EDMONTON, AB — Pope Francis on Tuesday honored grandparents as the roots of humanity, as reverberations rang out of his historic apology for the Catholic Church’s role in severing generations of Indigenous family ties by participating in the system of Canada’s “catastrophic” residential schools.
Emotions were still running high at Commonwealth Stadium and a smaller venue nearby as some 50,000 people gathered for Francis’ first high mass in Canada. They cheered as he arrived in a popemobile and circled the track, stopping occasionally to kiss babies to the beat of native hand drums.
Phil Fontaine, former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and survivor of residential schools, urged the crowd to forgive in remarks delivered before Francis arrived: “We will never achieve healing and reconciliation without forgiveness,” said he declared. “We will never forget, but we must forgive.”
Murray Sinclair, First Nations chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, offered a negative critique of Francis’ apology, who welcomed the apology but said Tuesday it didn’t go far enough in acknowledging the role of the papacy in the justification of European colonial expansion and the approval by the hierarchy of the policy of assimilation of Canada.
Francis did not dwell on the apologies or the church’s charged history during the Mass, which took place on the feast day of St. Anne, Jesus’ grandmother and a figure of special veneration. for Canadian Catholics. Due to knee problems, the 85-year-old pontiff celebrated mass in a seated position behind the altar.
In his homily, Francis urged young people to appreciate the wisdom and experience of their grandparents as fundamental to their very being, and to cherish those lessons to build a better future.
“Thanks to our grandparents, we received a caress from the history that preceded us: we learned that kindness, tender love and wisdom are the solid roots of humanity,” he said. he declares. “We are children because we are grandchildren.”
Francis has long praised the role of grandmothers in passing on the faith to younger generations, citing his own experience with his grandmother, Rosa, growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. For several months, Francis gave weekly catechism lessons on the need to cherish the wisdom of grandparents and not dismiss them as part of today’s “throwaway culture.”
Francis’ message has great resonance in Canada, given the respect due to Indigenous elders and the fact that families have been torn apart by the government’s policy of forced assimilation imposed by the Church.
More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their homes and forced to attend government-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their family and culture. . The goal was to Christianize them and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.
At his first event in Canada, Francis on Monday called the boarding schools a “disastrous mistake” that caused “catastrophic” damage. At the site of a former school in Maskwacis, he apologized for the “evil done by so many Christians against the indigenous people” and promised further investigation and action to promote healing.
Among those present on Tuesday was Lorna Lindley, a survivor of the Kamloops residential school in British Columbia, where the first allegedly unmarked graves were discovered last year. She said she was there to honor her late parents, who were taken to boarding school aged 5 in a cattle truck.
“For me, it’s really heavy,” Lindley said. “It’s hard. No matter how many times you apologize, it doesn’t take away the hurt and pain.”
Sinclair, who is also a former senator, said Francis’ apology “leaves a deep hole” in blaming individual church members and failing to recognize the church’s institutional role in schools.
“It is important to emphasize that the Church was not merely an agent of the state, nor merely a participant in government policy, but was one of the principal co-authors of the darker chapters of the history of this country,” Sinclair said in a statement. .
Sinclair cited church edicts and doctrines that led directly to the “cultural genocide” of Indigenous peoples by underpinning colonial policy and the Doctrine of Discovery, a 19th century international legal concept that has been understood to justify the colonial seizure of land and resources by European powers.
“In many cases, it wasn’t just collaboration, but incitement,” Sinclair said.
Indigenous community leaders, for their part, urged Francis to keep his promise to continue on the path of reconciliation through concrete actions: returning church records of deceased Indigenous children to schools, funding therapeutic programs for survivors and facilitate investigations into those responsible for the abuses.
Francis “can’t just apologize and walk away,” said Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.
Francis’ ode to grandparents was set to continue later Tuesday at one of North America’s most popular pilgrimage sites, Lac Ste. Anne, considered a place of healing where the faithful come to wade in the lake. Francis was to preside over a liturgy of the service of the word and to bless the waters.
However, Alberta health officials recently issued a blue-green algae bloom advisory for the lake, warning visitors to avoid contact with blooms and refrain from wading where they are visible.
Francis said his six-day visit, which will also take him to Quebec and northern Iqaluit, Nunavut, is a “penitential pilgrimage” to atone for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system. This responds to a key recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil.
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.