The 400th anniversary celebration of a Nova Scotian chief's baptism will be held next week. His baptism, along with others from the Mi'kmaq people represent the first conversions to the Roman Catholic Church in the area.
The celebration commemorating 400 years since the baptism of Grand Chief Henri Membertou of the Mi'kmaq People will take place on Chapel Island, Nova Scotia this coming Aug. 1.
A letter released by the Holy See's Press Office on Saturday announced that newly appointed prefect of the Congregation for bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, will be attending on the Pope's behalf.
Bishop of Antigonish, Brian Joseph Dunn, explained the significance of the occasion in a pastoral letter earlier this month. Congratulating the Mi'kmaq people on their faith since the leader converted to Christianity four centuries ago, Bishop Dunn recalled why this anniversary is "such a momentous occasion for all in this diocese." Grand Chief Henri Membertou was baptized by French explorers, thus becoming the first indigenous leader to become Christian, being joined in baptism that day in 1610 by the rest of his family. Bishop Dunn said that he took on his responsibilities as a committed Christian, also urging Jesuit missionaries to preach in the Mi'kmaq language. Following his lead, the Christian faith became a part of the people's culture, he wrote, and has continued up to today, "to such an extent that virtually each Mi’kmaq person continues the tradition of being baptized. "The Mi’kmaq people are truly the first Roman Catholics in this land and their descendants practiced the Christian faith even before the arrival of any permanent European settlement."
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In 1652, Father Gabriel Druillettes
, a Jesuit missionary to the Abenaki, reports seeing the Mi'kmaq use ideograms to record lessons in the "Jesuit Relations" of that year: "Some of them wrote out their lessons in their own manner. They made use of a small piece of charcoal instead of a pen, and a piece of bark instead of paper. Their characters are novel, and so individual that one could not know or understand the writing of the other; that is to say, that they made use of certain marks according to their own ideas as of a local memory to preserve the points and the articles and the maxims which they had remembered. They carried away this paper with them to study in the repose of the night." In 1677 Father Chrétien Le Clercq, a Franciscan Récollet, made note in his journals of observing Mi'kmaq children taking notes using charcoal and birch bark as he was teaching them prayers. Seeing this as an opportunity for more effective teaching, Father Le Clercq, an accomplished linguist, learned the ideogrammatic system, and expanded it with Mi'kmaw-esque symbols to express Judeo-Christian concepts that had no representation in the Mi'kmaw symbology. In 1691 he published "Nouvelle relation de la Gaspésie" in Paris, wherein he discusses his development of this writing system: