The Vatican

"Christ is indigenous": memory and reconciliation on Pope's trip to Canada

A radical and unconditional request for forgiveness. Beautiful preaching on reconciliation and memory. A Christian indigenism in the style of Querida Amazonia. Love for the grandmother of Jesus, on the feast of St. Anne. A very warm welcome from the Canadians in Alberta. Highlights of this first stage of Pope Francis' penitential pilgrimage to Canada.

Fernando Emilio Mignone-July 27, 2022-Reading time: 9 minutes

Photo: The Pope during the Liturgy of the Word at Lake St. Anna. ©CNS photo/Paul Haring

Omnes has already reported on the first gestures, emotive and photogenicThe 85-year-old intrepid pilgrim who travels in a chair, Fiat 500, popemobile and, of course, flies in a plane, some 19,000 km in total, during his 37th apostolic journey.  

The Pope is more than fulfilling his promise to personally ask for forgiveness here, as he anticipated in Rome on July 17: "I will go ... especially in the name of Jesus to meet and embrace the indigenous populations. Unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians ... have contributed to the policies of cultural assimilation that, in the past, have seriously harmed, in different ways, the native communities. For this reason, I recently received in the Vatican some groups, representatives of indigenous peoples (and) I am about to make a penitential pilgrimage."

On Monday the 25th Francis could not have been less ambiguous or more genuine, and this was noted by observers and sensible natives, of which there are many in Canada. With a concrete gesture he returned to an indigenous woman from the province of Saskatchewan the moccasins that she had "lent" him in Rome - the little shoes in Canada are a reminder of those indigenous children who never returned from boarding schools: "I was asked to return the moccasins when I arrived in Canada; I brought them..., and I would like to draw inspiration precisely from this symbol which, in recent months, has rekindled in me pain, indignation and shame. The memory of those children provokes sorrow ... But those moccasins also speak to us of a path, of a journey that we wish to make together. Walking together, praying togetherWe must work together so that the sufferings of the past give way to a future of justice, healing and reconciliation.

Francis speaks to Canadians of hope and not just of past tragedies. "It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and disengagement, which also included the residential school system, were nefarious ... When the European settlers first came here, there was a great opportunity to develop a fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and spirituality. But to a large extent this did not happen. And I am reminded of what you told me, of how assimilation policies ended up systematically marginalizing indigenous peoples; of how, also through the residential school system, their languages, their cultures were denigrated and suppressed; and how children were physically and verbally, psychologically and spiritually abused; how they were taken from their homes when they were little and how this indelibly marked the relationship between parents and children, between grandparents and grandchildren."

"Although Christian charity has been present and there are many examples of dedication to children, the overall consequences of the policies linked to residential schools have been catastrophic. What Christian faith tells us is that it was a devastating mistake, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It hurts to know that this compact ground of values, language and culture ...has been eroded, and that you continue to pay the price. In the face of this outrageous evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of his children (see John Paul II, Incarnationis mysterium). I would like to repeat with shame and clarity: I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil that so many Christians committed against the indigenous peoples."

"In this first stage I wanted to make room for memory. Today I am here to remember the past, to mourn with you, to look at the earth in silence, to pray by the graves. Let silence help us all to internalize the pain. Silence and prayer. In the face of evil let us pray to the Lord of good; in the face of death let us pray to the God of life... Jesus Christ made a tomb... the place of rebirth, of resurrection, where a story of new life and universal reconciliation began. Our efforts are not enough..., his grace is necessary, the gentle and strong wisdom of the Spirit is necessary, the tenderness of the Comforter."

Christ is indigenous

On the afternoon of July 25, Francis quoted John Paul II (Province of Ontario, September 15, 1984): "Christ animates the very center of every culture, so that Christianity not only embraces all indigenous peoples, but Christ himself, in the members of his body, is indigenous". 

That afternoon, at Sacred Heart parish dedicated to indigenous people in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, Francis spoke about the concept of reconciliation. "Jesus reconciles by putting together, making two distant realities into one reality, one thing, one people. And how does he do this? By means of the cross... Jesus, by means of the extremities of his cross, embraces the cardinal points and brings together the most distant peoples, Jesus heals and pacifies all (see Ephesians 2:14)."

He continued: "Jesus does not propose to us words and good intentions, but he proposes the cross, that scandalous love that lets its feet and wrists be pierced by nails and its head pierced by thorns. This is the direction to follow, to look together at Christ, the love betrayed and crucified for us; to see Jesus, crucified in so many students in residential schools. If we want to be reconciled ...we really have to raise our eyes to Jesus crucified, we have to obtain peace at his altar... Reconciliation is not so much a work of ours, it is a gift, it is a gift that flows from the Crucified One, it is peace that comes from the Heart of Jesus, it is a grace to ask for."

He spoke to a church filled with another aspect of reconciliation. "Jesus, through the cross, has reconciled us into one body... The Church is this living body of reconciliation. But, if we think of the indelible pain experienced ... one experiences only anger ... shame. This happened when the believers allowed themselves to become worldly and, rather than promoting reconciliation, they imposed their own cultural model. This slow to die, even from a religious point of view. In fact, it would seem more convenient to inculcate God in people, instead of allowing people to come closer to God. A contradiction. But it never works, because the Lord does not work like that, he does not force, he does not suffocate or oppress; he loves, he liberates, he sets free. He does not sustain with his Spirit those who subdue others."

With a lapidary phrase Francis said: "God cannot be proclaimed in a way contrary to God. However, how many times has this happened in history! While God presents himself simply and humbly, we are tempted to impose him and to impose ourselves in his name. It is the worldly temptation to bring him down from the cross to manifest him with power and appearance. But Jesus reconciles on the cross, not by coming down from the cross."

He went on to speak of reconciliation as "synonymous with the Church... The Church is the house where we reconcile ourselves anew, where we meet to begin again and grow together. It is the place where we stop thinking as individuals to recognize each other as brothers and sisters, looking into each other's eyes, welcoming each other's stories and culture, letting the mystique of being together, so pleasing to the Holy Spirit, favor the healing of wounded memories. This is the way, not to decide for others, not to pigeonhole everyone into pre-established schemes, but to place oneself before the Crucified One and before the brother in order to learn to walk together. This is the Church ..., not a set of ideas and precepts to inculcate in people, ... (but) a welcoming home for all. And may it always be so. ...Praying together, helping together, sharing life stories, common joys and struggles opens the door to God's reconciling work."

July 26, Santa Ana

July 26th is a beloved feast in Canada, especially by indigenous Catholics. At 10 o'clock in the morning the Pope concelebrated (without being able to preside the Eucharistic celebration due to his bad knee) at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The Eucharistic prayer was in Latin. Before the final blessing the main celebrant, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, thanked him "deeply" for his great personal sacrifice on this trip, and the more than 50,000 attendees applauded for three minutes. 

In the afternoon, he blessed the water and the people at St. Anne's Shrine on the lake of the same name, 100 kilometers northwest of Edmonton. There, as in the morning at the stadium, he spoke heartfelt words related to the grandmother of Jesus.

Pope Canada

For this media Pope, the doors are wide open to evangelize, since the ceremonies are broadcast to millions of people, for example, through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A priest who accompanies him translates in an intercalated and very effective way, into English, so that he can be followed very well. 

Homily of the Mass

We are children of a history that must be guarded, we are not islands, said the Pontiff during the Mass. He explained that faith is usually transmitted at home in the mother tongue. Hence the great tragedy of the boarding schools that distorted that dynamic. Precisely from our grandparents we learned that love is not an imposition. Faith should never be imposed. Let us not oppress consciences - and let us never cease to love and respect the people who have gone before us and who have been entrusted to us. For they are "precious treasures that guard a history greater than themselves".

But "in addition to being children of a history to be guarded, we are artisans of a history to be built." The Pope asked those present not to be sterile critics of the system, but builders of the future, precisely by dialoguing with past and future generations.

He distinguished between a healthy tradition, that of the tree whose root sends its sapilla upwards and bears fruit; and a horizontal traditionalism, which does things because they have always been done that way. Tradition is the living faith of our dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

"May Joaquín and Ana intercede for us. May they help us to guard the history that has generated us and to build a generative history. May they remind us of the spiritual importance of honoring our grandparents and elders, of taking advantage of their presence to build a better future. A future in which the elderly are not discarded because they are functionally "not necessary"; a future that does not judge the value of people only by what they produce; a future that is not indifferent towards those who, already advanced in age, need more time, listening and attention; a future in which the history of violence and marginalization suffered by our indigenous brothers and sisters is not repeated. It is a possible future if, with God's help, we do not break the link with those who have gone before us and nurture dialogue with those who will come after us: young and old, grandparents and grandchildren, together. Let us go forward together, let us dream together. And let us not forget Paul's advice to his disciple Timothy: 'Remember your mother and your grandmother'."

Grandparents and babies. Francis was able to go around the inside of the stadium in the popemobile and greet and kiss about twenty babies. That was before the mass.

A tale of two lakes

Later, at Lac Sainte Anne, after the liturgy of the Word (Ezekiel about the water coming out of the temple and healing and Jesus saying "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink"), the Pope compared that lake to the one in Galilee. He imagined Jesus carrying out his ministry on the shore of a similar lake. 

The Sea of Galilee was "like a concentration of differences, on its shores were fishermen and publicans, centurions and slaves, Pharisees and poor, men and women ... There, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. Not to selected religious people, but to different peoples who, like today, came from various parts, welcoming everyone and in a natural theater like this." There God announced to the world "something revolutionary: 'turn the other cheek, love your enemies, live as brothers and sisters to be children of God, the Father who makes the sun rise on the good and the bad and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust'. In this way, precisely that lake, 'mixed with diversity,' was the site of an unprecedented announcement of ... a revolution without death or injury, that of love."

He compared the sound of the indigenous drums that have been constantly accompanying him to the beating of his heart. He added: "Here, on the shores of this lake, the sound of the drums that crosses the centuries and unites different peoples, takes us back to that time. It reminds us that fraternity is true if it unites those who are estranged."

He referred to assisted suicide, euphemistically called assisted suicide. Medical assistance at deathwhich has been legal in Canada since 2016, first by a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court and then by an act of Parliament. The number of those legally euthanized since then is now around 40,000. "It is necessary to look more to the peripheries and to listen to the cry of the last, it is necessary to know how to welcome the pain of those who, often in silence, in our overcrowded and depersonalized cities, cry out: 'Do not leave us alone'. It is also the cry of the elderly who are in danger of dying alone at home or abandoned in a structure, or of the uncomfortable sick to whom, instead of affection, death is provided." 

He also referred to young people, to the "stifled cry of boys and girls more questioned than heard, who delegate their freedom to a cell phone, while in the same streets other peers wander lost, anesthetized by some diversion, captive of addictions that make them sad and unsatisfied, unable to believe in themselves, to love what they are and the beauty of the life they have. Do not leave us alone is the cry of someone who would like a better world, but doesn't know where to start."

The maximum evangelizer did not hesitate to affirm, as it could not be less, that inculturated evangelization is a great blessing, also human. "During the dramas of the conquest, it was Our Lady of Guadalupe who transmitted the right faith to the Indians, speaking their language, wearing their costumes, without violence and without impositions. And soon after, with the advent of the printing press, the first grammars and catechisms in indigenous languages were published. How much good the missionaries who were authentic evangelizers have done in this sense to preserve indigenous languages and cultures in many parts of the world! In Canada, this 'maternal inculturation' that took place through the work of St. Anne, united the beauty of indigenous traditions and of the faith, embodied them with the wisdom of a grandmother, who is twice a mother." 

For 133 years, indigenous Christians have been making pilgrimages to this sanctuary. Before the arrival of Christianity, there was already the custom of praying there, because according to the indigenous oral tradition, a chieftain had a dream in which he saw that in this lake they were going to find healing. Thus, the pilgrim pope said in his homily: "How many hearts came here longing and weary, weighed down by the burdens of life, and by these waters they found consolation and strength to go on!"

The Pope flies for four hours on July 27, arriving in Quebec City at three o'clock in the afternoon. We are waiting for him here.

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