CANADA-UNITED STATESOMI LACOMBE - A Polish Oblate among the Inuit
Greg OSZUST is a shy man whose face bursts into a smile as you begin to speak with him and inquire about his life and ministry. He was born in the southeastern part of Poland, ordained a priest in 1995 and arrived in Canada in 1997. He spent his first eight months learning languages in Saskatoon and August 1998 saw him on an airplane destined for Chesterfield Inlet.
Chesterfield Inlet is an Inuit community of three hundred people; only four elders have difficulty with the English language. The younger generation prefers to use English in their daily conversation. Greg admits that he has difficulty learning languages but is able to do the liturgical services in Inuktitut. He can read the language using the Roman alphabet. There are some difficulties with the language of the Scriptures. Some of the Biblical concepts and words are foreign to the Inuit understanding and language.
One of the first differences that Greg noticed when he arrived in the North was the attitude he found in the stores. In the South attention is focused on attending to the customer. In the North people are busy with each other and will get around to serving you, sooner or later. This is where the learning curve proved to be very steep. Within the Inuit culture things will get done but you have to allow for a lot more time and effort before the job is completed. Arriving with a European background, Greg recalls how much the people have taught him to slow down.
Ministry in the High Arctic is impossible to measure in numbers alone. Greg adds from his experience. “It is not the numbers; it is to be with the people.” In communities where there are only two hundred or maybe three hundred people, a small Sunday congregation does not indicate a weak faith life. Anyone who might expect huge numbers will certainly be disappointed. “If you were to judge only by numbers you could not justify our being in the North.” The majority of the pastoral work is to live with the people. “Most of my time is in counseling and giving direction.
Greg’s ministry is one of presence, not of high activity. “My time every day goes by very fast. I visit the people and they talk to me.” “I need more time than I have.” From time to time, Greg is called upon to fly from Chesterfield Inlet to another mission to conduct a funeral.
Life in the North has influenced him greatly, “I have slowed down a lot.” Since he is the kind of man who sets out on a project and does not want to stop until the project is completed, the northern experience has provided a different slant on his life.
“The people of the North are very honest. They will tell you right away how they feel. You might be offended because they are so straightforward. They do not have the diplomacy of southern culture. The younger generations are being influenced by the larger Canadian culture and will not say anything but the elders will speak the truth straight away.”
The vast distances do not limit Oblate community. “At least once a month, we are in contact through the phone or on Skype. We feel connected to each other. We do have much to share in common.” Since the year 2000 the eight Oblates of the High Arctic have been meeting in Ottawa. This has strengthened community life. (Submitted by Nestor Gregoire, in www.omilacombe.ca)
On Sunday, June 13, many parishioners of St. Eugene de Mazenod Mission in Brampton, along with hundreds of others from various parishes in Toronto and Mississauga, gathered to celebrate the installation of the cornerstone in the new church. The liturgy was presided over by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Primate of Poland. Also in attendance were Archbishop Thomas Collins, Provincial Fr. Janusz BLAZEJAK, Fr. Adam FILAS, Fr. Andrzej SOWA, Fr. Marian GIL, Fr. Jan WADOLOWSKI, Fr. Wojciech Blach, and Fr. Pawel RATAJCZAK.
All of us gathered around the altar of Jesus Christ as a community of Polish Canadians to lift our voices in song to give thanks to God on this hallowed ground for the wondrous things that He has done, and continues to accomplish among us. That which was deemed only a dream by human accounting, an impossible task, became a reality, unfolding before our very eyes. We witnessed this event, the historic ceremony of the placing in of the cornerstone.
In his homily, Cardinal Glemp recalled the Church’s role in human life. He said “It’s not enough to only be a valid citizen who pays taxes and does not break the law. We are also committed to doing good, which comes from the love of God and man”. He continued by saying: “Be encouraged to cultivate the faith and traditions of our fathers, so as to preserve the most precious spiritual values in the environment of a new homeland”. He also reminded us that, “The Universal Church has expressed joy that the gospel of Christ is still reaching man”.
The ceremony was attended by state dignitaries, including the Polish ambassador to Canada, Zenon Kosiniak-Kamysz, Lisa Raitt, a representative of the Prime Minister of Canada, as well as the mayors of Brampton and Mississauga. There were also many representatives of the Polish community in Canada. Besides the church, designed by Stanislaw Szaflarskie, Polonia is expected to a create a business and cultural center.
The laying of the cornerstone and the following celebration coincided with the 20th Jubilee of both Fr. Adam Filas, builder of the new parish and church, and Fr. Andrzej Sowa - pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Mississauga. (Assumption Province News and Views, June 2010)