December 6, 2015
Today the sun will not rise, at least in Inuvik. As of today we are entering into a period of 30 days during which the sun will not surmount the horizon. In Tuktoyaktuk and Paulatuk it has already been a week since we last saw the sun. It is a stretch of darkness which truly emphasizes the intent of the season of Advent as a time of waiting for the light to come into the world. In each community the candles on the Advent wreath are being lit. Despite the fact that there are no coniferous trees on the Tundra, the evergreen boughs and the candles they bear still speak of a hope which transcends place or time, it is a hope that is in our hearts and is expressed as we gather to pray and to wait for the coming of Christ.
I am beginning to find my rhythm and was grateful to be able to, once again, visit all the communities this past month participating in the regular liturgical celebrations but also experiencing some new events along the way.
A common theme that ran through the month of November was that of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with thrift sales being held in both Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and meetings with the Society volunteers in Paulatuk. As I am becoming reacquainted with this charitable organization (previously working together with them in St. John’s, NL) I continue to be impressed by their outreach to the poor. Through their “North of 60” project the last year involved the shipping of five sea containers to each of five Arctic Communities; Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven. This project was initiated several years ago and was developed by Sister Fay Trombley of Tuktoyaktuk, Eileen Orysiuk of Calgary and other members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Generous donations of food, clothing, household items, furniture, and specialty products come primarily from members of the Catholic community and parishes in Edmonton, Winnipeg and southern B.C. The project in 2014 is estimated at having a value of approximately $400,000. The project also relied on hundreds of volunteers who worked to collect and sort items for sea containers and then the local volunteers who make sure that the donations make it those who need it the most.
Though we are just beginning our Advent season it is necessary to look ahead as we plan for our Christmas celebrations in the communities. Christmas Eve Mass is much loved and the best attended of our annual celebrations, unfortunately it is difficult to be everywhere at once. I am very happy and excited to welcome our Redemptorist formation director Fr. Tom O’Rourke who will be arriving in Inuvik to help out with the Christmas Masses. Fr. Tom will be in Inuvik for an early Christmas Eve Mass after which he will drive 2 hours to Tsiigehtchic for Midnight Mass and then back again to Inuvik for Mass during the day and then Mass on the following Sunday. This allows me to spend time in Paulatuk where I will be present for a whole week. Sr. Fay will be looking after the Tuktoyaktuk community, something that she is very good at and next year we will make sure that they have a turn for Eucharist at Christmas.
We were grateful to have a quick visit from Bishop Mark who arrived in Inuvik on the last weekend of the month and was able to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent in both Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik. It was the Bishop’s intention to spend some time with the Steiner family in Tsiigehtchic and then celebrate an Installation (of the pastor) ceremony with myself and the parish in Inuvik. Unfortunately the installation never took place as our paths crossed only briefly due to an already scheduled trip to Paulatuk. Despite the lack of a formal ritual, after 4 months I am feeling very “installed” and enjoy the ongoing and enthusiastic support of the Bishop and of the congregation here in Inuvik and in the missions.
Speaking of Paulatuk, it is one of my favorite places to go walking because the Tundra is so open and inviting along with a mixture of rolling hills and seacoast. In the summer I would disappear for a few hours at a time and when I returned and let the people know what I was up to I would get the common response, “Father, watch out for the Grizzly Bears”. Now that it is cold and the winter has arrived I assumed I could walk without fear as the Grizzly Bears should all be hibernating. This time when I returned from my walk the word was, “Father, watch out for the wolves”. The predators of Paulatuk remind me of the Gospel reading for the first Sunday of this Advent season, “Be on guard, be alert at all times. So far I have been happy to only share my walks with the beautiful Arctic foxes and of course the many canines of the domesticated variety which are both far less threatening.
Along with the dark the cold weather is now setting the pattern of daily life and along with it the struggle to keep our buildings warm. The mission churches have liquid fuel tanks that must be filled prior to the people gathering for a celebration and in Inuvik we rely on propane which runs through the above ground utility corridors. Both methods are very expensive and in the Igloo church we are trying to offset our heating expenses through the use of a wood pellet fireplace and by only heating the Church to room temperature on Sunday mornings. The rest of the week the Church is set to just above freezing and we celebrate Mass in the parish hall, which is a much smaller building. If you would like to know what is on my Christmas wish list and if you have been thinking about how you might support the Catholic mission in the western Arctic, a financial contribution would be immensely appreciated as the winter heating bills come in. Checks can be made out to Our Lady of Victory parish and the diocese will be happy to offer you a charitable tax receipt.
The next time I write it will be in the New Year so I will take this time to offer my best wishes to you and yours for the Christmas season that lies before us. May it be a time of true joy and peace as you gather with friends and family. Try not to be overwhelmed by the many demands that fall upon you but the let the Advent peace fill you and last throughout the days and weeks ahead. I close with some favorite words by theologian Paul Tillich,
“Although waiting is not having, it is also having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it. If we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. Those who wait in absolute seriousness are already grasped by that for which they wait. Those who wait in patience have already the power of that for which they wait.”
As we journey into Advent we know that it is about waiting, that is, about preparing ourselves for Christ, but we also know that Christ is already with us. Let your heart be grasped by that reality.