Pope Francis arrival in Edmonton, Canada (Vatican Media) Pope Francis arrival in Edmonton, Canada (Vatican Media) 

Canadian Church to reflect on Pope's "pilgrimage of penance"

In their annual message for the Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops offers a reflection on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to Canada in July and on the path toward reconciliation

By Edoardo Giribaldi

The National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples is celebrated in Canada on December 12 every year. The celebrations coincide with the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which coordinated the initiatives with the Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council, issued a message recollecting Pope Francis’ “words of healing and reconciliation spoken during his ‘penitential pilgrimage’ to Canada,” which took place last July.

Gift of family

The message highlighted “Pope Francis’ understanding of the family bond over generations,” and the part it plays in opening “the doors for all Catholics to learn about and apply understandings of the Indigenous world view toward reconciliation.”

The reflection recalled Pope Francis’ homily at the Mass in Edmonton, celebrating the feast day of Saints Anne and Joachim, where he recognized the gift that family is and how “no one comes into this life detached from others. The love that awaited us and welcomed us into this world is part of a unique history that preceded us. We did not choose that history; we received it as a gift.”

Role of Indigenous traditions

“As Catholics,” the message said, “we share this value of strengthening nuclear and extended family ties.” However, the role that colonization still plays in impacting this “very thing we cherish” is relevant.

“Child welfare authorities remove Indigenous children from nuclear and extended family settings. Canada’s justice system also removes parents from children,” and that “seriously affects opportunities for continuity of relationships, identity formation and indeed wholesome human development.”

Many Indigenous traditions, on the other hand, “unite all generations in the gift of dance and feast,” the reflection read. These symbols “teach the interdependence of all beings in creation” and “can be further explored to help us acquire an understanding of Indigenous people as part of the reconciliation journey.”

Journey of reconciliation

The Council recalled Pope Francis’ words after his visit to Iqaluit, the last stop before his return to Rome. On that occasion, the Pope shared the memories of an elder speaking about the atmosphere among Indigenous families before the advent of the Indian Residential School System.

“He compared those days of grandparents, parents and children living harmoniously together to springtime, when the birds chirp happily around their mother. But then the singing stopped, and families were broken up. Winter fell over everything.”

The residential schools, introduced at the end of the 19th century, applied, according to Pope Francis’ words at the meeting with Indigenous people at Maskwacis, “policies of assimilation and enfranchisement,” which were described as “devastating for the people of these lands.”

The Council concluded its message expressing the hope that “our journey of reconciliation will bring the springtime back once again,” banishing the “winter of shame.”

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12 December 2022, 12:45