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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories ~ Truth and Reconciliation: Opening Up and Reaching Out

Eating is important, in fact essential. The obvious reason is that eating sustains the life of our bodies. There are, however other human needs that are fed by eating. Meals are points of meeting others, occasions for sharing with others. They enrich our sense of relationship with one another and offer occasions to gather, acknowledging we do not live solitary lives. Even our faith is fed with a meal.

Among our sacraments, the Eucharistic meal is the point which most fully gathers us. In it we see that as church we are a community of faith and action, sharing common needs, hopes and dreams. It may be so commonplace that we do not notice our Eucharist is where we are most recognizable as a community expressing the love and mercy of our God. It calls us to be open and welcoming to “the other”. It is also where we recognize our failures to be the face of Jesus, open to all without question or limit. This is a failure of our faith. It is what lay at the heart of Pope Francis’s visit to Canada.

Pope Francis came specifically to be among the indigenous peoples of our country. His prime intention was to offer an apology for the mistreatment of their communities, their children and families. His focus was the indigenous residential schools, established by the Canadian government in the 19th and 20th centuries and operated by various Christian churches, most often the Catholic church.

The schools were intended to provide education for these communities, but also to assimilate the children and ultimately their communities into Canadian society. Doing so, meant that the schools would remove the children from their families, place them in residences and work to erase their indigenous language and culture. This experience brought long-term harm to the children, their families and to indigenous communities across the country and it remains with them to this day. The pope’s apology was expressed with sincerity and sensitivity.

Pope Francis apologized for the church’s role in the hurts and harm to indigenous communities and families and he openly stated that this was a form of cultural genocide. He asked for forgiveness, but also recognized that reconciliation is a process of rebuilding a relationship. To do so requires a change of heart. In this instance, for the church, it means honouring the richness of their faith, an openness to the expressions of this faith in their cultures and a readiness to see that we have much to learn from them. It means listening, opening up and reaching out.

Luke’s Gospel account (Luke 14:1, 7-14) presents a story of Jesus accepting a dinner invitation from a leader of the Pharisees. He notes how people seem to be focused on the seating arrangement of the guests and encourages them not seek the highest place at table. However, the real indication of Jesus and his mission comes when he advises his host (and us) “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind,” a challenge to offer openness to all.

Jesus offers an example to us as disciples. His primary concern is the vulnerable ones. Their condition offers them no advantage. His openness, however is explicitly for them. It honours them and it recognizes the wonder that rests in them. This was the face Pope Francis showed with his apologies in Canada. Michael Higgins, writing of the visit in the British periodical The Tablet (6 Aug 22) p.27, expresses this: Francis repeatedly calls for the recognition of the special genius of the Indigenous peoples, their harmony with Creation, the richness of their languages, which we ruthlessly suppressed, and the paramount need to move through truth to reconciliation and forgiveness.

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