Latin America

Pope to travel to Canada to meet with indigenous people

The Canadian Bishops' Conference has invited Pope Francis to visit the region, which he has accepted, as part of the process of national reconciliation with the indigenous people of this country.

Fernando Emilio Mignone-December 22, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: ©2021 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On October 27, the Holy See announced that Francis will travel to Canada, invited by the Conference of Bishops, as part of the process of national reconciliation with the indigenous people of this country. It is a visit explicitly requested by Canadian indigenous leaders, who in a 2015 report recommended that the Pope personally apologize on Canadian soil for past historical wrongs: he, they said, should apologize to survivors, their families and indigenous communities for the role of the Catholic Church in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of indigenous people in Catholic-run residential schools. 

June 8 Omnes reported "discovery" in KamloopsBritish Columbia, of some 200 unidentified graves, perhaps of native wards. The forgotten cemetery was next to a former Canadian government boarding school run by Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a religious order that missions in western and northern Canada. That news set off a hot summer. Christian churches burned and vandalized, demonstrations, children's slippers adorning public places, statues toppled, pleas for forgiveness from government and Catholic authorities: that's the precedent for this next papal adventure. With parresia.

Before Francis comes to Canada, others will go to Rome. Even so, a visit to the Vatican by a joint delegation of Canadian bishops and indigenous leaders from December 17-20 has recently been postponed. That delegation would meet with Francis, who would hear from the lion's mouth what the indigenous leaders had to say to him, and plans for the papal pilgrimage would continue. The delegation's visit to the Vatican would likely take place in the spring of 2022. And Pope Francis' trip would follow.

There have been three pontifical trips to Canada: John Paul II toured the entire country in September 1984, returned exclusively to meet with indigenous people in 1987 at Fort Simpson (population 1,500) in the Northwest Territory, and was at WYD Toronto in 2002, which drew the largest crowd in our history: 800,000 people. 

When Francis comes, it will be the fourth papal trip in four decades, and the second to meet with our first nations. This in a multicultural country par excellence, with more than fifty indigenous cultures and languages, many of them at high risk of disappearing (spoken by less than ten thousand people, sometimes only hundreds). 

Perhaps half of the nearly two million Canadians with Aboriginal roots are baptized Catholics. 


The words of Francis at the Angelus on June 6 give an idea of the end of the trip, which may take place in 2022: "I follow with sorrow the news from Canada about the shocking discovery of the remains of 215 children, pupils of the Kamloops Indian Residential Schoolin the province of British Columbia. I join the Canadian bishops and the entire Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by this shocking news.

The sad discovery heightens our awareness of the pain and suffering of the past. The political and religious authorities of Canada continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on this sad event and humbly engage in a path of reconciliation and healing. These difficult times are a strong call for all of us to move away from the colonizing model and also from the ideological colonizations of today, and to walk together in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada. We commend to the Lord the souls of all the children who died in Canada's residential schools and pray for the grieving families and Native Canadian communities."

Note the call to stay away of today's ideological colonizations. This is not the first time that Francis has pointed out that governments and other influential "colonizing" actors crush the cultural values of defenseless populations. 

A current Canadian example. Justin Trudeau's center-left Liberal Party was re-elected with a parliamentary minority on September 20. It promotes abortion and other "reproductive rights" in countries culturally less materialistic, individualistic and hedonistic than Canada. Thus, on June 4, 2019, Trudeau announced that "the Government of Canada will increase its contribution to 1.4 billion Canadian dollars annually, starting in 2023, to support the health of women and girls around the world. This is a ten-year commitment. This historic investment will support sexual and reproductive health and rights and maternal, newborn and child health - with $700 million dedicated specifically to sexual and reproductive rights, starting in 2023."

Now, in the current crisis, it is precisely the Canadian government that is being blamed for not respecting the values of our First Nations in the past.

Burning of churches

This columnist visited in 2020 a beautiful and historic church in the town of Morinville, Alberta: Saint Jean Baptiste. Well, on June 30, 2021, it was reduced to ashes. The Filipino parish priest, Father Trini Pinca, sent me photos showing the burnt tabernacle and the large host incinerated in its pix. 

Five other Catholic churches were incinerated in June and July 2021, in the three western provinces, and many others, also Anglican, damaged or vandalized.

The reaction of the "premier" of the province of Alberta to the burning of the Morinville church was immediate: Jason Kenney declared on visiting the ruins that "it appears to have been a criminal act of violence inspired by hate." But Trudeau was more ambiguous. On July 2, the prime minister described the vandalism and arson attacks on Canadian churches as "wrong and unacceptable," later adding that the anger directed at the Church was "totally understandable."

Bishop Paul Terrio, bishop of the Diocese of Saint Paul, Alberta, where Morinville is located, said Alexander First Nation was one of the first communities to contact him after news of the St. Jean Baptiste fire broke. "It was a very touching and personal message, expressing their grief and sorrow and offering any contribution and help possible" (Edmonton Journal, Aug. 28). Father Pinca is raising funds to rebuild the church; in the meantime, he says Mass in a high school gymnasium.

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