By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Making up for the Catholic failure to raise $25 million to fund healing and reconciliation programs in Indigenous communities is about a lot more than money, says Leah Perrault.
“I am feeling tentatively hopeful that this spring could mark a turning point for the Church in taking responsibility for our part,” said Perrault, one of the leaders of Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation, a grassroots lay effort to take on the work of reconciliation following discoveries of more than 1,000 unmarked graves on land adjacent to Catholic-run residential schools.
There are four other Catholic fundraising campaigns up-and-running or planned in response to demands the Church make good on a 2006 commitment to raise $25 million in a best-efforts campaign. Over more than five years, that campaign raised just $3.7 million.
The bishops of Saskatchewan launched their own appeal July 14, followed by efforts from the Calgary diocese, the Archdiocese of Toronto and a B.C. appeal to launch next month.
The lay-led Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation online campaign to raise $50,000 was the first out of the gate July 14. It has so far picked up about half that total. Originally a three-week sprint, that campaign has now been extended to the end of September.
Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation Group may have started as a Facebook discussion forum on May 31, but its ambition stretches far beyond money. The group has sought Indigenous input and has chosen three Indigenous-led organizations working on healing and reconciliation — First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Reconciliation Canada and Returning to Spirit — to receive whatever money the group raises.
The group also encourages fellow Catholics to donate to regional and diocesan fundraising appeals as they roll out across the country. More than 380 people have clicked through the Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation website to learn more about various diocesan appeals.
Money in itself can’t make up for the $21.3 million the 2007-13 fundraising drive failed to come up with, or the sense of broken trust that now pervades the country as people learn more and more about the doomed, court-ordered fundraising campaign. What fuels Perrault’s hope is the sight of ordinary Catholics taking up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 Calls to Action.
“We have more than 65 action pledges from individuals committing to their own personal work as Catholics supporting the truth and reconciliation work. We would love to see these pledges grow and will renew our efforts as the school year picks up,” said Perrault.
For Perrault, the path to reconciliation begins with conversations. “We have had lots of positive response within the group to the efforts, as can be seen in the dollars and pledges,” Perrault said. “Perhaps more significant has been the resulting conversations the committee members and group members have reported having with their neighbours, family, friends, pastors and bishops — including Indigenous people. They are engaging much more broadly in these conversations than before. This is the longer-term impact we are aiming for.”
Catholics are ready to give and ready for the conversations, said Deacon Eric Gurash, director of communications and evangelization at the Archdiocese of Regina.
“Overall, response in the Archdiocese of Regina has been positive,” he said. “We have had some push-back from a few people, but the vast majority seem to very much appreciate the opportunity to become involved.”