Mon ami is leaving!
Recently we had a potluck goodbye supper for Pere Claude, who will be leaving the Yukon after 12 years with us. For those who do not know, Claude is the Catholic priest for the francophone Catholic community. There were over 200 people celebrating him. What an amazing night.
I want to share my journey with him.
Like many of my generation, born in Quebec, the Catholic faith was the “norm.” I grew up finding sometimes solace, but many times I found myself questioning, and not understanding some of the principles of the religion.
Thankfully, I remembered my very wise parents telling me that beyond any doubt, God was good. That carried me through the many questions I had when some religions can appear not as inclusive as I wish.
And so, I grew up, and carried God in my heart. I had gone to many different buildings where people pray, as I moved around this country. I struggled to find the spoken words appealing, and non-judgmental.
Then came Claude, whom I met at a craft fair. Young man, interested, inquisitive, full of joy and hope.
I was quite curious, and returned to the Sunday French Catholic services.
I learned that he had previously worked with youth at risk. I was more curious. I was pleasantly surprised to find, for the first time on my journey, a priest engaging in a discussion with his parishioners. Talking about God, about healing, justice, and being good to others. Explaining what the Gospel means to him.
We were not just being talked to, which was quite refreshing. For the first time, I saw children interested, participating in his service.
A new journey began.
I saw that Claude became extremely involved with the marginalized, disadvantaged individuals. He has been known in town to feel privileged to accompany the dying, whatever their faith. He has carried his Gospel with no judgment, with open arms to all.
There is no discrimination, no exclusion in his world. He pays attention to children, includes and involves them. He has reconnected a community with hope, caring and love of his God.
He celebrates communion where the people are. He tells us that God is in each and every one of us, and in our beautiful nature. He is there, with whoever needs him.
He is creative, innovative and such a generous human being.
When around Claude, I want to become a better person.
He has so many rituals that he has shared with the Yukon: blessing of the Easter water at sunrise; blessing of bicycles in the Spring; celebration at Miles Canyon; silence retreats; celebration of the Solstice, and many, many more. Claude has been trying to teach us that inside of every screaming, screeching human being is a hurt soul.
He has helped me understand and want to continue to live in the spirituality of God.
Claude was “borrowed” from his diocese in Quebec to come to the Yukon in 2002. He has no choice to go when asked to leave. Even if he asked to stay, as he felt he has more work to do in the Yukon. Even if all of us do not want to see him go. Not an easy job, I say, when no discussion is to be had and one has to comply.
Maybe Claude represents for me the future of the Catholic Church. Maybe it is the religion I hope for.
Interesting fact that in 2013 and 2014 the Yukon will have suffered two great losses; Father Jim and Pere Claude. Interesting coincidence.
Since this is about my journey, I ask myself: how will I cope with my pastor, my friend, moving away?
I need to continue to hope that the faith that I was born into continues to evolve, to be more inclusive, more open-minded and accepting of change. That the leaders stop being afraid of change. That people like Claude be recognized in their own institution as catalysts for a renewal that attracts human beings, and encourages love, tolerance and forgiveness.
I hope I will continue to live by Claude’s example.
A friend wisely said: “just think of the many others on his journey who have not had yet the privilege to meet him.” However true that statement is, I am still struggling with his departure.
May the church realize what an impact Claude has had on the Yukon people, and may they strive to understand that we are all the same.
I will miss you and I will carry you in my heart, my friend. May you continue to share this peace and healing heart of yours wherever
Helene Belanger lives in Whitehorse.