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News Releases from
Catholic Missions in Canada 2006

November 2, 2006

2006 St. Joseph Awardee Oblate Father Rodrigue VÉzina
has made prayer part of community's life

Priest transmits Mass to the sick and shut-ins

TORONTO-A missionary so well loved by his Northern community they named their high school after him has been chosen as this year's recipient of the 2006 St. Joseph Award by Catholic Missions In Canada.

Father Rodrigue VÉzina, 74, an Oblate missionary priest, has not only served his entire priesthood of more than 45 years in the Diocese of Moosonee, in Northern Ontario, but has also introduced innovative ways of bringing the Gospel to the people.

One of his "inventions" was the television transmission of his daily Mass to the sick in the local hospital and to shut-ins in Attawapiskat, a coastal village along James Bay, at a time before the introduction of commercial television. The Holy Mass is broadcast live daily through the community-owned television station. The morning program opens with prayers and Bible readings led by Fr. VÉzina, followed by religious features from EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). In the early evening, Fr. VÉzina leads the Holy Rosary prayer then celebrates Holy Mass and gives the homily. Another Oblate, Brother Michel Koostachin, helps run the television ministry program.

Born in Levis, Quebec, Fr. VÉzina came to the Diocese of Moosonee at the age of 29, fresh from his ordination in Quebec City and pastoral studies in Rome. He served in the missions at Pickle Lake, Lansdowne House and Ogoki. While in these communities, he became fluent in the language of the Ojibways. In 1973, he was transferred to Attawapiskat where he continues to serve today as well as in the Mission of Peawanuck on the Hudson Bay coast. In Attawapiskat, he learned Cree, and is now fluent in these two aboriginal languages in addition to English and French.

In his home parish at St. Francis Xavier in Attawapiskat, Fr. VÉzina attends to the spiritual needs of his flock. First, by celebrating the Holy Mass, officiating at baptisms and First Communions, and visiting the sick and the elderly; and second, by broadcasting Mass services, prayers, Bible stories and religious events to the sick and the shut-ins. He has made prayer an important part of the Cree community's life.

Sidebar: 'As a young man, I had all kinds of dreams'
-Father Rodrigue Vezina: St. Joseph Awardee

By Father Rodrigue Vezina, O.M.I.

"As a young man, I had all kinds of dreams. One summer, I worked in a tobacco field in Ontario; in another, I worked on a boat and visited the Atlantic provinces. Two summers I worked with the engineers in the forests of Northern Quebec, and when I began high school, the Lord put in my heart to become a missionary. When I finished my studies, my Superior asked me where I would like to go. My answer was: "To be a missionary." Since there was a need in James Bay, I was sent in that area. It really fulfilled my dream. I am happy to work where the Lord sent me through my Superiors.

"The First Nations People are close to nature. I learned through my contact with them to appreciate the trees, the water, the land and the animals living on the land. Taking a walk along the river during the summer or in the forest at wintertime in the silence of nature helped me to get closer to God in Whom we live, move, and owe our being. I thank the Lord for the vocation He gave me, and for His daily support in my life as a missionary."

Never a dull day in the missions

By Peter Mackey

On any day during the week, you will find me in the church here at St. Columcille parish in the Diocese of St. George's, Newfoundland and Labrador, or at the parish house in St. Fintan's preparing for the Sunday liturgy, setting up and preparing for Confirmation classes, and working on the next round of catechism for Grades 1 to 6.

As spiritual director for St. Columcille Parish, a small parish on the West Coast of about 420 people, I am in charge of three small churches. I try to have Sunday Celebrations of the Word and Hours in each church every week. I usually have service on Saturday evening in Highlands. Service in St. Fintan`s at 9.30 a.m. on Sunday, and in Heatherton at 11.15 a.m. There have been three churches here for so long and they were built mostly by the people who cut the logs and sawed the lumber themselves. The older people here have a very strong attachment to their church whereas the younger generation has to be inspired and guided into taking part in the parish.

We also have Stations of the Cross one night a week during Lent. I preside at funeral services as well as weddings and baptisms.

There are no Catholic schools here. This year, I was lucky in that a wonderful lady, Mrs. Mary Beresford, retired from teaching and has now volunteered to take over and set up catechism classes and coordinate with the parents. As soon as I discovered that she had been a teacher for years in Catholic schools, she was "in trouble." I contacted her the following day and she attended a catechists' meeting with me in the diocesan office in Corner Brook.

My wife Linda and I make it a point to visit the homes of the sick who are unable to come to church. We also visit those who are sick and in hospital one hundred kilometres away. We try to find time to visit seniors' homes as well. We truly want our parish to thrive, and we like to think that we are keeping faith alive by our example. We believe that as long as we are doing the work that God wants us to do, we will succeed.

Many times when I become discouraged, especially when I miss our children and grandchildren who live so far away, I go to the church and pray. As well, I receive support from Linda who also misses our children and grandchildren.

The people of our parish are very supportive of us. They have a strong faith in God and encourage us in any way they can. We just have to try harder to get our youth involved. In the coming months, we hope to get some of our youth to attend a COR weekend in Corner Brook, especially our Confirmation candidates.

In May, there will be a National Evangelization Team who will be working with our Grades 7 to 12. This summer, we will get some of our Grades 4 to 6 to a camp where they will be involved with others in learning more about Jesus while having the time of their lives.

We have a small choir at St. Fintan`s, and I sometimes call it our first miracle here. We were using tapes for the first couple of months. One evening, an elderly lady came to church at Highlands; it was the first time that I had met her and her daughter. She said she would be coming back again. She lived in another town in a nursing home. We were later told she had died the following week. Her daughter, who had brought her to church, called and asked if I could lead the funeral service. At the service, this lady's daughter, Karen, and her sister, sang the hymns. Neither of them had been coming to church but since that day, almost two years ago, they have become our choir. They formed a small choir and faithfully play and sing every Sunday.

Our excellent parish council and members promote the good of our parish as well as help out by fundraising.
With the closing of the fishery, the loss of the railway years ago, and now the closing of the Stephenville Mill, there is high unemployment here. We lose so many of our young people to outmigration as they look for work. It also gets more difficult for them to support our churches and our programs.

We depend on Catholic Missions In Canada (www.cmic.info) to help us out. This year, we hope to repair or replace the windows in the church. We fixed them temporarily this past fall so that the snow and wind did not get in this winter. The repair also cut down heating costs.

We were lucky this year as the Presentation Sisters helped pay for our catechetical program for Grades 1 to 6.
Even with all the extra financial help this year, however, we could not survive without Catholic Missions. CMIC's donations help in the upkeep of our churches, our parish house, and our salary.

Linda and I have worked as volunteers in small churches wherever we lived. Oblate Bishop Henri Goudreault and Father Joe Baril, another Oblate priest in Labrador City, had encouraged me to get more involved in the Church.

Thus, when we retired in 1996, we decided to move to Prince Edward Island so I could complete the Diploma in Ministry Course through St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

I thank Sister Georgina Johnston of the Sisters of Martha in Prince Edward Island; Sister Ruth O'Reilly, at Port Au Port; and Sister Claudette Gallant, who was at St. Paul's on the Great Northern Peninsula. Sister Margaret McLaughlin, who is now at St. Paul's, encouraged me to contact Bishop Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., of St. George's diocese, and so here I am. I could not be happier in any other type of work. I have such great faith in God and I truly love what I am doing.

(Peter Mackey is lay spiritual director at St. Columcille parish, in the Diocese of St. George's, Newfoundland and Labrador.)

Toronto priest is new president of Catholic Missions In Canada

TORONTO - A priest from the Archdiocese of Toronto who has served for many years in the missions in Northern Ontario is the new president of Catholic Missions In Canada.

Father Philip J. Kennedy, pastor of St. James parish in Colgan, Ontario, succeeds Father Sebastien Groleau as the 13th president of the organization which has served the Canadian missions since 1908.

Born and raised in the mining community of Sudbury, Ontario, Fr. Kennedy attended Catholic schools in the area and worked briefly in the mines before pursuing his B.A. and majoring in Classics at Laurentian University. After completing his bachelor's degree in secondary education, he taught Latin, drama and English in the Nickel District Collegiate and at Marymount College in Sudbury.

In 1983, he completed his seminary studies at St. Augustine Seminary and theology studies through St. Paul University. He also holds a Master of Divinity from the Toronto School of Theology.
Ordained a priest in 1983, Fr. Kennedy first served at St. Anne's parish in Brampton and was seconded to the Diocese of Thunder Bay from 1988 to 1994. There he served as director of the diaconate training program, coordinator of the ministry to separated and divorced, director of the archives, chaplain to the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital, and chairman of the Office of Worship for the diocese. From 1991 to 1994, he served as pastor of Corpus Christi parish in Thunder Bay.

Fr. Kennedy returned to the Archdiocese of Toronto in 1994, and has since served at St. Paul's parish in Alliston, St. Barnabas parish in Scarborough, and Saint James parish in Colgan and Tottenham. He was appointed to the Priests' Seminar Committee for the Toronto archdiocese from 1995 to 2000 and archdiocesan director for the Pontifical Mission Societies. He has also served on the Priests' Personnel Board for the archdiocese from 2000 to the present.

Pilgrimage to Sandy Island, Northern Saskatchewan
Dene gather for weekend of prayer and worship

By Father Bob Leblanc

For the past number of years, the Dene people of the community of Wollaston Lake in Northern Saskatchewan have been gathering at the top end of Wollaston Lake on Sandy Island for a weekend of camping and prayer and worship which is usually held towards the end of August. Most of the participants have already been on pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta the previous month but Sandy Island also holds a special place for them.

Wollaston Lake is a huge lake-some 70 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide-and after a long boat ride from the community on the southwest side of the lake, they gather as families of grandparents, parents, and children setting up their tents on Thursday and Friday. Sandy Island was chosen because an elder had a dream of healings taking place there. They have erected a small outdoor chapel beside a small lake on the island, placed a large cross on the hill behind the lake, and a beautiful Way of the Cross around the small lake.
For the past four summers, it has been my pleasure and privilege to accompany them as their priest to this beautiful place to camp with them, to pray and celebrate Mass and Reconciliation, to eat their food of smoked fish and caribou and share in their laughter of stories of the good old days. It's a weekend I look forward to each year. At times, I can't help but feel I get more from them than they receive. It's wonderful to be in that rich faith environment. The old missionaries did quite a job.

The children and teens keep busy with swimming and fishing. The adults catch and smoke fish and visit one another-sharing their food and telling their stories. When the weather is good, it is truly a beautiful place to be.
The weekend starts off with Mass at the small chapel and then the blessing of the lake and prayer for healing. The rest of the weekend goes by quickly with a Mass each day, Reconciliation, the Way of the Cross, and recitation of the rosary. The past pilgrimage was highlighted by a wedding at the chapel. Following Mass on Sunday afternoon, a feast takes place of the rich native food available. Following that, a pack-up and clean-up and the long boat ride home.

(A grant from Catholic Missions In Canada (www.cmic.info) allows Father Bob LeBlanc to fly to the Dene community of Lac Brochet in Northern Manitoba from his mission community at Wollaston Lake in Northern Saskatchewan each month.)

Contact Person:
Patria C. Rivera, Editor, Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine
Catholic Missions In Canada
201-1155 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario M4T 1W2

Tel: (416) 934-3424, or toll-free at 1 (866) YES-CMIC (937-2642)
or e-mail editor@cmic.info

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