Deacon Rennie Nahanee says “perhaps God has a plan for Pope Francis and the Aboriginal people of Canada,” despite the disappointing news that the Pope won’t be coming to Canada to personally apologize for Canada’s residential schools.
A personal apology from the Pope, delivered on Canadian soil, was one of 94 “Calls to Action” that came out of a five-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission review of the legacy of residential schools in 2015.
In a March 27 letter to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Lionel Gendron delivered the news that Pope Francis is not able to travel to Canada for the sole purpose of delivering the apology.
“As far as Call to Action #58 is concerned, after carefully considering the
request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, he (Pope Francis)
felt that he could not personally respond,” Bishop Gendron, the bishop of
Saint-Jean-Longueil in Quebec, wrote.
Bishop Gendron stressed that reconciliation with Canada’s original inhabitants remains “a major pastoral priority” for Canada’s bishops and the Church from coast to coast.
“We look forward to a future where systemic injustices are meaningfully addressed, where we all discover new ways of living together through which the First Peoples of this land are honoured and respected,” he wrote.
Deacon Nahanee said in an interview he regrets the news, but points out that
after all the First Nations have been through – persecution, disease,
colonization – they still exist and the bishops of Canada want to continue
Bishop Gendron stressed in his letter that a future visit to Canada remains a possibility and that a meeting with the Indigenous Peoples would be “a top priority.”
In his March 27 letter, Bishop Gendron emphasized local and personal efforts to forge a new relationship between the Church and Indigenous Canadians.
“We have heard your invitation to engage honestly and courageously with the
past, to acknowledge the failings of members of the Catholic Church, and to
take active steps of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples towards a better future,”
he wrote. “…We wish to dedicate ourselves with you to reconciliation at the
local level through concrete pastoral initiatives.”
He also reminded readers of the Pope’s statements regarding the importance of Indigenous populations world-wide.
“He has pointed to Indigenous Peoples as critical dialogue partners to whom the Church needs to listen,” Bishop Gendron wrote.
Deacon Nahanee said ongoing efforts by bishops to meet with First Nations on their reserves and in their communities “is a good start” as they talk about their relationships and look for solutions.
The First Nations Ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Vancouver will be in Rome in June presenting a report at the Anglophone Safeguarding Conference, dealing with efforts to make Catholic parishes and schools safer following the sexual abuse scandal.
Deacon Nahanee said he looks forward to discussing the residential school issue with the Pope if the opportunity arises, but “we have work to do here in Canada. Maybe when issues are resolved … maybe he’ll come on a better occasion. The door is not completely closed.”
In a May 29, 2017 meeting at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to come to Canada to issue the apology as requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
With files from Michael
Swan, The Catholic Register.