Bishop in the Far North
Interview with Reynald Rouleau, OMI
The Most Rev. Reynald Rouleau O.M.I. has been bishop of the diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay for 16 years. The diocese has a Catholic population of approximately 6,500 people and extends to the Polar circle. Here is an account of the missionary activity of a bishop who made this territory his land of adoption.
"I remember that I found the ceremonies very long. There was no end to the singing. It annoyed me. One day, I realized that song was a way for them to express all their feelings. They can express all the dimensions of the human experience in song. That is why they attach so much importance to it. They can sing together for a whole hour. It even becomes spellbinding. They do it with such incredible enthusiasm. The longer the song is, the more it contributes to pacifying the assembly. I had to adapt myself to this feature of their culture."
"Shortly after my arrival in the diocese, I noticed that time does not count for them. It is not necessary to make an appointment before visiting someone. If you are passing by, you can stop and knock at the door of the couple you wish to meet. It is all very simple. I have adapted and now I do as they do. I do not announce myself when I go to visit somebody," says the bishop of Churchill. "I feel closer to the role of a parish priest than to that of a coordinator of the pastoral activity. I do this work, but it is not the essence of my presence nor of my activity. I am there to share their life. That is also how people perceive me. A woman involved in the pastoral work can call me directly and say: 'Hello, this is Theresa....' It is as if I knew her. They present themselves to me as if I knew them personally. It is really a relationship of fraternity and not only a pastoral one. It is not because the bishop is in the house that they will clean the table. I just sit down and it is like I was home to have tea. We do not have a business type relationship but a family one."
"We give them an allowance of $3,500 for their personal expenses. We also contribute to their pension funds and we pay for their annual trip to visit their family. We have a budget of $700,000, of which a third is for travel expenses. Our territory is very large, 2,300,000 square kilometres, and travel is costly. A part of our budget comes from the Canadian bishops, and another part comes from donations collected by "Esqu-o.m.i." We have very generous benefactors who almost adopt the bishop and the cause of the Inuit. I am very touched by this show of solidarity."
"They are very devoted and they help the community to improve. Of course, they also have difficulties but their prayer life is intense. Their biggest sorrow comes from being criticized or ridiculed by their neighbours. These couples do not have full control over the activities of their children, and there are people who reproach them by saying that they do no better than others."
"There are, like everywhere else, tragic events and when they occur, it is not long before the leaders organize an evening of prayer. That helps those who suffer to find hope and courage. These people have experienced tragic events, and I can say that they have like a culture of the tragic, but I find also an extraordinary courage in them."
"The influence of North-American society is certainly greater than it was 60 years ago. I do not know which choices the young people will make. The traditional way of life is changing. This society was formerly nomadic and the purpose of all its activities were centred on survival. This is no longer the case. But some values are still important for them."
"I notice that the Inuit personalize these cases instead of attacking the Church in general. They put the responsibility on a precise person. It is healthier than an ideological campaign."
"I found the first year difficult. I had to adapt myself to this culture. Today I would not change place. I have developed very strong bonds with the pastoral workers and the Inuit leaders. I could not see myself in the south with the responsibility for 80 parishes. This kind of life has really marked me." (By Jerome Martineau, Notre-Dame du Cap, April 2004, p. 14-15.)