A Labrador family's chance meeting with Pope Francis, as Innu faithful converge on Quebec City

·3 min read
Pope Francis poses holds Everly while Ruby Tshakapesh after morning mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica in Quebec.  (CBC - image credit)
Pope Francis poses holds Everly while Ruby Tshakapesh after morning mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica in Quebec. (CBC - image credit)
CBC
CBC

It was a warm and sunny day for Pope Francis's visit to Quebec City on Thursday as part of his three-stop tour of Canada in an effort to further reconciliation between residential school survivors and the Roman Catholic Church.

Simeon Tshakapesh, his wife Ruby and granddaughter Everly were at morning mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica, where the service was held by the Pope himself.

Everly has 3M syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by low birth weight, dwarfism, abnormalities of the head and facial area and skeletal malformations.

Near the end of Thursday's mass she had a once in a lifetime meeting: Pope Francis kissed her forehead, scooped her up, blessed her and held her for photographs.

"Everybody wanted to meet her," Simeon Tshakapesh told CBC News on Thursday. "She was all over the church.… That's why we're here — for Everly."

Tshakapesh said Thursday is a day he will remind Everly of when she's older, with the photographs he took to mark the occasion. Everly also met Indigenous elders from across Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"They said, 'Everly is a very strong young baby and she's going to do a lot better.' That's all we wanted to hear from people, because Everly has a very serious condition," Tshakapesh said.

Tshakapesh, who was raised Roman Catholic, said he started attending mass again after being diagnosed with cancer. When Everly was born, the tradition continued.

"All we needed was for Everly to be blessed. I'm very pleased with that," Tshakapesh said.

"Hopefully we'll see Everly grow up as a teenager. That's my hope. Everly has a major surgery coming up in October."

The Tshakapesh family, who drove from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, are among the hundreds of Labrador Innu who made the trip to Quebec City this week. The Pope's visit lined up with the annual journey to Quebec to celebrate the Feast of Saint Anne — believed to be the grandmother of Jesus in Christian and Islamic tradition.

Mixed feelings

Simon Michel and Winnie Gregoire, who both travelled from Sheshatshiu, sat on the grass outside the basilica as church bells and notes from the pipe organ flooded the area after morning mass.

Gregoire said it was important for her to be there in person as a Roman Catholic, and to hear the Pope's apology.

"It's important for all native people," she said. "It's the Pope. It's a once-in-a-lifetime [opportunity] to see the Pope."

Michel said 97 vehicles left Sheshatshiu to make the over 1,500-kilometre journey to Quebec City. He said 42 people also chartered a flight.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

Michel, who's also Roman Catholic, said he made the trip because the Vatican made the trip to Canada.

"I think that's a good sign," he said.

But Mary Ann Nui, deputy grand chief of the Innu Nation, said she has had a lot of mixed feelings. She said the Pope's apologies were overwhelming and the gesture could give closure to some Indigenous families — but not others.

"I find this is just an apology but it's going to take a lot of work in order for families to heal from the abuse," Nui said.

Nui had the opportunity to attend mass from inside the basilica but decided to remain outside with her grandchildren.

"For some reason I chose to be outside just to reflect the feelings I was carrying and the sadness I was carrying for the families that survived in those schools," she said.

"I would rather be outside and observe how it felt for that apology."

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