Dear Confreres, Associates, Family and Friends
With the feast of Epiphany, we have come to the end of another Christmas season. The New Year is underway and the sun has technically returned to the skies of Inuvik although we have yet to see it during these past few overcast, windy and snowy days.
Advent was a peaceful time of preparation in the region that included moments of joy and sadness. In Paulatuk, beloved elder Jonah Nakimayak lost his life tragically in a snowmobile accident. I flew out and joined the grieving community as we celebrated Jonah’s funeral Mass. In a fitting tribute to Jonah’s vivacious spirit many people from across the Territories made the long trip to Paulatuk to pay their respects. Jonah’s wife Helen was supported by a houseful of family visitors during the funeral days and a week later a community dance was held to mark what would have been Jonah and Helen’s 50th wedding anniversary.
Back in Inuvik, the Igloo Church hosted the annual Community Christmas Concert. This concert has been a tradition in the community for over 30 years and it never gets old. From the youngest members singing with their elementary school classes to the oldest residents of the local long-term-care home there is no segment of the population unaccounted for. This year even some of the gentlemen from the emergency warming shelter formed a small choir under the directorship of our town’s Director of Tourism. The concert continues to be a beautiful mix of talent and spirit with the emphasis on spirit, and no one walks away from the concert at the end of the evening without their heart being just a little bit better prepared for the coming Christmas celebrations.
I enjoyed two trips to Tuktoyaktuk on the scenic ice road. Sr. Fay, Andrea Wan and I drove north to Tuktoyaktuk after Fay’s return from her brother’s funeral in Powell River, BC. Donald passed away suddenly from medical complications and Sr. Fay and the rest of the family arrived quickly to be by his side during his last days and to support his grieving wife. Andrea is a pre-social work student from Edmonton (studying in Whitehorse, YT) and is spending her first Christmas in Tuk, though she has been here many times before. It is Andrea’s dream to come to live and work in the community once she graduates and has been looking forward to seeing it in the winter for some time. Not a moment too soon either as this year is the last for the iconic ice road. Next winter the all-season road is slated to open and the ice road (beyond the Aklavik turnoff) will be history.
The second trip to Tuk was with Fr. Leo English, a Redemptorist priest from Grande Prairie, AB. Fr. Leo is spending his first year in Grande Prairie and thought he was quite far north there. He will have a far different perspective having now returned from the most northern settlement in mainland Canada. On the morning we set out for Tuk, the most vibrant, intense, colorful… (can’t think of any better adjectives) sunrise appeared on the horizon behind us. We stopped the truck and stepped out onto the 3-foot-thick ice and simply stood in awe at the beauty of creation. Leo’s time in Tuk was full but I’ll let him describe that, and when I see his letter I will post in on Facebook and let you know. By the way Facebook is a good way to keep tabs on what’s going on up here in between letters. You can “like” our parish page at http://www.facebook.com/olvinuvik.
The Christmas celebrations were wonderful with the Church decorated inside and out. I put some thought and creative energy into the crèche under the altar and made it look like a manger in a snow laden field lit by a sky full of stars. I was quite proud of how it turned out but was humbled as I stood on the steps of the church before Midnight Mass and saw the amazing aurora that was dancing in the inky black sky, directly over the Church. It was breathtaking but I hope that God was looking upon our modest efforts and was equally pleased.
On Boxing Day, the news came that our eldest parishioner, Arthur McLeod had passed away in the early morning. Arthur was said to be 96 years of age but no one really knows for sure and most suspect he was much older. Arthur lived a simple life in the delta spending most of his years at his camp near Aklavik. I thought it was fitting that the cross, made to mark his grave, was hand made from timbers that had been taken up from the floor of the abandoned camp building which was the family home. Arthur was a model of faithfulness and even, well into his 95th year, would walk to Church every Sunday and find his place in one of the pews near the back of the Church. His last wish was to receive communion, which he did, at home surrounded by his family. This Christmas brought new life and death, but in God’s hands all is good.
As I write this letter we are well on our way into the New Year. This past weekend Inuvik celebrated the return of the sun at its annual Sunrise Festival. It was a wonderful weekend with lots of fun activities, including our massive bonfire and fireworks. Inuvik welcomed television host Rick Mercer to help with the celebrations and he entered it with gusto, putting on a wonderful performance with the Inuvialuit Drummers and Dancers.
Mother Nature has been hard on us for the past few days with strong winds and lots of snow so the actual return of the sun must wait. I am blessed now with a house guest, Hart Bezner, who has been trying to get to Tuktoyaktuk to see Sr. Fay. After driving across Canada from Ontario without incident he was held up for two nights on the Dempster Highway by blowing snow and has now been in Inuvik for 3 days while waiting for the Tuk road to re-open after several blizzards and much trouble with water on top of the ice, or “overflow”, as it is called. The blizzards, while an inconvenience, are not much of an issue when you have a roof over your head and food in the fridge. They call us to slow down and to reflect and appreciate the passing moments that often pass us unnoticed. I pray that your New Year be one of peace-filled days and happiness and may God bless and protect you and all your loved ones.
Until next time, Peace