Thursday, August 22, 2013

You went to Canada, 'eh?

That's right, as FOCUS teams we like to take a little fun team retreat before the craziness of fall outreach ensues, so BLT planned a trip for our team to drive up nort' to Canada! 'Twas quite the trip, let me tell you and it's funny how much can be packed into a mere 24 hours.

First things first, the drive up. We got to the Canadian border patrol and figured they'd look at our passports, not stamp them, and then just send us on our merry little way, seeing as that's what happened two years ago when a few of us took a trip up. Apparently the way they do things has changed a little bit and they actually invite us to pull off to the side and bring ourselves inside. We walk up to the counter with the yellow slip given to us by the officer at the window and essentially have no idea what's going on. We're Catholic missionaries for cryin' out loud, what harm can we really do?

Officer Tait looks at us, then tells us he's going to run our names through governmental criminal background checks and "if there's any reason you think something might come up just stand right here. Otherwise you can have a seat." We all laugh, except TJ, and Bryan, Jane and I walk back to our seats while TJ stands there, looking nervous.


Ha! Just kidding, we all walk to the chairs in the back, including TJ. But I had you going there for a second, didn't I? About 15 minutes later officer Tait stamps our passports, hands them back to us and sends us on our way.

We arrive to Winnipeg about an hour and a half later, dine at the fine establishment of A&W after having a good laugh about a place nearby called Shila Buffet. I see the sign and start laughing so hard, thinking it sounds just like Shia Labeouf and apparently that's hilarious. Feeling silly, we continue driving towards our hotel, the Marlborough downtown. The hotel has seemingly sold Jane and I's room, so we get upgraded to a suite. Thinking it will be like an American hotel suite, we instantly get excited. That, however, is not the case and the "suite" is actually just your average two queen-size bed room. Let's be real, no complaints here, staying in hotels is always a fun treat and the beds are cloud-like and perfect for a nap.

Speaking of naps, soon after we arrive all four of us lay down and take a much-needed snooze, Jane and I sleeping for nearly an hour. We meet the guys and walk around the "French quarter," seeing a beautiful old church that burned down in 1969 along with the Forks marketplace, a Winnipeg classic. There's a coffee shop there that catches everyone's attention, Bryan, TJ and Jane all giggle and I look over and read, "Human Bean, Fuel for the Human Race" and think, "Hm, that's cute." After the team gets a good laugh it finally hits me that it's a pun...human bean...human being. I laugh about 30 seconds later. KMK, always a little slow on the uptake.

We proceed to walk outside and sit by the water because a 25-person canoe and "interpretive paddling adventure" is about to commence. As soon as I sit down I feel nauseous and can't think about anything except not wanting to toss my cookies. Luckily, that doesn't happen and we soon make our way back to the hotel to have a rest before dinner.

The rest coupled with a 7-up works it's wonders and we head out the door around 8 pm to a fine establishment called the Peasant Cookery. We eat some of the most delicious French food we've ever eaten, mostly because we haven't had too much experience in that area of cuisine. I order the french onion soup and let me tell you, definitely the best cup of french onion I've ever eaten. On top of great food, I'll be honest, the waitresses are hands down the most knowledgeable waitstaff I've ever dined with, so that's also a treat.We sit and enjoy our meals and make our way out the door about two hours later. What a dining experience!

After dinner we have a much-needed stroll back to the Marlborough where we proceed to laugh and laugh and laugh. Jane has a great idea for a fun conversation game, so we each end up having to tell a story, however long or short we want, using one noun chosen by a teammate. Let's just say the word Bryan chooses for me is "diamond" and I could use a little practice in tying up a nice story with a good conclusion.

The next morning is where the fun really begins. Our only plan is to go to the Divine Liturgy at a nearby Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, and TJ and Bryan have already looked it up and keep telling us how much we are going to absolutely love it. We arrive to the Cathedral an hour early to pray a holy hour and one of my biggest hesitations becomes a reality: it's locked. Every single door, locked. Luckily there's a groundskeeper outside working in his garage and Bryan asks him in plain English when the doors are opened and where Mass is. I say plain English because it doesn't take long to realize that this man does not speak the language very well at all; it's almost as if he's arrived straight from Ukraine. He confusedly tells us to go across the street, second floor. We come to find out that every morning the priest does the Divine Liturgy in the St. Josaphat Villa (a.k.a. retirement home) for the elderly men and women that have a difficulty crossing the street and walking up the steps every morning.

We have to wait outside for a while to get in, but luckily the morning is beautiful. As soon as we get in, and walk up to the second floor there is a tiny little room with a handful of Ukrainian 80-somethings praying, and clearly talking about us, although we do not understand a word. They smile nicely, wondering what the heck we're doing here and we sit there, taking in the beautiful icons and cross-stitched cloths hanging around.

About 15 minutes later a priest comes in, walks up to TJ and Bryan and scarily says something in Ukrainian. Within a minute he goes from being the world's scariest priest to the world's friendliest, and as soon as he finds out we're Catholic missionaries he's absolutely delighted. One of the ladies hands us each a book to follow along with the liturgy, in both Ukrainian and English. The entire Divine Liturgy is shorter than usual, kind of like a daily mass for us Roman Catholics, but I would really like to experience an entire liturgy with the incense and all someday in the future. Luckily I think TJ can help me with that, he is a Byzantine Catholic after all.
Tour guide, Margaret.
Ukrainian Cathedral and iconostasis. So beautiful.
After the Divine Liturgy the priest tells us that Margaret will take us over and show us the Cathedral, which she does with great delight. Not only does she give us an incredible tour with explanations, as we're about to leave and head to the next place (to which she will end up taking us) she says, "Oh, I almost forgot one more thing!" Thinking it's probably something to do with the Liturgy or some sort of artwork, she takes us back to the sacristy and shows us this old and kind of ugly fabric-covered kneeler. She points to it and says, "When Pope John Paul II, who is about to be canonized a Saint, you know, visited our Cathedral, he prayed on this kneeler for quite some time and now it's a second class relic. Would you like to pray on it?"

Are you SERIOUS?! Any Catholic's dream right here! Each of us get to spend some time praying on this kneeler, asking Bl. JPII's intercession for the year! What an incredible surprise!
Praying on JPII's kneeler!
After that she takes us to the tomb of a Bishop-Martyr, Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky, where we got a nice tour and prayed there, begging him for healing graces as well. Awesome! She then proceeds to treat us to lunch at the nicest Chinese buffet we've ever eaten at and then takes us to one more church, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church and then sends us on our way.
At the tomb of Blessed Vasyl
Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Ukrainian Orthodox Church facade
We went from having one plan, seeing the Cathedral and going to Divine Liturgy, to seeing some of the most beautiful churches and praying with the Saints! Such an awesome team offsite!

And now today we head out to Hankinson with all the student missionaries for a little back-to-school workshop/retreat. So pumped! Please pray for us, we can use all the prayers we can get these days. Only a few more days until freshman move-in!

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