Pope: ‘Christ, crucified in Canada's residential school students, reconciles us'

Pope Francis meets with members of the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton, and says reconciliation is a gift of Christ to move forward in the wake of the pain caused by the Church’s role in the Canadian residential school system.

By Devin Watkins

“This is the way forward: to look together to Christ, to love betrayed and crucified for our sake; to look to Christ, crucified in the many students of the residential schools.”

Pope Francis set out that path for the Catholic Church in Canada on Monday, as he met with members of the country’s only designated Indigenous parish church.

The Pope held the encounter in the western city of Edmonton with parishioners of the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, which came on the heels of his public apology for the Church’s role in running residential schools.

Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada
Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada

Church as ‘a house for all’

In his address, Pope Francis expressed his joy for the opportunity to come “as a friend and pilgrim in your land”, adding that his Apostolic Journey to Canada is meant as a concrete sign of his desire to support the process of healing.

The Sacred Heart Church welcomes people from the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, as well as immigrants from other countries.

The Pope said the parish offers an example of how the Church should be “a house for all… a home where everyone should feel welcome, regardless of past experiences and personal life stories.”

Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada
Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada
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Pain for Church’s past

Pope Francis recalled the reason for his “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada.

“It pains me to think that Catholics contributed to policies of assimilation and disenfranchisement that inculcated a sense of inferiority, robbing communities and individuals of their cultural and spiritual identity, severing their roots and fostering prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes; and that this was also done in the name of an educational system that was supposedly Christian.”

Education, added the Pope, should be based on respect and never imposed in a pre-packaged format, but rather undertaken as an adventure to “discover together the mystery of life.”

Reconciliation on ‘tree of life’

The Pope then focused on the theme of reconciliation, saying Christ brought a form of reconciliation which goes beyond outward appearances.

“Jesus reconciles us with one another on the cross, on the ‘tree of life’, as the ancient Christians loved to call it.”

That tree of life, said Pope Francis, joins heaven and earth and embraces all Creation, even things that seemed “unthinkable and unforgiveable.”

He said indigenous peoples attribute “powerful cosmic significance” to the cardinal points, noting how Sacred Heart Church appropriates that symbolism and gives it a Christological meaning.

“Jesus, through the four extremities of His cross, has embraced the four cardinal points and has brought together the most distant peoples; He has brought healing and peace to all things,” he said.

‘Scandalous love’ and peace

Recognizing the pain endured by many indigenous peoples and families at the hands of Canada’s residential schools, Pope Francis said he can “only imagine the effort it must take, for those who have suffered so greatly because of men and women who should have set an example of Christian living, even to think about reconciliation.”

“Nothing can ever take away the violation of dignity, the experience of evil, the betrayal of trust. Or take away our own shame, as believers. Yet we need to set out anew, and Jesus does not offer us nice words and good intentions, but the cross: the scandalous love that allows his hands and feet to be pierced by nails, and his head to be crowned with thorns.”

The path forward, said the Pope, is to look together to Christ and to embrace Christ’s gift of reconciliation, “a peace that radiates from the heart of Jesus, a grace which must be sought.”

“If we want to be reconciled with one another and with ourselves, to be reconciled with the past, with wrongs endured and memories wounded, with traumatic experiences that no human consolation can ever heal,” he said, “our eyes must be lifted to the crucified Jesus; peace must be attained at the altar of his cross.”

Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada
Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada

‘Living body of reconciliation’

Pope Francis went on to say that the Church is the “living body of reconciliation”, since she is the one body in which Christ has reconciled us.

He said the Church can never lead people to Christ by imposing Him through proselytism. Rather, Jesus must be “preached as He desires, in freedom and charity.”

The Church, he added, must be a place of welcome in which the Holy Spirit fosters the healing of wounded memories, which he said should be carried out at the local level in praying and sharing life with one another.

Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada
Pope Francis at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Canada

Teepee: Sign of God’s closeness

The Pope concluded his address to members of the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples with the image of the teepee.

He noted that above the altar and tabernacle are four poles representing the typical indigenous tent, saying it recalls the Tent of Meeting where God dwelt as the people of Israel journeyed in the desert for forty years.

“The teepee reminds us that God accompanies us on our journey and loves to meet us together,” said Pope Francis. “God is a God of closeness, and in Jesus He teaches us the language of compassion and tender love.”

May God, he concluded, “take us by the hand, and even through the deserts of history, and continue to guide our steps on the way of reconciliation.”

Full video of the visit to Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton, Canada
26 July 2022, 01:28