Our last days in Canada were spent in two very cold cities: Winnipeg and Saskatoon. In the first one, we stayed there for three weeks, and in the second, less than three days. However, despite the short time in Saskatoon, it was possible to stroll through the city center for a while and see the beauty of the snow around the river. We learned that Saskatoon is known as The City of Bridges due to the large number of bridges that connect the banks of the river Saskatchewan. But, in fact, what we really found there were several bridges connecting these two cities. Missionary bridges and bridges made of people.
The most noticeable bridge is that of the work and the fraternal way in which our confreres and lay partners are close to the indigenous population. We saw it in Winnipeg, at the Welcome Home, and our confreres Saskatoon told us they followed the same approach. The parish Our Lady of Guadalupe, where our confrere Graham Hill is now, has as its main mission to help Saskatoon’s First Nations and Métis people to walk with one foot in their traditional teachings and the other in our Catholic faith. The celebration on Sunday is the highlight of the meeting of these two dimensions. During the celebration of the Eucharist, cultural traditions have space and place, taking on traditional elements of indigenous culture, so that the celebration is enriched by a unique vitality.
One of our communities in the city of Saskatoon is right in the middle of a difficult neighbourhood plagued with drugs, crime, violence and poverty issues. There is a unanimous belief that our home is where it should be: right in the middle of these troubles, really close to those who are suffering. Our confrere Mick Fleming has only been there since August, but he already feels like he is everyone’s neighbour. Bridges have already been built. He is acquainted with the people in the neighbourhood, he knows them by name and by life, to the point of not feeling insecure there, contrary to what happens to most people.
As we walked by the two cities, we quickly found another bridge: Liz Artymko, the Redemptorist Youth and Young Adults Coordinator of the Yorkton Region. A young adult, with a smile on her face, a bundle of energy, fully dedicated to the work she is developing there. We met her in Winnipeg, but we could have met her in Saskatoon. Her actual work is being a bridge between these two cities, where she spends much of her time. Either with the young people she meets at St. Joseph’s Parish or with those who meet at the Welcome Home, from the youngest to the oldest, Liz seeks to find the crack which God uses to inhabit those lives. Offering what they can receive, whether at a meeting around a biblical theme, making pancakes or at a board game night. There is a real attention to the other, to their needs, possibilities, context and life stage.
In addition to this bridge that Liz builds between Winnipeg and Saskatoon, there is another bridge that is being raised: a bridge called Ignite Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Liz is part of this bridge, as well as our confrere Santo Arrigo in Toronto and other confreres and lay partners around the country, who are looking for new pathways to reach to young people. They have no new model, much less a new formula to preach the Gospel to young people who quite often have become disillusioned with the Church. But they do have an open attitude that seeks to know what are the right questions so that together they can find new answers.
But there are even more bridges! One that we have been discovering over these weeks has been the bridge of the close relationship that exists between our confreres and the laity. We refer to these lay people who collaborate regularly, providing support and, in some cases, sharing mission too. In Winnipeg we had a big conversation meeting, with confreres and lay partners, in which we were able to share a little of what captivates us in the Redemptorist charism and mission. Lesia Sianchuk took the leadership of the meeting, still imbued with the spirit of what was discussed in November in Tucson, and the sharing unfolded quite naturally. We talked about the importance of reaching to people with simplicity and closeness as a distinctive trait of the Redemptorists; the mission of the Welcome Home, offering a space of growth in faith and the will to dedicate our days to the mission.
In Saskatoon, the meeting was around the table. In the Roman rite community, we had a dinner with a tasty conversation as a side dish. Michael & Louise Paynter shared the way in which the membership of the Redemptorist Family has grown in recent decades. The way they treated us and their demeanour were revealing. The truth is that they have developed for years a relationship that is specially nurtured every Wednesday, when they share the prayer table, at home, in the community, during the morning praise.
We cannot finish without telling you about the last bridge that we saw and crossed. Both in Winnipeg and Saskatoon there are Redemptorist communities of Byzantine rite. They were born out of the need to respond to a large community of Ukrainians who emigrated to Canada several generations ago. Those we met these days had been born in Canada, but they have not lost their roots… In Winnipeg, we even have a museum and a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Vasyl Velychkovskyi, a Ukrainian Redemptorist who was the victim of persecution for several years and ended up dying as a martyr in Canada. A story of perseverance that continues to inspire many men and women who meet there regularly. In Saskatoon our confreres do their best to dynamize the Saints Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church. Our visit here was quick, but we had time enough to share a delicious meal prepared by Christine Shalagan-Nahachewsky, who joined the conversation we were having with the confreres Michael Smolinski and Raymond Lukie. Two hours full of stories.
It seems that this is how bridges are created. Bridges that reduce the distances between cities, social ranks and age groups. Bridges that unite people, cultures and rites.
We’ll see you around,
Zé ku Teresa