At a Crossroads – Preparing for the Papal Visit


At a Crossroads – Preparing for the Papal Visit

On May 19th, 2022, the first of the Oblate webinar series, organized by Joe Gunn of the Centre Oblat, took place at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert. Entitled The Papal Visit – Indigenous Hopes and Catholic Responses, it featured a panel made up of Chief Harry Lafond, Indigenous lawyer Catherine Twinn, myself, and was moderated by Lucie Leduc, director of the Star.

As the first presenter, Harry shared his view that we were at a crossroads and his dream that we were at the cusp of a new model of Church and a new model of Canadian society. He asked us to imagine finally living a truly new, harmonious and just relationship with the Indigenous peoples of this country.

Recently, Sister of Charity Donna Geernaert shared with the social Justice group of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a historic reality that could serve as a precedent for Harry’s crossroads image and visionary dream.

In 1610, Mi’kmaq Chief Membertou signed a concordat with the Vatican which stated his tribe would be Christian; they would be protected from being exploited by settlers; their spirituality and culture would remain intact, and they would use their own language in their liturgies! A wampum belt was created to seal that concordat, displaying a priest holding a bible on one side, and a Mi’kmaq person holding a medicine bundle on the other side. The message was that two ways of life, two cultures, would journey side-by-side. What a different Canada we would be, had this agreement survived the drastic and over-powering effects of colonization.

For Harry, and I believe for us as Oblates, and as Canadians, this papal visit presents us with an opportunity to finally begin to realize the ideal of this covenant and wampum belt. That, I believe, is the purpose of this webinar series: What is it that we need to do before, during and following the papal visit, to help us all move in that direction?

May I suggest some practical steps, many of which flow out of our recent Together We Heal series held at the Star:

  • Reread the TRC 94 Calls to Action and try to implement them, asking why is that call there.
  • Becoming Listening Witnesses. According to psychologist Alice Millar, all that people really need to heal is to encounter a “listening witness.”
  • Becoming more trauma-informed, through books, movies, courses and conversations, trying to comprehend, and feel, the depth of pain and suffering of survivors.
  • Developing one-on-one relationships, as Indigenous spirituality and life is all about relationships.
  • Entering into cross-cultural experiences, something we can choose, but which Indigenous persons face every day.
  • Appreciating Indigenous spirituality as a gift to us all
  • Begin to address social issues such as poverty, housing, water and systemic racism as individuals and groups, and not leave that up to governments.
  • Learning a little of an Indigenous language and supporting language revitalization.
  • Re-learning our history from an Indigenous perspective, especially through the Kairos Blanket Experience.
  • Finding creative ways to return land to the Indigenous peoples, following the lead of the Mennonites, portrayed in the video Reserve 101.

At the Star, we have adopted TRC Call to Action # 59, which stresses educating ourselves, as something we can do. As such, this coming year, the monthly TWH sessions just completed will become Reconciliation Through Justice (RTJ) – three sessions devoted to the issues of water, housing and land.

May this Oblate webinar series continue to help us traverse that crossroads shared by Harry, and realize his vision of a new model of Church and Canadian society that finally lives out the original covenant of the Mi’kmaq nation under Chief Membertou.

By Archbishop Emeritus +Sylvain Lavoie, OMI