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February 8, 2016

For too long and too often, tragic events in isolated Aboriginal communities have been front page news and then faded from view. Whether it be gasoline sniffing, a lack of potable water, gang violence or epidemics of youth suicide, these situations briefly grab centre stage and then are forgotten.

Now, the nation's attention has been riveted by the murders of four people and shootings of seven others in La Loche, Sask., an Aboriginal community of 3,000. The town is close to Fort McMurray, but inaccessible from that city most of the year due to the lack of an all-weather road. The back story to this tragedy is familiar - poverty, unemployment, isolation, a history of gang violence and a suicide rate three times the provincial average.

One must, first of all, weep. Weep for the victims, but weep also for the perpetrator and for the community as a whole. In Midland, Ont., in 1984, St. John Paul II said Christ, in the members of his body, is himself Aboriginal. As such, Christ is being crucified in the First Nations - in the victims of violence first, but also in the whole marginalized, isolated, forgotten peoples.

Multiple murders are an almost daily occurrence in North America. Our society has lost its centre. The centre must be faith in God, and ours is an increasingly godless society.

The poor and marginalized are the first to tumble through the threads when society begins to unravel. Their security net of family and other forms of support is the most easily torn.

In the wake of the most recent tragedy, governments will perhaps improve mental health services and make other reforms. They may work with industry to provide new jobs. All such steps would be welcome.

Canada, however, needs to go much further. A new covenant which would strengthen, not only indigenous rights, but also indigenous spirituality is needed.

St. John Paul told his Midland audience: "Through his Gospel Christ confirms the native peoples in their belief in God, their awareness of his presence, their ability to discover him in creation, their dependence on him, their desire to worship him, their sense of gratitude for the land, their responsible stewardship of the earth, their reverence for all his great works, their respect for their elders.

"The world needs to see these values . . . pursued in the life of the community and made incarnate in a whole people."

The pope went on to link those values with the Eucharistic sacrifice. The partnership between Church and First Nations must be a sharing of gifts, a recognition of the beauty of Aboriginal values, values which find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The Church's mission must honour indigenous culture and sanctify it so that hope can be born out of profound tragedy.