Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner April 21, 2022
He’s expected to visit in July after an Indigenous delegation met with him at the Vatican.
First off, a cheer for Pope Francis. Those were remarkable scenes in Vatican Square as 200 Canadian First Nations leaders, along with humble community members, drummed, danced, sang and spoke while the Pope listened attentively.
At the end there was gift-giving and gratitude.
Then he spoke the most open and complete papal apology ever uttered publicly for the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in the coerced assimilation of Indigenous people through the infamous residential school system.
“I ask for God’s forgiveness, and I say to you with all my heart, I ask your pardon for stripping away Indigenous identity and even spirituality.”
It was a historic milestone and a balm for healing. A start. Five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked for it. For over a hundred years across Canada, some 125,000 native children were removed from their homes and taken to far-off schools, 70 percent of which were Catholic-led. About 4,000 children died there, of disease, neglect and abuse.
The discovery of unmarked graves shocked Canada and hastened the urgency of this trip to Rome. Seven Catholic bishops accompanied the delegation. Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina was a leading figure in the process.
What was remarkable was the grace and dignity of the delegation. Indigenous spirituality shone for all to see. The Pope is expected to come to Canada, likely in July, to Quebec City, Edmonton and Iqaluit, to apologize where the abuse took place.
I admire 78-year-old Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, who for nine years has sat on the papal throne, doing his best, I’d say, in a fractured and wildly diverse world, keeping true to his religious mission of trying to bring peace and urge generosity in an earth of seven billion people and many tortuous conflicts.
He is just back from a trip to Malta. There is nowhere he won’t go. He has written powerful letters on climate, poverty and consumerism. Three weeks ago, he did something unprecedented: went to the Russian Embassy in Rome to beg for an end to the slaughter in Ukraine.
He endlessly encourages people to be more virtuous; condemning hatred and violence, and showing a hopeful and humble side.
For many years, I have criticized Church blindness, especially in gender inequality, wrongful sexual teachings and hierarchical governance, which so hobble its reputation. But now is not the time.
Josef Stalin, the Russian dictator said with scorn in 1943, “And how many divisions has the Pope?” The remark showed that Stalin didn’t understand the difference between material power and moral strength.
Now, after years of persuasion from Canadian government officials and First Nations leaders (and, it seems, from Cardinal Michael Czerny, S J. of Toronto, who is a confidante), he turned his attention for one week to Canada and our original sin - the colonial oppression of native people who occupied this land when European settlers arrived in 1492.
The ideology of the time held that North America and Australia were Terra Nullius, “nobody’s land.” This doctrine first appeared in Papal statements in 1455. For centuries, it was the basis of racist superiority that poisoned relations. It is still to be completely uprooted. Former National Chief Perry Bellegarde has made it his special cause, calling it “scientifically false, morally condemnable and socially unjust.”
Many Canadians hope that on the Pope’s visit, he will repudiate this harmful idea.
Francis clearly has a warm relation with former National Chief Phil Fontaine. The importance of these events to older Indigenous people is understandable. Many retain an attachment to the Christian faith. But younger people are more often angry and impatient, having experienced intergenerational trauma. The Catholic Church has not made good on its pledge of $26 million for reparations. I think that a broad appeal to Canadian Catholics, who are today embarrassed and ashamed, would raise this amount in days. Get the best professional advice, bishops, on how to do this.
"Gleanings" is Rosemary Ganley's new book. You can purchase directly from the author at email@example.com or from >Amazon<