A special visitor from the far north

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Cornwall Standard Freeholder

16 February 2011


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.

“Relationships are very important. It’s the way they connect to reality, to other people.”

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.


Comments on this Article.



Post #1 By nonbeliever,

7 Responses to A special visitor from the far north

  1. Sylvia says:

    Bishop Rouleau visiting Bishop Duorcher?

    Fundraising for ‘the missions’?!

    Bishop Rouleau omi is the Bishop of Churchill-Hudson Bay. Baker Lake and Igloolik are both in the Diocese of Church-Falls.

    Bishop Rouleau has been bishop of Church-Hudson Bay since 1987. He was there when Eric Dejaeger was charged the first time, and the second time, for sexually abusing children in Baker Lake.

    He was there in 1995 when Dejaeger, a fellow Oblate, was charged a third time , and he was there when Dejaeger high-tailed it out of the country to elude justice.

    He was there when a warrant was issued for Dejaeger’s arrest. And he was there when Dejaeger’s name first surfaced on Interpol.

    What, if anything, I wonder, did Bishop Rouleau do to see justice done in the case of Dejaeger? Did he, for example, try to pressure Dejaeger to return to Canada to face his accusers? If not, why not?

    Did he perhaps pressure his fellow Oblates to force Dejaeger’s return? If not, why not?

    How much did his diocese pay out in Dejaeger lawsuits?

    And why the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall for fund-raising?

  2. Michel B. says:

    You can bet a consultation with Durocher on what to do with Dejeager will take place, both bishops are pleagued by bad priest in their diocese.

  3. prima facie says:

    You mean “alleged” bad priests. As I recall, at least in the Alexandria-Cornwall area, many so called “alleged” bad priests walked free as the air….”Rule of Law”.

  4. John Mac Donald says:

    Below is a comment that I posted in mid-October, it seems pertinent now with the Bishop from the north here to visit.

    John says:
    October 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    I sent the following as a letter to the editor to the Cornwall Standard Freeholder late last night. Let’s see if the letter gets printed.

    I see from a story about the Celebrity Walk and Breakfast held in support of The Children’s Treatment Centre that Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher raised almost $20,000 in support of treatment for those children who have been sexually abused. I applaud him for raising these funds for such a worthy cause.
    I am going to send out a challenge to Bishop Durocher to see if this commitment to helping those abused is truly genuine. The case concerns a priest by the name of Father Eric Dejaeger. Father Dejaeger is presently living in Belgium. Father Dejaeger is presently on a “Red Notice” from Interpol, and is wanted in Canada on fleeing to Belgium before facing 6 counts of indecent assault and 3 counts of buggery. Father Dejaeger was first convicted of sexually assaulting children in Baker Lake, NWT in 1990-91. His 10 victims were between the ages of 8 to 16, the charges included repeated acts of sodomy. In 1995 Father Dejaeger faced the further 9 charges mentioned earlier, and before going to court to face these charges, he fled to Belgium.
    On September 13th, 2010, Father Dejaeger turned himself into Belgian authorities, when Belgian media brought attention to his whereabouts. The problem is, that Belgian authorities have no jurisdiction over Father Dejaeger, Canada does. Father Dejaeger was released, and is presently free and living in Belgium.
    So here is my challenge to Bishop Durocher. It would cost no more than $1,000 for Father Dejaeger to return to Canada, 1/20th of what you raised locally for The Children’s Treatment Centre. Father Dejaeger seems to want to turn himself in to authorities. So would you raise the $1,000 (needed for a flight ticket) to send to Father Dejaeger to allow him to turn himself in to the proper authorities here in Canada?
    Children needing treatment is not just a local issue that requires attention. As former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur so eloquently put it during her speech on Wednesday, “Who is going to support children and adults in the healing process?”

  5. Sylvia says:

    Was your letter ever published John?

  6. Lieve says:

    Hi John,
    I just read your above letter. Great letter. Too bad you did not let us know, I would have had it published here in Belgium and even hand delivered it to the man in question, or the provincial.
    These people fly around the world all the time and the price of the ticket would not have made the difference. We even talked about asking Air Canada to sponsor it, right, Mike? But, when faced with the charges against Dejaeger in 1989, the first thing Rouleau said was “the diocese does not have a lot of money”. One of the Baker Lake survivors told me that after the trial the Oblates completely ignored them, so much for “helping the ones in need”. Like Dejaeger, there are several other Oblates with a similar history.
    Fundraising “for the missions” to pay off their debts after having knowingly exposed so many children to the horrible sexual and other abuse is really really sick. I’m afraid it will never stop, our being shocked at what these people are capable of.

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