Early in 2015, Mark Hagemoen, Bishop of McKenzie-Fort Smith Diocese, invited me to carry out healing ministry in the Sahtu region involving the communities of Fort Good Hope, Deliné and Tulita. While sharing the hospitality of Sr. Joan Liss and Pauline Girodat in Fort Good Hope and Sr. Celeste Goulet in Tulita was very interesting and inspiring due to their commitment and example, my stay in Deliné coincided with Holy Week, which is what I want to share in this article.
My intention was to conduct a three-day Lenten/Easter mission in each community, plus a two-day addictions awareness workshop entitled Living Life to the Full. The mission, with its focus on the Great Triduum, fit right in with the Holy Week liturgies.
As Chief Leonard Kenny was present for Holy Thursday, I invited him to join me in the washing of feet and he started by washing mine. Others wanted to do likewise, and soon everyone was washing someone’s feet, so I sat down and watched it all unfold. What was very impressive was watching the elders washing the feet of youth, and vice-versa.
Good Friday began with a Feeding the Fire Ceremony in the cemetery (a traditional drumming ritual thanking God for all God’s blessings and honoring the ancestors). Those carrying the big wooden cross in the procession to the church stopped and knelt three times for a short prayer en route.
The community has a tradition of writing out pages of intentions that are read out during the Eucharist, often taking up to half an hour. The intentions for 2014 were saved in a decorative box that was brought out to the Easter fire and reverently burned.
At a baptism on Easter Sunday, I invited people to come up to make the sign of the cross on the child to be baptized, expecting a few to respond. Instead, the whole community came forward. What was particularly touching was the elders also kissing and caressing the child.
Easter Monday and Tuesday were taken up with the workshop in the old church built by former Oblate and renowned artist Bern Will Brown. The sharing took place in men and women’s groups. It seemed that the community was poised for something like this to happen, just needing a nudge and a safe environment to break through to a deeper level of fellowship.
The community of Deliné is known for the presence of four deceased holy men they call prophets, whose wisdom and deep faith guided the people over the decades. The house of the first main one, “Grandfather” Joseph Ayha, was rebuilt at the far end of the community as a sacred place for pilgrimages. We decided to have our closing sharing circle in the prophet’s house all together, which went on well past 11 pm. Both a men’s and women’s group have started as a follow-up. Attempts are being made to start a bible study group as well.
It struck me that there are three sacred places in the community – the cemetery and arbor at one end, the new and old churches in the middle, and the prophet’s house and arbor at the other end, and we made our way to them all as part of the whole Easter celebration and workshop. That seemed so appropriate, especially after someone mentioned that the comment about the sacred spaces had also come from one of the prophets. It seemed a fitting note on which to bring my rather unique Easter experience in Deliné to a close. After paying $220 for over-weight luggage, I left with gratitude to Bishop Mark for the invitation and to Catholic Missions In Canada for the generosity that makes this costly northern ministry possible.