CANADA-UNITED STATESOMI LACOMBE: Suffer the little children to come unto me
Fr. Mark BLOM is a missionary among the First Nations communities in the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas.
One of the prominent features of life in First Nations communities is how many young people there are. Since my assignment to Southend began nearly three years ago I was amazed at how many children there were in the community of about a thousand people.
For the first year, I was not invited often to the school but I met young people while on walks around town and at the seasonal events. As many Oblates know, I like to ring the church bell for a long time and gradually the kids were curious to see what all the noise was about. Over time, a regular knot of kids began to gather during the half hour before the evening Eucharist in the church.
I got to know all their names and families; then I began to talk to them about the meaning of the symbols in the church and then we started to practice prayers.
I found that the more that I wanted to teach them, the less they wanted to pay attention. So for a while we spent time learning to make the simple string rosaries and later clothespin crosses.
During the second summer at Southend, I spent afternoons in a large shack on the church property making rosaries with kids, colouring and doing other religious crafts. Recently I have gone to the popular “open concept” in the rectory by moving the stairs, knocking out a few walls and making a long serving counter. Now the kids come over to the rectory after school and I serve bannock, jam and apples. The children often spend time writing faith messages on a large white board in the living room. It can often be quite chaotic with nine youngsters running around the house, all wanting something or other.
My high hopes of catechizing the youth of the area hasn’t panned out the way I wanted because they don’t want to be talked at a lot. Instead, what is emerging is community. With all those needy kids, there are always lots of upsets, fights and conflict. But I am trying to bring their energy and needs to the promise of the gospel by helping them see not only their needs but those of others around them. By addressing the issues that arise from their lives: shoplifting, sniffing and the sudden death of their friends, widespread addictions and broken families I am working to help these young people see their struggles in the compassion of Christ who meets them even in their hardships.
I go through a lot of flour, jam and apples these days and sometimes the kids show up just when I am ready to start some work around the property. I try to stop and give them the attention and encouragement that they come for. And perhaps because of this, they also respect me when I tell them that I need to rest and can’t visit.
I hadn’t planned this style of ministry to youth and it has been challenging but more rewarding. I have made many more connections within the parish and the community because of the relationships that have been formed around the simplest of hospitality. God’s blessing to all the little ones that we are sent and who learn to speak the Gospel in new words because of our ministry. (www.omilacombe.ca)
Scholastics at the Oblate School of Theology (OST) in San Antonio, Texas, are taught by professors with extensive knowledge of Christianity. But the students are also taught by people with a wealth of “street smarts” – the homeless people of San Antonio.
OST has recently become a partner with Haven for Hope, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive services to the homeless population of San Antonio. Students from OST are providing spiritual guidance to Haven for Hope clients at the organization’s new center that opened in April.
Brother Jesse ESQUEDA, an Oblate scholastic studying at OST, is one of the first participants in the new partnership program. He said the program provides him an opportunity to take what he learns in the classroom and apply it to the real world.
“I feel blessed to be part of the Haven for Hope family because I am certain that the experience will help expand my view and understanding of homelessness, and it will challenge me to grow as a human being and as a Christian,” said Bro. Jesse.
Brother Jesse is involved in direct ministry with the homeless at Haven for Hope. This includes meeting with clients upon their arrival, in the chapel and in the cafeteria.
Haven for Hope is more than a shelter. It works to help the homeless become self-sufficient individuals on a long-term basis. It seeks to transform lives by addressing the root causes of homelessness through education, job trainingand behavioral health services.
Patti Radle, a member of the Oblates’ Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation committee, was a leader in the effort to create Haven for Hope. Radle is a former City Council member in San Antonio and presently serves as the vice chairman of the Haven for Hope Board of Directors.
“We hope that this place will serve as a national model of opportunities for human transformation,” said Radle. (www.omiusa.org)
Ron Lewis was born in 1929. His father was convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to jail in 1948. He was devastated. He suffered from bouts of depression until an “encounter” with St. Eugene de Mazenod in 2002.
My attitude towards society and authority in general was broken. I did not know it at the time (1948), but I was drifting into depression. This affected my ability to concentrate and remember things. After this I had four unsuccessful years at university, including three years at St. Patrick’s College in a commerce program. I repeated my sophomore year twice and failed my junior year. I left college after this and did not feel welcome because of some remarks by my teachers. I promised myself that I would not go down their road again and very seldom attended any reunions.
Keep these comments in mind as I relate my spiritual encounter with St. Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Oblate order.
The affects of this depression remained with me for many years. I improved some over time, but it was not until I had my encounter with St. Eugene that I was completely cured. Here is how it happened.
My wife Margaret and I were in Aix-en-Provence for two weeks in the spring of 2002. We enjoyed this old city and the area very much. The first Sunday, we attended mass at a Catholic church in the Italian section. The following week we heard about another church that was much closer.
The church was packed. After mass I noticed a corner dedicated to St. Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Oblates. His followers taught me at St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa.
About 15 minutes after we left the church, I had a warm feeling come over me. It certainly got my attention. In my mind, I could see St. Eugene, and he was accompanied by Father Maurice PEAKE, the head of the athletic department at St. Pat’s. St. Eugene was laughing and walking very quickly, and Father Peake was right beside him. St. Eugene said: “This is an easy one; you did not know what you were doing and neither did your teachers.” Father Peak then encouraged me to be a supporter once again. Father Joseph BIRCH, another Oblate priest, was in the forefront of this scene. He did not say anything or move. Both priests had been dead for some time.
What can we learn from this? There are many things that can knock us off balance - a jail sentence, a sudden death by accident or illness, a failed relationship and divorce, mental illness, sexual abuse, financial challenges and the list goes on. We should always seek the best help from professionals, but we should also pray and seek the help of Jesus, Mary, the saints and our past relatives. They all can and want to help, as witnessed by my story.(by Ron Lewis in Oblate Spirit, November 2010)