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Indigenous visit to Rome: Encounters on the journey of truth, healing, and reconciliation | Love Digest

Julian Paparella

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Delegates from the Assembly of First Nations speak to the press following a meeting with Pope Francis on March 31, 2022. Photo courtesy of the CCCB.
Last week, I had the privilege of experiencing the visit of the Métis, Inuit, and First Nations to encounter Pope Francis in Rome. The Indigenous delegates were alone in the room with Pope Francis and a small group of Catholic bishops from Canada during the meetings themselves, but seeing them before and after the encounters – listening to their words and witnessing their gestures – gave a clear and powerful image of the deep significance of what was going on.
What has it taught me? That the Indigenous peoples are among the greatest gifts in Canada. Walking forward with them must be among our highest priorities as a Church and as a country.
Being with the Indigenous during this momentous visit to Rome, I was deeply moved by their deep spirituality, their openness and sincerity of heart, their strong spirit of family and friendship, their keen sense of what is really important in life, and their real desire to forgive, to heal, and to walk forward together. As an example, one man had around his neck a beaded image of his baby great-granddaughter, beaming with pride for her and seeing in her the future that had been robbed from countless generations because of residential schools. At another point, during the press conference after meeting the pope, another Indigenous man spoke of how despite the suffering his people had gone through, all he wanted was for all of us to live as one family, since we are all brothers and sisters of one another.
I am convinced that March 28-April 1, 2022, will go down in history as a key turning point in the relationship between the Indigenous peoples in Canada and the Catholic Church. As members of the Indigenous delegation put it: hundreds of years ago, Europeans crossed the ocean to visit their lands. In our day, the Indigenous made the same journey in reverse but this time by plane instead of by boat.
The truth is that the history between these two “visits”, separated by nearly five centuries, is fraught with hardship, suffering, injustice, and a system of assimilation that sought to eliminate the culture, language, and spirituality of the diverse Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the territory of present-day Canada for millennia.
The Indigenous came from Canada to share these truths in order to move forward together on the path of reconciliation and healing. After all they have gone through, the flame of forgiveness and reconciliation is nevertheless alive in their hearts. How can this fire be a light to warm and enlighten all of Canada, illuminating the steps we can take together?
Pope Francis is setting us an example of how to open our hearts to our Indigenous brothers and sisters: how to listen to their life stories, how to be ashamed by what Canada and members of the Church have done to them, and how to do our part in walking forward together on the path of truth, reconciliation, and healing. So what are some concrete actions that you and I can take?
1) Pray for them: God is the true author of all reconciliation. There is no situation that His mercy cannot redeem. Together, let us entrust to God, our Creator and Redeemer, the Indigenous peoples in Canada, the trauma experienced over centuries, the lives that have been lost, the children in the unmarked graves, and the path forward. Praying for the Indigenous, their history, and our relationship with them is a solid first step towards opening our hearts to our Indigenous brothers and sisters here and now.
2) Get informed: For most of us, our awareness of the history of the Indigenous peoples in Canada is quite meagre. It has not always been a significant topic in our history classes. They are so often sadly excluded from our national psyche. Let us take the key step of informing ourselves about what has happened, becoming more aware of the dark history of residential schools and the current situation of Indigenous peoples across the country.
3) Get to know them and learn from them: Dare to cultivate friendship with our Indigenous brothers and sisters living in your region. How can we embrace them as a precious treasure rather than reducing them to one more political issue among others? In reality, there is so much we can learn from the Indigenous: their way of life, their love of family and community, and their vision of the world, just to name a few. There is also so much common ground between Indigenous spirituality and our Christian faith. This explains why so many Indigenous are also fervent Catholics. They can inspire our faith, teach us about what’s important about life, and help us to care for the earth. They can teach us how to be better stewards of creation, more committed family members, and more profoundly spiritual Catholics. What are we waiting for?
4) Inspire others: Speak about all of this with your family, friends, and coworkers. Turning the tide towards truth, reconciliation, and healing requires all of us. No one is left on the sidelines. Let us undertake a revolution of fraternity to bring about a new springtime in Canada after the long winter of abuse, atrocities, and indifference.
Pope Francis repeated last week what he first announced last October: he will come to Canada, and sooner rather than later. Let us prepare ourselves for this historic moment in the life of our country and our Church on the path of reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples.
God, our Father and Creator, send Your Spirit to wake us from the long slumber of winter, and lead us together to the warmth of spring, so that truth, justice, forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, friendship, and fraternity can flourish.
Julian would be happy to hear from you, with any questions, insights, or suggestions you may have regarding this blog series. He can be reached at jpaparella@saltandlighttv.org.


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