Aboriginal reconciliation on Pope's mind

  • November 20, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Canadian bishops raised the need for reconciliation with aboriginal peoples and Canada’s growing secularization during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI Nov 8.

“There is a way faith is being pushed more and more to the margins,” said Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, noting Canadians “seem to be required to leave their faith behind them when they enter the public realm or they will be discounted.”
The bishops’ conference president, vice-president Baie-Comeau Bishop Pierre Morissette and general secretary Msgr. Mario Paquette spent Nov. 3-13 in Rome, visiting not only with the Pope but also with various congregations and commissions.

Weisgerber said much of their 20-minute meeting with Pope Benedict XVI concerned the challenge of reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians, not only for the church but for Canadian society as a whole.

“We spoke of our history of light and shadows and where we are and where we hope to be,” he said.

The archbishop told the Pope about Assembly of Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine’s historic visit to the bishops’ plenary in late September, where Fontaine made a plea for reconciliation, for “getting beyond” the residential schools legacy and for the church and native peoples to work together as allies in overcoming First Nations poverty.

The Pope seemed “very interested” in their “first-hand observations” of last June’s International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec as a “very important event,” not only in the life of the church in Canada, but also for the universal church, Weisgerber said.

The restructuring of the bishops’ conference, including the creation of new standing committees composed of bishops and lay experts, also interested the Holy Father, Weisgerber said, especially the standing committees on government relations and on communications.

Weisgerber said the committees can help the bishops frame their message and communicate it more effectively.

The Pope seemed to be in good health, “very alert,” “very interested,” and spoke to them in both English and French, he said. “In all he was very kind.”

Weisgerber said the Pope had probably been recently briefed on Canada because he had recently received the credentials of Canada’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy.

While the awarding of an Order of Canada to abortionist Henry Morgentaler did not come up in discussions with the Pope, Weisgerber said they spoke about it at meetings at the Secretariat of State.

The annual visit included visits to the congregations and commissions that assist the Pope in the governance of the universal church.

“They’re dealing with hundreds of cultures,” Weisgerber said. “It’s important for us to explain in very clear terms who we are, our context and the challenges we face.” These face-to-face contacts are “always fruitful,” he said.

The meetings with the various congregations and commissions, including staff, also provided a glimpse into the work of the universal church that Weisgerber found gratifying.

“It is so good to be able to go there and to consult and to know that there is that kind of dedication and competence somewhere in the world,” Weisgerber said.

He said going to Rome and meeting the people at various levels gave him a “greater confidence in the leadership of the church.”

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