The Catholic Register
Sunday, 09 June 2013 12:03
Written by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
Moments after his ordination, Bishop Tony Krotki leads a packed Mary our Mother Church in the Eucharist. The Oblate missionary from Poland arrived in Canada in 1990 unable to speak English. Today he celebrates Mass and converses with the people of Nunavut in Inuktitut. The banners behind the altar are made from seal skin, while the crucifix to the right of the altar stands on a carved narwhal tusk sitting in a caribou antler base. At left is Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, while Bishop Murray Chatlain of Mackenzie-Fort Smith is at the right. – Photo by Michael Swan
RANKIN INLET, NUNAVUT – Bishop Anthony Krotki found out a few weeks before his episcopal ordination he was finally a grandfather.
The Polish Oblate missionary was appointed bishop by Pope Benedict XVI Feb. 16 and finally ordained in a big, joyous, all-day celebration in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, May 30. But it was the young boys who hang around his old church in Igloolik who let him know his new status is for real a few weeks before his episcopal ordination.
After Mass one day Anthony, Victor and some of the other kids were helping clean up when Anthony called out to his departing priest “Tony!” Krotki decided to correct the boy.
“No Anthony, you must now call me Atataatsiavaluk Tony,” he said. Atataatsiavaluk is the Inuktitut word for bishop or spiritual father. It is also the word for grandfather.
“Where are your children? Who is your wife?” asked Anthony.
As Krotki began to explain to the boy that he did not have a wife or children, Anthony answered, “You lie.”
Then young Victor stepped in.
“Be quiet,” the boy told the other children. “We are all his kids.”
From that moment on the children in the village addressed Krotki as Grandfather-Bishop, Atataatsiavaluk.
“Children always tell us the truth,” said Krotki.
Just shy of his 49th birthday, Krotki was ordained the fifth bishop of the enormous Churchill-Hudson Bay diocese at the hands of outgoing Bishop Reynald Rouleau, assisted by Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop Murray Chatlain and St. Jerome Bishop emeritus Gilles Cazabon. The Church of Mary our Mother was filled with guests from all over the diocese, family and friends from Poland, bishops and priests from across Canada.
Rouleau insisted The Catholic Register be there in the Arctic so Catholics across Canada could share in the rare, even unique, episcopal ordination. The five-hour charter flight from Ottawa with a stop in Winnipeg brought Oblate missionaries, bishops, Poland’s ambassador to Canada and some of Krotki’s oldest friends in Canada to the remote town of 4,000 on the western shore of Hudson’s Bay. A bilingual Inuktitut and English Mass included a reading in Polish and the Salve Regina in Latin as the community thanked Rouleau for 26 years of leadership and looked forward to a new chapter with Krotki.
Becoming a leader in Inuit culture is never simply a matter of accepting an appointment, Krotki told The Catholic Register. Leaders in Inuit communities emerge naturally and are acclaimed by a quiet, unspoken consensus.
“It’s from within,” Krotki said. “You know that the people believe in you. They’ve seen you in different roles.”
Through 23 years in the Arctic, Krotki has gone from struggling to learn English to a fluency in Inuktitut which allows him to joke, converse and confide in people in their mother tongue. Having pastored in Igloolik (twice), Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk and Taloyoak, Krotki is known throughout the 2.3-millionsquare kilometres of Churchill- Hudson Bay — an enormous diocese that contains 8,750 Roman Catholics.
Krotki’s leadership comes 102 years after Oblate Father Arsene Turquetil reached Churchill, Man., in 1911 and 96 years after the first adult baptisms in the territory.
Krotki’s comfort level in the culture goes beyond the linguistic. The first time he hunted caribou his hunting companion initiated him into life on the land in a way that left no doubt that the priest has travelled a long way from his native Istebna, Poland. The hunting companion cut a thin slice of the cariboo’s liver, then opened the stomach. He dipped into the stomach with his knife and began to spread the stomach contents on the slice of liver, as if it were peanut butter on toast.
“Here you are. Inuit food the Kabloona way,” said the hunter. Kabloona is the Inuktitut word for white people. Krotki ate his liver sandwich and reports that it wasn’t bad.
“I learned that day about generosity, inculturation,” Krotki said. “He taught me a lesson I will never forget.”
Having accepted the mantle of leadership not only from his Oblate brothers and Pope Benedict XVI, but also from the Arctic Inuit community, Krotki asked for prayers.
“It may not be easy, but with your continued support and prayers we will move forward,” he said. “I ask you to pray for me and never stop, so I can pray for you as your bishop.” On the surface, life in the north may seem quiet. But Krotki actually will be leading a diocese which faces enormous cultural, economic and political change. Half the people in Nunavut are under 23. That compares to a median age of nearly 40 for Canada as a whole. While 83 per cent of Nunavut’s citizens claim Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun as their mother tongue, just 64 per cent speak it at home. Gold and other minerals are fuelling a mining boom. Nunavut is entering its 15th year of self-government.
As a spiritual leader, Krotki takes seriously the Church’s responsibility to help preserve the traditions and culture of his people. But the Church can’t help by freezing people in time, he said.
“Tradition is what you have, what you are part of,” he said. “We only need to let them live. We can’t enforce it.”
The people of Rankin Inlet are aware of how their lives are changing. Victor, a 52-year-old radio announcer, remembers the early days of the town, built around a nickel mine that operated between 1958 and 1962.
“There used to be matchbox houses, no running water, no sewage,” he said. “Now we got it all.”
Victor’s colleague at the radio station, Charlene, said she sees a new reality emerging.
“The new reality nowadays, the new electronics, all these things that are coming up… Things are changing.” Grace Dcunha from Bangalore, India, has been in Rankin Inlet eight years — a nurse in the town’s health centre. Though she was recruited from India for work in Rankin Inlet, she’s had plenty of opportunity to move with her family into urban, southern Canada.
“I love my job here,” she said.
As a Catholic, Dcunha relished the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a bishop ordained in a place where there is a direct, personal relationship between the bishop and his people. Back home in Bangalore, she would have never met her bishop. But here the bishop is part of all the small communities, she said.
Vital Nauya, born in 1957, was raised out on the land, away from anything resembling a town. At Krotki’s ordination Mass he proudly points out the banners made of seal skin that hang behind the altar, the narwhal tusk that holds up the crucifix beside the altar.
Meanwhile all around women circulate with their babies and his fellow Inuit are filming and photographing the ordination on their iPads.