Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Holy soldier of God

Local pastor takes on theatre role of selfless Second World War chaplain

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After dozens of performances as military chaplain Jack Foote, the story of the Second World War veteran is hitting closer to home these days for Winnipeg playwright Marc Moir.

That's because the West End resident -- now a youth pastor -- understands the challenges of ministry in a different way.

"It's not like any other job in the world," Moir says of his job as a pastoral intern at Cross Church, 1787 Logan Ave.

"Your job is to reflect and to be the arms and legs and heart of Jesus to the kids."

Padre X, Moir's 75-minute solo show about Foote, is scheduled for four performances at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa over the Remembrance Day weekend, including one on Sunday.

"It was an easy fit within the context of Remembrance Day," explains Yves Poirier, program planner at the museum. He says about 5,000 visitors are expected at the museum on Nov. 11.

In Padre X, Moir dons a vintage Canadian army uniform to tell the story of John Weir Foote, a Presbyterian minister from Port Hope, Ont., who enlisted in the Canadian army in December 1939.

A member of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Foote was one of the 6,000 or so troops in the raid on Dieppe, France, where thousands were injured or killed. During the bloody battle on the beaches of Dieppe, Foote rescued injured soldiers and allowed himself to be captured so he could continue ministering to his men.

"He wasn't supposed to go on the (Dieppe) raid. He snuck along," explains Moir, 27, who as a child read about the chaplain's heroic acts in a 1948 elementary school reader owned by his father.

"He said if the men are going, I'm going."

Moir returned to Weir's story in 2008 and was struck again by the selflessness Foote demonstrated during Dieppe and during his three years as a prisoner of war.

"The greatest appeal of Foote's story is hope. He was man of courage and conviction," says Moir, now completing the last course for an undergraduate degree at Providence University College.

A hit on the fringe festival circuit, Moir has also performed Padre X at churches and legion halls and won the award for outstanding drama at the Ottawa festival in 2011. During his Ottawa gig, he visited the war museum to learn more about Weir, the only Canadian military chaplain to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Winnipegger paged through Foote's small, military-issue New Testament, held in the museum's archives, and read the chaplain's notes in it, most likely made during his imprisonment.

"It has lots of handwritten notes and lots of passages pertaining to peace were underlined in it," Moir says of the khaki-coloured book.

"On the inside front cover was the date of his capture and the date of his release."

During his captivity, Foote counselled and prayed with the other Canadian prisoners and offered them practical help in writing letters home or continuing their studies. As an officer, Foote was entitled to better treatment than enlisted men but he refused it, says Moir.

"He was truly a servant to his people. He was a very humble man. He lived to serve and put himself in harm's way," says Moir, who works with at-risk youth from the northwest Winnipeg neighbourhood surrounding his church.

Originally attracted to Foote's story for its dramatic qualities, Moir is now finding new layers to the tale of a military chaplain who stayed with his men, no matter what the danger.

He's been inspired by Foote's strong and unwavering call to serve as a military chaplain, and after several years of trying to make a living as a writer and actor, the father of one realized his true calling was in Christian ministry.

Now his days are filled with counselling teenagers, co-ordinating volunteers, organizing mission trips and planning and serving weekly meals to the 60 members of his youth group.

"I had a call in my life and I was running away, doing my own thing," says Moir, who dreamed as a child of becoming a soldier.

"Now I get to encapsulate the three things I love doing -- I get to play a soldier, be an actor and be a minister."

brenda@suderman.com

Winnipeg connection

Next Remembrance Day, a scuffed pair of boots from Winnipeg will help promote peace at the Canadian War Museum.

The leather workboots worn by Elmon Lichti, a Mennonite conscientious objector from Tavistock, Ont., during the Second World War, are part of a peace exhibit scheduled to open May 30, 2013, and run until Feb. 9, 2014.

Although the war museum initially asked to borrow the boots more than three years ago, they're still packed away at the Mennonite Heritage Centre archives at 600 Shaftesbury Blvd. because the exhibit was delayed, says archivist Conrad Stoesz.

"The good news is that (the exhibit) is going to be longer and larger than originally planned," says Stoesz, who is happy it will run during the peak summer tourist season.

Stoesz will also send a package of metal tacks Lichti used on the bottom of his boots for better traction, as well as photographs of other men who served as conscientious objectors. Stoesz has developed a website telling the story of conscientious objectors at www.alternativeservice.ca .

This loan marks the first time an artifact from the Winnipeg-based Mennonite archives will be displayed at a national museum, and it is also thought it will be the only artifact from Mennonites at the Canadian War Museum.

About 10,000 men, many of them Mennonites, were conscientious objectors during the Second World War. They built roads and planted trees as an alternative to serving in the military.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 0

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