SASKATOON — Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen has issued a pastoral letter about the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, calling on Catholics and the broader community to become better informed and to pray for those whose sisters and daughters have been murdered or remain missing.
Bolen wrote the letter after discussion and consultation with the Diocesan Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR). The DCTR was established as a consultative body in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in 2012, as the result of a promise made by the diocese at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event held in Saskatoon. The DCTR brings together Catholic First Nations and Métis elders and leaders, and those in diocesan leadership positions, including the bishop.
The DCTR has been discussing the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women since the publication of the March 2014 parliamentary report on the status of missing and murdered women, entitled Invisible Women: A Call to Action. In the Oct. 31 pastoral letter, the bishop recommends the parliamentary report as a starting point for learning more about the issue.
“Nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women have been murdered or are missing over the past 30 years, according to police records. This issue does not affect only Aboriginal women but all Canadians, all people,” says Bolen in the pastoral letter. “Something has gone dreadfully wrong, and the pain and suffering of the Aboriginal families and communities who have lost loved ones calls out for a response.”
If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it, says Bolen, citing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. “This same idea is found in traditional Aboriginal ethics when it is said, ‘The hurt of one is the hurt of all.’ ”
The issue of missing and murdered women can be connected to larger societal problems, says the bishop. “Like the residential schools, missing and murdered Aboriginal women point to a systemic problem, and we have a desire to walk and work together toward a systemic response which will make our communities healthier and safer, for Aboriginal women and for all of us.”
He adds, “What has become clear to us is that we need to listen more closely to the voices of the survivors and family members of the women lost to us; and we need to walk with their communities as they seek to name underlying problems and to take steps toward healing the brokenness that has allowed this tragedy to systematically continue. We all need to be more aware of what we have done and what we have failed to do.”
The diocese is working with other faith communities in organizing a day to listen to the stories of communities who have suffered through the experience of missing or murdered sisters and daughters, says Bolen.
This gathering, tentatively planned for early in 2015, will also be a chance “to hear from those who walk with the most vulnerable in our midst today; to listen to various voices and proposals suggesting a way forward; and to begin to discern what steps we might take as we learn to walk together in solidarity and friendship,” he says.
“Education, awareness and empathy are crucial,” says Bolen, calling for “partnering with all those who seek justice and yearn for dignity for our lost daughters, sisters, mothers, and kokums.”
In addition to participating in the planned gathering in the new year, and reading the March 2014 Invisible Women document, individuals and parishes are also asked to lift up prayers for those who are grieving murdered family members and for “the deep suffering of those whose sisters and daughters remain missing,” says the bishop.