One Step Forward

Lao Tzu has written that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” It’s also been said that life is an exciting journey.  However, it appears that the things we desire rarely come to us on a silver platter.  We are required to work toward acquiring these things and we begin by taking one small step.  This might be frightening, but risks must be taken to move forward in challenging situations.

In both the Church and Canadian society, there’ve been numerous discussions over several years on the issues of Truth and Reconciliation. There’ve been a series of moves and rhetorical statements over the years, which have basically encompassed the truth inherent in different perspectives.  But there hasn’t been a realistic movement yet by the parties involved to embrace a mutual and actual reconciliatory process.  Perhaps part of the problem is organizational.  There’s a lack of clarity regarding issues, protocol and how best to proceed.  On the one side, we’ve been delighted to hear, “We apologize and wish to walk together with you.”  On the other side, we would’ve been further delighted to hear, “We accept your apology, forgive you, and will walk with you in the future.”

In his encounter with Indigenous Peoples at Clementine Hall on April 1, 2022, Pope Francis “was visibly moved on hearing the testimonies of various Indigenous delegates.”  There emerged from their testimonies “clear themes of truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and hope.”  The Pope “from his own heart gave voice to his feelings of indignation and shame, sought forgiveness and pledged the commitment of the Church to walk together with Indigenous Peoples.”

There’ve no doubt been many sacred moments in the quest for reconciliation, but not one when complete reconciliation has occurred.  Social and other media have further complicated things by emphatically raising various possibilities regarding the finding of unmarked graves near Residential Schools.  The task of demonstrating the reality of reconciliation, therefore,  remains publicly overshadowed, regardless of how much it’s desired.

Given such an environment, some parishioners met at the end of September at the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Indigenous Catholic Church in Winnipeg to decide on what could be accomplished locally for Truth and Reconciliation Day.  This was proclaimed for September 30, 2023, but would be celebrated on Sunday, October 1, 2023 at the parish church. It was then that a spiritual undertaking was conceived as a practical way of expressing togetherness.

Such an undertaking would address the meaning of walking together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  To symbolize the spiritual undertaking, a Two-Piece Leather Belt was designed for the occasion and put together in ceremonial fashion to symbolically express togetherness and peaceful co-existence between the Indigenous Peoples of the church and the Catholic Church. 

The Two-Piece Belt has its roots in the enactment of the Wampum Belt in our history.  This entailed a kind of agreement between 2 parties, usually the governing authorities of Indigenous and Settler Peoples.  This kind of agreement also has roots in the scriptural story of Amos, who attempted to reconcile the Israelites with their northern neighbours. In Amos 3:3 we read, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?”

Consequently, the Two-Piece Belt came into effect as a step toward making reconciliation a reality on October 1, 2023.  Archbishop Richard Gagnon presided over the celebration with several priests and a deacon.  A sacred fire was lit outside to demonstrate reverence for the Creator, with prayer requests and a drum song.  The story of the Rabbit and the Squirrel was told, which symbolically expressed the benefits of mutual helpfulness.  The following Spiritual Undertaking was then read to those present.

Let it be known that the Indigenous Peoples of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Indigenous Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church wish to embark on a Spiritual Undertaking, beginning this first day of October 2023, in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.  In recognition of this Spiritual Undertaking, we wish to symbolically express this joint undertaking with a Two-Piece Leather Belt by putting two pieces of leather together to form a fusion, unity or a coming together.  This Two-Piece Leather Belt will symbolize the unity of our togetherness and our pledge of walking together as brothers and sisters:

  • in a Spirit of mutual respect for one another;
  • in advancing a healthy relationship with each other;
  • in caring for the personal growth and development of each other;
  • in  communication and dialogue with each other in mutual trust and honesty;
  • in advancing the future of each other through letting go of past negative experiences and embracing mutual love and empowerment;
  • in recognizing one another’s gifts, cultures, values and other diversified strengths;
  • in listening to and trying to understand each other;
  • in laying our lives before the Lord in prayer, for and with one another;
  • in the promotion of both the good teachings of the Church and those of Indigenous Peoples;
  • in walking together forward to achieve synergy or the dynamics of something new; and,
  • in dealing with any future problems, conflicts or issues though mutual sharing, dialogue and resolution.

This Spiritual Undertaking is accompanied by Indigenous gifts of the Medicine Wheel necklace to the Archbishop of the Winnipeg Diocese and the Pastor of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Indigenous Catholic Church, and similarly, Church gifts extended to certain survivors of Residential Schools, in recognition of the Roman Catholic Church and to symbolize the spirituality of Indigenous Peoples.  May the Holy Spirit, Who is also the Great Spirit, guide our footsteps in the way of walking together forever for true peace, brotherhood and sisterhood.  Amen.

This declaration was proclaimed through the Liturgy of the Eucharist for effecting the cause of reconciliation in the parish and moving one step forward.  The walking together of reconciliation, however, pre-supposes the existence of both individual and community healing. 

This may entail the following.

  • Cleansing our hearts of all malice, resentments and anger.  “Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life” (Prov. 4:23).
  • Ensuring that our spirits are right with God, the Creator.  “Man has a spirit” (Job 32:8).  “This spirit in man comes from God and returns to Him when we die” (Zec. 12:1).  This strongly indicates that we are made for contact with God, our Creator.
  • Addressing our emotional life.  Phil. 4:6-7 states that any emotion should be brought in prayer to God, for bringing His peace and guidance to us.  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm. 12:2).
  • Finally, our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (Cor. 3:16-17). Our behaviours, speech and senses are of prime concern.

In short, healing of our communities will also entail such matters as family and group life, sound spiritual values, good nurturing processes, good communications and great family and group activities to facilitate bonding.

However great our resolve to achieve healing and reconciliation, the reality is that we’ll face challenges and adversities.  Such is life, but perhaps that is the very essence of growth as well.  That brings us to an interesting parable.

A granddaughter went to see her grandma one day and told her that she was about to give up on life.  Her marriage was a mess and she faced one problem after another.  Her grandma beckoned her into the kitchen where she began boiling 3 pots of water.  Carrots went into the first pot, eggs into the second and coffee beans into the third.  After boiling the pots for 20 minutes, she asked her granddaughter, “Which one are you in facing challenges and adversities?”

The carrots, which were initially strong and unyielding, became soft in the adversity of boiling water.  The eggs, which were fragile and tender-hearted, became very hard.  The coffee beans, however, displayed a remarkable transformation.  As Christ once changed water to wine, the beans turned the water into coffee!

If we resonate like the coffee beans, then even in the toughest moments we will rise and positively influence the circumstances around us.  In our one step forward, are we a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean in the face of challenges and adversities?  Let us, therefore, reflect on the great strength which lies within each of us moving forward.