Papal apology brings mixed reaction locally

·2 min read

Representatives from the Brandon Friendship Centre had mixed feelings regarding the first step of Pope Francis’ penitential pilgrimage to Canada.

The Pope arrived in Canada on Sunday to begin a six-day trip he committed to on April 1, after meeting with representatives from First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups at the Vatican.

On Monday in Maskwacis, Alta., the Pope publicly apologized, acknowledging the Catholic Church’s role in the "catastrophic" legacy of residential schools.

Debbie Huntinghawk, the Friendship Centre’s ’60s Scoop co-ordinator, said she was full of mixed feelings, unable to sit still while she watched the Pope’s apology live on television.

"I felt the energy, I felt the power of the elders sitting there, but I also felt my grandmother’s tears."

Huntinghawk’s grandmother spent 11 years at a residential school. When she saw Pope Francis presented with a traditional headdress, her mixed feelings were only amplified.

It’s a sentiment that was shared by Rochelle Wilk, a cultural support worker at the Friendship Centre.

"As a Métis person, I know the significance of that."

Wilk, who was raised with Catholic and Indigenous spirituality, said she also realized how much it took for the pontiff to come to Canada and shoulder the hurt and blame for what happened at the residential schools.

"It took a lot of courage for him to come to Canada."

According to Wilk, the Pope’s apology was the first step down a long path of healing.

Huntinghawk said she was unsatisfied with the fact the Pope did not acknowledge the sexual abuse that went on in residential schools in his apology, citing instead physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse.

Huntinghawk also said she hoped the pope would do more than just apologize.

"It’d be nice to see how he reacts to our living conditions."

Wilk said she believes the pope’s visit will amplify the amount of people coming to the Friendship Centre for help finding healing. She wants them to know that they will always find welcome there.

"The community needs to know there is support," Wilk said.

The Brandon Friendship Centre is planning to hold a four-day healing event in the near future, connecting elders, youth and everyone in between with a sacred fire, sharing circle and more.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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