Cornwall Standard Freeholder
16 February 2011
By CHERYL BRINK CBRINK@STANDARD-FREEHOLDER.COM
CORNWALL – Tuesday’s frigid winds didn’t faze Bishop Reynald Rouleau, visiting from his diocese where temperatures regularly drop to –45 C .
The Quebec native, who oversees the Churchill-Hudson Bay region, was in Cornwall this week to talk about Catholic missions across the country.
“It’s rewarding to be able to talk to people elsewhere,” he said. “We’re isolated.”
But Rouleau isn’t complaining about his work in remote Nunavut villages. After more than two decades based in northern Manitoba, the 75-year-old loves living among the Inuit.
For this week, he’s staying with Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher as he tours a few schools and churches in the Cornwall-Alexandria diocese to raise awareness and funds for missions initiatives.
But while Durocher oversees nearly 30 parishes throughout Stormont and Glengarry townships, Rouleau has 25 communities under his wing, stretching from the top of Manitoba to the most northern tip of Canadian land. Technically, his diocese touches the North Pole, though he has only been as far as Resolute Bay.
“Very often you have 500 kilometres between communities,” said Rouleau, noting his trips are always via plane: there are no roads connecting the villages.
With just over 33,000 people in the entire territory, Rouleau said Catholics are in the minority around 8,700, compared to an Anglican population of around 60%.
“It’s 80% Inuit,” he added. “It’s the only diocese where the majority is native.”
It made adjusting to the position more of a challenge than just finding a new house.
“The language, the culture, the way of living,” he listed as the differences.
Though the priests conduct all their services in Inuktitut, Rouleau said he’s picked up only a few words of the native language and brings along an interpreter when he presides over mass.
“To respect their language and culture,” he explained. “In the church we try to give a lot of respect – we want them to keep their language.”
Most of the population over 40 doesn’t speak much English anyway, but Rouleau said he can have rough conversations in a mix of both tongues with almost everyone.
He said there are several major contrasts between the Inuit and the Canada he grew up in, including the increased emphasis on family, which includes much more than just parents and children. Clans include several generations, and they remain close-knit throughout their lives.
“Relationships are very important,” he said, adding that their links are often maintained through storytelling. “It’s the way they connect to reality, to other people.”
Rouleau said much of their culture is very conducive to the message he brings to the remote territory.
“They’re very visual,” he said. “Gestures, colours, symbols . . . It’s meaningful for them, you don’t need to explain it.”
Even their love of narrative helps as priests unpack stories of Noah, Moses, Jesus.
Rouleau said they put “their guts” into singing and never complain if a service runs past an hour and a half.
“They don’t have the same (view of) time,” he said. “Nobody will leave, nobody will say it takes too long.”
Rouleau said during special events – baptisms, weddings, funerals, Christmas – the whole community will turn up, even if they aren’t Roman Catholic. Whether or not residents become members of the church, the bishop said they identify with the traditions and liturgy.
“They seem to receive the message well,” he said. “You have to make it very concrete . . . this reaches the Inuit quite strongly. They are very open.”
Though Rouleau does a lot of traveling, he said his favourite part of the job is the five or 10 days he spends in each community as he travels around Nunavut each year.
“The close relationships, it’s very rewarding,” he said. One of his favourite destinations is Pond Inlet, which sits across from the constantly snow-covered Bylot Island. Icebergs drift by, the sun shines all day long for more than two months in the summer. With no humidity, the sky is clear, showing millions of stars and dancing coloured lights.
He said he’s always struck by the sheer vastness of the country – something easily missed in the bustle of a big city.
“You have the impression to be quite small in that,” he said.
The downside includes the long days without the sun above the Arctic Circle, the fierce winds that plummet temperatures to –60 C.
“The main frustration is equipment that doesn’t work and we don’t have the technician to fix it. We can go for a month without a photocopier,” said Rouleau. “I don’t miss much.”
Though the bishop has reached the usual retirement age, Rouleau said he’s content to stick around as long as necessary until a replacement is appointed.
He hasn’t been in the Great White North as long as some priests that are going on 50 years in Nunavut, but he said the natives appreciate those that don’t drop off a message and leave.
“The pastoral workers are appreciated,” he said. “Some stay all their lives. People appreciate that.”
Rouleau will make a public presentation on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at St. Peter’s Church, starting at 7 p.m.
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