Pope Francis accepts offertory gifts from an indigenous man as he celebrates the concluding Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 27, 2019. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Peter Stockland: No quick fixes on this long road

  • February 20, 2020

Esteemed theological thinkers will doubtless spend the coming months scratching their parses on the latest exhortation from Pope Francis, Querida Amazonia

But stripping away the Jesuitical push me-pull you of the Pope’s response to calls for permitting clergy in the region to marry, it is a ray of clarity about the one thing that should matter to Catholics around the world: our faith is not a function of quick fixes. 

Doubtless many will retort that Francis is guilty of foot dragging with his challenge to exhaust all reasonable alternatives to making the Eucharist available in Amazonian communities that are woefully served — or not served at all — by a shortage of priests.

The subtext of the Holy Father’s answer, however, is in the wise insistence that any “crisis” more than a millennium in the making is worth responding to by taking the necessary time to ensure it’s truly the right thing to do. In the lovely formulation of Cardinal Michael Czerny, who presided over the synod from which Querida Amazonia proceeded, “there is a long road ahead, and long roads already travelled.”

This seems to me good counsel for Catholics on a range of issues confronting us both within the Church and the world outside. 

Arguably, it is the authentic Catholic response to a micro attention span world that demands all progress occur yesterday and which has no patience with those who want to pause for prudence.

It would certainly be a helpful Catholic contribution to such events as the recent anti-pipeline protests that spilled over into illegal blockades of the main CN and Via Rail line outside Belleville, Ont.

There’s no question their actions were an unjustifiable flouting of the actual law as upheld in court rulings, as well a serious breach of the spirit of the rule of law which makes it possible for all Canadians to live together. 

That said, the clamour that arose for the State to employ its monopoly on the use of force and simply …what? hurl the protestors into the abyss? — was in its own way equally misguided. Yes, it would have produced immediate results. But to what effect?

We, as Canadians, have been directly engaged for several years now in the process of reconciliation with our Indigenous fellow citizens. There is impatience with that process on all sides. There are mistakes being made in that process on all sides. But it is the process we have and, as Pope Francis reminded us with Querida Amazonia, chasing after the latest tempting quick fix is no way to prudently, charitably and hopefully make our way down the long roads that lie ahead.

One of the great temptations, after all, is to lapse into seeing those who are on the curve from annoying to threatening as implacably “Other” rather than trying to understand how what they are doing might be an image of what we might do in exactly the same circumstances. If we, as Canadians, had been subordinated, cheated, lied to and treated with illegality for, oh, say, 400 years, we might not exactly be enthralled by those upbraiding us for failing to respect the rule of law. It would be triply true if we were on our way to emerging from those unacceptable conditions and beginning to build our own societies with our eyes firmly fixed on the prize of self-governed economies that work to our own benefit. 

That is what has been happening within many Indigenous communities for 30 years. In that interim, Indigenous Canadians by and large choose not just reconciliation with the non-Indigenous world, but to gain the means to carve their own paths in land they long held and now share. In that light, the blockades and protest activities can be seen as, yes, annoying and even menacing from the outside, but also the natural playing out of Indigenous political dynamics on the inside. In other words, “intra” as well as “inter” reconciliation.

Sure, the tracks needed to be cleared. But as Pope Francis coincidentally reminded us in Querdia Amazonia, not with any quick fix that sent progress toward such reconciliation off the rails. 

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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