Hours after apologizing for the role members of the Catholic Church played in Canada’s residential school system, Pope Francis received a welcome greeting at the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton on Monday, where he offered his own reflections on the meaning of reconciliation.
The Pope is undertaking what he is calling a “penitential pilgrimage” as part of an effort to acknowledge the wrongs done to Indigenous Peoples in Canada through the residential school system.
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis issued a public apology and asked for forgiveness during a stop at the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis, Alta.
Addressing the parishioners of Sacred Heart, a Catholic parish that incorporates Indigenous rituals, Pope Francis commended them for their openness and inclusivity, as well as their charity work.
“It pains me to think that Catholics contributed to policies of assimilation and (dis)enfranchisement that inculcated a sense of inferiority, robbing communities and individuals of their cultural and spiritual identity, severing their roots, and fostering prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes, and that this was also done in the name of an educational system that was supposedly Christian,” Francis said, speaking in his first language Spanish.
Nearly 250 guests, many parishioners, were expected to be in attendance, with others travelling from communities across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Manitoba to represent their land.
The Edmonton church released the Pope’s itinerary beforehand, which included Indigenous cultural singing, prayer, a papal address and blessing of the statue of Algonquin-Mohawk Catholic saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
During his sermon, Pope Francis shared his thoughts on the word “reconciliation,” saying he “can only imagine the effort it must take for those who have suffered so greatly, because of men and women who should have set an example of Christian living.”
“If we want to be reconciled with one another and with ourselves, to be reconciled with the past, with wrongs endured and memories wounded with traumatic experiences that no human consolation could ever heal, our eyes must be lifted to the crucified Jesus,” he said.
“Peace must be attained at the altar of his cross, for it is precisely on the tree of the cross that sorrow is transformed into love, death into life, disappointment into hope, abandonment into fellowship, distance into unity. Reconciliation is not merely the result of our own efforts. It is a gift that flows from the crucified lord, a peace that radiates from the heart of Jesus, a grace that must be sought.”
Although its history goes as far back as the early 1900s, the church officially became Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples on Oct. 27, 1991.
The church underwent a redesign after an accidental fire damaged it in on Aug. 30, 2020.
During the redesign, the church added a teepee structure over the altar, with the four poles holding the teepee symbolizing the four stages of life in Catholicism, as well as Indigenous culture.
“It has allowed us to claim this building truly as something we can be proud of and that it truly is Indigenous. So now we can Indigenize the rest of the community, Indigenize the city and of course nationally across Canada and hopefully the world,” Sacred Heart council member Candida Shepherd told CTV News Edmonton on its reopening day last week.
If you are a former residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419. Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.