REGINA — More than 1,000 Regina Catholic School Division teachers and staff heard two different historical perspectives at their Sept. 30 opening mass. Winnipeg Archbishop Emeritus James Weisgerber spoke about changes in the lives of indigenous people when the Europeans began arriving on the prairies about 150 years ago, and Leah Perrault described how the church changed about 1,700 years ago and what it means today.
Perrault describes herself as a preacher without a pulpit. She holds a master’s degree in pastoral theology from St. Michael’s University, Toronto. Her day job is executive lead of Governance Advancement with Emmanuel Care (Catholic Health Ministry of Saskatchewan). She was director of Pastoral Care for the Saskatoon Roman Catholic diocese prior to her current position.
Perrault compared mercy to a wave: “It has no structure, it is energy that moves through us.”
The early church had no structure, said Perrault, but about 1,700 years ago began building structure in churches, education and health facilities. “They came to us for everything; now they come to us only for spiritual care.”
She described mercy as love for the broken by the broken, and went on to list the seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. She noted that Pope Francis frequent references to mercy.
Weisgerber has a long relationship with Aboriginal people stemming from his time as parish priest in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley, where he served several First Nations. He described the dramatic changes to their lives with the arrival of the Europeans.
“One hundred and fifty years ago the government invited people to come and be farmers on the prairies. ‘There’s nothing out there but buffalo,’ they said. But we know now there were people living here.” And they used the buffalo for everything, said Weisgerber, but in eight years the buffalo were gone. “What were they to do?”
In 1874 Treaty Four was signed. “And that’s about us, too,” he said. “We entered into it together.”
They were then pushed off to little pieces of land — and these were a people used to roaming all over. They were starved, their children taken from them and placed in residential schools, and when all the children were gone that led to dysfunctional communities, said Weisgerber. The government controlled everything and it wasn’t until 1960 that they could vote and leave the reserve without permission.
We now blame the victim, he said. “We need to learn the truth.” Mercy is a challenge for everyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ.