My Catholic roots are woven throughout the memories of my childhood. Friday evening Rosaries, listening to the clicking of the beads as they passed through my mother’s fingers, her whispered Hail Mary’s as she prayed the decades and began the cycle again and again as I impatiently waited for it to be over so my sister and I could go out and play.
Saturday afternoons in the quiet of the church where my sister and I helped her ‘do the flowers’. The careful carrying of the vases of week old flowers to the sink in the back of the sacristy, the pouring out of the stale water, the careful selecting out of still living plants and the placement of the new flowers that waited by the sink, wrapped up in old newspaper.
Then there was Sunday morning with its inevitable rush of getting four children all dressed up in Sunday best, out the door and in the car and down the road to church. Sitting on the hard benches. Swinging my legs, looking around, being poked by my sister and poking her back and then, the inevitable admonition from my mother to sit still, be quiet, pay attention. On Sundays, there was no breakfast until after the 10am Mass. I prayed the sermon would be short, the greetings afterwards of neighbours and friends even shorter. Always, my father would meet someone and invite them back for breakfast. Always, they came. My father’s breakfasts were legendary.
Coming to Barry’s Bay to visit Andrew and Ursula has become a tradition C.C. and I treasure. In the past, we have come in the fall to witness the turning of the leaves and to spend the ebbing of the summer season with our hosts as they prepared to return to Calgary for the winter. Andrew and Ursula, like so many people of Polish descent, are fiercely proud of their heritage. In 1859, the Kashub’s fled Poland to settle in the Barry’s Bay area in what is recognized as the first Polish settlement in Canada. Streets, towns, valleys, rivers, lakes all bear the mark of this proud people and their efforts to settle what was then a wild and unpopulated area of the country.
As a young married couple, Ursula and Andrew brought their family to Barry’s Bay every summer to the secluded bay where their beautiful summer home now sits. Back then, the family lived within the confines of a one room cottage that served as kitchen, eating area and sleeping quarters for their family of 5. Today, the land Andrew’s father purchased over 60 years ago with two friends, has been subdivided into 4 lots where Andrew, his brother, Conrad and two other sons of the original owners have built their summer retreats. Surrounded on either side by Crown Lands, there are no other cottages on the bay. It is quiet, serene and peaceful. And it is steeped in Polish tradition.
Whenever we’ve come in the fall, we’ve visited the site of the Karpaty Scout Camp a place where Ursula came as a young girl and later as a young wife to share her love of the outdoors and Polish tradition. For 50 years, the Camp has been the site of hundreds of a jamboree where young boys and girls come to the banks of Halfway Lake where the Karpaty is located, to learn the ways of the forest, and always, the ways of the Catholic church.
At the Karpaty is a “Cathedral in the Pines” where every Sunday during the Scout camps, mass is celebrated outdoors.
Yesterday was the beginning of the Scout Camp jamboree. It was also the first mass of the season and the Bishop, as well as the Polish ambassador were in attendance. We had to go.
It seems that no matter how far I have come from wondering where God lived from Monday to Saturday, and wanting to know why girls couldn’t be priests, the rituals of my childhood run deep within my body. As we sat outdoors and the congregation prayed and the priest recited the liturgy in Polish, the responses came naturally to my mind.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Lord God of Hosts.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Full are heaven and earth of thy glory.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Hosanna in the highest.
Yesterday, I sat amidst the pines, listening to the mass recited in Polish, and felt connected to life, to nature and to a faith I have long ago left behind as I learned to carve my own spiritual path in the world.
And yesterday, I was reminded that no matter what path I carve, it is the security of my roots that gives me the freedom today to explore my path without fearing where it will lead me. For in my roots is the unshakable belief that even though I no longer practice the faith of my childhood, this is a world of glory, and this is a life to be lived in joy and Love in a universe of great mystery and wonder.