People gather in St. Peter’s Square. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Editorial: Walking together

  • December 9, 2021

The bags were almost packed, plane reservations made, hotels booked, schedule set. Then came the news on Dec. 7 that the long-planned, much-delayed meeting between Pope Francis and representatives of Canada’s Indigenous communities is on hold again because of COVID concerns.

After years of planning and negotiation, a delegation of 28 official Indigenous representatives, a small contingent of Canadian bishops and support staff were set for meetings scheduled for Dec. 17-20 in Rome. If the waiting must continue, so be it ... the air of anxiety mixed with great expectations is unlikely to wane as we wait for this meeting to finally take place.

Will it be judged a success or a failure? Will the process of reconciliation between the Church and Canada’s Indigenous peoples have moved forward? Will the delegates find the hope and consolation they seek in the Pope’s words? Will the stage be appropriately set for a papal trip to Canada?

We all hope and pray so.      

This is not the Super Bowl. No victors or vanquished, no “us versus them.” Winning and losing are not options. Nor, for that matter, is failure. This is a meeting built from years of working toward a relationship that learns from the pain of the past and can find its healing ground. Pope Francis knows he is instrumental in helping forge the path forward.

Reconciliation has been a long journey. There have been apologies by the Catholic entities that ran the schools and by Canada’s bishops, as well as sorrow expressed by Pope Benedict during a 2009 meeting with Indigenous leaders. There have been ongoing efforts by all to heal the deep wounds.

The discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites brought about fresh calls for the Pope to apologize on Canadian soil, one of the unfulfilled Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These meetings in Rome — whenever they are — will set the stage for that much-anticipated visit.

Before the latest setback for these planned papal audiences, the talk among Indigeneous communities carried an optimistic, if sometimes cautious, tone.

  “We are off to Rome with great expectations,” said Phil Fontaine, a former chief of the Assembly of First Nations who was also at the 2009 meeting with Benedict and is now looking for a commitment to a papal apology delivered in Canada.

“What we need to discuss is how we create healing, and not just say sorry, and walk away,” Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand told the Winnipeg Sun.

“I will be bringing hope as the theme for what I want to talk about … it’s about acknowledging what happened, but also knowing we have to have hope and move forward.”

The bishops and Indigenous groups have jointly come up with the theme for this meeting : “Indigenous Peoples and the Church: Walking Together Toward Healing and Reconciliation.”

Pope Francis’ words and actions will go a long way to ensure they reach the destination.

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