Kevin Scott, a First Nations dancer, performs for Pope Francis in the Vatican's Clementine Hall April 1, 2022. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Papal visit a chance to engage in ‘genuine relationship’ for better future

  • July 22, 2022

When busloads of residential school survivors, elders, knowledge keepers and youth descend on Edmonton and Quebec City to be present as Pope Francis walks on his “penitential pilgrimage,” Cynthia Bunn will be among them. But she didn’t want to be.

The third-generation residential school survivor from Sagkeen First Nation had to be persuaded by St. Boniface Archbishop Albert LeGatt. A member of the parish council at St. Alexander Church, Bunn initially agreed only to co-ordinate Sagkeen’s contribution to the 56 survivors, knowledge keepers and their care-givers from seven First Nations going from St. Boniface to Edmonton. But the archbishop dropped in on Bunn to plead with her.

“But you’re the co-ordinator. I need you there,” Bunn recalled LeGatt saying. “So I reluctantly decided to go.”

Like many residential school survivors, Bunn’s decision to return again and again to her childhood memories of school isn’t easy. She knows Pope Francis isn’t going to instantly cure Canada’s deadly hangover from colonialism.

“The best thing that I’m hoping will come out of it is the start of healing,” she said. “Our community has been hurt and I’m sure other communities right across Canada have been hurt by this. We have to forgive the people who worked for the Church… I’m hoping, I’m praying, I will be able to forgive. I know that we won’t forget. It’s always going to be with us. But that’s what I’m praying for.”

In the other half of Canada, geographically and culturally, Fr. Bill Brennan will be on the bus with survivors and elders leaving from the Diocese of Saint John, N.B., for a three-day pilgrimage to Quebec City and the Basilica of Ste.-Anne-de-Beaupré. Just appointed pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish on the Kingsclear First Nation, the six- to eight-hour bus ride, culminating in Mass with Pope Francis, is part of a deepening relationship the priest hopes to forge with New Brunswick’s Mi’kmaq people.

“This is another opportunity to engage in genuine relationship,” said Brennan. “In the Indigenous community, they are seeing this as extremely essential for their healing.”

A lot of the drive behind ensuring Indigenous people can join Pope Francis on pilgrimage has come from lay people, Brennan said. Since the discovery at Kamloops in May of 2021, lay Catholics have pushed the diocese to take real action on reconciliation, he said.

“People have been highly motivated. Petitions have been signed and action has taken place,” Brennan said. “There’s a whole renewed commitment and energy around that. People are seeing it as just necessary. It’s the right thing that has to happen.”

Indigenous people Brennan talks to have noticed lay Catholic engagement.

“They see an opening in the education system, in the Church and within the business world around this renewed commitment — or at least desire to become more informed, more educated about colonization and the horrific effects of that,” said Brennan.

The diocese will pick up the costs for transportation and accommodation.

In the Archdiocese of Regina, the budget for three buses headed to Edmonton, plus local events presenting the papal visit on livestream screens, is nearly $100,000. So far, the diocese has about $30,000 in hand, said Regina director of pastoral services Lisa Polk.

Beyond the buses, prayers, novenas and Masses are being offered across the country. In Toronto, the Native People’s Mission at St. Ann’s is praying a 12-day novena from July 15 to 26.

Real healing will mean Indigenous and non-Indigenous people actually knowing each other, sharing their lives, said Bunn.

“We carry those hurts and those feelings with us, because we never were recognized as human beings, or people, by the government or everybody else. That’s the mindset that’s been out there. It’s very hurtful for us,” she said. “I look at things and I say, I do matter. I am human. I bleed. I bleed red just like everybody else.”

But she’s not downcast. Pope Francis gives her hope.

“It’s working towards a better future for us and hopefully for the white population and everybody inside of Canada,” she said.

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