Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,
Dispatches of a Missionary 1897, by Father
Adrien Gabriel Morice
Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan
At Nautley, the Natives of five different camps were gathered to prepare for the Christmas holy days. We were not slow to begin the exercises of the mission: daily mass followed by a sermon; then catechism until eleven o’clock, and finally in the evening, religious direction preceded by prayer and the blessing of the Holy Sacrament, for in that we have the good fortune to have for ourselves Jesus who was sacrificed for us. The Natives can understand the honour which the God of the Eucharist has done to their humble church, and you can see them every day following one after the other to lay at His feet the offering of their heart and to say what were their needs.
By catechism I mean in the context of the Natives, not only the letter and explanation of the summary of the Christian doctrine, but also, and even more important, lessons in singing, on how to behave in church, and the many detailed directions which do not fit in with the more serious nature of a sermon. Generally we begin the catechism with five minutes of meditation during which each person forces himself to remember as much as he can of the instruction of the morning. Then the missionary asks a question of one, then asks another to give the details forgotten by the first, and assures himself that his words have stayed in the hearts which received them that morning. In summer a second catechism is quite often given after midday for children only.
Our first Christmas at Nautley had nothing very remarkable about it. I did not yet know the language, and the Natives did not know those canticles and that pastoral which (especially the pastoral) have since fascinated them so much. This last item is a long piece of verse in the Carrier language whose purpose is to reproduce by means of a song the sublime scene of Bethlehem. A dozen or so young girls, grouped in a corner of the church, play the part of angels ad sometimes speak in dialogue with the congregation who personify the shepherds, and sometimes sing, in parts, the praises of the Most High. Hidden in the crowd, one or two young men play the part of the narrator, who explains as briefly as possible, the sequence of events. Would you think it possible to make an ordinary church congregation sing correctly in four parts? It would probably be hard to do in France; but here a simple and uncivilized folk do it when they are taught to repeat the prayer which the shepherds make to the infant Jesus.
A sad incident cast a pall over our first Christmas gathering. I have remarked that the people of five camps had come together; that is to say the population of three to four neighbouring villages were camped in huts made of branches of so temporary a character that they were utterly devoid of comfort. Moreover this winter was a very rigorous one, and the morning of the very day that I had fixed for the baptism of infants they came to tell me that a newly born had died of cold in the night, and without baptism! You might say on the threshold of paradise!
But Christmas gatherings are usually more joyous. We now possess a superb Child-Jesus whose presence has the effect of rousing to a considerable degree the piety of the Natives who come up, one after another at midnight mass to kiss His feet while a special song is sung and put beside them the offerings of their poverty.
I was at the confessional from morning till night for two days at least. I baptized two adults and returned to Stuart Lake.
This time we were obliged to camp on the road and we had to suffer, more than usual, the rigours of the season; so much so that one night it was impossible to shut an eye; lying quite close to a big fire, we were roasting on one side while frozen on the other.
I omit the thousand little incidents of the homeward journey and arrive in due course at the Mission where I found the Natives of the Lake gathered. I had then to begin over again at Stuart Lake the preaching and other exercises which I had done at Nautley, followed in the same way by confessions of all those who were baptized.
Gallery of Sketches by Adrien Gabriel Morice From
Au Pays de l’Ours Noir, Published in 1897