By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
At Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in downtown Edmonton, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for the Catholic Church to realize its destiny as the Church of reconciliation.
“Take us by the hand, and even through the deserts of history, continue to guide our steps on the way of reconciliation,” Pope Francis prayed before a mostly Indigenous congregation gathered at the small but beautifully renovated Church that serves one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada.
After issuing his apology for the Church’s role in residential schools in Maskawacis in the morning, Pope Francis came to argue that reconciliation is at the core of Christian faith — that it is the meaning of Christ on the cross and offered to us in the Eucharist.
Quoting himself in his encyclical Laudato Si’, Francis spoke of the altar as “an act of cosmic love” that “joins Heaven and Earth, embracing and penetrating all creation.”
“The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus reconciles by bringing together, by making two distant groups one — one reality, one soul, one people,” Francis said. “And how does He do that? Through the cross. Jesus reconciles us with one another on the cross, on the ‘tree of life,’ as the ancient Christians loved to call it.”
Thus, reconciliation is at the heart of the Eucharist. It is what Christ offers us in and through His body each time we approach the altar for communion.
But Francis’ message inside the Church wouldn’t have been a surprise to the people outside waiting for a glimpse of the Pope from behind a security fence.
Holding up a hand-lettered sign that declared “Love Conquers All,” Tess Smith wanted the world to know that Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples is already on board with Francis and living reconciliation.
“I really hope that other Catholic churches look to Sacred Heart and see — how did they go about choosing love over fear when it came to this reconciliation,” she said.
Sheila Knibb stood outside the door as limousines and busloads of media pulled up to the inner-city church, greeting the humble church’s international roster of guests. Knibb belongs to two Sacred Heart parishes — one in Red Deer and the other in downtown Edmonton. These churches are vital to her work with young, impoverished and troubled women at the K-5 Healing Lodge in High Prairie, AB.
“We come to Edmonton. We do the shopping for the kids,” she explained. “They (young K-5 Healing Lodge residents) love coming on Sunday to Sacred Heart. It’s a treat.”
The national First Nations’ parish of Sacred Heart exist for reconciliation, said Knibb.
“I love this church. I come to this church because it’s of the Native people. It’s the people’s church. When you come here they also do the smudging, so they share in the culture,” she said.
Elder Fernie Marty smudged a long line of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as they entered the church in excited anticipation of the Pope’s arrival. As he blessed the people at Sacred Heart before he left, Pope Francis wore a hand-made stole given him by the parish.
He blessed a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha to the right of the altar before sitting again in his wheelchair to be taken out to the Papal Fiat 500. He seemed reluctant to leave the parish and visited with the crowds behind the security fence before getting in the car to be driven back to St. Joseph’s Seminary for the night.