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St. Ann’s, Duncan – Open hearts and minds

Dec 9, 2020 10:23:54 AM

There was a time when ceremonial regalia lined the wall behind the last pew of St. Ann’s church in Duncan. Barbara Ann Charlie, Youth Coordinator at St. Ann’s says she was too young to remember, but her sister told her this would happen in the winter when some of those attending the Long House Ceremonies would also attend Sunday Mass. Barb believes, at that time, both Christ’s message and the Cowichan culture were equally important to the congregation.

Barb and other parish volunteers are slowly and patiently planting seeds of faith and helping to weave it into the culture of the First Nations youth in Duncan. They have help from the Elders of generations ago, who remembered the basic Catholic prayers and songs their own Hul' q' umi' num’ language. These Elders taught the next generation of Elders, who recorded and transcribed the songs and prayers into Hul' q' umi' num' font. Barb says the youth group can now say the prayers ‘Lord Have Mercy’ and ‘Holy, Holy’ in their own language. “I was fortunate to have my dad’s guidance while learning Hul' q' umi' num' songs,” she says. Elders are now teaching the children’s group to recite the ‘Hail Mary’.  Soon they will be able to pray the rosary as well, “although the Elders can say it much faster than I can,” says Barb.

Also helping to gently renew the faith are Rev. Roger Poblete and Sisters Dolores (Bing) Ferrandiz RMV and Yvonne Dapitilla RMV, from the Religious of the Virgin Mary, the first indigenous Filipino congregation. Fr. Roger says the cultures of the indigenous are quite similar in some ways. “We also respect our elders, and we take time over our celebrations.” Barb reiterated this, adding there is always a process to follow during ceremonial times, and sometimes this process may take a long time. Everyone is present and patient, with a lack of frantic rushing and an abundance of calm. People think about what they will say, before uttering the words.

This patient peace seems to surround the Religious Sisters too. “The mission we were given is to journey with the First Nations. We were told by Bishop Richard Gagnon, when he invited us here, that we don’t have to do anything amazing other than to just to be present and to listen”. Sr. Bing adds “and if we listen to the Holy Spirit, He will guide us. Our work is just to plant the seed and then it is God who will let it grow.”

Barb and the Sisters also teach the children cultural skills, like weaving, knitting and cooking. In return, they are given the opportunity to learn about First Nations culture and about the Catechism.  

One beautiful lesson Sr. Bing has learned comes from gatherings at the Long House. She says this is where the Elders share their knowledge. They tell young people that it is up to each of them to decide whether to hang their hurts and pains on the cross inside the building, or to carry those burdens with them into the world outside.

Sr. Bing notes the similarity of this Long House teaching to the Catholic faith, “we are just one Body in Christ. It doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you are bringing the love of Christ, as a witness to His people.”

What is on the Horizon of Hope for St. Ann’s? Sr. Bing says, “My dream for the people is that they will come back to church as they did before. One of the parishioners says she remembers her family going together, to a full, packed church.”

Sr. Bing’s message to our Diocese is, “We want every one of us to open our hearts and our minds to God and allow God to work in our lives. If we will not open our hearts, God cannot work with us, no matter how much God loves us.”

Liz Summers

Written by Liz Summers

Liz is a freelance writer and storyteller from Victoria.

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