SASKATOON - Recently, a group of about 40 Catholic elders gathered at Queen's House of Retreats in Saskatoon for a Catholic Elders' Dialogue to explore avenues leading to a more indigenous church.
This dialogue was held under the auspices of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs (SCCAA) created by the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops. It is an initiative of the Building Bridges Project of the western bishops that is headed up by Sister Eva Solomon, CSJ, an Anishinaabe religious from Winnipeg.
Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal resource persons provided input. Cultural anthropologist Jean-Guy Goulet of Ottawa shared from his experience with the Dene. He likened this process to the first Council of Jerusalem, where a significant shift in church practice took place because the leaders listened to the Holy Spirit working through people's experience.
Bishops Murray Chatlain and Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, shared from their experience in First Nations ministry; elders A. J. and Patricia Felix, and Chris and Hazel Harper shared their experience of integrating their traditional spirituality with their Catholic faith, and spoke passionately of their people's experience of colonization. Michel Andraos shared his experience of the interesting developments of the church in the Diocese of Chiapas, Mexico, where basic church communities are led by deacons.
Facilitators Sister Eva and Harry Lafond kept the process moving, while Sister Priscilla Solomon, CSJ, provided occasional integration. In responding to the input, Lafond stated that we had covered a lot of ground, but that there was a long road ahead and it was time to become more concrete.
Participants were placed into clans for small group discussion, and reported back to the plenary. The importance of language, the centrality of ceremonies, overcoming a fear of change, arriving at a vision for the future, connections with the sacraments and possible guidelines for the bishops were all included in the discussions.
The struggle within three groups was highlighted: those who want First Nations spirituality to be seen as a gift to the church, those who are not sure and those who are opposed to this initiative. It was pointed out that the history of the Aboriginal peoples is part of their first testament: their initial relationship and experience of the Creator. The need to listen carefully to each other, talk with and not at each other, and respect each other in the process of the dialogue was underlined.
A Nishnawbe baptism ritual was viewed and discussed. Drumming, smudging with sage, prayer in the four directions and an eagle feather were present throughout the event. The local Guadalupe First Nations parish singers enriched liturgical celebrations.
A cedar tree that was decorated by participants during the session served as a symbol for the dialogue itself and the desire to sink deeper roots of faith, as well as discern what cultural dressing needed to be removed for a more indigenous church to emerge. It was planted as a closing ritual and a gift to the retreat house. The need to continue and deepen our ongoing respectful and non-judgmental dialogue was stressed at the end. A last question that was asked was what would a de-colonized church and a de-colonizing ministry look like, leading into the planning for the next events of the Building Bridges project.