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Bishops of Canada in a virtual Plenary Assembly in September 2020 Bishops of Canada in a virtual Plenary Assembly in September 2020  

Canada's Bishop Poisson: 'We don't want to leave Rome without a new date'

This year, Canada’s entire population will be engaged in the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, says the President of Canada’s Conference of Bishops. In an interview with Vatican News he also speaks about his audience with Pope Francis in the wake of the postponement of a scheduled visit by a delegation of Bishops and representatives of Canada's indigenous population.

by Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Bishop Raymond Poisson, the President of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference met with Pope Francis on Thursday morning, along with other members of the Episcopal Conference. On the agenda was a future date for the postponed visit of the Canadian delegation of Bishops and representatives of Canada's indigenous populations, as well as the possibility of a papal visit to Canada. Just after his audience with the Holy Father, Bishop Poisson spoke with Vatican News about Sunday's National Day of Prayer, when the Delegation of Bishops and First Nation, Métis and Inuit representatives might come to meet with the Pope, and talks about what happened and what the Church can learn from it.

Listen to the interview with Bishop Raymond Poisson

The National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples has much more significance this year, Bishop Poisson says. Since the discovery in March of the mass graves of children who attended Residential Schools, there has been progress in the process of Healing and Reconciliation, and at this moment, he says, the entire Canadian population is engaged in this day of prayer. The Day of Prayer is also characterized by the unanimous apology issued by the Bishop’s Conference in September, he says. Due to the fundraising that the Bishops have undertaken, now totaling $30 million CAD, “cultural development projects, memorials” and other things to make the culture of indegenous peoples known and understood are now underway. Bishop Poisson says that these projects are all being done “always with them”.

Delegation plans to meet with Pope

Another reason why this year’s day of prayer is more significant is “because we are preparing the delegation" explaining it has been postponed due to the health crisis. However, he says, “We don’t want to leave Rome without a date”. Ongoing discussions, he adds, point to a new date in the spring of 2022.

Regarding the delegation that has been formed, the bishop says it consists of “30 people chosen by the National Association of the Autochtone [sic] and by us”. In addition, he says that is an unofficial delegation “of more than 150 people who want to come”. This, he says, shows “tremendous interest” on their part. Some of the official delegates “are survivors of these residential schools… some are young people living with this heritage on their conscience”. The visit of this delegation in the Spring will represent an “open door” paving the way for the Pope’s hoped-for visit to Canada, he states.

Pope’s hoped-for visit to Canada

The importance of the meeting of the delegation representing Canada's indigenous populations and the hoped-for visit stems from the traditional role of the “chief” in their culture. “For them," Bishop Poisson notes,  "the chief of the Catholic Church is the Pope”. The Pope is, therefore, the link between them and the Bishops. “For us”, he continues, “he is the great pastor of his people. So, the Pope can be the brother bishop with the other bishops of Canada, uniting with them in the same apology or recognition of what has happened”. In addition, by learning first-hand of the experiences of indigenous persons, the Pope “can call the universal Church” to stop participating in any form of colonialization. Another hope is that the “Holy Father can bring together the" autochtone" and the "non-autochtone" people”. Along these lines, they hope to organize an event in a location common to both native and immigrant populations in Canada.

What happened is ‘terrible’

The listening sessions organized as part of the healing process have brought to light the fact that “children were taken from their families without the possibility of coming back for many years. That’s terrible”, Bishop Poisson says. Yet, this is exactly what the Church and the State were doing. If a child happened to die, news never reached their families of origin. “That’s terrible,” the bishop repeats.

The process is exactly the opposite to that used by the French Jesuits in the early evangelization of the country who learned the language and customs of the peoples among whom they lived. Thus, the reason for fewer Residential Schools in the parts of Canada that were originally occupied by the French. A change of mentality took place with the British colonization, one that sought to homogenize Canada, mandating one language, one mentality, “without any respect for the culture”. This is the motivation that led to the opening of the Residential Schools, he explains, as well as the prior “exportation of the Acadians from Nouvelle-France”.

What can be learned?

When asked what the Church can learn from its past failings in this particular circumstance, the Bishop says that in the realm of education for example, “it’s essential to keep relationships between the family, the child and the community”. This cannot be overlooked. Cultural elements, language, traditions are part of who we are, he continues. “And that’s the richness of humanity," that is different throughout the world. "We can learn that there’s no place for just one size of people in the world”.

09 December 2021, 14:34