A Continuous Mission Outreach through the Parish caring for an Immigrant Community and for First Nations Communities in the Parishes of Elsipogtop and Indian Island in Canada

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A Redemptorist from the Province of Canada, Fr Bernard Gauthier has been Pastor of the Rexton Parish in Elsipogtog. Elsipogtog First Nation is a Mi’kmag community about 91 km northwest of Moncton, New Brunswick. Known for many years as Big Cove, in 2003 the First Nation officially changed its name to Elsipogtog, meaning “river of fire.” However, they are still commonly referred to as Big Cove. Community members largely speak Mi’kmaw and English.

Fr. Bernard spoke to Fr Joseph Ivel Mendanha, C.Ss. R. about the nature of his Redemptorist ministry among the Immigrant Community and the First Nations communities. The parish of Rexton is a small parish that welcomed many immigrants since the last 10 years. Most of them are from the Philippines. They live in Rexton and other villages around. He was working in Rexton from July 2005 to July 2011, was away for 9 years and then returned in July 2020. He now continues to serve the largely Immigrant community in the parish making sure that they feel welcomed and at home in the parish.

The parishes of Elsipogtog and Indian Island are for Aboriginal peoples and are growing fast. He worked in both from 2003 to 2011, was away for 9 years and came back in July 2020. The nature of his work is parish pastoral ministry.

Fr. Bernard sees himself as a Redemptorist Missionary of Hope in the Footsteps of the Redeemer through this parish ministry among two very special groups of people, both experiencing a form of abandonment by society and the Church. He sees himself as someone who tries to be available to the people both of the First nations and of the Immigrant community no matter what the occasion that presents itself in their lives. These occasions are Divinely ordained moments to help these abandoned people to know and enter more into and experience of the Love of God.

Speaking about the highlights and moments of satisfaction in this ministry, Fr Bernard states that there are moments where he sees the growing communion between the « old » parishioners and the new ones, moments of individual or family conversations about faith and personal life on a journey with Jesus. His role is to facilitate this faith encounter and encourage communion and a welcoming spirit in the community among all groups.

This ministry is not without its challenges. Some of these are The cultural adjustments required with the two groups, racism experienced by both groups and the need for healing and reconciliation between the Aboriginal people and the Catholic Church after the multiple cases of abuses of all kinds across the country.

As a Redemptorist, a Missionary of Hope in the footsteps of the Redemer, Fr. Bernard Gauthier seeks to serve the parish community which has both First Nations people and an Immigrant community helping the life and at home in the parish, to express themselves, to take an active part in Church and parish life, and celebrate their faith through their own cultural identity.

As shared with Fr Joseph Ivel Mendanha, C.Ss.R. (General Consultor)