On the evening of Monday, July 25, the first full day of his apostolic visit to Canada, Pope Francis visited Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton in order to meet with members of this unique parish. On his arrival, the Holy Father entered the church to the accompaniment of drums and was greeted by the pastor, Fr. Susai Jesu, OMI. Then two members of the parish council, both of Métis heritage, explained the significance of the parish to the pope's visit and to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Testimony of Two Parishioners, Members of the Parish Council
Meeting with Indigenous Peoples and Members of the Sacred Heart Parish Community
Monday, 25 July 2022
Holy Father, we welcome you to our parish, Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. We are grateful that you have accepted our invitation to visit with us. We are overjoyed to share in your pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation. Our parish has been working to be a place of healing and reconciliation for many years and we are thrilled to receive you on the first day of your pastoral visit to Canada. We would like to introduce you to our parish, its history, people, and our ministries.
My name is Candida Shepherd, and I am a member of the parish council, I have been part of Sacred Heart Parish since the mid-1990s. I am a proud member of the Metis Nation of Alberta. I am forever grateful for how our community connects the spirituality of our Indigenous ancestors and our deep relationship with creator and my Catholic journey.
My name is Bill Perdue. I am the chair of the parish finance committee. I grew up in this neighbourhood, was baptised here in 1963, and have been worshipping here ever since. As a person of Metis heritage, I am proud to live my Catholic faith in a parish that recognizes and honours my Indigenous and Irish ancestors.
Sacred Heart began as a parish that welcomed peoples of many nations who came to Canada as immigrants. Built in 1913 on Treaty 6 territory, people came from around the world and worshipped within our church. Among them, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Croatian, and more recently Eritreans. Through the leadership of Fr. Gary Laboucane, an Indigenous Oblate priest, this parish began to express its indigenous traditions in Catholic worship. Coming full circle, Sacred Heart was designated as Canada’s National Indigenous Parish in 1991.
Today, Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples is an ethnically diverse community comprised of Canada’s many First Nations, the Metis, the Inuit, and Eritrean Catholics, as well as residents of Edmonton’s McCauley neighbourhood. While designated as an Indigenous parish we welcome all peoples as we are all part of the one circle of life.
A testament to the resilience of our parish is shown by the recovery that our parish had from two devastating fires. Our parish lives out its Christian faith, liturgical life, and service by honouring the whole circle of life. Christ is the centre of the sacred circle of life, which we recognize in the medicine wheel teachings of the indigenous peoples.
We are an indigenous Catholic parish. Care of the poor and needy is the core value of this parish. Many of the peoples served in our inner-city parish find themselves in acute need, such as poverty, addiction, and homelessness. Responding to these needs makes Sacred Heart Church the busiest parish in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Every day we respond to the immediate needs of hundreds of people who come to our door seeking a lunch, clothing, an emergency food hamper or just simple encouragement and prayer. This parish has long made the celebration of Christmas a time of service to families, by hosting banquets for the needy, hampers for families and gifts for children, many of whom have few resources.
Our partnerships with other parishes and organizations strengthen our communal bonds and assists us in meeting the needs of so many, we are grateful to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, St. Albert and St. Thomas More parishes, the Salvation Army, Edmonton Archdiocese of CWL, the Knights of Columbus and many other organizations locally and nationally for their support. Although we are one of the poorest parishes financially in the Archdiocese, with the help of so many, we can serve hundreds of people every day.
We are poor in finances, and rich in Catholic faith and the practice of mercy. Particularly in hosting wakes, grief counselling and deliverance prayer. We are always mindful that we are disciples of Jesus Christ when we serve those in need, and there is great need in our local community.
Many of these challenges can be traced back to the legacy of the Canadian Indian Residential School System, including those operated by the Roman Catholic Church. We thank you Holy Father for hearing our voices. Your presence today gives us the opportunity to confront, to understand, to release and to transcend our trauma. At Sacred Heart, we recognise that our newly restored church will serve as a venue for healing and reconciliation between the Indigenous of this land and all those who choose to come here now and in the future.
Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples embodies what we refer to as “Reconcili-ACTION,” where we embrace the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with action, to live as disciples of Christ to serve those who suffer. We believe with absolute conviction that Every Child Matters. And that every woman and girl is sacred. The presence of our Holy Father here today, who Himself has championed the global rights of children and celebrated the importance of family, is an acknowledgement of our belief that every child has the right to have parents and grandparents in their life, the right to celebrate their culture, whether Indigenous or other, and that every child is entitled to his or her own voice.
Our Church is a place where the survivors of residential school trauma can come with their families and gather as an inclusive community. We embrace the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Our church is a place where we will continue to preserve and revitalize Indigenous language, art, and music - instilling pride in our future generations.
We stand here within the poles of a tipi
, here in our sanctuary, as a symbol that reflects our living home, providing safety, and connection to Mother Earth. John 1:14 says, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us”. - He pitched his tent among us. (point to the tipi
From this beautiful altar we celebrate the resilience, strength, and knowledge of our Elders. In your April 1st address to our indigenous delegation in Rome
, you acknowledged our knowledge keepers by stating,
“Yet you have remained solidly anchored to your roots which you have kept strong. In this way you have continued to bear fruit, for the branches of a tree grow high only if its roots are deep.”
Thank you, Holy Father. Please Bless us…
Text courtesy of the Holy See Press Office
Pope Francis listens during a meeting with Indigenous peoples and members of the parish community of Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Alberta, July 25, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)