My Ministry among the Cree
Peter Altamirano, OMI
OMI Lacombe Province
Since Father Sylvain Lavoie was named Archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas at the end of August of 2005, I have been doing ministry primarily on the reserve of Makwa Sahgaiehcan while Bro. Kurt STANG does ministry on the Waterhen Reserve, Saskatchewan. My ministry consists of house visiting, teaching catechesis at home and in school, praying, celebrating the Word of God in their houses, tutoring in school when I am needed and playing volley ball and soccer with the children. I believe that forming a relationship with the people of the whole reserve is paramount to work with our First Nation people.
House Visiting I visit people on a daily basis, from Mondays to Sundays. Being present to the people and listening to their problems of employment, marital difficulties, raising children who do not have parents and so forth is a big part of my ministry. At the end of my visits I try to pray with them so as to invite God’s peace into their hearts and mine. I am always thankful to the people for allowing me to come into their homes and share with me their concerns and their hopes and I love seeing the smiling faces of children who are generous in welcoming me.
Tutoring Last December, while I was talking to the principal of the school, the grade 3 teacher came into the office and asked the principal if she could take three days off because she was sick. Since they could not find a substitute, I suggested that I could do the job. To my surprise they accepted my offer and I ended up teaching twenty-five children for those three days. It gave me the opportunity to get to know the children and visit their homes. Soon after, I volunteered to tutor Math and English, helping write papers, with students of grade ten, eleven and twelve. I have helped a few of them but I was very sad to see the lack of academic interest on the part of the students who do not seem to see the need to have a good education. The problem with the students is not just one of academics. As the principal told me: “How can we expect the students to learn anything if when they get to school many of them have not had breakfast yet or have not slept properly because they were up until three in the morning watching movies?” Nevertheless, I am always glad when I can help one of them with his or her homework and I am able to get to know that student better. Many students have asked me to teach them Spanish.
Catechesis At present there are about ninety children registered for our catechetical program called The Kateri Klub. The principal of the Makwa Sahgaiehcan School, after consultation with the School Board, gave me permission to teach religious education after school hours. She has provided for a classroom and transportation for the children to get home after Religious Education. Mother Cynthia, a consecrated lay missionary of the St. Joseph Missionaries of Sacrifice, and I teach catechism once a week on Tuesday from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Often, the children do not want to go home because they want to stay with Mother Cynthia. She is a tremendous catechetical teacher who loves those children. In our classes, we share our love for God with them and encourage the children to get to know each other better, to work together, to respect themselves and each other, to respect their parents, grandparents, elders and everyone in their communities. We constantly remind them that God loves all of us unconditionally and that He wants to have a close relationship with each one of us. In return, all He asks of us is that we love Him and one another. We begin our classes with prayer; we pray before our snack of cookies and juice and we end with a prayer of thanksgiving and with a kiss on their forehead, which Mother Cynthia gives to each child. The principal and vice-principal have told us that it is the best-attended class in the school. We thank God for this awesome opportunity to share His love with these children.
Sports Volleyball and soccer have become part of our gatherings when I visit families. Last year I began teaching catechesis at home and one day after class I noticed that one of the children had a volleyball. I immediately asked the children if we could form two teams and we played that afternoon for about an hour. It became obvious to me that children learn quicker if they are having fun while learning. So from that day on, I have incorporated playing volleyball, soccer, going to the lake and having ice cream and pie after our catechesis. They are so eager to do things with me that last year we planted ninety-eight little pine trees, about ten inches high, in front of the school and along the football field to help beautify the community. I always wanted to have twelve kids but was never able to find the women who would agree to it. But, God is so generous that He has given me about 100 children. No one can outdo God in generosity.
Praying and Celebration Praying is a big part of my life and my ministry. It is what enables me to put all the events of the day into perspective. I try to always pray with the people I visit. At times it is spontaneous prayers and at other times it is the Rosary. I remind people that in Mary, they have a most tender Mother who cares about every aspect of their lives as she cared for Jesus. Recently, I have started to meet with two families on Sundays for a celebration of the Word of God. We learn the meaning of the different aspects of our celebration and the importance of collectively coming together as a family to tell God every week that we love him and to thank Him for His many blessings.
I am so thankful to God for allowing me to serve our First Nation people in the community of Makwa Sahgaiehcan. At times I have been very sad to see so much apathy, hurt and pain in our Native communities. However, it is not the suffering that saddens me but the fact that often times these sufferings are wasted. Our First Nation people know God as Creator but not so much as Redeemer. As one educated native man, who is a traditionalist, told me: “I have never been able to understand why the creator allowed the Europeans to steal our land.” I told him that it was the Creator’s permissive will that allowed this to take place in the same way that He allowed His only begotten Son to be killed by the same creatures He had created and that in the person of Jesus, the Creator and Father has provided a meaning to our human suffering. I told him that Native people were in good position to teach others to forgive if they would accept what happened in the past as a way of redeeming those Europeans. This would help them to once again embrace life and have confidence in the Creator who continues to love them deeply. He has since invited me to his house. As I walk with our native brothers and sisters, my desire is to share our common human values and spiritual virtues that inform and guide our lives and enable us to be the best people God created us to be.