Canada: Pope Francis on a “Penitential Pilgrimage” (July 24-30, 2022) (1)

Source: FSSPX News

Canadian Jesuit Martyrs

After the Angelus on Sunday July 17, 2022, in front of 12,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Sovereign Pontiff revealed the meaning of his apostolic journey to Canada: “I will come among you especially, in the name of Jesus, to meet and embrace the indigenous peoples.”

Because, he said, “unfortunately, in Canada, many Christians, including some members of religious institutes, have contributed to policies of cultural assimilation, which in the past have seriously harmed indigenous communities.”

And to clarify: “I am preparing to make a penitential pilgrimage which, I hope, with the grace of God, will be able to contribute to the path of healing and reconciliation already undertaken.”

A “Penitential Pilgrimage”

From July 24 to 30, this 37th apostolic journey, arranged taking into account Pope Francis' difficulties with walking, took him to Alberta, Edmonton and Maskwacis, then to Quebec, and finally to Iqaluit, capital of the Inuit territory, the Nunavut.

His first speech was for the indigenous peoples of Canada, on July 25, in the cemetery of the former residential school in Maskwacis, Alberta, 70 km from Edmonton: “I was waiting for this moment to be among you. It is from here, from this sadly evocative place, that I would like to begin what inhabits my soul: a penitential pilgrimage.”

“I come to your native lands to tell you personally how much I am afflicted, to implore God's forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation, to show you my closeness, to pray with you and for you. I remember the meetings I had in Rome four months ago.

“I had been given two pairs of moccasins as a pledge, a sign of the suffering endured by Aboriginal children, especially those who, unfortunately, never returned home from residential schools. I had been asked to return the moccasins once I arrived in Canada; I brought them and I will do so at the end of this speech.”

On the same day, Francis continued his mea culpa in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Edmonton: “We must not forget that in the Church too, there is a lot of discord.”

“It is precisely because of this discord that I wanted to undertake this penitential pilgrimage, and I began it this morning by remembering the evil suffered by the indigenous peoples at the hands of Christians and asking for forgiveness with sorrow.”

“It pains me to think that Catholics contributed to the politics of assimilation and emancipation that conveyed a sense of inferiority, robbing communities and people of their cultural and spiritual identities, tearing away their roots and fueling prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes, and that all this was also done in the name of a supposedly Christian upbringing.”

On July 27, 2022, as he left Quebec City airport, the Holy Father was greeted by hundreds of Quebecers posted along the roads as the papal car passed. A reception that contrasted with the reserve displayed in the province of Alberta during the first part of the trip.

At the Citadel of Quebec, welcomed by Mary Simon, the Governor General of Quebec, and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, the Pope addressed the civil authorities, the representatives of the indigenous peoples and the diplomatic corps: “I am thinking above all of the assimilation and emancipation policies, which included the residential school system, which destroyed many indigenous families, compromising their language, culture, and worldview.”

“In this deplorable system, promoted by the government authorities of the time, which separated many children from their families, various local Catholic institutions were implicated; this is why I express shame and sorrow and, together with the bishops of this country, I renew my request for forgiveness for the evil that many Christians have committed against the indigenous peoples. For all this, I apologize.”

“In the past, the colonialist mentality disregarded the concrete life of people and imposed certain predetermined cultural models, yet today, too, there are any number of forms of ideological colonizations that clash with the reality of life, stifle the natural attachment of people to their values, and attempt to uproot their traditions, history, and religious ties.”

“This mentality, presumptuously thinking that the dark pages of history have been left behind, becomes open to the ‘cancel culture’ that would judge the past purely on the basis of certain contemporary categories.”

“The result is a cultural fashion that levels everything out, makes everything equal, proves intolerant of differences, and concentrates on the present moment, on the needs and rights of individuals, while frequently neglecting their duties with regard to the most weak vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. . . the poor, migrants, the elderly, the sick, and the unborn children.”

“They are the forgotten ones in ‘affluent societies,’ who are cast aside like dead leaves to be burned.”

The Mass of Reconciliation, celebrated by the Pope on July 28, 2022 at the St. Anne de Beaupré shrine in Quebec, was resolutely turned towards Indigenous peoples. While 70% of the places were reserved for them, many of them showed their scars and their strong expectations of the Church and the Pope.

But, among the 2,000 people in attendance, Elmer St. Pierre, national leader of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CPA), stood up to the usual criticism. “Since the beginning of the trip, the pope has asked for forgiveness, he did it in Edmonton, in Quebec,” he protested. “It was not the Catholic Church that caused all of this; it was the government of Canada.”

Elmer St. Pierre repeated it with conviction: “The Church did not decide to suppress the heritage of the natives, their language, nor to cut their hair, nor to make them white children. Priests, nuns acted but if the government had not organized this, it would never have happened. It was the government that came to the villages to take away the children.”

The Evangelization of Canada

In 1610, Chief Mawpiltu – or Membertou – of the Micmac people, was baptized with 21 members of his family by Fr. Jessé Fléché. The first baptized native in North America, he took the name Henri in honor of King Henri IV, who was assassinated in Paris a month earlier. In 1620, the Recollect priests opened the first boarding schools for young natives.

Then in 1634, the Jesuits took over from the Récollets and established missions among the Hurons, a people who were decimated by a smallpox epidemic. Several members of the Society of Jesus experienced martyrdom alongside the Hurons when attacked by the Iroquois. The Accounts of the Jesuits, like those of Fr. Jean de Brébeuf, constitute the first linguistic and anthropological studies on the Aboriginal nations.

Martyred by the Iroquois on March 16, 1649, this French Jesuit priest, missionary to New France, was canonized in 1930. In 1665, Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Aboriginal saint in Canada, was born.

In the years preceding the publication of the Indian Act in 1876, the federal government and the provincial governments of Canada commissioned the Catholic Church to establish residential schools for the natives in the West of the country, financing the installation and maintenance of establishments.

The Church – dioceses or Catholic communities – would thus be entrusted with 68 boarding schools out of 139 set up by the government, i.e. 49% of approved establishments. A few private establishments also existed.

The Indian Act aimed to homogenize a population of diverse origins and to assimilate its members into the non-Aboriginal society. It prohibited First Nations people and communities from expressing their identity through activities related to their culture or government. The Indian Act has been amended many times. “First Nations” is the term used to refer to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada other than Métis and Inuit.

In 1892, the Canadian government entrusted the Kamloops boarding school to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. 1912 saw the arrival of the Oblates in Hudson Bay and the beginning of the evangelization of the Inuit. They opened a hospital and a residential school. In 1943 Pius XII declared Kateri Tekakwitha venerable.