Our former pastor Fr. Nicanor Sarmiento is fully engaged in his new assignment at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Aboriginal Parish in Winnipeg.
Fr. Nicanor serves as a member of a team of four Oblates who work with the city’s aboriginal community. As pastor, he is the face of the parish. The other team members provide counselling and support services, work with prisoners, and encourage native/non-native dialogue. The group prays together and shares a common vision.
Once an Oblate parish, St. Kateri Tekakwitha became a diocesan parish six or seven years ago, but struggled during the period since then. The Oblates resumed their leadership role in 2015, and Fr. Nicanor was installed as pastor in early October. His aim is to build back community life in the parish.
The parish’s approximately 125 people come from all over the city and from afar, including the Archdioceses of Winnipeg, St. Boniface, and Keewatin-Le Pas and the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay. The parishioners are mostly Ojibway, Cree, Oji-Cree, Metis and Dakota.
Fr. Nicanor has already begun to build bonds with his parishioners, drawing on his own aboriginal heritage and his past ministry to the Innu in Labrador. He is encouraging the incorporation into the liturgy of such aboriginal traditions as smudging, the Prayer of the Four Directions, and the water ceremony.
He has also increased the parish council from three to nine people, and worked to build a team with the parish staff through daily lunches together and weekly staff meetings. As he did in his first days at Canadian Martyrs, he is making a point of sitting in on all ministry and committee events and activities.
One of Father’s first initiatives has been the creation of an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) ministry. The group of 27 adults and children is now journeying together towards receipt at Easter of the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion.
Another new idea – borrowed from Canadian Martyrs – is Lunch and Learn sessions. Sixty people attended the first one, in which Father Nicanor talked about the Vision of the Church of Pope Francis. The next session will be on the Returning to Spirit reconciliation workshop that promotes dialogue between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.
“Ours is a poor parish,” Fr. Nicanor notes, “subsidized by the diocese. I’m hoping that we can build bonds with sister parishes, in the Winnipeg Archdiocese or among Oblate parishes elsewhere. Perhaps even Canadian Martyrs,” he says with a smile.
At every Mass, Fr. Nicanor says, he prays to the Canadian Martyrs. We may want to pray, too, for the success of his mission in Winnipeg.