Fall reconciliation efforts ramping up

Candles surround the statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha at the conclusion of a four-day memorial wake held by Our Lady of Guadalupe Indigenous parish at St. Mary Catholic Church in Saskatoon, in memory of the children who died at residential schools. (Catholic Saskatoon News file photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski)

By Bryan Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

(with files from The B.C. Catholic and Catholic Saskatoon News)

[Ottawa – CCN] – The arrival of September is putting some distance between a summer of tension and the ramping up of Catholic and Indigenous reconciliation efforts, with two major initiatives taking place before year-end.

Raising funds for truth and reconciliation

The first includes a number of fund-raising efforts in Catholic dioceses across the nation, in support of healing for  residential school survivors and their communities.

These efforts to further truth and reconciliation and the TRC Commission Calls to Action include a Catholic TRC Healing Response fund-raising campaign launched this summer by Saskatchewan’s Catholic bishops.

“We have heard the strong request, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in various quarters, to initiate a new fundraising campaign to support survivors and engage more deeply in our own ongoing commitment and response to the Truth and Reconciliation process,” the bishops reported when first announcing plans to launch a fund-raising appeal on July 3.

As of Sept. 10, the total of the Saskatchewan diocesan and eparchial effort for the Catholic TRC Healing Response fund stood at $178,423.

A number of Catholic leaders in other provinces have also promised to raise funds for reconciliation efforts as Canadians grapple with the effects of residential schools and seek answers about unmarked graves identified on former school sites.

In the Archdiocese of Vancouver the collection for the B.C. Bishops’ Campaign in Support of Healing and Reconciliation took place in all churches Sept. 11 and 12. Advance giving started in July, with all contributions going to local reconciliation efforts.

“The bishops of British Columbia sincerely hope that this Campaign will help to restore trust and further the ongoing journey to truth and reconciliation,” said the B.C. bishops..

Dozens of arson and vandalism attacks on churches across the country took place after the identification of long-lost gravesites at former residential schools.

In a statement calling on Catholics to be generous, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said, “It is my hope that this campaign will help to restore trust and further our ongoing journey together to truth and reconciliation.”

The collection will help fund healing and reconciliation initiatives with First Nations. The B.C. bishops said that they will consult with local Indigenous leaders, elders, and residential school survivors to decide where the funds will go.

Meeting with Pope Francis

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops of Canada remain hopeful that December’s scheduled meeting between Indigenous leaders and Pope Francis will lead to further reconciliation, despite the leader of the largest Indigenous organization in Canada saying she will not attend.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told Canadian Catholic News Aug. 31 that she won’t be taking part in December’s meetings, which were announced with great fanfare by her predecessor.

In a statement, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said despite Archibald’s decision they hope the meetings in the Vatican scheduled for Dec. 17-20 “will be a meaningful step” in reconciliation for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.

“The CCCB respects the decision of AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald and acknowledge her advocacy on behalf of First Nations people,” the CCCB statement said.

“Healing and reconciliation are of fundamental importance in the ongoing dialogue with our local and national Catholic communities and for all Canadians.”

Archibald said, “I will not go to the Vatican myself as national chief” when asked by CCN about demands for a papal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.

Archibald, who was elected to her post in July, said the assembly is still deciding on the best way to formally ask the Pope to make such an apology on Canadian soil, which was one of the key recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada.

“I know we need to press the Pope to come to Canada,” Archibald said. “The process of inviting him – I would say we are working on.

“We have been very public,” she said. “We want the Pope here in Canada.”

For the CCCB, the meetings that have been arranged with the Pope in the Vatican are part of an ongoing process towards reconciliation.

“The bishops of Canada hope that the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and First Nations, Métis and Inuit survivors, knowledge keepers, and youth will be a meaningful step in the long journey towards reconciliation. This journey requires Indigenous and non-Indigenous people being committed to walk together,” according to the CCCB statement about the meeting.

“In that spirit of mutual commitment, we have been in regular conversation with Indigenous leaders – both at the local and national levels, and bilaterally with the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit national organizations – to ensure that this delegation gives residential school survivors the chance to be heard and to move towards healing and a future that is founded on hope.”

The previous AFN leader, Chief Perry Bellegarde, announced June 30 that a delegation of Indigenous leaders would be going to the Vatican for a year-end meeting with the Pope.

“There are no guarantees of any apology or that he will even come back to Canada, but we have to make the attempt and we have to seize the opportunity,” Bellegarde said at the time. “I believe the spirit will move and things will happen in a good way. That is my hope and that is my prayer.”

One of the key recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in 2015 was a demand for a formal apology be made by the Pope in Canada on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in the residential school system.

Calls for a papal apology have been made before, including by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The CCCB has not formally invited the Pope to Canada to make such an apology.

Pressure for an apology has intensified since unmarked graves of children were found on the site of a former Catholic-run school in Kamloops in May.

The CCCB will hold its annual plenary assembly online Sept. 20-24, 2021. A growing chorus of prominent Catholics want the bishops to address the issue and formally invite the Pope to Canada.

“The CCCB can make a statement as a conference to apologize for the Catholic role,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of A Voice for Justice, a project of the Canadian Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

He said tens of thousands of Canadians, many of them Catholic, “have directly communicated their unease with the bishops’ handling of this issue.”