My Experience at Father Latour Native Pastoral Centre

ArleneI give God thanks and praise for allowing me to live out one of my dreams of working with the Aboriginal people. Their way of life and seeing the world resonates deep within me (i.e. ideas about justice - that we must find why a person has stepped outside of the circle instead of immediate punishment, balance in one's life, not taking more than one needs, redistribution of goods, locking one's doors discouraging true relationships, etc.). I was also able to live my dream of following the gospel call to live out the works of mercy while working with the homeless of Calgary (3500 at the moment).

Over the last year I have grown to love more deeply the Native Culture and its Traditions, as I lived what I had learned in university. I discovered that there are many similarities between the Native Spirituality and Catholicism (i.e. symbols are crucial to both) and that Native People throughout the world are also very similar. We could all live out Jesus´ call to love, if more people spent time to understand the other and focus on similarities rather than on differences. I believe St. Francis was also a native at heart! He loved and respected nature and all the creatures, which God gives to us all.

Pow WowThe Native people have also taught me a great deal about unity. In their culture, they celebrate pow-wows. When I hear the sounds of the drum, it brings tears to my eyes, for I am reminded of how all our hearts beat as one, for we are all children of the same Creator. I also think of how heartbreaking it was, when such a beautiful celebration was not understood and thus forbidden. As a wise sister once told me, God was already here among the Native people; the missionaries were just bringing the message of Jesus to them (if we only knew then what we know now). God speaks to them in a different way than to Europeans, I believe (i.e. in dreams). Their culture teaches children to see things they cannot see with their eyes, things of God. I am now better able to see with my heart. When I see the Native people young and old dancing their prayer and showing respect for the elders, they are dancing for joy. I wish more people could experience this beautiful celebration of God's love and our unity. It pained me one day that more people of different backgrounds were not present, although they were more than welcome. I also think of how happy God is to see his children dance, to see them fully alive. In my upbringing, I try to compose a beautifully worded prayer but now I believe God is just as happy with a dance prayer.

Unfortunately, much of this culture has been lost, which can be seen in the eyes and actions of the young, their pain is very real and much healing is needed. They are a people who are hurting and many feel torn about living as native people in a materialistic country like Canada. It has been my privilege and honour to work with Native people, and to listen and learn from them as we hope for the future of this world. I have also really enjoyed hearing the stories of the times past as we learn great patience in making traditional Native Crafts.

menThe homeless have also shown me great kindness, joy, and love. For example, last summer, a few of them would shout across the park, "Good Morning, it's a beautiful day isn't it, Arlene". I realized that I had just spent the night in a warm bed, safe in my room, had a full breakfast while they had just spent the night in a cold shelter without a blanket and were out on the streets again by 5am. And I was grumpy! It is those, society sees as useless who woke me up to my choice of greeting a new day, a beautiful gift from God, with joy instead of frustration. I now know that I can choose to praise and thank Him instead, and share that joy with each person God puts in my path that day. I have also learned that many of our brothers and sisters on the street are crying out for someone to talk to, the food is just an excuse. Sometimes we would have women as young as 15 who sell their bodies come to have lunch with us, and I would make excuses to, like Jesus, touch their shoulder. They are so often touched in negative ways; Jesus showed me in scripture that He touched people with love and so must I. They have taught me many things; most of all to see Christ in the distressing eyes of the poor, those who are often very difficult to love. However I have also grown in my love for adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament without which I would never be able to love as Christ calls me to.

I feel disappointed about leaving these people whom I have just started to get to know and have grown to love, but my Jesus calls and I must follow (or I felt the boot from the Holy Spirit as I often say). I thank Him from the bottom of my heart for the wonderful year He has given me; this is what true happiness is, doing the Will of the One who formed me in my mother's womb!

Arlene van Zyl, pre-novice, f.m.m.
© May 2007