By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
Creating a safe and supportive place to experience key messages of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada as a community was the goal of a local event held July 26 at St. Mary Education and Wellness Centre in Saskatoon.
Organized with input from Indigenous leaders of the Diocesan Council for Truth and Reconciliation, the free day-long come-and-go event was jointly sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.
Dubbed “Walking and Healing Together,” the day included viewing of a video broadcast of the pope’s apology at Maskwacis, AB, and excerpts from the papal Mass at Commonwealth Stadium, as well as live-stream video of Pope Francis at Lac Ste. Anne.
Various supports for Residential School Survivors, families and participants were available at the Saskatoon event – including access to a professional counsellor on site, a stillness room, a personal care space (with stylists offering manicures, pedicures and haircuts), and child care, as well as refreshments and meals.
Beginning with an early-morning pipe ceremony by Elder Roland Gamble in a tipi set up on the school grounds, prayer and reflection during the day also included opportunities for smudging, opening prayers, and Mass at nearby St. Mary Catholic Church, with Fr. Graham Hill, CSsR, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, presiding.
MCs Yvonne Tessier, director of First Nations and Métis Health Services at St. Paul’s Hospital and Blake Sittler of the St. Paul’s Hospital Mission Office introduced the program throughout the day, which opened with a grand entry, a land acknowledgment, and an opening prayer by Elder Irene Sharp of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
A pre-recorded video message from the diocesan delegation that travelled to Edmonton for the papal visit included words from Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioner Sandra Harper, Parish Life Director Debbie Ledoux, and Bishop Mark Hagemoen, reflecting on the papal apology delivered the day before, July 25, at Maskwacis. Some 30 people sponsored by the diocese of Saskatoon travelled to the July 25-26 events in the Edmonton area, witnessing the papal apology and joining in events at Lac Ste. Anne.
“Today when I was able to listen and to hear our pope, I felt very good about the words he had for us, and I felt that they were very genuine, and that he is a very compassionate person who understands our issues and came to the table with a good open heart and so I was very pleased,” said Sandi Harper.
“I was happy that he used the words ‘forgive me,’ because as a Catholic, as a practicing Catholic, it is important to me to hear that he understands that we needed to hear him say that, because the wrongs that we experienced, that a lot of us experienced, through the residential schools was very vast… that is part of the healing journey,” she said.
Harper also noted the pope’s message included that the opposite of love is indifference, stressing that on the road to reconciliation, we must overcome indifference to the sufferings of others. “If we could concentrate on the loving relationship that we need, then reconciliation is more able to happen.”
“Today was so awesome,” said Debbie Ledoux, who led the diocesan delegation to papal visit events in Edmonton. “The pope’s visit to Canada on our sacred ground was amazing.” She noted that she too felt Pope Francis had “genuine and compassion and love that he sent us all as Indigenous People.”
Ledoux added: “I am a Survivor and this did more for my healing journey than has been there for a long time now.”
Bishop Hagemoen said that he was touched by the Holy Father’s humility, echoing his April apology, in which Pope Francis stressed the need for the church to be in a place of humility and to come to the foot of the cross. “Tomorrow we go off to prayer, and we pray, pray, pray and see what God will continue to do, because there is a long journey ahead,” said Hagemoen. “We have heard many times that reconciliation is a process, it’s a great journey, and people are at different places, so we are looking forward to the journey, tomorrow and beyond.”
The Saskatoon event continued with a video re-broadcast of the papal apology delivered the day before on July 25.
Speaker Cecile Smith then shared her experiences as a survivor of Muscowequan Indian Residential School at Lestock, SK, which she attended for 10 years, beginning when she was five years old. Separated from her parents for 10 months of the year and from her brothers and sisters at the school, she described the loneliness, fear, physical and emotional abuse she experienced at the school and the impact it had on her life and her family.
Speakers Elder Dianne Anderson and Elder Irene Sharp of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish offered insights into healing and self-care. Anderson invited participants to spend time in reflection and prayer, and to write down what they wanted to “let go,” before burning the slip of paper in the sacred fire that was kept burning outside the tipi throughout the day.
A video broadcast of Pope Francis’ homily at the Mass July 26 at Commonwealth Stadium was presented in the afternoon.
Later in the day, Bishop Mark Hagemoen and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Life Director Debbie Ledoux sent live video greetings to Saskatoon from the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site, before the event with Pope Francis was also broadcast live from the sacred site.
After supper, Saskatoon’s evening program included entertainment and a social gathering, with music and dancing featuring musicians Dallas and Phil Boyer, the Creeland Dancers, and the Mario Fiddler family drumming and singing group “The Cree Canaries,” as well as presentation of various traditional dances by five pow-wow dancers, introduced by T.J. Warren.
To conclude the day, the Cree Canaries provided drumming and singing for a round dance.
Myron Rogal of the diocesan Office for Justice and Peace, who helped to organize the day, said that comments from family members of survivors who attended expressed appreciation for the event, saying “we felt looked after and appreciated.”