By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
[Vatican City – Canadian Catholic News] – After being greeted individually at the door of the papal library by Pope Francis, Inuit delegates proceeded to light the qulliq they had brought with them — a soapstone lantern that burns blubber, and a symbol of warmth and life in Inuit culture.
“It caused a bit of a concern with Vatican officials,” recalled Calgary Bishop William McGrattan.
After assurances and explanations, the qulliq remained lit throughout the hour Pope Francis dedicated to hearing Inuit survivors speak of their experiences in residential schools.
“We learned to be a white person, which we cannot be,” explained Kuujjuaq elder and health care worker Martha Greig.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed addressed the global significance of the meeting.
“We appreciate that this story is being covered globally,” Obed told the media. “This is an ongoing relationship between a global power in this particular place and 51 particular (Inuit) communities.”
Emphasising the diplomatic nature of the meeting, Obed brought a request that the Pope personally intervene in the case of Johannes Rivoire, a former priest living in France and out of the reach of Canadian justice. Rivoire is alleged to have sexually abused a long list of Inuit children in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, before fleeing to France, which does not extradite its citizens to Canada.
Obed asked that Pope Francis speak to Rivoire and order him to return to Canada, or use his influence with the French government to have him sent back.
Rivoire is not the only case and not all the abuser priests have died, Obed said.
Obed called it a “heartbreaking reality” that “those who should have been brought to justice have not.”
McGrattan said the Church wants to be helpful in bringing abusers to justice.
“The Church needs to face this in a forthright manner,” he said. “We need to be an instrument to help bring these cases to justice.”
Not all Inuit are interested in whether Pope Francis apologizes for residential schools or not and many are unmoved by the meetings in Rome, while it matters a lot to others, said Obed. He also acknowledged many Inuit who are devoted Catholics.
“There are many who have a very strong faith and are a positive influence in their communities,” he said. “There’s a complexity around this conversation and a complexity around faith.”
The Inuit presented Pope Francis with a sealskin stole, a rosary case also made of sealskin and soapstone carvings. The Pope gave small gifts to the delegates in return.
“What I told the Pope is there is a need for people to heal,” Greig said. “If you don’t forgive, it eats at you.”
Witnessing the encounter gave Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon the sense of being present for an “historical moment.”
“It was a great privilege to be part of that,” he said.
“This is something that God wants, a real sense of healing and forgiveness,” said McGrattan.