Vancouver's St. Paul’s Church has installed a icon of St. Paul made by André Prevost in the style of First Nations art. Canadian Catholic News photo

B.C. artist depicts St. Paul as a First Nations icon

By  Agnieszka Krawczynski, Canadian Catholic News
  • January 26, 2017

VANCOUVER – A Vancouver church has acknowledged the rich First Nations heritage of its parishioners by installing an icon of St. Paul the Apostle wearing a woven cedar hat and holding a talking stick and cedar bough.

“The people can see themselves in the icon,” said artist Andre Prevost.

Many parishioners of St. Paul's Church have First Nations backgrounds. Fr. Garry LaBoucane, OMI, the St. Paul's pastor, asked Prevost to illustrate St. Paul as unmistakably First Nations.

“St. Paul is portrayed as teacher and messenger in the act of journeying,” said Prevost of the icon, which shows a canoe and west-coast shore in the background.

Although not aboriginal, Prevost worked closely with LaBoucane to find sensitive ways to make St. Paul look First Nations without using symbols that would single out any particular band. St. Paul’s cedar hat bears no decorations and his clothing looks almost traditionally Byzantine.

Prevost said the talking stick, a traditional symbol of welcome and invitation, is an important element.

“St. Paul is coming into the community and, as the bearer of the talking stick, is inviting, coming, and speaking,” said the iconographer. “He is inviting people to the Eucharist.”

In his other hand, St. Paul carries a cedar bough, a symbol of cleansing and blessing, and a scroll with part of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “Follow Him and let your roots grow deep into Him. Col. 2:6-7.”

St. Paul’s church has also incorporated First Nations cultural practices in other ways. A likeness of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American canonized as a Catholic saint, hangs inside the dimly lit church.

Father LaBoucane welcomes drumming and traditional clothing at Mass and oversees programs that help First Nations people reconnect with their roots by learning to make drums, moccasins, and beadwork at the nearby St. Kateri Tekakwitha Centre.

(B.C. Catholic)

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