Original Published on Jul 26, 2022 at 19:28

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

Carol Perdue, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church of First Peoples, believes that the words delivered by Pope Francis in his apology Monday morning at Maskwacis and his words in the afternoon that same day at her church in downtown Edmonton demonstrate that his efforts toward reconciliation have begun.

“It was more of a little step,” said the Métis member who lives in the parish area. “There he said he was sorry. Here he reached out to the church to help move people forward.”

In his approximately 15-minute discourse, delivered in Spanish and translated into English on numerous screens set up for the approximately 250 parishioners, the Holy Father said, “Gestures and visits can be important, but most words and deeds of reconciliation take place at the local level, in communities like this one, where individuals and families journey side-by-side, day-by-day pray together, help one another, share life stories, common joys, and common struggles. This is what opens the door to the reconciling work of God.”

He said he was “pleased” to see First Nations, Métis and Inuit people coming together with non-Indigenous people of the local area, as well as immigrants.

Francis was responding to words spoken in welcome by Sacred Heart’s Father Susai Jesu, who said his parish was one of bringing together different ethnicities.

“For many years this parish has been a sacred place of encounter, dialogue, reconciliation and service,” said Jesu.

“We wish to be one with you on the pilgrimage of healing, reconciliation and hope. We decide to walk together with you and go to the place…the healing that Jesus brings.”

The Pope reiterated sentiments he had expressed earlier in the day, when he called residential schools a “devastating system.”

“If we think of the lasting pain experienced in these places by so many people within ecclesiastical institutions, we feel nothing but anger, shame that (that) happened because believers became worldly and rather than fostering reconciliation, they impose their own cultural models,” said the Holy Father.

While he added “that attitude dies hard,” he also committed that “in the name of Jesus, may this never happen again in the church. May Jesus be preached as he desires in freedom and charity.”

He said reconciliation “brought by Christ” was not about imposing assimilation, but by working to bring together two groups as “one reality, one soul, one people.”

Pope Francis was visibly moved when a small choral group sang the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” which included a verse in Cree.

Four representative groups—including one of children of the ages who attended residential schools—presented the Pope with gifts, which included works of art, moccasins, a decorated eagle feather, a Métis sash, and a star blanket.

The Pope, who spent the service sitting, rose to lead the assembly in the Lord’s Prayer.

He also walked the short distance from his chair in the centre of the chancel to the statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, where he stood to bless it. St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Indigenous person to be canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition. This statue of the saint is handcrafted along with traditional clothing made out of animal hide and decorated with beadwork.

Perdue called the service “beautiful (and) touching.”

“I found it very emotional. I got a lot out of it and to see how…frail the Pope is. He was truly sincere on his apology and hope for reconciliation,” she said.

Perdue said while she has already forgiven the Catholic Church for her experiences, she understands this is a personal journey.

“I have forgiveness. I think without forgiveness you can’t heal. I watched the Pope at Maskwacis. I found that very hard looking (at) people’s faces of survivors…My heart went out to them and I hope they can find peace and reconciliation,” she said.

“It’ll take a while for each person to reflect on how they want to move forward. But I hope there’ll be a dialogue between Nations, governments and churches to help heal the people that have been affected.”

Eugene Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation headed the drummers who drummed Pope Francis into Sacred Heart and out of the church as well.

“It feels very awesome (to drum for the Pope). Very beautiful experience.  It was beautiful to have him here. Reconciliation requires action, and he’s here, giving the Indigenous peoples beautiful times,” said Alexis.

When the Pope left the church, he was greeted by a large cheering crowd. He detoured from his motorcade to be pushed in his wheelchair along a fence set up to block access to the church and touched hands with some of the people there.

This item reprinted with permission from Windspeaker.com, Edmonton, Alberta