Saskatchewan’s bishops, along with Indigenous leaders, have invited Pope Francis to visit Saskatchewan in 2018 or ‘19. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Indigenous leaders, Saskatchewan bishops invite Pope to Canada

By 
  • December 13, 2016

OTTAWA – Pope Francis has said no to visiting Canada in 2017, but that hasn’t stopped Saskatchewan’s bishops and Indigenous leaders from planning a papal visit.

The bishops, Indigenous leaders and civic authorities have invited Pope Francis to visit the province in 2018 or ’19 to offer an official apology for the Catholic Church’s role in operating residential schools. A papal apology on Canadian soil was called for in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 2015 report.

“The principal purpose of the visit would be to meet with, listen to and address our Indigenous people,” said a draft statement issued by the Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan.

“While this remains only an invitation at this point, we are hopeful that a pastoral visit by Pope Francis to Canada may indeed come about, and that an apology given in Saskatchewan to indigenous leaders and residential schools will be part of it,” said Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen.

“It is our deepest hope and prayer that this will help to bring healing to one of the deepest wounds in the Canadian Church and society. We want to be a part of the healing and reconciliation process in this country.”

Among the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, issued in June 2015, the TRC asked the Pope to “issue an apology to survivors, their families and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools” within one year.

The Saskatchewan organizers have chosen Wanuskewin Heritage Park north of Saskatoon as the site for a possible visit, “a place that for the past 6,000 years has been rich in Indigenous culture, spirituality and history, and which has been identified and supported by the Indigenous community as a desirable location for a papal apology,” the bishops said.

The bishops also said a papal visit, “coordinated with Vatican and with other Canadian dioceses who have also extended an invitation to Pope Francis, would require a tremendous amount of planning.”

“To that end, we, along with our Indigenous brothers and sisters have worked with a small group of people in carrying out research on what is involved in a papal visit, and initiating preliminary conversations with various levels of government and civic authorities,” the bishops said.

The organizing group has been preparing draft budgets and fundraising efforts to be launched quickly should Pope Francis accept the invitation. All levels of government are supportive of the invitation, the bishops said.

“While this has been initiated by Saskatchewan bishops, we hope that this would be an expression of all our dioceses’ desire for a renewed relationship with our aboriginal brothers and sisters,” said Keewatin-LePas Archbishop Murray Chatlain. “We continue to grow in our awareness of more of the negative pieces of our colonial Canadian history.”

“This part of our history is not something that we are proud of but we must now live with,” said Prince Albert Bishop Albert Thévenot. “With good intentions, the Church joined the colonial power while serving the poor. Was this a contradiction? Many have suffered and were hurt. Traditions and belief were destroyed. The consequences are still visible today.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Eparch of Saskatoon Bryan Bayda said he supported any efforts to heal the family unit that would “benefit greatly from any attention the Holy Father could bring” on this issue.

“The disrupted cultural normalcy of any family may result in a lack of meaningfulness, poverty, addictions and crime,” Bayda said.

Fr. Kevin McGee, diocesan administrator of the Saskatoon diocese, said “a papal visit would also be a celebration of our faith, affirming the various ways we are called to witness to a gospel of love and mercy in our families, society, environment and world.”

Pope Francis declined an invitation to come to Canada in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 375th Jubilee of Montreal. The efforts to bring him to Saskatchewan are being supported by the papal ambassador to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

“Of course I would be pleased to see the Pope come to Canada, and with pleasure I will accompany all the efforts of the bishops of Saskatchewan to achieve this goal,” said Bonazzi.

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