For the fourth consecutive year, a group of undergraduate students from Kings University College came to the 24th annual Pine Channel Spiritual Gathering in northern Saskatchewan. Located on the north side of Lake Athabasca, the site is an impressive sign of the faith of the communities of the Athabasca Dene peoples.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at the Pine Channel – the pilgrimage site of the communities of Fond Du Lac, Black Lake, and Stony Rapids in the Athabasca region of northern Saskatchewan, on the traditional lands of the Chipewyan Dene people. The site is, well, out of this world …and yet …very much in this world. It is located half-way between the Fond du Lac and Black Lake communities on a long-extending island on the north side of Lake Athabasca. It is located in some of the most beautiful and pristine environment in this region. From the newly re-built dock, a long red wooden pathway leads to a freshly-painted large open-air permanent structure that is the main body of a church/ worship space. At the front end is a raised sanctuary where the altar and Blessed Sacrament in positioned.
Upon my arrival I was greeted by the great gathering of people who warmly welcomed me to this special place of retreat and sanctuary! I was also immediately introduced to a team of talented and energetic students who seemed to be very devoted to their role and participation in this special spiritual gathering. Students were from the Catholic teachers program and social work program at Kings. Guided by their chaplain, Father Michael Bechard, the students participated in a range of activities for children and youth throughout the week-long pilgrimage. The students also joined along-side of the other pilgrims for rosary, Holy Eucharist, and the various liturgies throughout the week which featured a blessing ritual in support of married couples, and a blessing and commitment ritual for persons struggling with coming off of addictions.
However, perhaps the most memorable image I have of the Kings students was how young people gathering around the Kings students – to simply ‘hang out’ with them and experience their warm hospitality. Many afternoons and evenings featured a large group of children and young people huddling around the cooking fire, being entertained and inspired through their interaction with individual students – who were inspiring examples of servant leadership and caring friendship. The diocese looks forward to building on the developing legacy of Kings at Pine Channel.