Performances to create 'mood of healing' for papal visit to Lac Ste. Anne, organizer says

·3 min read
Pope Francis will take part in the annual Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage on Tuesday, which has long held significance for Indigenous Christians. (Emilio Avalos/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Pope Francis will take part in the annual Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage on Tuesday, which has long held significance for Indigenous Christians. (Emilio Avalos/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Papal organizers for the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage are busy preparing for the arrival of Pope Francis, who is expected to visit Tuesday and join thousands of faithful on the first day of the pilgrimage.

The annual Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage has been held for over a century — though it was paused due to COVID-19 — and has long held significance for Indigenous Christians. The Pope is expected to spend about an hour at the site on the first day of the four-day pilgrimage.

Organizers are expecting people to gather at the site long before the Pope actually arrives. A committee has been formed to develop a program of speakers, musicians, and performers to help set the tone for the visit.

Pope Francis has called his trip to Canada a "penitential pilgrimage." He is expected to deliver an apology to Indigenous people for the church's role in residential schools, though it is unclear to what extent he will take responsibility on behalf of the church.

Part of the organizing team is Deborah Lloyd, an elder of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation and a long-time educator. She was asked to join in the effort by her nephew Father Cristino Bouvette, who is the national liturgical director for the papal visit.

"I was deeply honoured," Lloyd, 67, told CBC News earlier this month. "I knew that this was something that I've been working my whole life for."

Lloyd has been involved in Indigenous advocacy for decades and is behind Buffalo Woman Enterprises, which develops educational and counselling programs within Alberta.

Now, as the lead planner for the Lac Ste. Anne program, she's lending her knowledge and expertise to tailor the experience of those gathering at the sacred site.

"The pre- and post-programs are mostly to tee up the visit, and to give the people some closure or understanding as the Pope leaves and to carry on that mood of healing as he leaves," she said.

Among the programming is an hour-long history video, dances and other performances, she added.

Eugene Alexis is a singer from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and a member of Logan Alexis Singers.

Pope Francis is the second pope he will perform for, having been a part of the 2002 youth day appearance by Pope John Paul II in Toronto.

Submitted by Deborah Lloyd
Submitted by Deborah Lloyd

"This is one of those special moments in my life," he said.

Alexis' parents raised him with a strong faith. At Lac Ste. Anne, he will be singing traditional chants dating back to 1877, the year the Nation signed treaty.

Alexis said they will be praying for reconciliation.

"We're praying that we walk this world together, and then we no longer hide who we are," Alexis said.

"We're considered the First Peoples. We were here since time immemorial. And we just want the same respect as everybody else."

The Pope acknowledging that and apologizing to Indigenous people is a good start, he said.

'An absolute miracle'

Lloyd identifies as a traditionalist and Christian. Even though she's not Catholic, she sees the papal visit — and the expected apology — as "an absolute miracle."

She admits that is not a universal feeling, however, and she has had challenges securing some acts from Indigenous performers.

"A couple of drums have said to me, 'No, it's powwow time. We're not taking time off our time to come drum for the Pope,'" she said. Others have outright rejected the offer.

Ultimately, Lloyd is trying craft a fulsome program come July 26.

"Success for me looks like inclusion of as many nations as possible in welcoming the Pope to our area."

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