Pope Francis meets with Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, abuse survivors and youth from Canada, along with representatives of Canada's Catholic bishops in the Vatican's Clementine Hall April 1, 2022. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Editorial: Indigenous turning

By 
  • May 20, 2022

Surely no Canadian is so naïve as to believe that Pope Francis’ six-day July visit will miraculously heal nearly 400 years of fraught, often deeply unjust relations, with Indigenous people.

Yet it would take blind cynicism to fail to see the opportunity the pontiff’s 144 hours on Truth North soil affords for a genuine renewal of relations. It is a moment to be grasped for long-sought reconciliation between the Church and First Nations and, indeed, between Canada as a nation and the descendants of its first founding inhabitants.

For those who see the glass as auspiciously half-full, it’s worth a huzzah that Francis’ July 24 to 29 papal visit overlaps almost perfectly the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Canada for World Youth Day in Toronto July 23 to 28, 2002. True, horrendous storms battered the Church in the years following JP II’s monumental celebration in Canada’s largest city. But their damage has been withstood, in no small measure, by the strength of conversions and re-dedication that the future saint’s presence called forth. It seems equally likely that Francis, no slouch at calling forth faith, will leave as dynamic and lasting a legacy as did the Polish pope.

Consider the turn that has already begun, and which Indigenous people themselves have brought into being for the benefit of all who call this country home. Just days shy of one year ago, the Tk’emlúps te Secwe’pemc First Nation in Kamloops, B.C. rocked Canadians awake with news of ground-penetrating radar revealing unmarked graves adjacent to a former Indian Residential School on its territory.

Good faith voices continue to challenge the factuality of some claims made about the discovery. But forensic specifics aside, the greater good was achieved in finally focusing politicians and citizenry alike on the cultural abomination of the residential schools and on the indisputable ignominy of our historic abuse of the human beings we call Indigenous.

Naturally, the politico-media class sought to shift blame entirely onto the Church. The Church, to its everlasting credit, responded with a humility and charity by accepting its accusers’ share of the fault. Should it still be faulted for not having acted long ago? Listen up, Bub: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

What it has done over the past year is work furiously to effect the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Indigenous, First Nations and Metis leaders this spring, paving the way for this summer’s papal visit. Aged 85, prevented by physical pain from walking, Francis will express the Church’s remorse, will shoulder responsibility, will seek forgiveness in hope of redemption. Will bring, that is, the gifts of the spirit at the heart of Christ’s Church.

Will everything be suddenly sunny ways as a result? Well, remember, it poured rain on World Youth Day 2002. But here we are. The path turns. The clouds begin to clear.

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