By Barb Arland-Fye
Mark Comer, a classmate in our Sacraments class, asked if he could show me a PowerPoint presentation AFTER the end of our 12-hour day Saturday.
He and another classmate, John Osborne — both deacon candidates — had participated in a field experience on two Native American reservations in Nebraska last month. The experience had a profound impact on Mark and John and they wanted to share their story.
They had learned about the Winnebago and Omaha reservations from deacon candidate Dave Sallen, who spent a month there last summer. His wife, Sheila, had joined him for the last week, helping out in a food pantry on the Omaha reservation. So, the couple was interested in viewing the PowerPoint, too.
I scribbled notes for a future story as the four missioners described life on the reservations. They specifically chose to work with the St. Augustine Indian Mission, which serves both the Winnebago and Omaha tribes. They were fascinated to see how the Native Americans embraced their Catholic faith and their cultural heritage. Members of both tribes made their guests feel at home and invited them to participate in cultural rituals, such as the sweat lodge, and community meals. The deacon candidates stressed that nothing they witnessed conflicted with the teachings of the Catholic faith. The pastor of St. Augustine and the priest who directs the mission celebrate the Catholic faith within the cultural context of their parishioners’ lives.
John and Mark were affected by the poverty and the needs of the people they encountered during their brief stay on the reservations. They also recognized the need for systemic change, as did Dave and Sheila. “People ask, ‘What can we do in our diocese for them?’ I would say the number one thing is prayer,” said Dave.
One observation they made struck me as especially powerful and relevant to what we have been learning in the sacraments class led by Deacon Frank Agnoli of the Diocese of Davenport and Corinne Winter, a theology professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Following their whirlwind tour of the reservations, Mark and John attended a Readers’ Theater in Sioux City, Iowa, that told the story of the cause of the great suffering of Native Americans. Afterwards, a college student in the audience asked what he could do to help fix the problems. The Native American who accompanied Mark and John to the event explained that it’s not about fixing anything. The people desire self-sufficiency.
“They say they don’t want to be fixed; they want you working there alongside of them,” Dave said.
In our lectures and studies, particularly about the Eucharist, we have learned that Jesus’ gift of self-sacrifice, which we are so blessed to receive, requires us to be gift to others. The role of the deacon, which my classmates hope to fulfill, is one of service — both in Church and in the world.
“The taking and collecting of gifts for the Eucharist always implies the sharing of some of those gifts with the poor and needy,” Kevin W. Irwin says in his book, “Models of the Eucharist.” “The symbolism of the deacon as one who ministers both at the altar and to the poor outside the liturgy personifies and exemplifies this ritual.”
Dave shares another observation about Eucharist, based on his month-long experience on the Nebraska reservations. Any time there was cause for a celebration, the people held a potluck with plenty of native food to share with others. It gave him a sense of Eucharist because these potlucks would come after the tribe members had received the Eucharist at Mass. They came together as community, bonded by shared values, traditions and rituals. “What struck me is how Catholic they are,” Dave said.
For more information, or to support the mission, contact St. Augustine Indian Mission, P.O. Box GG, Mission Road 1 South, Winnebago, NE, 68071 or visit the website: www.staugustinemission.com.