Bishops issue pastoral letter about TRC
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski
SASKATOON — The Catholic bishops of Saskatchewan are encouraging awareness and involvement in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in recording and healing the legacy of Indian Residential Schools.
“As the Catholic Church in Saskatchewan, we were involved in the
residential schools and we recognize a moral responsibility and obligation
to be involved in healing and reconciliation efforts,” states the
letter signed by Archbishop Daniel Bohan of Regina, Bishop Albert Thévenot
of Prince Albert, Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie of Keewatin-Le Pas, Bishop
Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, and Bishop Bryan Bayda of the Ukrainian Catholic
Eparchy of Saskatoon.
“The Gospel we proclaim calls us to actively address the legacy
of the assimilation policies, and the larger cluster of issues relating
to colonialism, racism and prejudice, and the rupture with traditional
Aboriginal ways of life. These are not ‘Aboriginal issues’ but
issues for all of us. This is about our communities, our province, our
church,” states the bishops’ pastoral letter.
Established by the government of Canada, and often run by Christian churches,
residential schools operated across the country from the 1840s, until
the last school closed in 1996.
“Not everything that happened at residential schools was negative,
and many people worked there with goodwill and generosity. However, the
schools were a part of a policy of deliberate cultural assimilation of
Aboriginal peoples, and over the decades, much abuse took place at these
schools,” acknowledges the bishops’ letter, noting the apologies
extended by Catholic religious communities involved with the schools,
and by groups of bishops and church leaders, including Pope Benedict
XVI in 2009.
“We also apologize for the abuse which took place at those schools,
and for our part in the suppression of First Nations and Métis
culture and language.”
The bishops point out that the national Truth and Reconciliation
gathering in Saskatoon “holds great opportunity, as it is geared towards
a new future, arrived at by honestly dealing with the past” and
by building relationships.
“As director of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, Harry Lafond,
recently put it, ‘We are looking for representatives of the church
willing to walk with us on our journey, so that it becomes a reciprocally
beneficial relationship. The TRC is an invitation to come and experience
the story of the people; not to be a spectator but to be a participant.
Those who have been willing to engage deeply have also learned and received
in the process.’ ”
The Catholic Church will continue to walk with Aboriginal people in many
ways, state the bishops.
“The canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in October will
be a celebration acknowledging the greatness and holiness of a young
First Nations woman. Marking that tremendously important event in the
life of our church will be a way of strengthening ties with Aboriginal
communities. Walking closely with our Catholic Aboriginal brothers and
sisters will open doors, and teach us how to walk together with Aboriginal
communities as a whole,” states their letter.
“This will continue to call forth an ongoing exchange
of cultural and spiritual gifts. There are also many ongoing issues beyond
residential schools which our parishes and our dioceses are challenged
to address. These needs impel us to walk with our Aboriginal sisters
and brothers in advocating for justice and healing in our society.”
As an example, the bishops pointed to a national Moving Forward Together
campaign involving Catholic communities across Canada, working to raise
funds in support of healing and education programs and initiatives.
The letter concludes by encouraging participation in the TRC national event June 21 — 24 at Prairieland Park in Saskatoon, and inviting prayerful reflection on ways that individuals, parishes and dioceses might be “artisans of healing and reconciliation.”