Pope Francis

Speaking Out: Promising step to reconciliation

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • November 24, 2021

One month ago, Pope Francis and the Vatican announced an upcoming papal visit to Canada to foster reconciliation with the country’s Indigenous populations in the aftermath of children being found in unmarked, residential school graves.

It is well-documented that children experienced profound neglect and abuse in the residential schooling system, which was still up and running in Canada as late as 1997.

Though the Canadian government was in charge of the formation and the forced separation of Indigenous children from their families, the hands-on task of running the schools and engaging in cultural erasure and assimilatory education belonged to religious institutions, predominantly the Roman Catholic Church.

There is an undeniable link between residential schooling and the harm caused by some priests, deacons and nuns — clergy members who children should have been able to look to for compassion and support. Instead, for many it proved to be a tool for cultural genocide and physical, emotional and sexual abuse, the antithesis of the Catholic doctrine as we know it today.

The impending papal visit is a good first step, an olive branch for the long-overdue steps towards reparation and reconciliation of Indigenous relations and Indigenous status in a national and global context.

However, we must keep in mind two key points.

The first is that in addition to residential schools unequivocally harming the Indigenous community through direct factors, substantial intergenerational trauma remains pervasive within Canada’s Indigenous communities today, and consequential byproducts of this are disproportionate levels of addiction, poverty and incarceration.

The second key point is that this visit cannot be regarded as the final step the Catholic leadership needs to take on reconciliation. 

My hope for this papal visit is a commitment to long-term, progressive and coordinated reparative efforts, in conjunction with the Canadian government, in the form of financial restitution and investment in Indigenous communities, namely dealing with issues of food and safe water, addiction, mental health issues, restorative justice and greater access to higher education.

Pope Francis has proven himself to be a progressive, thoughtful and rectifying leader. I would hope that these would be easy commitments and continue to become present in communities across the globe where the Church has engaged in colonial acts that still reverberate today.

I also think that a commitment to reflecting on the current Church, its commitments, goals and flaws, with consultations from historically affected communities, is another avenue to be explored. A multifaceted and long-term approach is necessary, especially when the issue is this heinous and complex.

This papal visit, as exciting as it is, is not meant to be one of pure adulation of the Pope and the faith. It is a poignant and solemn step forward, the “day one” of the journey to be better.

It will be a milestone we can use to help us reflect on our actions and spur our efforts towards bettering the egregious living conditions present on many reserves today.

I share the curiosity of many in wanting to see how this proposed trip unfolds. It is my sincere wish that genuine, progressive and positive change emerges. And hopefully, Canada collectively continues dismantling more of the reverberating effects of the residential school system.

(Henricus, 18, is a first-year student at Western University in London, Ont.)

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