it was then that I received an invitation to teach at the local school. I’d offered to volunteer, but was made aware that the Sheshatshiu school needed a teacher to work with children with disabilities, which is my teaching background. I had a lot of discerning God’s will for this. I’d just purchased a house in Corner Brook, NL that I was planning to renovate and live in. This would go by the wayside.
I prayed and sensed that this was God’s plan for me. I started out traveling between Sheshatshiu and Natuashish on a weekly basis. This didn’t work out so well! Natuashish is a remote fly-in community and often the plane was on weather hold. I’d spend time stranded on one community or the other. I soon learned that I didn’t have any control over any particular plan. To go to Natuashish, I would pack up my food, computer, teaching materials and belongings. It was a sherpa-worthy production every single week. When I’d arrive in Sheshatshiu, I’d help with the sacramental preparation of the children. That first year was very difficult until I became permanently stationed in Sheshatshiu.
I experienced the difficulties of remote life in the North – those of getting expensive fresh food, waiting for parts to get things repaired and every other challenge imaginable. Yet, the people are resilient as they’ve had to cope with so many problems. I remember being very uncomfortable when we had a 3-day power outage and I couldn’t get the generator going. Coming to the rescue were my Innu friends who got it working and then we shared a meal together. These experiences teach us how to help each other and how we are to be joyful amid difficulties.
I remember the first special event after I came to Sheshatshiu. We had a beautiful procession for the Feast Day of Mother Mary. The people got involved wholeheartedly. In the years that I’ve been in this parish, we’ve had all kinds of processions and special events. Some of the most difficult have been the Good Friday processions, in which we carry a large cross through the community and stop for reflection on the Stations of the Cross. Those who can’t physically walk come with us in a line of vehicles. The people take turns carrying the Cross of Christ, and through this sacrifice, they offer up prayers for their family members. I find this a very moving event. One year we did this in terrible weather with freezing rain and snow. Really, it was an accomplishment that the people persevered to the end. Then we entered the church for the Good Friday service.
Life here has been full of celebrations. There is the Gathering of the People in Gull Island, where the Innu set up tents every September for a week. This is an event where life is simple and joyful. Another special celebration was the blessing of our new church, Tshitshitua Shushep (St. Joseph) in 2019. This is a beautiful church that the elders in the community wanted built for many years. Sadly, some of them passed away before they could see it become a reality, but they’d have been so pleased on the exciting day when it was dedicated. The people added their own special touches to the decoration of the church and we are very proud indeed.
Our community has the custom of traveling to St. Anne de Beaupre in July. During Covid-19, we had alternate celebrations. We tried to make our own homemade celebrations memorable with candlelight processions, special music and food. I’ve been traveling to the Shrine for the last 2 years with the people. Two years ago, it was during the visit of Pope Francis and this past year was special as well. The event this year that touched me so much was the Stations of the Cross. Younger people were helping the elders by taking them by the arm or helping to move the wheelchairs up the hill.
I think we’ll all remember this for a long time. The Stations of the Cross also represent our lives here, with much tragedy and loss. But yet there is hope. We help each other to move forward and we’re strengthened by each other’s presence. There is always hope in Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church and this is the hope that sustains us and helps us to move forward together.
I love to work with the children and youth. Their hearts are so close to God and they ask me all sorts of profound questions about God and the Church.
It’s a really special part of my life here. A long time ago, I dreamt that I’d be in an Indigenous community and that the youth would play a part in this. And this is what has happened. I never knew how God would bring this about, but He was faithful and did, even though at the time, I didn’t understand His plan. Some people ask how long I’ll be staying, so I usually answer that God has brought me here and only God will tell me when it’s time to leave. So, for now, this is where I want to be and I have no other plans, except what He wills.
Photos courtesy of Christine Manuel