Persevere and you will triumph. As Canadian indigenous leaders have been demanding for years, at the Vatican on April 1, the Pope personally apologized to Canada's Aboriginal people for the colonial sufferings in which Catholics played a part. Indeed, they had not been satisfied with repeated apologies and financial compensation from Canadian bishops and religious congregations since the 1990s. They wanted a papal request for forgiveness. They got it in spades.
After three meetings this week at the Vatican with three different groups of indigenous people (First Nations Association, Métis, Inuit), which lasted for hours, in this 50-minute meeting on Friday, April 1, Francis promised to repeat his apology to them in their ancestral lands: he would like to come, he announced, to celebrate with you the feast of the grandmother of Jesus Saint Anne (July 26), to whom you are so devoted. And he joked, in a festive and relaxed atmosphere enlivened with typical music and dances, that he would not come to Canada in winter! In the imposing Clementine Hall, three dozen indigenous people from the second largest country in the world, together with seven Canadian bishops representing the entire Episcopal Conference (which paid for everyone's trip), listened with emotion to a Pontiff who was also visibly moved. There was no lack of mention of God the Creator, mentioned by some of the indigenous people who spoke. They pledged to "walk together" from now on. An Inuit (Eskimo) couple sang the Our Father in their language.
In Bergoglio's speech in Italian, a poetic capolavoro of understanding, repentance and warning, not a single word was left over. Nevertheless, I dare to shorten it a little. Please compare my translation with the original, if you are going to quote it, since I sometimes paraphrase.
"Dear brothers and sisters, in the last few days I have listened attentively to your testimonies. I have led you to reflection and prayer, imagining your stories and situations. I am grateful to you for having opened your hearts and because with this visit you have expressed the desire to walk together. I begin with an expression that belongs to your wisdom and is a way of looking at life: 'We must think of seven future generations when we make a decision today'. This is the opposite of what often happens nowadays, where useful and immediate objectives are pursued without considering the future of the next generations. Instead, the link between the elderly and the young is indispensable. It must be cultivated and guarded, because it allows not to invalidate the memory and not to lose the identity. And when memory and identity are safeguarded, humanity improves."
"A beautiful image also arose in these days. You compared yourselves to the branches of a tree. Like them, you have grown in various directions, you have traveled through various seasons and have also been buffeted by strong winds. But you have clung tightly to the roots, which you have kept solid. And so you continue to bear fruit, because the branches spread high only if the roots are deep. I would like to mention some fruits. First of all, your care for the earth, which you do not see as a good to be enjoyed, but as a gift from Heaven; for you the earth guards the memory of the ancestors who rest there and is a vital space, where to welcome one's existence within a web of relationships with the Creator, with the human community, with the living species and with the common home in which we live. All this leads you to seek inner and outer harmony, to harbor a great love for the family and to have a lively sense of community. To this must be added the specific riches of your languages, cultures, traditions and artistic forms, heritages that belong not only to you, but to all humanity, inasmuch as they express humanity."
"But your fruit-bearing tree has suffered a tragedy, which you have told me about in these days: that of the uprooting. The chain that transmitted knowledge and lifestyles, in union with the territory, was destroyed by colonization, which disrespectfully uprooted many of you from your living environment and tried to standardize you to another mentality. In this way your identity and your culture were wounded, many families separated, many young people became victims of this action. omologatriceThis is based on the idea that progress comes from ideological colonization, according to programs studied at a desk without respecting the life of the people. Something that, unfortunately, is also happening today, at various levels: ideological colonization. How many political, ideological and economic colonizations still exist in the world, driven by greed, by the thirst for profit, insensitive to the people, to their histories and traditions, and to the common home of creation. Unfortunately, this colonial mentality is still widespread. Let us help together to overcome it."
"Through your words I was able to touch with my hands and carry within me, with great sadness in my heart, the stories of suffering, deprivation, discriminatory treatment and various forms of abuse endured by some people (diversi) of you, particularly in boarding schools (scuole residenziali). It is chilling to think of that intention to instill a sense of inferiority, to make someone lose their own cultural identity, to cut their roots, with all the personal and social consequences that this entailed and continues to entail: unresolved traumas, which have become intergenerational traumas."
"All this aroused in me two feelings: indignation and shame. Indignation, because it is unjust to accept evil, and it is even more unjust to become accustomed to evil, as if it were an inescapable dynamic caused by the events of history. No, without firm indignation, without memory and commitment to learn from mistakes, problems are not solved, and they return. We see it these days with respect to the war. One must never sacrifice the memory of the past on the altar of alleged progress."
"And I also feel shame, pain and embarrassment for the role that diverse (diversi) Catholics, especially those with educational responsibility, had in everything that has hurt you, in the abuses and in the lack of respect for your identity, culture and even your spiritual values. All this is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask God's forgiveness and I would like to tell you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brother Canadian Bishops in asking your forgiveness. It is clear that the contents of the faith cannot be transmitted in a manner foreign to that same faith: Jesus taught us to welcome, to love, to serve and not to judge; it is terrible when, precisely in the name of the faith, a counter-witness to the Gospel is rendered."
"Your experience amplifies in me those very current questions that the Creator addresses to humanity at the beginning of the Bible. First of all, after the fault committed, he asks man: 'Where are you' (Gen 3:9). Shortly after, he asks another question, which cannot be separated from the previous one: 'Where is your brother? Where are you, where is your brother? Where is your brother? These are questions that we must always repeat to ourselves; they are the essential questions of our conscience because we do not remember that we are on this earth as guardians of the sacredness of life and therefore custodians of our brothers, of all brotherly people. At the same time, I think with gratitude of so many good believers who, in the name of faith, with respect, love and kindness, have enriched your history with the Gospel. I am happy, for example, to think of the veneration that has spread among many of you for St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. This year I would like to be with you in those days. Today we need to reconstitute an alliance between grandparents and grandchildren, between the elderly and the young, a fundamental premise for a greater unity of the human community."
"I am confident that the meetings of these days can open up further avenues to be pursued together, instill courage and increase efforts at the local level. An effective healing process requires concrete actions. In a spirit of fraternity, I encourage the Bishops and Catholics to continue to take steps in the transparent search for truth and to promote the healing of wounds and reconciliation; steps along a path that will make it possible to rediscover and revitalize your culture, increasing love, respect and specific attention to your genuine traditions in the Church. The Church is on your side and wants to continue and walk with you. Dialogue is the key to knowledge and sharing and the Bishops of Canada have clearly expressed their commitment to walk together with you on a renewed, constructive, fruitful path, where meetings and shared projects can help."
"Dearest friends, I have been enriched by your words and even more by your witness. You have brought to Rome the living sense of your communities. I would like to profit even more from my meeting with you by visiting your native lands, where your families live. I will not go in winter! I give you now the arrivederci in Canadawhere I will be able to better express my closeness to you. In the meantime, I assure you of my prayers, invoking the Creator's blessing on you, your families and communities. I do not want to end without saying to you, my brother Bishops: thank you! Thank you for your courage. In humility: in humility the Spirit of the Lord is revealed. In the face of stories like these that we have heard, the humiliation of the Church is fruitfulness. Thank you for your courage" (looking at the seven Canadian bishops, from provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec). "And thank you all!" (looking at the indigenous people).
And after some musical numbers and prayers of the natives and a nice exchange of gifts, sometimes in indigenous languages, the Pope blessed them in English with these words: "God bless you all - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Pray for me, don't forget! I'll pray for you. Thank you very much for your visit. Bye bye!"