Pope Francis meets the Indigenous community at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Edmonton Pope Francis meets the Indigenous community at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Edmonton  (Vatican Media)

Oblates in Canada building a new relationship with indigenous peoples

Father Mark Dessureault, OMI, reflects on the significance of the important step taken by Pope Francis towards healing and reconciliation with Canada‘s Indigenous peoples, and speaks about the new relationship his Congregation has forged with them.

By Linda Bordoni & Fabio Colagrande

The Order of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) was involved in opening and administering Indian Residential Schools across Canada.

Today, the Congregation is actively collaborating in a process of disclosure vis-à-vis Residential Schools, and has participated in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that presented its Final Report in 2015 with 94 Calls to Action, some specifically directed towards faith communities.

The Oblates continue to accompany Indigenous communities across Canada in supportive ministries on the ground and is committed to helping its members move into advocacy strategies towards fulfilling the TRC Calls to Action in Canadian society.

Reflecting on the significance and importance of this papal “penitential pilgrimage”, Canadian Father Mark Dessureault, OMI, told Vatican Radio that the Oblates were among the first faith communities to formally extend an apology to the Indigenous Peoples in 1991.

Listen to Father Mark Dessureault

“It's clear that this trip of Pope Francis was very, very important for us as Oblates, because it was for us a new step forward in what we started in 1991 with the apology, the official apology, and the request for forgiveness to the First Nations.”

Fr. Dessureault explains that the Oblates are present across Canada, and so this pilgrimage of the Pope, “whether it is in the West, in Edmonton, in the area at Lac St. Anne, or at the Sacred Heart Parish of the First Nations” there were Oblates present to welcome him and thank him.

He points out that the priest who welcomed the Pope at the Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton – Canada’s only designated Indigenous Church - is Oblate Father Susai from India who has been working in Canada for the past ten years, and is deeply involved in his ministry with the First Nations.

And the same thing happened on Friday "when the Pope got to Iqaluit in the far north,” he said, where OMIs have been present, “and where I have been myself for ministry at least twice for replacement some years ago.”

Fr. Dessurealt says that in recent years the Congregation has strengthened their "alliance with the First Nations...because of the experience of reconciliation, which we've been through since 1991."

A new relationship

He insisted on the fact that, for the Oblates, this pilgrimage represents a new step forward, also in regards to “a new relationship that we're building," based on "knowing and being very much aware of the need for more adaptation and more closeness to the First Nations, recognizing that their faith is authentic and the way they live their faith through their spirituality as Nations, also has a lot of meaning.”

That’s why, he adds, “everywhere we are, we are the ones who adapted the liturgy in the villages and parishes, putting the liturgy in the language of the Peoples.”

“So for us, it's clear that there's no other way of being present and being missionary with those Peoples in today's world. So, yes, this visit was a very important step forward for us.”

29 July 2022, 20:22