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Breaking down barriers

Abbot Peter Novokosky


Twelve years ago the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council (CCAC) initiated a project to break down barriers. The council chose Dec. 12 as a national Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.


Dec. 12 is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, who appeared to a humble Aztec peasant, Juan Diego, in Mexico in 1531. One hundred and fifty years later, another noted indigenous woman, a Canadian, died: Kateri Tekakwitha.


Kateri died in 1680 at the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2012.


Pope Benedict entrusted the renewal of faith in the First Nations and of all North America to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Protectress of Canada.”


As the church, preparing for the next synod of bishops, is reflecting on the pastoral challenges for the family in Canada and its role in evangelization, this year the CCAC is honouring Aboriginal elders who helped their families grow in their faith.


On the council website, for example, Rosella Kinoshameg of Anishnabe, Wikwemikong First Nation, honours the spiritual leadership of her father. He taught “a way of life following the seven grandfather teachings,” she said. “Although these were never mentioned by name, I later learned their English names: Respect, Humility, Honesty, Compassion (Courage), Truth, Wisdom and Unconditional Love. The teachings shared by elders can help to discover a pathway for healing.”


Dennis Whitford of Peace River says, “I have been influenced by an Anishnabe Elder from Key First Nation in Saskatchewan. He provides an annual vision quest ceremony in the spring and leads a cultural camp in August of each year. . . . If I were to capture the essence of his many teachings and talks over the years in a single sentence, it would be his statement, ‘Our ancestors left us a beautiful cultural and spiritual legacy.’ ”


The CCAC is composed of Aboriginal Canadians representing different regions in Canada, some of whom attended residential schools, as well as two Catholic bishops. It was established in 1998 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to assist bishops on issues concerning Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

The council is breaking down barriers through respectful dialogue. The next step will be to have that respectful dialogue happen on coffee row in communities across the country.


Plea to end slavery


For two decades women religious leaders publicized the horrors of human trafficking, especially the illegal sex trade. Now, interfaith leaders have come together in Rome to sign a declaration pledging to end modern slavery. The declaration was signed on Dec. 2, the UN Day for the Abolition of Slavery.


Tens of millions of people are “in chains” because of human trafficking and forced labour, and it is leading to their “dehumanization and humiliation,” Pope Francis said at the ceremony. He was joined by 11 leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Anglican, Buddhist and Hindu faiths.


Despite global efforts, the scale of this “atrocious scourge” is on the rise and it often “disguises itself behind apparently acceptable practices” such as tourism and different forms of labour, the pope said.


Many victims are recruited through a betrayal of trust or the promise of a better life. Then they are manipulated, intimidated, confined, threatened, and beaten. Many are forced into debt-bondage or drug addiction.


According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, almost 36 million people are currently caught in some form of modern slavery. The International Labour Organization estimates that organized crime networks reap about $150 billion a year from trafficking, about 80 per cent of that from prostitution.


The Vatican announced an International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, on Feb. 8, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave who eventually was freed and became a Canossian nun. The day will raise awareness on “the violence and injustice that affect” the numerous victims of trafficking, according to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and travellers. The leaders pledged to help end this slavery by 2020. That will seem like an awfully long time for those who are, or will be, entrapped in this crime and scourge.