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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ Bringing Our World Together: A Reconciling Christian Community

Bridges! They are amazing things. What is most remarkable about them is that they allow us to cross divides, to overcome what stands between us and others. Bridges are an essential piece of building communities and nurturing our relationships with one another.

Ivo Andric was a Yugoslavian author of Bosnian origin. In 1961 he was awarded the nobel prize for literature. What is regarded as his greatest work, The Bridge on the Drina is a novel depicting the struggles of the people of Bosnia for the 300 years leading up to World War I.

Andric tells the tale through the story of a bridge over the River Drina. The principal character in the novel is the bridge itself. The story relates what the bridge did for the people of the small town and region of Visegrad. It brought the community together and linked it to the bigger world. Bridges do that, overcoming our separations and divides. They can connect and reconcile us.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus in a series of parables (15:1-32) presents us with the core of God’s dream for us – a dream of reconciling and healing love. We discover what Jesus meant when he proclaimed the Reign of God is among us. It is seen when we find ourselves in communities marked by reconciling love, in a world marked by peace. God’s love bridges our divides. We profess this saying: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Recently, we have become more aware of a great divide in our society. For generations Indigenous peoples have suffered a form of cultural genocide. Placing indigenous children in residential schools to erase their culture and language has done lasting damage to families and communities in Canada. The foundation of the schools was something of Europe’s history.

The 15th century saw European trade, sovereignty, culture and religion expand beyond Europe’s borders. Traders and explorers found their way around Africa and eastward to Asia. They also went westward across the Atlantic to the Americas.

This became known as European Expansion. It was a time of conquest and colonization. Given the close connection between rulers and religion, church and state in this period it is no surprise that the church played a part in this expansion. The term “Doctrine of Discovery” expresses this involvement or complicity. It had an impact on indigenous peoples. The “Doctrine” though not a real doctrine, is a term used to describe the way the church played a role in the expansion around the globe.

Several 15thcentury papal documents (“Papal Bulls”) articulated the Vatican support for the expansion first of Portuguese and then of Spanish explorers and conquerors. Later the principles were used to cover other Europeans encountering indigenous peoples. As Pope Francis visited to apologize for the complicity of the church in residential schools there was a call to rescind the “doctrine”. The papal bulls were not doctrinal statements but in someway, the “Doctrine of Discovery” was an affirmation for European conquest and colonization of indigenous peoples in the 15th century. It was also used to justify later attacks or limits on their rights and property.

The church has spoken up frequently against such limitations of human rights. Vatican II, repeatedly asserted freedom of religious rights as well as human rights in general .To reconcile our differences, to heal the wounds that separate us and to be builders of bridges, rather than walls, this is who we are to be. Our communities are communities of bridges, not barriers and walls.

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