|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
|Contact:Michel Lopez |
"Before my arrival to St. Francois Regis, Father Fafard had sown some barley and a few barrels of patatoes.The next day this very same Father took his plow once again and planted eight more barrels. Everyone was working together with great joy. May the good Lord bless the laborof his children! How happy we were to spend a few days together!"
Alas , happiness only lasted as long as the dream. With the arrival of the 25fh of April I was called by one of catechisms, an old chief (the friend of Thunder) so that I could give him instruction and baptism as well as help his men who were trying to plant the fields. This was at five or six o'clock in the morning. I could not refuse. I arranged my traveling chapel and bags and left about 11:30. I arrived at 7:00 p.m. in the little camp of the chief. There were only four tipis there and four others two miles away. The first to be baptized were the children from the previous autumn and the others two miles away. The first to be baptized were the children from the previous autumn and the others were Father Fafard's catechists. Everything went quite well. Although the two camps were separated, the work was all in quite peaceful. What difficulties these Indians have to overcome!
My arrival in their midst seemed to re animate their activities and I once again resumed my first profession, that of a farmer. I said mass, gave catechism, and then off to work! Everything was going so smoothly when I was interrupted by a surprise. A young man came to me and asked me to go with him to his father who was dying. This man was also an old chief, more famous for his tricks than for his brave deeds.
The other Indians did not appear worried about my going on this pilgrimage but I was rather leery.
I left with my wagon and after three or four hours I arrived at the lodge of the old chief who received me as if I were an angel from heaven. His name was Tchastchakiskwes.
This poor old man had two wives. For the last few months he had taken them and his family aside and made the promise to God to live righteously until his death. He made this promise again in front of me and his people with such fervor that I could not help but to quite moved. Even the heathen Indians can know the price and merit of the righteous!
I had many consolations during this trip, but I also had to undergo a trial the likes of which I had heretofore not encountered, the filth and stench of the old man's rotting wound which was under his right ear. One of the old women who was taking care of him and who ran the lodge and did the cooking was almost as sick as he and was covered with grime.
Next to the old women crouched a young girl of eight years who was completely retarded, she sat there like a mass of flesh with no reflex or instinct left but that of an animal. Soon the gates broke under pressure and the deluge was upon the lodge, with a great detonation the plague was amongst them! There is so much cleaning to be done but there are no towels, soap is not used and even water is often hard to come by. Moss is used for all hygienic purposes with the aid of a knife.
Turn away your eyes and do not use your imagination if you can and have solid composure. What could these poor people do? A retarded girl was not embarrassed by anything. I saw it all in this terrible lodge.
I could have slept outside but this would have offended the old chief. After thinking about what these poor souls meant to Jeaus I had no trouble in resolving to sleep in the lodge. What is this in comparison to Calvary? A few lice, the filth, a few things which make one's stomach turn. It is not even worth talking about.
But I am forgetting to mention the food because one has to eat even in such a lodge. There was the kettle over the fire! Oh the terrible curiosity by which Eve was lost ! One cannot help but to turn one's gaze toward it? Is this kettle made of steel or white iron? I cannot figure it out but it is just as black inside as outside and thick grease is plastered all over its sides which means that it has probably never been washed. There is broth on the bottom which has probably been there for an eternity which has undoubtedly been added to according to the number of people in the lodge. This broth is sometimes used to cook fish, sometimes meat. When everything is cooked the lady of the house takes a stick of wood in each hand and uses them like forks to remove a few pieces of meat of fish which she places on a plate without much ceremony. Sometimes this meat is put on the stove to fry a little bit or on the lid of the kettle or simply on two pieces of wood stuck together. More often than not there is no bread because they do not have any flour. One just has to make do. Ordinarily everyone has a knife hanging from a sheath on their side, just like military officers in civilized countries wear a sword. As I did not have my own, I had to ask one of the lady of the house. I attempted to eat but my whole being was seized horror and disgust. This knife which had been just used moments before to make bandages of mass for the retarded girl whose face was covered with terrible disease, this kettle in which dirty hands rooted around, all of this, without including the lice which were running around the sick man lying there next to me, stole my appetite and pained my heart. I swear to you that I ate, but I was afraid I would become sick. Thanks be to God it was just a trial that did not have any dire consequence.
Soon it did not take long before night fell. I trembled at the thought of having to sleep in this lodge in the middle of all this indescribable misery. But let us pass to the consolations of this visit. Upon my arrival this poor sick man heaped an excessive amount of respect on me.
"How happy I am to see you", he said , while prostrating himself before me. I tried all of my tricks but all to no avail ( he was covered by hideous boils) and I decided to turn to religion. In seeing you Jesus, I once again had a strong heart even though I did not know how to receive you, not did I know if I could love you . One can well understand how I could not get rid of the religious belief ""etego homo sum sum similis vobis" (I am a man among you).
Our Lord has profited more than once, ut patet in Evangelis, profited from physical illness to heal the infinities of the soul. I liked to believe that Tchatachkiskwes had this sacred opportunity. I explained to him that religion had not been given to us to alleviate the misery of this life, but to make it more bearable, too not give us a few more years of this life on earth which can be so difficult, but to give us eternal life, infinitely happy in heaven. With baptism I do not cure your body, but your soul.
It sometimes happens that baptism does cure physical illness as the case with the daughter of Wabipies who was almost blind and was cured by baptism. Her father had promised to embrace the faith if his daughter recovered her eyesight and it appeared as though the old man would keep his promise. It seems that the good Lord does accord us some favors, but He has not promised them to us. What He has promised is to forgive us our sins and to give us eternal life.
The old chief understood the I instruction I gave to him and was witness to the will of God and asked for the sacrament of baptism. This I accorded to him after instructing him in the mysteries of our faith.
At the same item his retarded girl and another daughter were baptized.
In the camp of Tchatchkiskwes I found two Christian women who had been baptized by Father Lacombe and a few children baptized by Father Alexis. The oldest boy of a Tchatchakiskwes is full of pride and is very devoted to his superstitions, the other is married to a Christian woman and gave his child to baptize.
As soon as my task was done at the village of Tchatchakiskwes I returned to the camp of Thunder Friend (?) to begin catechism with my people there, to baptize the old chief Pieshiwa ka Widjuwikut) and returned to Fort Pitt on the seventh of May.
A few weeks later I learned that Tchatachkiskwes had died, leaving his bed of pain to be seated at the side of the Good Thief in the kingdom of heaven.
On the fifteenth of May Father Fafard left for the prairie with a band of Indians. We all prayed for the success of his trip. How happy was he, this dear Father, to follow these Indians! He brought with him only a few pounds of provisions, counting on the charity of these savages whom he was accompanying or rather counting on the grace of providence.
I was also obliged to journey to St. Albert and I lost much precious time on the road and could not go the prairie until the middle of July after having visited Battleford once again which Monsignor recommended so that the mission was not neglected.
So there the two of us were on the Great Plains, following two Indian camps who were for the most part non-believers and totally indifferent to religion, although they were quite content in having a priest in their midst.
Our Cree are of a most particular type, too good to persecute and not good enough to convert.
The conversions were slow, one by one, and there was always a certain number who were being converted. Our ministry was a daily thing and we had mixed results due to the fact that the Indiana changed camp almost every day and lived amongst non-believers, usually quite far from any priest and deprived of the grace of the sacraments.
At this time the government was making great efforts to place these wild Indians on reservations and it became very important to expose the different bands and chiefs to our holy faith. It is now most necessary to multiply our number and revive the faith in the hearts of our old Christians to add to the number of the newly converted and our catechisms.
Heresy also was stirring, I assure you, and often I found a catalyst which extricated me from my laziness and cowardice which effects the zeal of ministers and merchants alike.
As for our material well being, our trip was more difficult the usual. The buffalo had become exceedingly rare and were very emaciated. When buffalo were found, the meat had no flavor. We ate the meat with the utensils that God gave us, our hands and we did not worry about getting our hands greasy. Fortunately there were also many choke cherries (?) and for awhile it was quite a treat but one does have to be careful with this delicacy. These little cherries made us sick. This lack of food continued on until September when the buffalo began to become fat as did we.
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