Pope Francis attends a welcoming ceremony with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mary Simon, governor general of Quebec, at Citadelle de Quebec, the residence of the governor general in Quebec City, July 27, 2022. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: Reconciliation hope

  • September 9, 2022

Whatever else the Holy Father’s summer visit to Canada produced, hard data show he created fertile ground on which the process of Indigenous-non Indigenous reconciliation can ably proceed.

The numbers from an Angus Reid Institute survey conducted in the aftermath of Pope Francis’ penitential pilgrimage are worth praising and pondering as we enter into the Church’s Season of Creation from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4. Two-thirds of Canadians polled accepted the sincerity of the pontiff’s cri de coeur apology for the “evil” of the residential school system and for Catholic-Protestant enmeshment in that century of dislocation, pain and outright abuse inflicted on Indigenous children and their families. Over half see Francis’ journey as a positive step towards reconciliation — even among Indigenous respondents (54 per cent versus 59 per cent for non-Indigenous).

Intriguingly, slightly more than half of Canadians feel blame for the residential system is shared equally between the federal government, the churches and society in general. Only 18 per cent  — fewer than one in five — say the churches were primarily to blame.

That data point is a significant marker of hope when we, as Catholics, are called to foundational Christian work of reconciling with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It indicates an openness on the part of the society around us to accept that the Church of the 19th to mid-20th centuries was part of a zeitgeist for which it must always bear some historical, participative responsibility. By no means, however, is it fated to repeat the sins of the past. We can measure the blessing of that benefit in both our confidence for traversing the road that lies ahead, and an impetus to commit to the journey.

It would be unjust to multitudes within the Church in Canada to create the impression that Pope Francis simply touched down like a (wheelchair-bound) whirlwind and carried us off to a new home in the sun. Bishops, clergy, educators, lay people, even rare journalists, have worked tirelessly for years to think through, articulate, inculcate, and, yes, this can’t be ignored, fundraise to move reconciliation toward a reunion whose first fruit will be deepened understanding.

But it was Francis’ hospitality toward First Nations’ delegates to Rome last spring that sprung loose the potential of the summer visit. It was his perseverance in coming to Canada that put us in front of the creative moment that we now have the joyful chance to seize.

How fitting such a moment should come at this moment. Canadians collectively recognize September and October as the turning season, what a wise person recently called “the Sunday evening of the year in this part of the world.” Light fades. Snow forebodes. But Francis himself acted in 2015 to make this month the Season of Creation within the Church when we can celebrate the Earth as a place in God’s created space where the redemptive light of Christ burns bright and always.

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