Parishioners who showed up to mass at a St. John's Catholic church on Sunday confronted their institution's dark history of cultural genocide, placing children's toys and shoes on the altar to memorialize the 215 children whose remains have were found buried at a residential school in Kamloops.
"Everybody is feeling a deep sense of shame," said St. Teresa's Parish priest Tony Bidgood.
"There's a tremendous amount of pain and and reckoning that is going on right now. And people are just grappling with how could their church, how could representatives of their religion do this?"
Bidgood told The St. John's Morning Show that a parishioner contacted him with the idea to create a memorial. Bidgood, already fielding calls and emails from people wondering how to make amends, said church members filled the altar with tokens of acknowledgement last Sunday.
He also addressed the tragic findings in Kamloops in his homily, apologizing for the institution's historical role in running residential schools across Canada.
"It was important for me to respond to people's feelings and emotions … to try and, I suppose, echo, what I was hearing," he said. "To make an apology … to call upon the Pope and the the bishops of Canada to apologize."
Bidgood acknowledged the "deep sense of shame" he and other members of the Catholic Church face when confronting the church's role in the residential school system. The news out of Kamloops conjured a mental picture, he said, of "215 children who didn't have a dignified burial in terms of being acknowledged for who they were as persons, their families being notified.… The pain of it is really overwhelming."
Also on Sunday, thousands of kilometres of way, Pope Francis stood on the balcony of the Vatican, expressing "closeness to traumatized Canadians" over the discovery of those remains.
Critics have called for an official apology from the head of the church. With the exception of a blanket apology to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas made during a trip to Bolivia in 2015, the Pope has not heeded those demands.
"We need to address it. And we need to listen to the stories that are coming out from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Bidgood said. "We have to call and advocate for justice and for apologies.… That's the only way forward, I think."