Father Donald Calloway, MIC, skillfully shares his... Read more
A Mission to Native Americans
A history buff with a keen interest in Native Americans, Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, readily shares arcane facts about tribes, chiefs, and broken treaties. As he'll mention, when treaties were not honored between whites and Native Americans during the Europeans' westward expansion, it was the whites reneging, not the natives.
The consequences have proved toxic to this day for Native Americans living on reservations in North America, where poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault are reportedly above national averages.
As for pacts and promises, Fr. Chris made one with himself: After his priestly ordination, he would spend time ministering to Native Americans. He kept his promise. For the newly minted priest — ordained on May 31 — the experience further confirmed how miracles lay in wait when suffering souls encounter Christ.
"I know that if you truly want to minister to those in the greatest need, those who have nothing, those who have been absolutely forgotten, then minister to the Native Americans," Fr. Chris said. "They are forgotten."
Typically, upon their ordination, Marian priests are afforded some downtime to regroup before taking on their given assignments. For Fr. Chris, who was named the director of the Association of Marian Helpers effective July 28, his downtime proved to be the only time he'd have to fulfill his promise. And so it was that in June he spent an alternatingly harrowing and heartening two weeks visiting Cree reservations in the northern reaches of Saskatchewan, Canada, where the land begins to tear apart like wet tissue soaked in the splendid assemblage of lakes, rivers, and swamps. Marian Helpers who live and evangelize there introduced him to the region.
He flew in to the small city of Saskatoon and from there took a rickety bus on an eight-hour journey up a gravel road to his first stop. His ministering, in fact, officially began on that bus ride. Noticing that he was praying, a Native American woman summoned the nerve to ask him if he was a "preacher man."
"Well, in a way, yes," he responded. "I'm a Catholic priest."
And immediately she started to ask him about suicide.
"She said she lost her brother to suicide," Fr. Chris recalls, "and she said she struggled praying to a God who 'sent her brother to hell for committing suicide.' I told her there is nothing outside the mercy of God. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven except the sin of not wanting to be forgiven. Nothing is outside the mercy of God, particularly if someone is outside of his or her proper mental state. I explained to her that my grandmother committed suicide, and I know for a fact she was not in a proper mental state."
After that exchange, other Cree women on the bus circled around Fr. Chris and put questions to him — about God, sin, and salvation. Fresh from seminary, Fr. Chris was at no loss for words.
On the last leg of the bus trip north, he and a young woman were the only passengers left on board. Father Chris must have said something right, because she made her first confession in 15 years.
Brabant Lake was his first stop, a village of 50 people who hadn't had a Mass said locally in four years. Father Chris said five Masses there. He also went door-to-door and offered blessings and prayercards. His arrival was preceded by an incident that revealed the battle between good and evil often so prevalent in communities marked by poverty, social decline, and surefooted faith.
Three brothers, hostile to a white Christian family, broke into their home armed with baseball bats with the stated intent to kill them. The husband and wife didn't run, didn't fight, and didn't protest. Instead, they simply started reciting the Rosary.
"These young men dropped their weapons and left, and they didn't harm the family," said Fr. Chris. "I formed a great relationship with one of those brothers. He's a changed man. He revealed to me that what changed his life was having a little baby boy, which turned him from violence and hatred and opened his heart."
Next stop was the Southend reservation on Reindeer Lake, home to about 1,500 people who survive in large part by means of hunting and fishing. On Corpus Christi Sunday, an incident occurred that helped set the tone for Fr. Chris' trip and his priestly ministry.
Father Chris was leading a Eucharistic procession through the neighborhoods when two young men stopped him in his tracks and shouted vulgarities aimed at the Blessed Sacrament.
"I was at complete peace," Fr. Chris recalls. "All I did was grip the Monstrance tightly because I knew they wanted to desecrate the Eucharist in some way. They threatened me, but they were more concerned with wanting to desecrate the Eucharist. Then one of them grabbed the Monstrance, and the moment he grabbed it, his hand was thrown off the Monstrance, and it appeared to have burned his hands. He gripped his hands in pain. We all saw it. The man then stepped back, and the two of them got out of the way."
Father Chris continues, "God once in awhile gives a sign, and man did He give a sign! I left Canada with a renewed wonder for the truth of the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and secondly, a renewed love for the Native American people."
Now, fully ensconced in his duties as director of the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Mass., Fr. Chris plans to continue ministering to Indian reservations, particularly in the United States, as part of the Marians' parish mission initiative.
"In seminary, it's so easy to get lost in rubrics and exams and Church documents," he says. "Now these are all good things. But not until you go somewhere like that do you put it all into perspective, do you have any understanding of the extreme need for the Sacraments and the faith."
He adds, "I just knew I had to go there. I knew."