Meeting with Indigenous from Canada
Meeting with Indigenous from Canada
Like Branches of a tree
On Friday, 1 April , the Holy Father received in audience Representatives of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Earlier this week, he had met individually with delegations representing the Metis, Inuit and First Nations peoples. The Pope gave each of those present the symbolic gift of a bronze statue of an olive branch. The following is the English text of the Pope’s discourse which he delivered in Italian in the Clementine Hall.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning and welcome!
I thank Bishop Poisson for his kind words and each of you for your presence here and for the prayers that you have offered. I am grateful that you have come to Rome despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic. Over the past few days, I have listened attentively to your testimonies. I have brought them to my thoughts and prayers, and reflected on the stories you told and the situations you described. I thank you for having opened your hearts to me, and for expressing, by means of this visit, your desire for us to journey together.
I would like to take up a few of the many things that have struck me. Let me start from a saying that is part of your traditional wisdom. It is not only a turn of phrase but also a way of viewing life: “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation”. These are wise words, farsighted and the exact opposite of what often happens in our own day, when we run after practical and immediate goals without thinking of the future and generations yet to come. For the ties that connect the elderly and the young are essential. They must be cherished and protected, lest we lose our historical memory and our very identity. Whenever memory and identity are cherished and protected, we become more human.
In these days, a beautiful image kept coming up. You compared yourselves to the branches of a tree. Like those branches, you have spread in different directions, you have experienced various times and seasons, and you have been buffeted by powerful winds. Yet you have remained solidly anchored to your roots, which you kept strong. In this way, you have continued to bear fruit, for the branches of a tree grow high only if its roots are deep. I would like to speak of some of those fruits, which deserve to be better known and appreciated.
First, your care for the land, which you see not as a resource to be exploited, but as a gift of heaven. For you, the land preserves the memory of your ancestors who rest there; it is a vital setting making it possible to see each individual’s life as part of a greater web of relationships, with the Creator, with the human community, with all living species and with the earth, our common home. All this leads you to seek interior and exterior harmony, to show great love for the family and to possess a lively sense of community. Then too, there are the particular riches of your languages, your cultures, your traditions and your forms of art. These represent a patrimony that belongs not only to you, but to all humanity, for they are expressions of our common humanity.
Yet that tree, rich in fruit, has experienced a tragedy that you described to me in these past days: the tragedy of being uprooted. The chain that passed on knowledge and ways of life in union with the land was broken by a colonization that lacked respect for you, tore many of you from your vital milieu and tried to conform you to another mentality. In this way, great harm was done to your identity and your culture, many families were separated, and great numbers of children fell victim to these attempts to impose a uniformity based on the notion that progress occurs through ideological colonization, following programmes devised in offices rather than the desire to respect the life of peoples. This is something that, unfortunately, and at various levels, still happens today: ideological colonization. How many forms of political, ideological and economic colonization still exist in the world, driven by greed and thirst for profit, with little concern for peoples, their histories and traditions, and the common home of creation! Sadly, this colonial mentality remains widespread. Let us help each other, together, to overcome it.
Listening to your voices, I was able to enter into and be deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse that some of you experienced, particularly in the residential schools. It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instil a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas.
All this has made me feel two things very strongly: indignation and shame. Indignation, because it is not right to accept evil and, even worse, to grow accustomed to evil, as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process. No! Without real indignation, without historical memory and without a commitment to learning from past mistakes, problems remain unresolved and keep coming back. We can see this these days in the case of war. The memory of the past must never be sacrificed at the altar of alleged progress.
I also feel shame. I have said this to you and now I say it again. I feel shame – sorrow and shame – for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon. Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself: Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve and not judge; it is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel.
Your experiences have made me ponder anew those ever timely questions that the Creator addresses to mankind in the first pages of the Bible. After the first sin, he asks: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). Then, a few pages later, he asks another question, inseparable from the first: “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Where are you? Where is your brother? These are questions we should never stop asking. They are the essential questions raised by our conscience, lest we ever forget that we are here on this earth as guardians of the sacredness of life, and thus guardians of our brothers and sisters, and of all brother peoples.
At the same time, I think with gratitude of all those good and decent believers who, in the name of the faith, and with respect, love and kindness, have enriched your history with the Gospel. I think with joy, for example, of the great veneration that many of you have for Saint Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. This year I would like to be with you on those days. Today we need to reestablish the covenant between grandparents and grandchildren, between the elderly and the young, for this is a fundamental prerequisite for the growth of unity in our human family.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is my hope that our meetings in these days will point out new paths to be pursued together, instil courage and strength, and lead to greater commitment on the local level. Any truly effective process of healing requires concrete actions. In a fraternal spirit, I encourage the Bishops and the Catholic community to continue taking steps towards the transparent search for truth and to foster healing and reconciliation. These steps are part of a journey that can favour the rediscovery and revitalization of your culture, while helping the Church to grow in love, respect and specific attention to your authentic traditions. I wish to tell you that the Church stands beside you and wants to continue journeying with you. Dialogue is the key to knowledge and sharing, and the Bishops of Canada have clearly stated their commitment to continue advancing together with you on a renewed, constructive, fruitful path, where encounters and shared projects will be of great help.
Dear friends, I have been enriched by your words and even more by your testimonies. You have brought here, to Rome, a living sense of your communities. I will be happy to benefit again from meeting you when I visit your native lands, where your families live. I won’t come in the winter! So I will close by saying “Until we meet again” in Canada, where I will be able better to express to you my closeness. In the meantime, I assure you of my prayers, and upon you, your families and your communities I invoke the blessing of the Creator.
I don’t want to end without saying a word to you, my brother Bishops: Thank you! Thank you for your courage. The Spirit of the Lord is revealed in humility. Before stories like the one we heard, the humiliation of the Church is fruitfulness. Thank you for your courage.
I thank all of you!
After the blessing the Holy Father said these words in English:
God bless you all — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.Pray for me, don’t forget! I’ll pray for you. Thank you very much for your visit. Bye bye!
Pope Francis ‘listened’ to us
The Holy Father met with representatives of three major groups of Canada’s indigenous delegations - The First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Metis Nation.
On Monday morning, 28 March, Pope Francis welcomed the delegations of Metis and Inuit in successive audiences, each meeting lasting about one hour; and met with The First Nations delegates on Thursday, 31 March. The delegations were accompanied by several Bishops from the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Holy Father had the opportunity to listen to their personal testimonies.
Truth, justice, healing and reconciliation
These words express the goals which delegations from several of Canada’s indigenous peoples came to share with Pope Francis this week, in an effort to heal the pain caused by residential schools.
Two delegations met with the Pope on Monday, 28 March, in successive audiences — one from the Metis Nation and another from the Inuit People. They were accompanied by several Bishops from the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, with each delegation meeting with the Pope for roughly an hour.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, said in a statement that the audiences were focused on giving the Pope the opportunity to “listen and to offer space for the painful stories shared by the survivors.”
Path of reconciliation
In his Angelus address on 6 June 2020, Pope Francis shared with the world his dismay at the dramatic news which had come a few weeks earlier, of the discovery in Canada of a mass grave in the Kamloops Indian Residential School, with more than 200 bodies of indigenous children.
The discovery marked a symbol of a cruel past, during which, from 1880 to the final decades of the 20th century, government-funded institutions run by Christian organizations, sought to educate and convert indigenous youth and assimilate them into mainstream Canadian society, through systematic abuse.
The discovery in June 2020 led Canada’s Bishops to make an apology and set up a series of projects to support survivors. The importance of the process of reconciliation is demonstrated by the Pope’s willingness to receive the delegations in the Vatican on Monday and on Thursday, 31 March, in view of a future papal visit in Canada, which has been announced but not yet officially confirmed.
On 1 April, the Pope held an audience in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall with the various delegations and with representatives of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference.
“Never too late to do the right thing”
On Monday, the Pope first met with members of the Metis Nation. The meeting was filled with words, stories and memories, as well as many gestures, both from the Pope and from the indigenous representatives who found themselves walking a common path of “truth, justice, healing, and reconciliation.”
The group left the Apostolic Palace accompanied by the sound of two violins - a symbol of the group’s culture and identity. They then met the international press in Saint Peter’s Square to share the details of their morning. Cassidy Caron, the President of the Metis National Council, read a statement highlighting the “untold numbers [who] have now left us without ever having their truth heard and their pain acknowledged, without ever receiving the very basic humanity and healing they so rightfully deserved.”
“And while the time for acknowledgement, apology and atonement is long overdue,” she said, “it is never too late to do the right thing.”
Pope Francis’ sorrow
The Metis Nation has done its part, said Ms. Caron, to prepare for the papal audience by carrying out the “difficult but essential work” of listening to and understanding the victims and their families. The results of that work were presented to Pope Francis on Monday: “Pope Francis sat and he listened, and he nodded along when our survivors told their stories,” said Ms. Caron. “I could sense his suffering in his reactions when children were mentioned, she added. “Our survivors did an incredible job in that meeting of standing up and telling their truths. They were so brave and so courageous.”
“We have done the difficult work of preparing for our journey, for our conversation with the Pope. We have done the work of translating our words to those that he would understand.” Ms. Caron then expressed her hopes that the Pope and the universal Church will also proceed with the work of translating those words into “real action for truth, for justice, for healing, and for reconciliation.”
“When we invited Pope Francis to join us in a journey for truth, reconciliation, justice and healing, the only words that he spoke back to us in English, much of it was in his language, he repeated truth, justice and healing -- and I take that as a personal commitment.”
Several times the President of the Metis National Council repeated the word “pride”. “We’re celebrating being here together, being here together as one nation and in partnership with our Inuit and First Nations delegates from Canada as well, ”said Ms. Caron. “We are still here and we are proud to be Metis, and we invite Canadians to learn alongside us who we are and what our history is in Canada.”
Ms. Caron said she has submitted a request for access to documents held in the Vatican regarding residential schools. “We did, we are, and we will be continuing to advocate for much of what the Metis Nation needs to be sure to understand our full truth,” she said. “We will be
speaking more with the Pope on this.”
Another person in the group in Saint Peter’s Square was Angie Crerar, 85. With short hair, dark glasses, and a multi-coloured sash over a black dress, she arrived in a wheelchair but stood up when she shared parts of her story, the same one she told the Pope. Over the course of 10 years that she and her two little sisters spent in a residential school in the Northwest Territories in 1947, “we lost everything, everything; everything except our language.”
“When we left, it took me more than 45 years to get back what I lost.” Angie, however, says she doesn’t want to be crushed by past memories, but rather looks to the present. “We’re stronger now,” she said. “They did not break us. We’re still here and we intend to live here forever. And they are going to help us, work with us which for us is awesome. For me it’s a victory, victory for our people for that many years that they lost.”
Regarding her audience with Pope Francis, Ms. Crerar said she arrived at the Vatican feeling nervous, but that she found herself with “the gentlest, kindest person”. The Pope even hugged her, she said, erasing decades of suffering. “I was standing right beside him, they had to keep me away... It was so wonderful. And he was so kind. And I was nervous, but after he spoke to me, and his language, I didn’t understand him when lie was speaking, but his smile and his reaction, his body language, I just felt, man I just love this man.”
1 April 2022, page 6