Hope for reconciliation during Pope's 'remarkable' visit to Edmonton

·3 min read
A beaded leather stole (liturgical vestment worn by a priest over the shoulders) is presented to the Holy Father by Linda Daniels (right) and former national chief of Canada's Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine (centre). The leather garment, beaded with orange crosses, was crafted by Therese Dettanikkeaze from the Northlands Denesuline Nation, Manitoba. (Vatican Media/Reuters - image credit)
A beaded leather stole (liturgical vestment worn by a priest over the shoulders) is presented to the Holy Father by Linda Daniels (right) and former national chief of Canada's Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine (centre). The leather garment, beaded with orange crosses, was crafted by Therese Dettanikkeaze from the Northlands Denesuline Nation, Manitoba. (Vatican Media/Reuters - image credit)

Many observers expect Pope Francis to apologize for the Catholic Church's role in residential schools this week during his visit to Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut, but church members say that's only the start of true reconciliation with Indigenous people.

The Pope is expected to land in Edmonton just before noon on Sunday and spend much of the next two days meeting with Indigenous people, including at the site of the former Ermineskin Residential School in Maskwacis.

"No one can deny that this [visit] is a remarkable step that's being taken," said Father Cristino Bouvette, national liturgical coordinator for the papal visit to Canada.

Bouvette, whose grandmother was a residential school survivor, said he hopes the visit allows Indigenous people to experience the Catholic faith differently, and perhaps move forward with healing.

"I know for many Indigenous people, not only does the church perhaps feel distant from them, but it's almost adversarial. There's a sense in which they are threatened by the church," he said.

"To see that the Pope has come to them, I hope, would provide the avenue for a new openness towards building relationships with the church."

But a new relationship with the church will require more than a papal visit for some people.

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC
Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC

In light of that, Canadian bishops from across the country promised last September to raise $30 million toward various reconciliation efforts. So far, that campaign has raised about $4 million.

Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith said with that money, each diocese across Canada will have an Indigenous-led committee to identify what concrete measures could help each community heal. That may include programs touching on anything from language preservation to mental health support.

"We understand that people are on different stages of that journey of healing and reconciliation," said Smith.

While some Indigenous people are ready to hear what the pope has to say, Smith acknowledges that isn't the case for everyone.

"Some really are not that touched by [the Pope's visit]."

In either case, Smith said he hopes people can recognize the intent behind the visit — Pope Francis's desire to be near to and connect with Indigenous people.

Focus on 'truth, reconciliation and healing' 

Steven Kwasny, the Alberta special guests lead with the office of the papal visit, said organizers have heard about people coming to Edmonton for papal events from all over the country.

"I guess what I would ask is for people to be respectful about the purpose and the intent, especially about Maskwacis and Lac Ste. Anne, and really the priority for those events is the journey of truth, reconciliation and healing."

Kwasny said people who are eager to see Pope Francis should consider watching broadcasts of the visit to ensure members of the Indigenous community are able to attend in-person events.

Limited capacity is already a concern for some events, and Kwasny said the mass scheduled for Monday at the Commonwealth Stadium is fully sold out, although space is still available at Clarke Stadium.

"We're working diligently this weekend with the City of Edmonton to see if we can squeeze out any more square footage to put more people into because there's certainly no shortage of demand and interest to be there," Kwasny added.

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