Photo by Michael Swan

Editorial: Words not enough

  • July 29, 2021

To say this is a challenging summer for Catholics and their Church in Canada is putting it mildly. But where there is challenge, there is also opportunity and it’s vitally important that it is seized.

For months, the Church has been in the eye of a storm over the ongoing discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools run by religious orders. The Church has been pilloried by mainstream media, by politicians and even by its own members for its role in the schools’ history of abuse and its seeming reluctance to apologize. In the frenzy of anger and grief and fed by social media, truth becomes elusive and feelings trump facts.

All the efforts — and they have been sizeable — that have been made in the name of healing the relationship with Canada’s Indigenous people in the years before and after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must be re-doubled. Beyond prayers and apologies, Catholic entities across the country must be seen to be actively pursuing truth and justice.

There is a large mountain to climb. In recent weeks, we have seen encouraging evidence of the groundwork necessary on this journey, with dioceses stepping up with plans to address specific educational, cultural, spiritual and, importantly, financial goals.

The unfortunate twist in the history of Catholic efforts for reconciliation has been the dismal failure of a “best efforts” campaign to raise $25 million as part of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. After more than five years, it ended up with only $3.7 million, an embarrassing shortfall that will hopefully be overcome with these renewed efforts.

It doesn’t help that there is no central Canadian office that operates as an umbrella for all dioceses and religious orders. Each one is independent, making the task of organizing national campaigns difficult. Saskatchewan’s five bishops perhaps provide a model for others to follow with the announcement of a province-wide campaign on July 13 “to support Indian Residential School survivors and their communities, and to engage more deeply in our own ongoing commitment and response to the Truth and Reconciliation process.”

Money raised will be distributed to support reconciliation programs, cemeteries on residential school sites and for education and cultural support, “as guided by Indigenous communities here in Saskatchewan.”

“We offer our condolences but we know that this is not enough and our words must move to concrete action,” the bishops said in their joint statement.

Several days later, the largest archdiocese in the country, Toronto, announced its plans to develop a fundraising campaign. Then Calgary’s bishop did the same, and bishops in B.C. There seems to be momentum building to ensure Canadian Catholic efforts at healing with Indigenous people are long lasting and go far beyond words. These campaigns may not be national in name, but they can be national in spirit.

We cannot afford to lose this momentum. The opportunity must be seized by us all.

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