SASKATOON — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS), through the leadership of the Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation, recently conducted a Day of Prayer for Reconciliation and Healing.
The day of prayer was held Oct. 21, on the third anniversary of the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first North American Indigenous woman to be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. It was held in response to the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.Students and staff at all 45 division schools located in Saskatoon, Humboldt and Biggar, as well as school division office staff, participated in the day of prayer. Pastors and parish and ministry leaders from across the diocese also participated during a service held at the opening of diocesan Study Days at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, with Bishop Donald Bolen presiding.
“The day of prayer complements our work and goals for First Nations and Métis initiatives and our kindergarten to Grade 8 treaty education,” said Gordon Martell, superintendent of learning services at GSCS. “The generation of students in our schools today will be the ones to characterize what reconciliation and healing looks like in the future.”
With 45 schools and nearly 17,000 students, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools provides Catholic education from pre-kindergarten through Grade 12, rooting students in their faith, helping them grow in knowledge and encouraging them to reach out and transform the world.
The suggestion for the Day of Prayer came from the Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR), a sharing and consultative circle of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people providing guidance to the Diocese of Saskatoon. It was established as part of a promise made at the Saskatchewan Truth and Reconciliation Commission event held in Saskatoon during the summer of 2012.
During the diocesan service, the bishop described his own learning process as he has come to understand that the history of this land began long before his own ancestors arrived in Saskatchewan.
“When I learned Canadian history, it started with the explorers from Europe, and in Saskatchewan history with the settlement of European people,” Bolen said, describing how he recently learned of evidence of a settlement near his family farm dating back thousands of years. “I don’t know where my ancestors came from 8,000 years ago, but 8,000 years ago the ancestors of indigenous people lived here.”
Canada’s sense of history has been undergoing a transformation, Bolen noted. “During the years of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, our whole nation has been invited to go to school and to learn about our history in a new way, to listen to our history in a new key, to be attentive to the voices and the experiences we never adequately paid attention to.”
As the chair of the Justice and Peace Commission for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Bolen has recently been working on a document about the peripheries in Canada, researching the history of government relations with indigenous peoples, studying 19th-century correspondence.
“Basically, indigenous people were understood as a problem, because there was a plan for European settlers to build a certain kind of agricultural society,” he said. “There are some pretty terrible things said in that official correspondence about how decisions were made. It was in that period that residential schools were established.”
Although there may have been good intentions in some of those efforts, “by and large (what) we heard from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was waves of suffering, of alienation, of people being cut off from their families, their language, and their culture — and the church was implicated in that. So we want to be implicated in a process of healing and going forward.”
Bolen added that the CCCB is also working on addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, which include a proposal that Pope Francis should come to Canada and apologize to Indigenous peoples for the damage done through residential schools.
Bolen described the experience of Susana Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, who was a Canadian representative to Bolivia this summer when Pope Francis was visiting a workshop on indigenous peoples. “It was in that context that Pope Francis apologized to indigenous peoples of the Americas,” he said.
“Susana talked about how profoundly moved she was by that — and she talked about the reasons why she thinks it’s important that Pope Francis is involved. It’s not because of some misguided sense that the pope is actually responsible for everything that happens in the church; rather, it’s because of a First Nations’ understanding of family, of the bonds that bind a family together. When one person in the family does something wrong, and it is harmful to the larger community, then the whole family is to be involved in the restitution.”
It is from an understanding that Pope Francis is an important part of the Catholic family that prompts the request for his presence in Canada for an apology, Bolen said, adding it is not yet known whether such a visit will take place.