People gather outside the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec July 28, 2022, as Pope Francis celebrates Mass. Photo by Michael Swan

Church must face the truth, says Pope Francis

  • July 28, 2022
Michael Swan

Michael Swan
The Catholic Register

The Catholic Register was on scene with Pope Francis during his 'penitential pilgrimage' across Canada. See Michael's full reporting of the pope's historical visit.

For Vaughan Nicholas there were tears well before Pope Francis began to speak. Waiting for Mass at the National Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre east of Quebec City to begin, he said, “I’m hoping I will actually feel something.”

As he began to tell his story, however, the tears came.

Nicholas survived six years in the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School between 1955 and 1962. 

“What I learned from the Shubenacadie Residential School was how to hit and how to punish,” he said. “When I got home, I took my anger home with me.”

The violence he learned at school he brought with him into his family. He beat his wife. He beat his sons. One son committed suicide at 17 years old. The other came close, slitting his wrists. 

Nicholas drank. Despite all this, he and his wife have been married 54 years and it’s from his wife he learned about forgiveness and reconciliation.

“It’s going to take time,” was his advice to Canadians who want reconciliation. “You’ve got to be accountable for what you did.”

Pope Francis' advice on the subject came 40 minutes later, urging the Church in Canada to persevere and face the truth.

“Nothing could be worse than fleeing in order to avoid it,” the Pope said. “It is a temptation that comes from the enemy, who threatens our spiritual journey and that of the Church, for he wants us to think that all our failures are now irreversible. He wants to paralyze us with grief and remorse, to convince us that nothing else can be done, that it is hopeless to try to find a way to start over.”

Karen-Ann Leclair came to the surprisingly big church nestled in farm country outside Quebec City from the other side of Canada’s reconciliation challenge. Waiting for the bishops to process into the church, she knelt in prayer for peace, wearing an orange shirt in solidarity with survivors.

Peace and a renewed sense of faith will bring us to reconciliation, Leclair said.

“We’re walking on their ground, and they’re walking toward their sense of forgiveness,” she said.

A support worker helping survivors tell their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and assisting them in filing claims under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement for the last 12 years, Connie Nevin doesn’t believe Canadians really understand what Indigenous people have suffered. In most cases, survivors have softened their stories, holding back the worst of the abuse they endured, she said.

“Canada should know the real depth of what was done to them,” she said.

At the same time the papal apology means something to her. 

“When I heard him speak on Wednesday, it made me cry,” she said.

Standing outside the church, holding a flag that declares Indigenous sovereignty, Stacey Marshall-Tabor came hoping Canada would begin honouring its treaties with Indigenous nations and that the Church would stand with Indigenous people who are demanding their rights.

She was raised in the pious Catholic devotions her mother learned at the school, but she no longer goes to church.

“Once my mum passed on and my sister passed on, I just gave up,” she said. “I got angry.”

But even if Marshall-Tabor no longer goes to church, Pope Francis’ pilgrimage of penance still matters to her, and the papal apology matters.

“It’s a start,” she said. “We’re a lot further than we were two days ago.”

Inside the church Pope Francis spoke about the centrality of reconciliation to Christian faith and Quebec Archbishop Gérald Lacroix prayed the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation.

“Reconciled with God, with others and with ourselves, may we ourselves become instruments of reconciliation and peace within our societies,” Pope Francis said.

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