Students welcomed into sacred circle

By  Brittney White, Youth Speak News
  • October 27, 2006
 EDMONTON - It’s not every day that students earn marks for attending Mass at an aboriginal parish. But Angela Bokenfohr, a theology student at St. Joseph’s College on the University of Alberta campus, is doing just that.

“Sacred Heart Church of the First Nations people is a church unlike any other,” said Bokenfohr, who is taking Dr. Richard Wanner’s class “Spirituality For Today’s Christian” this fall.  

Students are encouraged to put their faith into action by visiting Sacred Heart of First Peoples Church, located in the heart of inner city Edmonton.

Ethnic tradition and learning how to incorporate the aboriginal Mass into the students’ own personal faith journey is promoted during the visit to Sacred Heart. It is not every day that students are asked to sit in the pews in order to correctly answer the final exam, but Wanner has found the means to do so.

“We include this visit in the curriculum so that students may understand more clearly that our culture and family experiences help to shape our own spirituality,” said Wanner.

He hopes the students get a different experience of the Eucharist, taking native culture into account.

The Second Vatican Council allowed certain parts of the Mass to adapt to local and cultural differences. But Wanner said that incorporating cultural traditions into Mass is not easy.

“There is always danger of confusion. Do we lose anything in trying to translate the liturgy into a people’s culture and traditions? At Sacred Heart, it seems that (pastor) Fr. Jim Holland, OMI, and the (parishioners) make an effort to keep the balance.”

Aboriginal spirituality is a way of life for Sacred Heart parishioners. It is not viewed as a particular religion. The Mass is centred on the Creator, God in the Roman Catholic tradition. There is a holistic  feeling of serenity within the church that people, nature and the earth as a whole have a certain energy and responsibility to one another that deserves reverence and respect. Everything belongs to the Creator.

The church elders have a certain responsibility to model the teachings of the Creator and  pass tradition and knowledge, respect, care for the earth, awareness, sharing and community to younger generations and people within the church.

“The Sacred Circle is prominent. We all have a place. The spirit of welcoming and sharing time is most evident. There is no rush to  begin or conclude,” said Wanner.

He said the reactions of most students who visit the church have been positive.

“The students in (my course), whether Catholic or from some other Christian tradition, seem to be impressed by the Christian art in the church which is clearly from the tradition of the First Peoples.

“The sincerity of the people, their involvement in singing and praying, tends to be obvious to visitors including our students.”

“The building itself looks just like any other church.... However, it has a community and spirit to it like no other,” said Bokenfohr. “There’s the distinct smell of sweet grass and a ritualistic blessing where you can actually feel God’s presence flowing right through you.”

Bokenfohr said musicians are not afraid to feel, experience and relate the wonder and beauty of God’s love through their music.

“Each member of that congregation ensures that they shake each persons’ hand or personally welcomes each and every child of God into their home,” said Bokenfohr. “It is an experience of God that I feel blessed to have experienced.”

(White, 22, studies psychology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.)

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