SASKATOON — Paths of hope and healing for the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon were described — and built — during a recent Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) meeting.
The Diocesan Council for Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR) was established after the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering that was held in Saskatoon in June 2012.
Members of the DCTR described their mandate, giving an overview to the DPC about the impact of colonization and Indian residential schools, and reported on a range of projects and initiatives designed to promote healing. They also encouraged DPC members to reflect on the reality of racism, and find ways to foster dialogue and healing in their parish communities.
The DCTR is now playing a role similar to the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) in the Diocese of Saskatoon, said Bishop Donald Bolen.
“The DCTR is giving advice, offering suggestions and proposing practical initiatives which will help our diocesan church to walk with First Nations and Métis peoples, to value their gifts, and to build together a healthier community, which is engaged in the hard work of healing long-standing wounds and decisions from the past that were hugely unjust to our indigenous peoples.”
The goal is to learn to live well together in communion, the bishop said. “We stand in need of the spiritual wisdom and experience of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers.”
The DCTR is made up of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members, including elders, Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners and leaders, diocesan leadership and representatives of a number of organizations such as STR8 UP, the Treaty Commissioner’s Office, St. Thomas More College and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.
“The group’s mandate is to provide a forum for listening and sharing, through stories and prayer; to collaborate with the diocese toward building and strengthening relationships; and to support healing from the Indian residential school experience,” states the DCTR mission statement. “Our goal is to raise awareness throughout the diocese about injustice issues, and barriers to reconciliation, and to discern a way to walk together on a path of understanding, education and action, fostering relationships in light of the gospel.”
During the overview presented to the DPC March 28, several DCTR members spoke from the heart about the devastating impact of residential schools on generations of First Nations and Métis children, families and communities, and on their own families.
Quoting TRC chair Justice Murray Sinclair, DCTR member MaryAnne Morrison noted: “Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no short cuts.”
The work of the DCTR has included prayer, dialogue and discussion about a range of initiatives, reported Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of Saskatoon and a member of the DCTR. He noted that a pilot project is underway at St. Augustine Parish in the city to examine and address the roots of racism.
DCTR member and director of Pastoral Services Blake Sittler described diocesan participation in the Moving Forward Together Campaign, a pledge by the Catholic Church in Canada to raise $25 million to put toward initiatives that promote healing, battle racism or strengthen culture. Moving Forward Together funds raised in the diocese have gone toward local events, including a conference at STM about racism, and a 10,000 Healing Steps conference in February 2014 about reaching out and healing those trapped in a gang lifestyle.
The DCTR also undertook a study of the March 2014 federal report on missing and murdered Aboriginal women entitled Invisible Women: A Call to Action, which led to the bishop writing a pastoral letter on the issue. As a result, an ecumenical event for Christian churches to hear more about the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women was initiated (Voices of Our Sisters was held April 18 at Mayfair United Church in Saskatoon).
Elder Gayle Weenie, pastoral associate of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, described the importance of cultural and language programs, such as a Saturday class for families using the Cree language to introduce teachings, prayer, crafts and other activities. Prayer materials in Cree have been developed for the sign of the cross, the Hail Mary, Glory Be, and other prayers, she noted.
Emphasizing the importance of language, Weenie also spoke about her involvement in a Canadian Bible Society project to translate the Bible into Cree. The translation team is now working on the Gospel of John.
Rev. Mick Fleming, CSsR, priest moderator at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, described a support program for single parents, grandparents or other family members raising children in difficult circumstances, offered at three schools by Catholic Family Services. Fleming noted the joy and consolation such a program brings to those who are struggling.
The Redemptorist order also recently took on a project to create a DVD of local elders presenting the seven sacred grandfather teachings of First Nations culture. The DVD has been made available to Catholic schools, Fleming reported.
Debbie Ledoux, parish life director at Our Lady of Guadalupe, shared her own experience at residential school, before expressing her gratitude for the healing God has brought into her life. She described walking as a leader with those who have experienced abuse and hurt, and are dealing with the fallout of all the wounds in their lives.
Ledoux provided an overview of the history and role of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, which began 25 years ago, receiving official parish status in 2007. The community is now seeking a church building.
Right now the First Nations parish operates out of a house on Avenue J, and rents St. Mary’s Parish on 20th St. for their Sunday eucharist, but more space is needed for programs, wakes and other services.
Other highlights of the March 28 Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting in Saskatoon included deanery reports, suggestions for revitalizing the work of deaneries, a presentation about the annulment process by Rev. Marvin Lishchynsky and Donna Rogal of the Marriage Tribunal Office, and a question and answer session with the bishop.
The DPC meeting was followed by an Annual General Meeting for the diocese. The diocese’s annual report is posted at: www.saskatoonrcdiocese.com/news.