By: Father David Reilander
As I travel through the North of Canada and visit dioceses, I am always astounded by the conditions and the stark realities that bishops and missionaries face. If only I could take all of our donors to see what their generousity funds.
Canadian missions are amongst the most rugged and dangerous in the world. It is the one place where conditions and climate can kill you. That is not an exaggerated statement. Point of fact: priests and bishops who were pilots have died in plane crashes. Bishops Lobsinger and Robidoux are examples, not to mention the people who flew with them. Bishop Krotki confronted a polar bear and his skidoo broke through lake ice – close calls. I hit a moose at night coming back from Telegraph Creek, but knew enough to get on the outside of its legs.
In the far north, flight costs are great inflated. It costs Churchill-Hudson Bay Diocese $95,000 for Bishop Krotki to travel around his parishes for Christmas. It cost CMIC $1400 to fly me from Winnipeg to Churchill. While in the diocese, it was $1700 to go from Churchill to Rankin Inlet. Churchill to Baffin Island is about $4000. Imagine being a missionary on Baffin Island – you’re not going to leave that place too often in a year. Or, consider what Bishop Hegemmon has to pay to fly to his missions in McKenzie-Frt. Smith!
Building materials and food have to be brought in at great cost and the quality can be questionable. I found fruits and vegetables in Whitehorse never lasted long. When the truck didn’t get through, shelves were bare in the stores. Gas is expensive – $1.82 in Churchill. To heat the rectory there costs ~$20,000.
The conditions that missionaries live in are not the best. Many rectories were built by them decades ago with materials that were available to them to the extent of their skills. In some cases, CMIC is asked to replace a structure, or repair it. Insulation is a big factor, as is structure. I’ve stayed in many and they are not worth writing home about. They contain the very basic necessities – though they may not have internet.
As to climate and environment, the missionary has to endure darkness and cold the further north one goes. If you’re above the Arctic Circle, there are periods of darkness for a long time. Cold – it should probably be called something else. When you get to -50C (I haven’t experienced it), exposed skin freezes. If your heating decides to quit, go find a neighbor. If your car dies, pull out the survival kit and pray for traffic. If the cold and the darkness doesn’t get to you, the land might. Living in the mountains is beautiful (at least to me). Barren, windblown, rock flats with overcast skies are another thing. I knew teachers in Whitehorse who moved from Yellowknife, because they couldn’t take it any more.
Something needs to be said about isolation. I don’t know what to say about it. Whitehorse was the most isolated I got. Beaver Creek, Yukon, is 6 hours from Whitehorse, as is Dawson City. Telegraph Creek, BC’ is 9 hours drive. Baffin Island – well, of course, you can’t drive there. To be alone among a people of a different culture and language with no TV or internet with four walls – boy, I just have no words for that. How do they do it? The missionary has to become one with his people and know his environment. I’ll probably never get to Baffin Island to find out. Each missionary has his or her own way of coping.
Yes, if only I could take donors on trips with me to show them first-hand all the good their money is being put to in order that the Catholic faith will continue in the far reaches of Canada, the very reason we were found in 1908. Many bishops tell me that, if it were not for CMIC grants, their dioceses would not exist. Heaven points and a big thank you to our donors!