Dennis Whitford

Dennis Whitford

December 1, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The concerns of aboriginal people will take centre stage across Canada Dec. 12 as Catholics gather to pray in solidarity with them.

The Edmonton Archdiocese will mark the day with evening prayer and a Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica.

The National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples is celebrated annually on Dec. 12, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to a humble aboriginal peasant, St. Juan Diego, in Mexico in 1531.

"Because Our Lady appeared to this indigenous person, the indigenous people from across America recognize this as a particularly significant devotion for them," explains Archbishop Richard Smith.

"In order to highlight this link the Canadian bishops (in 2002) designated this particular day as a day of prayer in solidarity with First Nations People."

This is the first time the day has been officially marked in the Edmonton Archdiocese and Archbishop Richard Smith hopes it won't be the last. Previously, it was left to parishes to organize their own celebrations.

It was the Alexis Band that requested this year's celebration and the archbishop was happy to support it. "So the invitation is going out to all of the First Nations communities together with all of the parishes to come to this celebration."

Smith already struck a committee to plan the Dec. 12 ceremony. First Nations people are part of the planning committee.

According to Smith, the ceremony will start at 6 p.m. with a rosary prayed in different languages. Then there will be a speaker who will tell about the significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe for First Nations peoples.

Mass will start at 7 p.m., followed by a reception in the basilica's main hall.

The archbishop said an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be at the basilica for people to venerate with roses, if they wish to bring a rose.

"I would hope that this will be the first of an annual marking of this day for our First Nations peoples," he said. "Their presence here is precious to us, is precious to the Church and clearly it's of particular concern to Our Lady. This is something we want to highlight liturgically through the celebration."

CATHOLIC ABORIGINAL COUNCIL

The Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, composed of aboriginal Canadians from different regions and two bishops, is the group that promotes the National Day of Prayer across the across the country. It issues an annual statement as well as prayer suggestions.

Dennis Whitford, a member of the council from Peace River, said the purpose of the day is to foster positive relations between the Church and aboriginal people.

Whitford said there is no fixed set of activities to mark the day but a number of dioceses and churches across Canada mark the day with a Mass.

HONOURING ELDERS

This year and next, as the Church reflects on the pastoral challenges for the family and its needs and role in evangelization, the members of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council will honour elders who helped them develop their own faith, he said.

Smith said the Day of Prayer also offers an opportunity to lift up the "beautiful gifts of their culture and tradition that (aboriginal people) can offer to broader society."