Editorial: Papal partner

  • November 4, 2021

The news that many Canadians have been waiting to hear for a very long time arrived on the morning of Oct. 27 — Pope Francis is ready to come to Canada.

The Vatican used the term “indicated his willingness” in describing the Pope’s response to the request by Canada’s bishops, but that’s merely convenient wording should unforeseen circumstances scuttle the pastoral journey. The point is the Pope not only is willing; he is certain he needs to come here — to stand with Canada’s Indigenous people, listen to them, speak from his heart of the Church’s sorrow and re-affirm the apology offered by Canada’s bishops in his own voice.

Despite the skeptics and Church bashers who often avoid fact-checking before hitting the headlines, Pope Francis has not wavered during his papacy in showing an overwhelming empathy for those wronged by the Church and a desire to forge a path of healing. Witness his trip to South America in 2015, when he addressed the Indigenous victims of colonial conquest: “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offences of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

In 2018, speaking in Dublin, he asked forgiveness for the “crimes” of sexual and physical abuse inflicted on thousands of children in churches and schools in Ireland. “May the Lord keep this state of shame and compunction and give us strength so this never happens again, and that there is justice,” he said.

Justice is what Canada’s Indigenous people have been seeking for a very long time. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report of 2016 opened many eyes to the scope of damage done by a government policy that can only be described as cultural genocide. Canada’s faith communities were tasked with being partners in the mission of assimilation which ultimately must be judged as disastrous.

Reconciliation efforts have been ongoing for years, highlighted by a meeting between a Canadian Indigenous delegation and Pope Benedict in 2009, but the wounds are still raw, freshly re-opened with the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools.

Some will argue that this would be a visit that is long overdue, that the Church has been slow in recognizing that the TRC’s Call to Action #58 — a papal apology on Canadian soil — is a crucial step for Indigenous communities to move forward. Others see a visit as one more step in what must always be viewed as a long, ongoing mission, where action must follow sorrow.

What we do know is that Francis is a pope who has been especially sensitive to the world’s Indigenous communities and has demonstrated — in words and deeds — a sincere desire to reconcile and heal. That is why he will be meeting with a Canadian Indigenous delegation next month at the Vatican and, God willing, he will soon make the pilgrimage to our shores.

The message is clear: The Pope is a partner in Canada’s reconciliation journey.

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