Indigenous girls attend a first Communion ceremony at the Spanish Indian Residential School in Ontario in 1955. The discovery of unmarked graves at various residential schools has sparked a renewed effort to raise funds for reconciliation efforts, including from a group of lay Catholics. CNS photo/Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Handout via Reuters

Lay Catholic group launches appeal to aid reconciliation effort

  • July 14, 2021

A national lay effort to raise funds and awareness for reconciliation is rising up out of the grassroots of the Catholic Church in Canada.

Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation, a group that began as a Facebook discussion forum, has launched an appeal to all Canadians to raise funds and embrace the Calls the Action set out in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

“It’s very important to do this now,” Jody Garneau, one of the group’s founders, told The Catholic Register. “There’s an immediacy.”

The group has launched its campaign almost simultaneously with an appeal from five Saskatchewan bishops called “Catholic TRC Healing Response”. Meanwhile, discussions are ongoing among bishops, including Toronto Archbishop Cardinal Thomas Collins, aimed at a national fundraising effort to support residential school survivors and their communities.

“We want to be able to work with the bishops as much as possible,” said Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation campaign organizer Erin Kinsella. “We don’t desire in any way to see divisiveness.”

The lay-led campaign will not collect any money itself. Instead it encourages donations to organizations engaged in reconciliation work, including First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Reconciliation Canada and Returning to Spirit. Kinsella herself plans to give to the Saskatchewan bishops’ campaign and would encourage other Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation supporters to do the same.

The campaign has no set fundraising goal and organizers are anxious to emphasize that money alone won’t result in healing and reconciliation.

“We’re asking people to make some kind of concrete commitment to some kind of action,” Kinsella said. “The two go hand-in-hand. We can’t just make a donation and then absolve ourselves of any responsibility for doing the actual work of reconciliation.”

Hearts and minds rather than dollars and cents are the real currency of the campaign, said Garneau.

“Whatever we as Catholics can do to be aligned and in-tune with reconciliation through our words and actions, the more the focus will move away from the Catholic Church as the problem and we will face what is the real problem, which is the rupture experienced by the (Indigenous) individuals, families and communities,” she said. 

Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation have worked with a number of Indigenous people, including Saskatoon Metis elder Dianne Anderson, in shaping their campaign.

“We’re not coming from a saviour perspective, but from a collaborative perspective,” said Kinsella.

The emphasis on building bridges echoes the Saskatchewan bishops’ appeal.

“All efforts to address the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Catholic Church need to begin by listening to Indigenous people,” said Regina Archbishop Don Bolen in a video appeal to launch the bishop’s campaign.

Kinsella classifies herself as a fairly conservative, traditional Catholic. She recently completed at Master of Theological Studies degree at Toronto’s St. Augustine Seminary with a thesis based on St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Salvifici Doloris interpreted through the lens of the theology of the body. She believes the campaign and the imperative of reconciliation with Indigenous people should bring liberals and conservatives together.

“It is exactly about things that have to do with pro-life, pro-life ministry,” she said. “As much as it is to do with solidarity and the dignity of the human person and the preferential option for the poor. There’s a place for all of those things.”

If Canada’s Catholics take the time to learn about Indigenous spirituality, treaties, the history of residential schools and colonialism they will end up with a better Church," Kinsella said.

“By listening and learning more, we will absolutely bring about a greater love in the Church,” she said.

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The Catholic Church should be ashamed of hiding their sins under the table. I was sexually abused as a child my grandfather who abused me felt forgiven after confession. But the priest if he knew never said anything of course but little girls...

The Catholic Church should be ashamed of hiding their sins under the table. I was sexually abused as a child my grandfather who abused me felt forgiven after confession. But the priest if he knew never said anything of course but little girls lives were changed.

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