This Canada Day is unlike any other.
The hesitancy to celebrate our country is widespread. We are stuck between the Canada we love and the harrowing discoveries of this past month, first at Kamloops
and then at Cowessess
The news of nearly 1,000 unmarked graves at these two former residential schools has shaken our nation. It has brought into sharp focus the deeply painful and generationally traumatic experience of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
How many homes had empty beds because children were forcibly removed? How many parents never saw their children again and were never even given a proper explanation? How many wounds are borne by former students who survived these schools? Such deep scars underlie so many lives and, indeed, the life of our entire country.
The challenge of this Canada Day is not to “cancel” our love for our country but to work to make Canada better, to be a better Canada. The Indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants of this land we love so much, thousands of years before anyone else arrived. Loving Canada means first and foremost honouring those who have cared for these lands for millennia. We cannot let divisive attitudes of “us” and “them” linger. We must work towards one united Canada, from sea to sea, where everyone is given the respect that we all deserve and where no one is ever cast aside.
The path to truth, healing, and reconciliation will be long and arduous. The government has a very real responsibility, as do Christian churches. The actions of institutions are crucial, but they will not be enough. Every Canadian must play his or her part, to walk with Canada and with Indigenous peoples towards a better place of right relationship and mutual respect.
Earlier this week, the bishops of Canada announced
that Pope Francis will be meeting with representatives of the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples of Canada. This is a glimmer of hope as we move forward towards acknowledging the darkness of the past and striving towards a brighter future. We pray that this encounter will be a balm of healing on the journey towards deeper and lasting reconciliation.
Amid so much heart-wrenching news, we can be tempted to ask ourselves: Why be Catholic if members of the Church perpetrated such abominable injustice?
I think an equivalent question would be: Why be Canadian if our country has been responsible for such horrors?
But these deplorable acts are not what Canada is about, nor are they what the Church is about. We are so rightfully shocked and scandalized precisely because this is not what Canada should be, nor the Church. As Canadians, we all share a common responsibility for a better Canada. As Christians, we all share a responsibility for a better Church.
Our aim is not to “cancel” but rather to take meaningful steps forward.
Our most basic step on the journey ahead is to listen, out of true compassion and a deep sense of solidarity. Each one of us must think of ways of being with the Indigenous peoples of our local communities, showing our support, and finding opportunities for dialogue, mutual understanding, and standing together.
We cannot only acknowledge the wrongs of the past; we must also fight against the injustices of the present. It is not enough for our hearts alone to go out to the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Our hands must reach out too so that our feet can move us forward with united minds and hearts to a more just future for all. There is still so much suffering today. We do not have the option of being unaware or indifferent.
In the end, the best way that we can celebrate our country is by doing our part for a better Canada for everyone. This year, let us focus on walking together with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, aware of the past and striving for a truly united Canada. What we do today cannot reverse the past, but it lays the foundation for the common future that we all desire.
What is your part to play? What concrete step can you take today?
May the Spirit of our Creator lead us to climb the mountains ahead and walk forward hand in hand.