EDMONTON (CCN) — The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an invitation to us to overcome cultural divisions just as Jesus and the Canaanite woman did in their encounter in Matthew’s Gospel, says Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie.
In the Gospel story, Jesus had just rebuked the Pharisees for their “self-serving religion” when he left Judah and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, Lavoie said.
There he was accosted by the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter (Matthew 15.21-28). Three times Jesus rebuffed the woman’s plea before relenting and healing her daughter.
“Actually, she converted Jesus, and he allowed himself to be converted by the need of this woman and by her faith,” the archbishop said.
“She liberated him from the cultural bias that he must have had. Now, he had a new vista for his mission.”
Applying the story to the Canadian context, Lavoie said, “Wouldn’t it have been great if the colonizers and the settlers and the missionaries could have come and said to the (First Nations) people, ‘Great is your spirituality?’ ”
Instead, while Jesus cast a demon out of the woman’s daughter, the early settlers demonized Aboriginal people and their spirituality, he said.
Lavoie made his comments in a homily during an ecumenical prayer service May 20 for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that will conclude its seven-year examination of Indian residential schools with several events in Ottawa May 31 to June 3.
More than 50 people attended the prayer service at the Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert. The event was put on by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the social justice office of the Edmonton archdiocese.
The Canaanite woman’s humble, faith-filled approach to Jesus “represents the openness First Nations people had to Christianity,” Lavoie said.
After first rejecting her, Jesus’ response to the woman was “a healing one; it’s not an institutional one,” he said. “In the end, Jesus recognizes her spirituality and her culture.
“It is an invitation to us to cross borders as Jesus and the woman did — of gender, ethnicity and social class, of culture and religion, and with people who are totally different than us.”
The hour and a half prayer service included a video produced by the Ottawa archdiocese — Healing the Wounds of Indian Residential Schools — a smudging ceremony, a First Nations drummer, intercessions and other prayers.
Jerry Wood, elder in residence at Grant MacEwan University, told of his residential school experiences.
In a brief interview after the service, Wood said he hopes fruits may grow out of the TRC process.
“The most important thing is for everybody to be aware of what happened (in residential schools) and that it be a time for healing and moving on,” he said.
Non-Aboriginals should be able “to develop a better understanding of why we are the way we are,” he said referring to the high rates of native incarceration, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and Aboriginal children in the child welfare system as well as the history of colonization.
“I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Wood said, pointing to increasing numbers of Aboriginal people receiving higher education.
“It’s a time for moving forward and not looking back. It’s a time for healing.”