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September 2, 2002

Anahim Lake builds new church


Out of the ashes of a demolished church and the broken hearts of the Anahim Lake Catholic community has come revived hope with the blessing July 6 of a brand new Our Lady of the Blessed Visitation Church by Archbishop Adam Exner.

Just a year ago, Anahim Lake’s 600 residents were plunged into mourning at news of the death of Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Brian Ballard. The priest perished near Valemont, B.C., when his float plane crashed on the way to a conference in Alberta. His Oblate companion on the trip, Father Ivan McCormack, also died.

News of the tragic accident came a week after Anahim Lake’s parish church was demolished to make way for new construction. As the one event followed so quickly on the other, the close-knit residents found themselves reeling.

Father Ballard had been coming to Anahim Lake since 1991, flying in regularly from his base in Smithers. Anahim Lake was one of two communities he served in the Vancouver archdiocese; the other was Bella Coola.

But now the community is looking to the future, as Father Maynard Boomars, now priest for both Anahim Lake and Bella Coola, concelebrated the Mass for the blessing of the church with the archbishop.

As they paused to celebrate, some members of the Ulkatcho First Nations reflected on how, by throwing themselves into the church’s creation, they have found healing.

Seventy-nine-year old Mack Squinas, known to many as the “church chief,” says he is particularly proud of the new steeple in which the old church bell is now mounted.

“The bell is 20 feet up there,” Squinas reflected, “It’s really nice. A real nice church.”

Countless volunteers joined the paid workers in every aspect of the church building, said a spokesperson. Some cut the timbers on the community’s small portable sawmill while others assisted as the foundation was poured and the subfloor laid.

Timber by timber, board by board, and nail by nail, the new church took shape. When the snows came, construction had to stop as everyone waited for better weather. All fund-raising was done by the community.

Father Boomars, who lives on the Anaham Reserve near Alexis Creek more than 200 kilometres east of Anahim Lake, says he covers a good 700-kilometre radius, crisscrossing territory in and out of 11 Cariboo-Chilcotin missions from Alkali Lake, Dog Creek and Alexandria in the east, along the Fraser River and clear across the Chilcotin to the tideflats of Bella Coola.

In his absence, Anahim Lake is served by lay ministers Bill Mero and Allan Louie who host gatherings and, over the past year, have held Communion services in the two-room rectory. Bill’s wife Margaret helps out with visiting the sick.

The new church, which holds about 200 people, was filled to the brim for the Mass of Blessing. A salmon dinner was served later and the archbishop was presented with a ceremonial blanket.

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