Catholics, Church urged to respond to TRC's call to action

Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

August 17, 2015

Early this past June, I found I was in Ottawa at the same time as the concluding events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Since I had been involved with the Alberta National TRC event held in Edmonton a year earlier, I took advantage of the opportunity to attend this historic event.

A special Catholic liturgy was held the previous Saturday at St. Joseph's Church, the historic Oblate parish in Ottawa. Many Catholics who were in town for the TRC events attended.

Father Ken Forster, provincial of the OMI Lacombe Province, was the homilist. In his challenging message, he reminded us that we are all treaty people, and that we all have a responsibility to work towards reconciliation.

Forster said our "concept of God needs to stretch." We need to recognize and learn from the wisdom of Aboriginal spirituality.

He concluded by quoting from Sister Priscilla Solomon, an indigenous Catholic sister, about the path ahead: "We must take apart the threads of colonization and create a new cloth of right relationships among brothers and sisters, making this land truly home for us all."

The Walk for Reconciliation took place on Sunday morning. Several thousand people gathered from across the country, indigenous and non-indigenous, for a five-km walk. Church leaders, including several Catholic bishops, also took part.

A closing public TRC event took place in a crowded downtown hotel ballroom the following Tuesday. After six years of hearings, thousand of presentations, and hundreds of community hearings and meetings, the TRC commissioners gave their final presentations, and released a 385-page summary of what will be a six volume TRC final report.

Unlike the TRC Preliminary Report, this report does not contain recommendations, but rather a list of 94 "calls to action" directed to different levels of government, the churches and members of the wider Canadian society.

I found the calls to action directed to the churches to be especially interesting. One is for churches to commit to the principles of the UN Declaration on the Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation. This includes respect for the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination in spiritual matters.

Other calls to action include churches repudiating of the Doctrine of Discovery, committing to a new Covenant of Reconciliation and contributing to a permanent fund that supports projects for healing and reconciliation.

Churches are called to commit to educational initiatives directed to local congregations, faith-based schools, seminaries and continuing education programs for clergy.

There is a specific call to the Catholic Church. To date, Catholic apologies within the TRC hearings have come from local bishops and leaders of Catholic entities historically associated with the Indian residential schools.

The TRC Summary Report says, because of the patchwork of local Catholic apologies, many residential school survivors and Church members may be unaware of these Catholic apologies.

The TRC commissioners say that what is needed is a public statement of apology by the universally recognized leader of the Catholic Church.

The pope is called to come to Canada in the next year and issue an apology for the Roman Catholic Church's role in Catholic-run residential schools.

Ten days after the close of the TRC in Ottawa, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a statement inviting each diocese and all Catholics across the country to enter a dialogue towards healing and reconciliation.

The CCCB statement also promised that the TRC calls to action directed to the churches will be part of the agenda at the CCCB's next plenary meeting.

Six weeks after the Ottawa TRC event, I attended a Mass led by Edmonton's Sacred Heart Parish at the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage. Thousands of indigenous peoples gathered from across western and northern Canada.

PRESERVE THE LANGUAGES

Father Jim Holland, Sacred Heart's pastor, pointed out that at the beginning and end of the Mass, a prayer was led by an elder in a local indigenous language.

He emphasized the importance of preserving indigenous languages, and the responsibility of the Catholic Church to include them in its time of worship.

The ongoing path to healing and reconciliation needs to include such small but important steps.

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)