.- 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 Miâkmaq person continues the tradition of being baptized.
"The Miâkmaq 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."
Bishop Dunn said that the Great Chief's baptism has served to "bridge the gap between the native and non-native cultures" and ensured that the legacy of the faith was passed down through the ages, in spite of great difficulties.
Turning to the celebration at hand, the Bishop of Antigonish invited all members of the diocese, Mi'kmaq and otherwise, to take part in the Eucharistic celebration to be presided over by Cardinal Ouellet on Aug. 1.
He also hoped that the 400-year milestone would challenge the diocese "to foster a vision for the future that recognizes the great diversity that exists within the unity of (the) diocese.
"May it enable us to grow in our appreciation for the Miâkmaq people and their contribution to this whole diocese."