Communities join in prayer after Saskatchewan stabbing tragedy

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

Updated with files from The B.C. Catholic and Catholic Saskatoon News

[Canadian Catholic News] – Catholics in the Prince Albert diocese and across Saskatchewan joined with the local Anglican bishop and others across the province and the nation in praying for the victims and survivors of a horrific stabbing spree on the James Smith First Nation and nearby Weldon, Sk., that left 11 dead and at least 18 injured.

On Sept. 7 near Rosthern, Sk., RCMP arrested a fugitive suspect in the stabbings, who died shortly after his apprehension by police: cause of his death has not been released. A brother believed to have been involved in the killings was found dead Sept. 6 at James Smith Cree Nation, with wounds that did not appear to be self-inflicted, said RCMP.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert asked its followers on Facebook Sept. 4 to “pray with (Anglican) Bishop (Michael) Hawkins and the community of James Smith First Nation and Weldon” in a post on its page. Catholic Bishop Stephen Hero of the Prince Albert diocese also wrote a letter to the diocese calling for prayer.

Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan Bishop Hawkins led a prayer vigil that was recorded and posted on social media. The Anglican Church presence is strong in the Cree community as James Smith Cree Nation is home to St. Stephen Anglican Cathedral.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen joined with brother bishops Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina; Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin Le Pas; Bishop Stephen Hero of Prince Albert and Archbishop Lawrence Huculak, apostolic administrator of the Eparchy of Saskatoon to send a message of condolences, prayer and support to all those affected by the recent tragic events at James Smith First Nation and Weldon.

“We join all those in our province who are expressing support and solidarity for individuals, families and communities in the wake of this tragedy. Mourning those whose lives have been lost, those who have been injured and those whose peace and security has been shattered by these horrific events, we invite all to join in prayer, turning to God for comfort and healing,” wrote the Saskatchewan bishops.

“We also pray for all those across Saskatchewan who have been reaching out to provide assistance, including first responders, health care workers and everyone offering help and support to those affected by this tragedy.”

Bishop Stephen Hero of the Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert – Message to the diocese

Saskatchewan Catholic Bishops – “Joining in Prayer in this Time of Grief” (PDF)

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools released a statement of prayer and support on Labour Day and offered support for affected students. “We at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools are deeply troubled and saddened by news of the tragic events at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon over the weekend. We pray for the souls of those who were killed, for a speedy recovery of those injured, and comfort of God the Creator for those who mourn.” Schools did open but the board statement said the school division understands if “parents do not feel comfortable sending children to school.”

“Like all of you I am reeling from the news from this morning and today about the unspeakable tragedy at James Smith reserve and in Weldon,” said Anglican Bishop Hawkins Sept. 5. “It is hard to imagine the terror, the grief, the concern, the sorrow and trauma of the families and the people.”

Hawkins noted the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s late April visit to the Cree community in his remarks. Welby met with residential school survivors and First Nations elders at James Smith Cree Nation’s Bernard Constant Community School.

“At the time, Archbishop Justin spoke in reference to the experience and legacy of the residential school as a ‘living hell,’ ” said Hawkins. “Surely what the people of James Smith have gone through today, and are experiencing now, is a living hell.”

Welby directly responded to the horrific attacks in a Twitter post on Sept. 5.

“Having visited James Smith Cree Nation earlier this year, I’m appalled and deeply saddened by the fatal stabbings there and across Saskatchewan this weekend. I mourn with the community and pray that God would comfort all those experiencing such unimaginable anguish,” said Welby.

The stabbing attacks shocked the nation and led to alerts across Saskatchewan and the neighbouring provinces of Manitoba and Alberta as police originally were looking for two brothers suspected of carrying out the attacks. By Sept. 5 though, police had narrowed the search down to one suspect — Myles Sanderson — as his brother Damien was found among the dead at James Smith Cree Nation.