By Michael Swan
Canada’s Catholics are not done with reconciliation. Four pastoral letters from Canada’s bishops released today urge Indigenous and non-Indigenous Catholics to seek ways to journey together, build relationships, know and understand their history and end the two solitudes in the country and in the Church of Indigenous and settler societies.
“We are called to be united as ambassadors of reconciliation,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said in a release.
The four letters – one each to the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and a fourth to all the Catholics in Canada – are an extension of Pope Francis encounter with Indigenous delegations in Rome last March and April and his apostolic visit to Canada in July. The letters were conceived more than a year ago as part of the process that included the “Walking Together” tour by Francis to Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut.
In the letters, the bishops of Canada have made a series of commitments to the Indigenous people of Canada in the separate letters to First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
Grounded in Pope Francis’ historic April 1, 2022 Rome apology for Catholic participation in the residential school system, and the repeated apologies the Pope made as he visited Canada last summer, the bishops make general promises, which they say will be realized in more specific, concrete ways locally, in individual dioceses.
The whole idea is to keep the reconciliation train on the tracks, Smith said
“Let’s work together in our parishes and Catholic institutions on ways to deepen and strengthen reconciliation, not only with Indigenous Peoples but also among ourselves and with all people,” the Edmonton Archbishop said.
To First Nations, the bishops promise:
- Continued dialogue, “working with you to discern the most effective mechanisms by which these dialogues can continue.”
- Incorporating awareness of Indigenous history, culture, language and spirituality in Catholic education at every level, but particularly in seminaries and in the formation programs of religious orders. “Important will be the opportunities to hear about the history of this land from an Indigenous perspective,” the bishop say. Awareness of treaties will be part of a Catholic education in Canada.
- To be allies of First Nations “in the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and of Catholic Social Teaching” as they seek justice.
- Helping First Nations to protect the environment; encouraging their “stewardship of the land and the goods of Creation.”
- Contributing to First Nations efforts to tackle addictions, suicide, violence, poverty, incarceration and other social issues, “especially as these impact young people.”
- Support for young people, “to help them in their search for meaning and hope.”
- A mandated role for Elders in the life of the Church.
- An ecumenical approach to ministry in First Nations communities.
- Making good on the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund, a five year commitment the bishops took on in the fall of 2021 to raise $30 million for community healing projects chosen by an independent, Indigenous board.
To the Metis, the bishops promise:
- Ongoing dialogue in the form of “regular meetings between Metis leadership and diocesan bishops,” plus a richer incorporation of Metis spirituality and culture in parish life.
- “To make Metis history known” through Catholic education at every level.
- Working ecumenically “to foster healthy and supportive relationships in the communities.”
- Support for “the spiritual well-being of the young people.”
- “Celebrating the great role that women play in your faith communities.”
- A mandated role for Elders in the Church.
- Solidarity with Metis in their stewardship of the land.
- Following through on the five-year, $30 million commitment of the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund.
To the Inuit, the bishops promise:
- Fulfilling the five-year, $30 million pledge behind the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund.
- More regular contact with Inuit leaders and communities.
- A greater commitment to ecumenism locally to foster “unity across denominations and healing what has been wounded by denominational rivalry.”
- Work with Inuit communities and organizations on addictions, suicide, violence, poverty and incarceration rates.
- “Development of resources for youth, mindful of Inuit cultural realities.”
- New forms of responsibility in the Church for Elders.
- Education about Inuit realities, particularly the history of Inuit Land Claims Agreements in seminaries, religious formation programs and at all levels of Catholic education.
- “Celebrating and supporting the long-term sustainability of the use of Inuktitut.”
- Solidarity with Inuit efforts to preserve and protect their environment and “our common home.”