- Fr. John Jennings
OUR SACRED STORIES ~ POPE FRANCIS HAS VISITED CANADA: WHY & SO WHAT?
“I wish I had never said that. If only I could get it back. It has been so hurtful and has broken our relationship. How can I repair what I have done?” We all have said or done things, that we later lament. Much as we wish to change our past, we cannot do that. We can however move forward on a new path aimed at healing and reconciling our past hurts and wounds. The whole idea of reconciliation is to heal a wounded relationship with another.
In order to reconcile the first step is to admit our wrong, to say “I am sorry” and to seek forgiveness. In relationships, the longer more significant step is to begin rebuilding trust and the readiness to live and act together. This is the most difficult step in reconciliation. Ultimately, it is what we seek.
In 1971, Canada declared itself a “multicultural” country. We acknowledged that we are a patchwork quilt of peoples, races, cultures, faiths that have come together as Canadian from many different origins. One of the ironies of this experience for our country is that while we express an awareness of our mixed roots, we have to admit that the root or culture that we least acknowledge and honour is the culture that has been in our country the longest. The indigenous peoples of Canada were here long before the rest of us or our ancestors ever thought of this land.
More recently, we have come to realize that we not only have ignored or dismissed these peoples, we have deeply hurt them and their culture. Quite the contrary to the principle of multiculturalism, for a long time Canada sought to assimilate or erase the culture and languages of our indigenous peoples.
Beginning in the last half of the 19th century, Canada began to establish residential schools for indigenous children. By removing children from their families and communities, their culture and language, our country sought to “take the indian out of the child” as several expressed it. The recent reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have referred to the schools as a form of cultural genocide, an effort to erase indigenous culture.
Our Catholic church was called upon and agreed to running a significant number of these residential schools. Thus we became partners in the effort to erase the culture and language of these children – to make them what was deemed to be “Canadian”.
Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in the last week of July has been a “penitential pilgrimage” to say “I am sorry”. In some ways he apologizes for the whole church. But perhaps more importantly, as Jesus would do, Pope Francis presents the face that every Catholic should present – we can all say “I am sorry for what has happened and for the wounding that it has brought upon our indigenous peoples. We bear the scar and pain of what was done in our name to our sisters and brothers in the indigenous communities.
Now it is time for us to accept our responsibility for healing. A good place to begin in every parish and community is with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, in particular items #58 - 61 which present steps for reconciliation by the church. It will be a long road and a difficult one. But it is a road to rebuilding our relationship, our trust and our openness to one another. Pope Francis apologized, but more significantly, he was present to them personally. Can we do the same in our own parishes and communities?