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Archbishop speaks at First Nations University

By Frank Flegel


REGINA — Archbishop Donald Bolen, in remarks delivered to a Jan. 19 audience at the First Nations University of Canada, said he would like to encourage the Catholic churches in the Regina archdiocese to invite indigenous elders to speak to the parishes about indigenous spirituality and the meaning of the treaties, from a spiritual perspective, and “to speak about their ceremonies and how those ceremonies have a life-giving, life-formative effect on those participating.”

Bolen focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report as it applied to the Catholic Church, whose religious communities and dioceses operated over 60 per cent of the residential schools. He reasoned that the Catholic Church couldn’t take meaningful action toward healing and reconciliation without the building of relationships, without the establishment of trust, without a deep investment on specific issues, without, in some sense, taking a lead from within the indigenous community itself.

“We can’t come with answers,” said the archbishop, “but with a willingness to engage and a readiness to learn.”

He told the audience, “I believe one critical area for us to work on as a church would be to set up a council, a circle, a structure for dialogue for the leaders of the church to engage deeply with our indigenous sisters and brothers, some of whom might be Catholic and some not. I think that perhaps the Anglican bishop would like to work together with us, too, to create a context where we listen to and engage with the needs and requests that come from the indigenous community.”

David Arnot, chief commissioner for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, introduced Bolen, calling him a strong voice for hope and a strong supporter of efforts to invite Pope Francis to Canada to issue an apology to the indigenous people.

Bolen did speak about apologies issued by previous popes, which were often not widely reported. An apology was offered by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 at the Vatican, in a meeting with then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, along with a small delegation of other indigenous leaders. Another apology was made by Pope Francis in Bolivia in July, 2015, to indigenous peoples of the Americas. Bolen also made reference to numerous apologies offered by religious communities and bishops over the past 25 years.

Harry Lafond from the Treaty Commissioner’s Office has spoken about the benefits of an apology and a strong outreach from the pope to indigenous people in Canada. The bishops of Saskatchewan made a decision to support the indigenous people’s request to have the pope come to Canada. Pope Francis replied that he can’t come this year but will look at 2018 or 2019 as possibilities. Bolen said he hoped Pope Francis would seriously consider the invitation to meet with indigenous peoples if he visits Canada.

The archbishop said he was deeply thankful to the TRC for bringing out the truth of the mistakes and sins of our own history. “The residential schools left deep scars and a damaged relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people that will take a long time to heal,” he said.

Bolen also mentioned efforts to establish a day of prayer for healing and reconciliation with indigenous people, and suggested he would like to be involved in introducing such an annual day of prayer in Regina. “These steps that we are taking are very small steps, but hopefully in the right direction. There is much to be done.”

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