SASKATOON — Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has expressed his solidarity with all those who are disappointed in the news that Pope Francis will not be coming to Canada to apologize for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Indian Residential Schools system.
“I recognize that the recent letter to the indigenous peoples of Canada from the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is a disappointment to many people in our community,” said Hagemoen. “I too regret that Pope Francis is not coming at this time.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Action #58 called upon the pope to come to Canada to issue an apology to residential school survivors, their families and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.
In the March 27 letter to the indigenous peoples of Canada, CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueil, Que., stated that while the Holy Father is aware of and takes seriously the findings of the TRC, the pope “felt that he could not personally respond.”
In recent years, the Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan — and Hagemoen in his previous role as bishop of the northern diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith — have been among those inviting Pope Francis to come to Canada.
“I have discovered since coming to Saskatoon that there was much expectation and excitement about a possible papal visit here,” noted Hagemoen.
Preliminary planning and logistical work was undertaken locally in order to facilitate a possible papal visit to Saskatoon. “Many — including indigenous and non-indigenous community leaders and business people — felt that to provide a strong sense of welcome for the Holy Father, working to address some of the major logistical and financial requirements of a visit would be helpful in removing significant obstacles,” said Hagemoen. “Thus, many people here are disappointed.”
As bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, Hagemoen was also part of a recent invitation to Pope Francis to visit Fort Simpson for the blessing of the new Sacred Heart Catholic Church in that northern community.
“The opening and blessing of the new church corresponded with the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s visit to Fort Simpson in 1987. Given the discussion of a possible papal visit in connection with the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action, many in the Northwest Territories were hoping that a possible visit to Canada would feature a visit to the far north,” Hagemoen said. “Through the papal nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the Holy Father indicated that he was not able to visit Fort Simpson for the 30th anniversary — a result that was disappointing for the community, but not unexpected.”
Hagemoen added that he is among those who remain hopeful about the possibility of a future papal visit in response to the TRC Calls to Action. “And what I have heard from indigenous people in Saskatoon is that the desire to receive and welcome the Holy Father is always here,” he said.
“But for the time being, the Holy Father will not be coming to Canada. While I recognize the disappointment, I look forward to pursuing the many ways in which we continue the very important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls to Action in our church and our wider community.”
At the same time, Hagemoen noted that, contrary to some recent statements that the Catholic Church is “the only Church that has not apologized,” there are in fact many apologies on record from Catholic bishops and Catholic religious orders over the past 25 years, including apologies offered at TRC events held throughout the country.
“Apologies from various Catholic leaders have been many — in fact, the most numerous of all of the churches that helped to run Indian Residential Schools,” he said. “These various apologies were needed — and as a young bishop I can say that I am proud these apologies were offered. They acknowledge injustice and wrongdoing, recognize much pain and hardship, and are a way of facilitating healing and renewed relationships.”
The bishop added that, beginning with Pope John Paul II, recent popes have also given the “only non-Canadian acknowledgements of the painful history of the Indian Residential Schools.”
Hagemoen noted: “The words of John Paul II during his visit to Canada in 1984 and then to Fort Simpson in 1987 anticipate the perspective and language of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Acknowledgments also include the historic meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with Canadian representatives at the Vatican in 2009 — including then-National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine — when the pope acknowledged and expressed his sorrow for the sufferings of indigenous children in Indian Residential Schools.
“As well, in 2015, during his Apostolic Visit to Bolivia, Pope Francis apologized for the Church’s grave sins toward the native people of the Americas,” noted the bishop.
The healing journey must always go beyond apology into action, such as the many grassroots efforts, encounters and relationship-building initiatives that have been undertaken in the Diocese of Saskatoon and across the country, stressed Hagemoen.
“My interpretation of the recent announcement (from the CCCB president) is that Pope Francis is putting the emphasis on the bishops and the local churches to continue to provide and build concrete initiatives, in the spirit of the TRC,” he said.
“Our local church continues to strive to listen, to build bridges together, and to undertake awareness and reconciliation through a range of initiatives and encounters. These include education, treaty awareness, initiatives regarding justice and healing, praying and celebrating together, and social outreach and care,” said Hagemoen, who highlighted examples of such work in a pastoral letter sent to parishes in the Diocese of Saskatoon during Holy Week.
Those working toward reconciliation must continue to be inspired by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Hagemoen said. “That declaration, along with the TRC Calls to Action, continue to challenge all of Canada — including members of the church — to pursue a more comprehensive approach to justice for indigenous peoples, to changing mindsets, and to taking concrete action in a wide range of areas.”
He added that indigenous communities have always highlighted the need for concrete actions and positive relationships to accompany the many words and expressions of commitment given over the years.
“I therefore join with the CCCB president and all bishops of Canada in recommitting ‘to engage honestly and courageously with the past, to acknowledge the failings of members of the Catholic Church, and to take active steps of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples toward a better future.’ ”