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Deacon bringing First Nations concerns to Rome

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

The B.C. Catholic


VANCOUVER (CCN) — A Squamish First Nation deacon is looking forward to his chance to bring the concerns of local indigenous people to Rome.

Deacon Rennie Nahanee, the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s co-ordinator of First Nations ministry, is one of only two people chosen to represent Canadian clergy at a conference in the eternal city this June.

“I got a call from Msgr. Frank Leo from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,” said Nahanee. “He asked me if I’d like to go Rome, and if I’d like to think about it. I said, ‘I don’t need to think about that, Monsignor.’ ”

Nahanee, a permanent deacon and a CCCB adviser on relations with indigenous people, is looking forward to representing Canada with Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Saskatoon June 18 - 21. The pair will give a report at the Anglophone Safeguarding Conference, which was created in 2004 as a response to sexual abuse by clergy in an effort to make Catholic parishes and schools safer.

Nahanee believes it’s a great opportunity to also talk about reconciliation efforts and how to make Canadian First Nations communities feel protected.

“I could say, ‘Yes, we are protecting children in our church,’ but then I believe it has to be the wider community. We’re not just protecting children that come to our church and go to our schools, but children all over the place. We have to play a big part in that.”

For example, the Catholic Church took a role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and now has an opportunity to reach out during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry.

Nahanee looks forward to bringing these issues before priests and deacons from about dozens of countries at the conference in Rome. He’s not sure he’ll meet Pope Francis, but he knows what he’ll tell him, if he gets the chance.

“I’d certainly ask him about his thoughts on a visit to Canada. I would tell him why I think it’s important. His words could sway other Canadians to think about reconciliation. Us, by ourselves, in the church, don’t move a lot of people. Someone like Pope Francis could.”

The conference, held annually in various world cities (but most often in Rome), will be hosted this year by the Catholic bishops conferences of Australia and Papua New Guinea - Solomon Islands, as well as the Centre for Child Protection at the Gregorian University.

Hagemoen is also interested in tackling some big issues at the conference, including concerns about safety for vulnerable people, including those with mental health challenges or recovering from addiction or trauma.

He’s going to ask: “What are the best ways that our church communities can respond?”

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