This weekend – August 10/11 – parishioners are asked to support a special collection to help Catholic Missions in Canada (CMIC) further their work of keeping the faith alive in remote and poor mission communities across the country. CMIC President Fr. David Reilander shares with us below his thoughts on the importance of supporting the needs of the north.
1. Can you tell us about the needs of the Catholic missions in the north?
The Canadian situation presents us with a vast country with a sparse population where some communities have few resources. Most of those communities are Indigenous. In these northern communities, employment is low. But food, travel and heating cost are incredibly expensive for everyone who lives in these communities, including the missionaries. For these reasons, bishops need help from the wider Canadian church to subsidize these missionaries' expenses along with educational programs.
Residents of Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet in the Northwest Territories, open their donation box from Catholic Missions in Canada, filled with clothing, books and toys.
2. What is the most pressing issue?
CMIC deals most with a lack of awareness that Canada is a mission country. Our history is such that we've never lost this mission status. The illusion is that we are a "first world" country and that is true along the American border. But when you get to the high north, most communities can easily be labelled "third world." Making Catholics aware of this reality is a challenge that we are striving to overcome.
3. Can you tell us about your most recent visit up north?
At Easter, I flew more than 1,000 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife to an island where the Inuit village of Gjoa Haven sits on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Being mid-April, I was surprised that the temperature was still in the -30s °C and it was not dark outside until 10 p.m. The priest for the area has four communities to look after, so I filled in for him at one of them. Though the attendance was small — there was a group of seven highly trained lay people who administered the liturgies of Holy Week. CMIC funded their training.
4. What challenges do priests who venture north face?
Long and cold winters, isolation, darkness, and social issues are the greatest challenges. What's interesting is that many of the missionaries come from equatorial countries where it's 40°C only to arrive in the Canadian Arctic where it's -40°C. They also face language barriers – such as English being their second language, as well as the locals' language of preference often being Inuktitut. Cultural differences can also be challenging.
5. What gives you hope for the church in northern Canada?
Our donors are our greatest hope. It never fails to amaze me how generous they are. Canada's northern-most dioceses would not exist without help from CMIC grants. Parishioners of the archdiocese are fantastic donors and we are very grateful for their support.