Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald. CNS photo/Laura Barrios, Anishinabek Nation

Bishops reiterate importance of Indigenous meeting with Pope

  • September 10, 2021

OTTAWA -- Canada’s bishops remain hopeful that a planned meeting in the Vatican with Indigenous leaders and the Pope will lead to further reconciliation despite the leader of the largest Indigenous organization in Canada saying she will not go to the Vatican.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told Canadian Catholic News on Aug. 31 she will not be attending the planned Dec. 17-20 meetings between the Pope and delegations from Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.

Canada’s bishops, in a statement provided by the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), say despite Archibald’s decision they “hope” the meetings in the Vatican “will be a meaningful step” in reconciliation for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.

“The CCCB respects the decision of AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald and acknowledge her advocacy on behalf of First Nations people,” said the statement provided by CCCB communications director Lisa Gall. “Healing and reconciliation are of fundamental importance in the ongoing dialogue with our local and national Catholic communities and for all Canadians.”

Archibald, who was elected to her post in July, said the AFN is still deciding how best to formally ask the Pope to make an apology on Canadian soil for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system, which was one of Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“I know we need to press the Pope to come to Canada,” Archibald said. “The process of inviting him, I would say we are working on.

“We have been very public,” she said. “We want the Pope here in Canada.”

For the CCCB, the meetings that have been arranged with the Pope in the Vatican are part of an ongoing process.

“The Bishops of Canada hope that the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and First Nations, Métis and Inuit survivors, knowledge keepers, and youth will be a meaningful step in the long journey towards reconciliation. This journey requires Indigenous and non-Indigenous people being committed to walk together,” the CCCB statement said.

“In that spirit of mutual commitment, we have been in regular conversation with Indigenous leaders — both at the local and national levels, and bilaterally with the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit national organizations — to ensure that this delegation gives residential school survivors the chance to be heard and to move towards healing and a future that is founded on hope.”

Before Archibald became AFN National Chief in July, the previous AFN leader, Perry Bellegarde, announced on June 30 that a delegation of Indigenous leaders would be going to the Vatican to meet with the Pope in December.

“There are no guarantees of any apology or that he will even come back to Canada, but we have to make the attempt and we have to seize the opportunity,” said Bellegarde at the time. “I believe the spirit will move and things will happen in a good way. That is my hope and that is my prayer.”

Calls for the Pope to make such an apology have been made before, including by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In 2018 the CCCB announced that Pope Francis “could not personally respond” to requests to travel to Canada for an apology, while urging the bishops to continue reconciliation efforts.

Calls for the Pope to apologize have intensified since unmarked graves of children were found on the site of a former Catholic-run school in Kamloops, B.C., this past May.

The CCCB will hold its annual plenary assembly online this year from Sept. 20-24, though the agenda has not been made public as of Sept. 9.

The CCCB should “announce their public invitation to Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize as the Truth and Reconciliation requested,” said Joe Gunn, the executive director of the Centre Oblat – A Voice for Justice.

“There have been tens of thousands of Canadians, many, many of them Catholics, who have directly communicated their unease with the bishops’ handling of this issue,” said Gunn. “Will the CCCB ignore them?”

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