Bring only a walking stick and sandals
Only five people attended the first Mass that Father Johmer Faderanga celebrated in one of his missions, but he is not losing heart.
People have warm and joyful hearts, and try their very best to respond.
BY FATHER JOHMER FADERANGA
Travelling is part of responding to the mission entrusted to me when I embraced the call to serve our First Nations brothers and sisters in Fort Ware, Lake Babine, Takla Landing and Tsay Keh, in the Diocese of Prince George in Northern British Columbia.
It reminds me that, when we are sent out on a missionary journey, our Lord says to bring only a walking stick and sandals, or to bring only what is necessary for the mission. That is exactly what I experience every time I embark on my journey to these wonderful communities.
A missionary mandate entails walking through the narrative of the appeal of Pope Francis. He inspires us to search, to go to the margins of society, to bring the joy of the Gospel and tell of the mercy and love of God for the First Nations people.
Travel to these far-flung, remote communities is, at best, exciting and at the same time, challenging. The roads are primarily logging roads with only radio communication. It takes from eight to nine hours to get from Prince George to Fort Ware, roughly seven hours to go to Babine and about the same amount of time to get to Takla Landing.
No matter how far or how rugged the long and winding roads are, for me, embracing this missionary journey is not tiresome as long as it leads me home. I consider each community as my home because each is so welcoming.
The people have warm and joyful hearts, and they try their very best to respond, to give their time, to be a community of faithful whenever the Sunday celebration of Mass is available to them.
Fort Ware is primarily a young community with lots of children and young adults. There is an older generation there as well.
The Catholic mission shares the church building with an evangelical community with a pastor who comes from Mackenzie. It is a unique and enlightening experience for me, living the spirit of ecumenism, of mutual respect for another denomination.
Attendance at Sunday Mass is low with 10 people at best; 11 or 12 people exceed expectations. Most who participate are elders who come with their grandchildren. However, the lingering importance of the sacrament of baptism has a strong hold and being Catholic and having their children baptized is paramount.
When I am in Fort Ware, I have time to visit the sick and the elderly and often give them the sacrament of anointing. I am also able to listen to their stories and share tea and laughter with them. Funerals in this community are not only for the bereaved family but are rather a community gathering for which I have developed a deep respect and admiration.
The church influence in this community is entirely Evangelical Protestant. We share the church building with the Evangelical pastor and the growing evangelical influence is hard to ignore. There is no Catholic identity in the structure and design of the church; thus, when I celebrate Mass, I have to rearrange the sanctuary to make it suitable for our purposes.
Given the circumstances, former pastors celebrated Mass in a house with the few remaining Catholic faithful. It is difficult to gather people; before Mass, it is necessary to go from house to house to let people know.
Only five people attended at the first Mass I celebrated there. This does not cause me to lose heart but rather awakens a sense of urgency to restore the foothold of Catholic identity that was once in Tsay Keh. This is a long-term plan for the people, a prayer and enduring hope.
Takla is a vibrant community of young people with a number of elders as well. I feel a warm response from them. There is a Takla Landing slight but steady increase in attendance at Mass; about 12-15 elders, mothers, children and a few men participate.
I try my best to be present whenever there are community gatherings such as feasts. Visiting the sick and elderly is an important part of my ministry here as well.
These are exciting times for the community of faithful in Fort Babine. They have a big, new church building which is an imposing structure at the very heart of the community. It is a constant reminder of their Catholic heritage that is embraced by the people of Fort Babine.
The celebration of Sunday Mass, as expected, includes 8 to 10 people at best. Most of them are elderly.
A short-term plan
A short-term plan for each community includes catechesis for children and Bible study for adults. I will encourage visitation with the Blessed Sacrament every First Friday. These are but a few avenues to enrich the faithful and respond to their spiritual needs.
It is a privilege to serve these four unique communities and both a great honour and responsibility. Going to the margins of society to proclaim God’s grace and mercy is the mission of our time.
To serve the least, the last, the lowly among us is a moment of grace and love.
After serving St. Mary’s parish in New Hazelton, British Columbia, for five years, Father Johmer Faderanga began ministry at St. Therese’s missions in August 2015, serving Fort Ware, Lake Babine, Takla Landing and Tsay Keh in Northern British Columbia, in the Diocese of Prince George.