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Gratitude, Not Anger

Beautiful scenery of Labrador

Since I was last in Labrador, there have been many changes. Bishop Bart replaced Bishop Hunt and Sheshatshiu has a new church with its own priest. Our Lady Queen of Peace in Happy Valley also has a new priest.

It doesn’t surprise me that there are changes, as foreign missionary priests usually don’t stay very long in Canadian missions. That shouldn’t be surprising either because of the remoteness and the climate. As I’ve written many times, to go from 40°C to -40°C is a drastic change.

In the last issue, I wrote of my Easter experience in Conche, Nfld. Fr. Anthony Ahn is now in Deer Lake and is proving to be an exception; Praise be to God.

Fr. Boniface has been in Happy Valley for the last year. Bishop Bart requested that I cover for him while he and all the priests of the Corner Brook-Labrador diocese were away on retreat. Thus, my return so soon to the area. I was happy to do it, as it is so lush here now, while the rest of Canada seems to burn.

Fr. Joe Pichai Pillai Vellankanni resides at Our Lady of the Snows in Sheshatshiu, which is a wonderful thing, as he is fulfilling the role of missionary as described in the Roman documents, which I covered in my series on the Meaning of Mission (for which I received a second-place honour from the Catholic Media Association, if you’ll allow me a small brag). That is not to put down other missionaries. I praise Fr. Joe because he has learned the Innu language and has adapted to their way of life.

Fr. Joe Pichai Pillai Vellankanni saying Mass at Our Lady of the Snows in Sheshatshiu, Labrador

I give full credit to any foreign priest or religious who comes to Canada, leaving everything behind to take on a new life in a different culture and climate. But the true missionary does what Fr. Joe is doing. I am reminded of Fr. Augustine Ezediniru, SMMM in the St. Alexandre Mission, MAN and Fr. Sudhakar Jayabalan, HGN in Fort Albany, ON. There is also Bishop Krotki of the Churchill-Hudson Bay Diocese, who learned Inuktitut while ministering on Baffin Island, where he almost died. His skidoo went through the ice and his companions didn’t come back for him. I’m amazed that he stayed and continued his ministry, but in the true essence of Jesus Christ, he found it in himself to forgive and move on. How I wish I had that capacity.

Fr. Jayabalan is a highly energetic, dynamic missionary from India. I wrote about him a few issues ago when I visited with Bishop Prendergast. Like Fr. Joe, he learned the Cree language enough to celebrate mass.

I should also bring up Archbishop Murray Chatlain of the Keewatin-Le Pas Archdiocese in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. While Bishop of Yellowknife, he learned the Dene language and is a man who likes to be on the land with the people, which is the Indigenous way. He’s at his happiest amongst the Dene.

These are just some examples of clerics whom I’ve encountered in my travels across Canada through our missions. What an exceptional experience I’ve had as I enter my eighth year with CMIC. Truly, these have been the best years of my priesthood. The Lord is the God of surprises. When I first contemplated priesthood, I considered being a missionary, but ended up a diocesan priest. Over the many years of my priesthood, I became a whole missionary. Now I find myself being the head of an organization that funds Canadian missionaries. Is that irony or just the Will of God?

If it weren’t for our missionaries who come from other lands, whose first language is not English, our system of Canadian missions would have collapsed years ago. And when Canadian-born priests aren’t willing to minister in their own country, who else can be depended upon? God bless them in a special way and keep them safe. Not only are they doing this in our missions, but in the large, southern cities along the American border. How many of our readers have a pastor whom they have trouble understanding, who is from the Philippines, Nigeria, Poland, or India? If you’re angry and irritated because of their strong accents and can’t understand them when they’re preaching, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifice that these men have made to leave their homes and families to minister to you.

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