Reflection on the Papal Apology

Pope Francis adjusts Ceremonial Headdress in Maskwacis AB.

Your Holiness,

I am an 83-year-old woman, born and raised Roman Catholic Christian from the Swampy Cree Nation. I want to thank you for being with us in our homeland of Canada, to share our pain and our sorrow during this time of finding unmarked graves and reliving the era of the residential school system. You have taken responsibility and humbled yourself by professing shame for the Catholic Church’s treatment of the First Nations in our land. How moving it was to hear you say, “I am deeply sorry. I humbly beg for your forgiveness for the evil committed by many Christians.”

There is no other gesture, no other humbler words, nor more sacred than these words, “I am deeply sorry”. Forgiveness is the way to freedom and peace as Jesus, our Lord and Saviour taught us in the “Our Father”, a prayer which says, “…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Luke 11:1 Thank you for your powerful words and example of humility and compassion. Dear Pope Francis, you have graced us with your presence.

I want to give tribute to the priests and sisters of the past and present who have remained true to their vocation to teach about God’s love for us. We remain grateful for their prayers in sustaining us through the good and difficult times. Their names and deeds remain within our hearts. Many people recall and remember favourite nuns and priests. Stories and memories of them brings loneliness and joy. Many faithful religious have died on our land evangelizing and teaching the Bible. We are blessed to have our own patron saint, St. Kateri Tekakwitha. We have quiet saints around us – grandparents, parents, our wise and faith-filled elders, our relentless leaders who speak and work for our people in Truth and Reconciliation. God bless their enormous work. This historic visit was made possible by their dedication and persistence in seeking the Truth and Reconciliation. Thank you to the Bishops and Priests who organized the liturgical part of the celebration. Thank you for all who supported the Indigenous endeavour in hosting this sacred event.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”

This is the beginning of a new chapter in our story. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6. This is also a renewed and continued relationship with the Catholic Church. The crowning of you with the headdress was a significant sign of acceptance of our cultural beliefs and a better understanding of enculturation of our Catholic and native traditions. Your powerful penitential pilgrim speech will remain in my heart, and in all our hearts, in the spirit of mercy, compassion and love. Each person, guided by the Holy Spirit, will find a way to heal.

“On this first step of my journey, I have wanted to make space for memory. Here, today, I am with you to recall the past, to grieve with you, to bow our heads together in silence and to pray before the graves. Let us allow these moments of silence to help us interiorize our pain. Silence. And prayer. In the face of evil, we pray to the Lord of goodness; in the face of death, we pray to the God of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ took a grave, which seemed the burial place of every hope and dream, leaving behind only sorrow, pain and resignation, and made it a place of rebirth and resurrection, the beginning of a history of new life and universal reconciliation. Our own efforts are not enough to achieve healing and reconciliation: we need God’s grace. We need the quiet and powerful wisdom of the Spirit, the tender love of the Comforter. May he bring to fulfilment the deepest expectations of our hearts. May he guide our steps and enable us to advance together on our journey. (Pope Francis, July 22, 2022, Maskwacis, Alberta.)

With sincere gratitude,
Annie Wesley